On February 23, 1931, Dame Nellie Melba peacefully passed away. Australia’s Queen of Song was silent. She had made her last farewell.
For five weeks prior to her death Dame Nellie has been ill in a private hospital in Sydney. She was under the care of Dr Bill Doyle, her daughter-in-law’s brother in whom Melba had great trust.
Newspapers around the world reported her illness, then her slight recovery and then her final passing.
Everyone, from the King of England wanted to know her progress and hung on her improvement. But it was not to be. After slipping into unconsciousness Melba quietly slipped away surrounded by her son and daughter-in-law George and Evie Armstrong, her sisters Annie Box and Dora. Lempriere, her niece Helen Lempriere and her trusted manager and friend John Lemmone. (1)
Her death took over the front pages of the newspapers both in Australia and overseas. Melba was a superstar, loved by everyone, young, old, rich and poor.
The Governor of New South Wales, Sir Philip Game, received a message from His Majesty the King:
“The Queen and I are grieved to hear that Dame Nellie Melba has passed away. We have known her for very many years and appreciated her beautiful voice, which has given pleasure in all parts of the world. Please convey to her relatives our heartfelt thanks.” (2)
Fellow artists from around the world mourned her loss as did our Prime Minister, Australian premiers, the Women’s National League, T.B. Sailors and Soldier’s Association of Victoria and the local councils of Richmond and Lillydale in Victoria.
The New York Herald Tribune wrote on February 23:
“Melba that great lady and great artist was the last of those soprano empresses of song who made glorious the lyric history of the last half century…. Doubtless the gold age of song will return, but no Melba will sing for us again.”
Melba passed away in Sydney but wanted to be buried at Lilydale Cemetery. Her coffin was put in a special train carriage in Sydney and changed trains at Albury. The train was running several hours late when it arrived in Melbourne as it had to stop at every station along the route as people wanted to place their own flowers and pay their respects to the great lady.
At Scots Church, the church built by her father David Mitchell, Melba’s coffin laid in state and thousands of mourners slowly walked past.
The funeral service was held on February 26 at 1pm and afterwards the cortege drove slowly to Lilydale. Whitehorse Road and Maroondah Highway were lined with people, heads bowed.
There was no sound at all. The traffic was stopped and the only sound Melba’s family heard was the sound of the rubber tyres on the road.
At Lilydale, a horse drawn gun carriage waited. Melba’s coffin was transferred to the gun carriage and escorted by troopers and scouts and led by the workers of Cave Hill, Melba journeyed to her final resting place.
Even today, our society is contacted by people from around the world wanting information on Melba or to visit her grave to pay their respects.
Never before or since, has the world media given so much coverage to our town Lilydale. Every article, many photographs featured and recorded Melba’s arrival and departure from our Main Street near the Lilydale Band Rotunda and war memorial.
More funeral images
(1) Argus February 24, 1931.
(2) (2) Argus February 25, 1931.