Did you know that back in 1863 Darling Point had a piece of music named after it?

Here’s the story of the Darling Point Polka.

A look into our musical past

Back in 1863, there was no internet, no TV, and certainly no smartphones to keep everyone entertained. There wasn’t even any radio. And there certainly was no cafe on the corner in which you could expect to bump into your neighbours.

Instead, families entertained themselves and socialised with gatherings like parties, dances, dinners, and concerts.

Music – played live by orchestras, ensembles or pianists and accompanied by singers – was often the main attraction. The ballrooms and reception rooms of the grand colonial homes of Darling Point would regularly play host to these soirees.

In 1863, one piece of music that Darling Point residents would have heard a lot was The Darling Point Polka.

The Darling Point Polka

According to the State Library of NSW, The Darling Point Polka was published in the Australian Musical Album for 1863. The cover says it was “Published by JR Clarke, Music Seller, George Street”.

Jacob Richard Clarke was a prominent music seller in Sydney at the time, known for being one of the first Australian publishers to issue music with coloured illustrations. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Clarke though. The year after this publication came out, he was sentenced to four years in Darlinghurst Gaol for forgery.

While the composer remains a mystery, The Darling Point Polka was part of a trend for new music to be named after local places to give the music a uniquely “Australian” feel, even if the music was still in the European tradition.

For example, across the harbour, partygoers may have danced to St Leonard’s Schottische. In the Inner West residents listened to the Balmain Polka, which was “respectfully dedicated to the ladies of Balmain by Ernesto Spagnoletti”.

And, in 1854, former convict Charles Packer composed the City of Sydney Polka, which was dedicated to William Charles Wentworth, the owner of Vaucluse House. In 2015, more than 160 years after it was composed, the City of Sydney Polka was played again at Vaucluse House as part of Centenary celebrations.

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If you’re musically inclined, you can look at the score for our area’s famous polka, held by the National Library of Australia, or the State Library of NSW, and try your hand at playing The Darling Point Polka yourself.

The artwork

The watercolour illustration of a green and largely unpopulated harbour view that appeared on the cover of The Darling Point Polka was drawn by Frederick C. Terry, a well respected colonial artist.

Terry was born in England in 1825 and educated in Switzerland. He came to Sydney in the 1850s to work as an artist and engraver, and to teach. By the 1860s, he had illustrated many music covers and was seen as one of the best colonial painters.

Oswald Rose Campbell, another colonial artist, apparently described Terry’s illustrations as “the best productions of the kind that I have seen in Sydney — clear and characteristic in drawing and beautifully composed … they would be greatly prized in London”.

Despite this acclaim, making a living as an artist was difficult in Sydney. When Campbell died in 1869, he owed his landlord £65.

Clarke’s work now lives on in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

You can find out more about music in Australian colonial life through Sydney Living Museums.

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Photo credit: Trove, The Australian musical album for 1863 [music], Published by J.R. CLARKE, 1863 (SYDNEY : ALLAN & WIGLEY)