Brief biography

Dame Nellie Melba was born Helen Porter Mitchell at the family home Doonside at Richmond Victoria on May 19, 1861.   She was the eldest surviving daughter of David Mitchell and Isabella Ann Dow.   While at school firstly at Leigh School and later Presbyterian Ladies College, Nellie showed great promise playing the organ, piano and singing.

Encouraged by both teachers and her family, Nellie took singing lessons which she continued afterwards with Pietro Cecchi, an Italian singer living in Melbourne.

Following the death of her mother on October 21, 1881 Nellie went with her father, a builder to Mackay in Queensland where she met and married Charles Armstrong, the youngest son of Frances Fullerton of Hampshire, England and British MP Sir Andrew Armstrong of Gallen Priory in King's County  (Offlay) Ireland.

Their only child George was born at Marian, Queensland the following year.

Returning to Melbourne, Nellie took up singing lessons again and travelled to England with her father, son and husband in 1886.   Armed with letters of introduction, she auditioned for famed singing teacher Mathilde Marchesi in Paris. Recognising her voice and talent, Marchesi accepted Melba on as a student and the following year on October 13, 1887 Mrs Armstrong, now Madame Melba (named after her home town) made her operatic debut at the Theatre de la Monnaie in Rigoletto.

Melba made her English debut at Covent Garden in Lucia di Lammermoor on May 24, 1888 but left after management failed to promote her properly.


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Following her Paris debut on May 8, 1889, she returned to Covent Garden where her talent was recognised and she did not let the management or audience down. Melba appeared during every Covent Garden season until 1914 save for 1909 and 1912 when she was touring Australia.

Melba performed throughout Europe, America and New Zealand. The countries included France, Monaco, Italy, Germany, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Austria and America.

She returned to Australia in 1902 and returned for her first Australian tour in 1909.

This was followed by the first Melba-Williamson Opera season in 1911.

Melba's final public appearance was at a concert at Brighton on October 5, 1929. She died in Sydney on February 23, 1931 from paratyphoid and is buried at the Lilydale Cemetery. Go to:

  • Biography home page
  • Melba's early years