Colonial Caledonian: in search of the early Scottish musical experience

A new short film, ‘Colonial Caledonian’, follows Dr Brianna Robertson-Kirkland, from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, on her exploration of early Scottish sheet music held in MHNSW collections.

In 2017, Dr Robertson-Kirkland received funding from the University of Glasgow’s Ross Fund, which offers researchers the opportunity to examine materials held outside Scotland that relate to the history of Scotland, the Scottish people and their influences abroad. The month-long exploratory survey focused on the Stewart Symonds Sheet Music Collection, recently acquired by the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, which contains some of the earliest surviving examples of Scottish sheet music brought to Australia in the 19th century.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a tradition of collecting and preserving Scots songs in print grew out of a fear that this heritage was disappearing. This domestic music repertoire was designed and printed for the growing middle class and brought to Australia by Scottish immigrants, among others.

Dr Robertson-Kirkland explored the relationship between popular Scots songs in Britain and Australia during this period and sought out Scottish publications which are now rare in Britain. In March 2017, at the Sound Heritage Sydney symposium held at Elizabeth Bay House, Brianna presented her preliminary findings, ‘Music from Home: Sydney Living Museums’ Sheet Music Collections and the Scots in Australia’, along with a performance of two 18th century songs, ‘Morag’ and ‘If a Body Meets a Body’ from the Stewart Symonds collection.

Brianna’s visit has enabled SLM to look more deeply at its sheet music collections and explore new ways this material can be shared further afield. Over the next 12 months the sheet music examined by Brianna and discussed in this film will be digitised and made available through the SLM’s online sheet music page at Internet Archive and performance opportunities also explored.

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Dr Matthew Stephens

Dr Matthew Stephens

Research Librarian

Matthew Stephens is research librarian at the Caroline Simpson Library & Collection. He is particularly fascinated by early book, musical instrument and sheet music collections in NSW and the stories they tell. Addicted to the historical research process, Matthew has reframed the biography of the eighteenth-century British cross-dressing soldier, Hannah Snell, rediscovered the lost library of explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, and completed a PhD on the early history of the Australian Museum Library and the origins and use of scientific literature in nineteenth-century New South Wales. More recently, Matthew has led the interpretation of the history of domestic music in MHNSW house museums. Since 2015 he has been MHNSW’s representative in the Sound Heritage network (UK) and is co-author and co-editor of Sound Heritage: Making Music Matter in Historic Houses (Routledge, 2022). In 2019, Matthew curated the Songs of Home exhibition at the Museum of Sydney, which examined the musical landscape of NSW during the first 70 years of European settlement. He has collaborated with the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney, on numerous projects including as Partner Investigator on the Australian Research Council Discovery Project ‘Hearing the Music of Early NSW, 1788-1860’ (2021-23). Two research projects led by Matthew on the reinstatement of part of the dispersed Macleay family library at Elizabeth Bay House and the Dowling Songbook Project have received National Trust Heritage Awards.

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