|INTERNET MIRACLE - We never cease to be amazed at the worldwide reach of the Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum.
Recently we got a heads up, thanks to a web surfer from Australia, chasing down family information on the internet, who called after seeing the pen inscription on the piece of sheet music above, and our wish to know what ever happened to the person who signed the music.
Bert was actually Bertha Alinda Walter, who was born in Noradjuha, Victoria in 1874. She was 26 and single when she signed her sheet music. Her photo is from 1911 when she married a minister the Rev. Henry Michael Clarke Fowler.
She played the sheet music at Oakleigh Park, a remote ranch at a time when home entertainment was all there was - in places far from urban centres, like Noradjuha, Victoria - and people gathered round the piano to listen to talented people like Bert, who could play complex music like the Fantasia.
The six Australian colonies - Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, etc. had not been united into a single country yet, and so - like the Dominion of Canada - each sent its own contingents to fight in the Boer War. Some 16,000 compared to Canada's 6,000.
Australian nationalism was further inflamed in 1902, when Lord Kitchener ordered the execution of two Australians, including the celebrated Breaker Morant, for shooting Boer prisoners.
The ripple effect of Aussie outrage was so great that Britsh generals did not execute a single Aussie for desertion or cowardice in World War I.
But they shot 25 meek and pliant Canadians...
In fact the Boer War was just another factor that spurred Australian nationalism - especially among military men - that led finally to forming the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. Aussie volunteers in South Africa, like Canadians, chaffed mightily under the supercilious treatment they got as colonials from most of the British officer class - though not people like Lord Roberts who, born a colonial himself, respected them, and gave them prominent places on his staff.
Bert worked as a housewife on a sheep shearing station. She died in 1949, at 75, and is buried in Geelong, Victoria.
Below the red A is remote Noradjuha, where Bert played this music, and further south is Geelong where she retired to and is buried, and Melbourne where we bought her sheet music. Very likely she took her precious music with her when she left Noradjuha and kept it till she died.
Probably a relative near Melbourne inherited part of her estate as the sheet music didn't travel that far, in a hundred years, from where she died.
Now do you see why we like signed sheet music?
Bert's signature, identifying her very own precious piece of sheet music, sets this piece a fine cut above the usual run-of-the-mill "clean" copy.
Bert's sheet music is dated only 7 weeks after the actual relief of Ladysmith. So not only news, but sheet music had already reached her remote home.
That's Bert top right at sheep shearing time at Oakleigh Park, and some of the shearers for whom she no doubt played the Relief of Ladysmith sheet music on the piano.
And then no doubt chorded vigorously to a rousing "Click Go the Shears, Boys, Click, Click, Click..."
(Sheep shearing is the national occupation most identified with Australians.)
"Click Go the Shears" is one of Australia's most popular songs, rivaled only by Waltzing Matilda, and dating from the mid-nineteenth century. It was wildly popular in the outback a hundred years before it was ever collected by Rev. Percy Jones in the 1940s, and commercialized by Burl Ives in the 1950s.