Royal Reels: Gambling


The postcard had a pink 1d QV stamp of Victoria, cancelled with BENALLA/ 21 DE 05/ VICTORIA, and it was addressed to Hobart and readdressed to Launceston. At the original address it was postmarked HOBART/ P.R / 7 – -A 27. DE. 05/ TASMANIA The message of good wishes for Christmas and New Year was of no particular significance and of no relevance as regards the picture on the reverse (Figure 1).

The reverse shows a picture of a somewhat statuesque, Maggie Stirling (Figure 2).

This ‘P.R’ cancel used on mail collected from ‘Pillar Receivers’ was one of three such “Pillar Receivers’ cancellations used at Hobart from 6 December 1898 until 27 March 1909. The one shown on the postcard was the second, in dated order, and was used from 21 December 1904 until 4 January 1906. The delay in receipt of the postcard was probably due to the need of re-addressing to Launceston, but I don’t understand the use of this Hobart ‘Pillar Receivers’ postmark. The three different ‘Pillar Receivers’ cancels for Hobart are shown in Figure 3.

Maggie Stirling has been surprisingly difficult to research for solid biographical data. She was Australian born in Victoria, probably in Melbourne and this date is at present unknown, as are the names of her parents. Her education and her singing training in Australia is largely unknown, but she was described as a pupil of a Signor Cecchi;  as well the year of her first singing performance in Australia is uncertain. However The Argus (Melbourne) on 28 June 1892 describes her performance in the ‘MELBOURNE LIEDERTAFEL’ as follows: Miss Maggie Stirling, a pupil of Signor Cecchi, was down on the programme for a song by Michael Watson but “O Mio Fernando” from “La Favorita” (Donizetti) was substituted. Miss Stirling possesses a mezzo-soprano voice of abundant volume, pleasing quality, and good carrying power. When to this is added that her vocalisation is good and her intonation correct, it will be seen that, although she can hardly as yet be considered a matured artist, much may be expected of her in the future,and her further appearances will be watched with interest” (Figure 4).

 Some further biographical information is given in ‘Miss Maggie Stirling – The Theatre, September 15 1906, author unknown, which attests to the fact that her singing career did progress considerably in the next fourteen years: “Miss Maggie Sterling is in Melbourne once again. Miss Sterling has been absent from Australia for six years, during that time (she) has won world acclaim abroad. She went from Melbourne to Paris, where for twelve months she studied diligently under the great Marchesi, at the end of which time she secured good engagements in London, and put up a fine record. After her London season she toured the provinces, and afterwards, Scotland and Wales, winning golden opinions wherever she sang. Miss Stirling is not only perfect in technique and musical ability but possesses ‘soul’ which even Melba lacks. It is the sweet symphony of her rich and cultured voice that wins the heart of people and causes them to feel that there is an affinity between them and the singer.”

“Miss Stirling never fails to touch a responsive chord in her audience and, through her wonderful voice, is able to lay upon their feelings in a marked manner. The Scotch (sic) as a nation all love Maggie Stirling, for perhaps no one has ever sang their national ballads as she has done and, we are sure, Australia will not be lacking in praise and appreciation of one of her offsprings. Miss Stirling’s fine contralto voice was heard to great advantage in oratorio whilst abroad, under the leadership of Sir Hubert Parry, Sir Frederick Bridge, Coleridge Taylor, Sir Charles Stanford and other equally prominent men. Miss Sterling’s Melbourne season will commence on 19th September, but will be very limited as her Australian tour only lasts for three months, when she returns to England for the London season. Next year Miss Stirling is to fulfill engagements in America and Canada.”

With praise like this one has to wonder why a full biography of her life and career has not been found as yet. Another photo of a seated Maggie Smith is seen in Figure 5.

Her name has been found on several published sheets of music and this song “Those Vanished Years” written by Marcus Clarke, Composed by Alfred Plumpton and Sung by Miss Maggie Stirling, priced at 2 shillings, is seen in Figure 6.

Her short obituary appeared in The Argus (Melbourne) on Friday 25 November 1932, on page 6, and her death occurred the previous day, but the NLA beta newspaper clipping is illegible. She married a Mr. Riddell, date unknown and was known as Mrs. Maggie Stirling Riddell. She was predeceased by her son Robert Riddell who died in 1918 during WWI in France. An estate sale was advertised on 12 July 1937 for her home at “Craigneil” at 158 Orrong Road, corner of Sargood Street, Toorak (Melbourne), as well as for her Bechstein piano.

This paper is still active, and any additional information will be in the form of an addendum.

Addendum (November 2010): Malcolm Dennis wrote:  ” I am a relative (1st cousin 3x removed!!) of Maggie Stirling and came across your website to-day. I have read the illegible obituary in the  Argus and here is a transcript for you…

OBITUARY: Madame Maggie Stirling, “Many people will regret to learn of the death of Madame Maggie Stirling, which occurred last evening at her home “Craigneil” Orrong road, Toorak. In her former years Madame Stirling was a popular vocalist and she was distinguished for the sympathetic way in which she sang “Scottish songs”. Before the war no popular concert programme was considered complete without items by Madame Maggie Stirling. She was born at Geelong and she married the late Robert Burns Riddell. She had two children whose untimely deaths saddened the latter years of her life. Her only daughter Mary, who married the late Dr. S.P Croom died in the first year of her marriage. Her son Lieutenant R. B.Riddell died from wounds while on active service with the 38th Battalion, A.I.F. Madame Stirling is survived by her young grandson Stuart Croom”.