Yarram Mechanics Hall

Eric Greenaway – Ada Crossley Mural Benefactor

MURAL LOCATION – 2-4 Church Street, Yarram, 3971  

ABOUT THE YARRAM MECHANICS HALL – The Yarram mechanics’ institute hall was constructed in 1860 and has seen a number of uses over the years. More recently it has been used as the home for the Yarram Guides and Scouts.

The hall is currently managed by the Wellington Shire and in March 2020, the Shire issued ‘The Friends of Heesco Town’ (a small not for profit group managing the Heesco Town projects in Yarram) a permit to paint a mural of historical significance on the wall facing Commercial Road. Eric Greenaway (a key benefactor in the Heesco Town Mural Project) agreed to fund a mural of Ada Crossley to honour the significant contribution Ada made both to Yarram and to the world at large.

ABOUT ADA CROSSLEY – In 1894, Ada travelled to London, primarily studying opera with Sir Charles Santley. After meeting Dame Nellie Melba, and reducing her to tears with her performance, Melba recommended Ada to the best operatic vocal tutor of the time – Mme Marchesi in Paris.

From 1896, she carved a significant career as a Contralto in oratorio and ballad concerts having a repertoire of over 500 songs, ranging from Gluck and Handel to Richard Strauss, and she sang in English, German, French, Italian, Norwegian, Danish and Russian.

On 29 October 1898, she sang before Queen Victoria, the first of at least 5 private performances and soon became a royal favourite, singing at many ceremonial occasions as a requested soloist.

It was around this time that she made several successful tours of many countries – Europe, South Africa, the United States, New Zealand and Australia. Whilst in New York, she played Carnegie Hall and made the first vinyl gramophone record for the Victor Company ‘Red Seal’ label.
Her fame was so globally recognised that Australia’s most famous composer ~ Percy Grainger accompanied her on tour as part of her entourage & not vice versa! The famous Australian painter, Tom Roberts also painted her portrait which still hangs in the National Gallery , Canberra.

On May 20th, 1910, at the height of the British Empire rule, the Sovereign King Edward VII passed away. It was Ada that the royal family chose as the Soloist to sing at his funeral. Even though the Archbishop of Canterbury had previously chosen Ada as the principal vocalist for the Anglican Church of the United Kingdom, this was a royal request. This was one of the most prominent events of its time. Over 1 million people came to view the funeral procession. 11 carriages of the ruling heads of state of the world followed the funeral carriage. During the service, Ada performed to over 9 sovereign head of state, who ruled over most of the known world, 36 crown princes and other territorial heads of state – the Pacific, Asia and the Middle East, including President Roosevelt from the USA; and accompanied by hundreds of military regiments.

On April 14th, 1912, the HMS Titanic sank on its maiden voyage from Southport, UK to New York, USA, carrying 2208 passengers of which only 1503 survived. On that voyage were 8 bandmembers, chosen to play the hits of the day for the passenger’s entertainment. On that night, after hitting the iceberg, these brave men picked up their instruments and played songs from their repertoire when everyone else were rushing to the lifeboats.

Survivors in the lifeboats agree the last song they heard played was ‘Nearer My God To Thee “ as the ship went down. It was recognised by survivors as a song made popular by Ada in her numerous world tours. This was corroborated by the discovery of the floating violin cases of the band leader – Wallace Hartley and 1st violinist, Jock Hulme at the foundering site. These cases contained the sheet music arranged by Lewis Carey and made famous by Ada. Ada was the only vocal soloist invited to perform at the Titanic Memorial Concert held a short time later- Empire Day, 24 May 1914 at Sir Royal Albert Hall.

This was a public holiday and huge crowds gathered in their thousands to watch and listen. This concert was made up of 7 conductors & 473 bandmembers of the best of the UK orchestras. She sang in front of 7,750 royalty, dignitaries and stewards. The afternoon ended with the auditorium: ‘Rising as one to reprise “Nearer My God To Thee”, the same song that Ada made famous and is thought that Wallace Hartley and his band were playing when the ship went down. Nearly all present were in tears.

Ada married an eminent throat specialist, Dr Francis Muecke, and revisited Australia in 1908-09, again with Grainger among her supporting artists. She continued to sing at charity concerts, especially during World War I. However she started to withdraw from public life after this time.

Ada Crossley died on 17 October 1929 at Woodlands Park, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. After a memorial service at All Souls, Langham Place, she was buried in St Marylebone cemetery, East Finchley.

WHY I BECAME INVOLVED – “I was born 80 years ago in the Yarram hospital that sits over the road from the Yarram Mechanics Hall, and it was here that Ada sang to raise funds for Yarram’s first hospital. When I learned that she was born just down the road in Tarraville, how famous she was and her connection to the Titanic I thought I have to get involved and make this mural happen…and it had to be on the Mechanics Hall. I was very pleased when the Shire agreed to issue a permit for the mural.”

 Eric Greenaway – Ada Crossley Mural Benefactor

THE MURAL DESIGN – “Eric got very animated when he first talked about the Ada mural so I initially played around with dozens of images. Eric Greenaway and myself spent many hours discussing the various aspects of Ada’s long career and connection to Yarram. After a while I finally hit on the current design that Heesco has turned into a major work of art. One of his best pieces in my opinion.”

Wayne Tindall – Artist/film maker