Women of the North

Celebrating the fascinating lives of women in the history of North Queensland

The Clever Mrs Cameron – Orpheus Studio

Charlotte Cameron was an artist and musician who ran the Orpheus Studio, in Flinders Street, Townsville, between 1916 and 1923. On a number of occasions she was commissioned to produce illuminated addresses* or albums for high-profile Queensland dignitaries and other notable citizens, and she also composed many pieces of music for commemorative purposes, including the ‘Townsville Waltz’ and the ‘Canberra Waltz’.

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Sheet music for Townsville Waltz, composed by Charlotte Cameron. Photo: City Libraries Townsville Local History Collection.

Charlotte, the director and business manager of the Orpheus Studio, was capably assisted by several of her remarkably talented daughters. Eldest daughter, Leone Cameron (b. 1890), was a milliner and costumier. Together with her mother she taught classes in pencil and crayon drawing, watercolour and oil painting, stencilling and pen painting, metalwork and wood carving. Leone also conducted a dressmaking and millinery business in rooms adjoining the Orpheus Studio. Her second daughter, Audien Cameron (b. 1891), held a teacher’s diploma from the London College of Music and in partnership with her mother taught violin, pianoforte, mandolin, viola, theory, harmony, counterpoint and analyses of form, at the Orpheus Studio. Her third daughter, Vera Cameron (b. 1895), taught typing and shorthand to schoolchildren on Saturday afternoons from the studio.

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Charlotte Cameron’s Orpheus Studio was located on the upper floor of this building, at the corner of Flinders and Stanley Streets, Townsville (note sign at right). This photo dates to around 1918. Photo: James Cook University Library North Queensland Photographic Collection, NQID: 2201. 

In 1910 Charlotte was commissioned by the Townsville city council to prepare an illuminated address of welcome for the visit of Queensland Governor, Sir William MacGregor, to Townsville in June. Charlotte quoted £10, 10 shillings to produce an illuminated album for the occasion. She advised the council that the materials to produce the album only amounted to about £2, however the labour involved was quite considerable. When queried, she advised that she had worked on the album for 84 hours, and her daughter had spent 40 hours on it.

Charlotte also produced an illuminated album for Sir Robert Philp, who had twice been Premier of Queensland. The album was presented to Philp from the people of Townsville upon the occasion of his retirement. It contains photographs depicting Townsville scenes and each image is bordered by exquisitely hand-drawn and coloured artwork by Charlotte Cameron.

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One of the pages from the illuminated album presented to Sir Robert Philp, with artwork by Charlotte Cameron. Photo: State Library of Queensland.

Charlotte’s musical compositions survive to this day, with the score of her Townsville Waltz held by both James Cook University Library and City Libraries Townsville. The latter has an audio version of the waltz available for download on its catalogue. The piece appears to have been written to commemorate Townsville’s 50th anniversary. Another waltz, the Canberra Waltz, was dedicated to Lord Denman, Governor General of Australia. This score is held by the State Library of Queensland. They also hold other compositions by Charlotte, including Our Land, Australia (words and music by Mrs Rod Cameron), a souvenir edition of which was issued to celebrate victory in the Pacific; and Welcome to our Queen, written for the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Australia in 1954.

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Canberra Waltz, by Charlotte Cameron. Photo: State Library of Queensland.

In January 1924, the Telegraph noted that Mrs Cameron had arranged to transfer her activities to Brisbane and with the assistance of two daughters, would open the Orpheus Studio in Leichhardt Street in February. A Miss Eileen Burns took over the Orpheus Studio in Townsville from Charlotte Cameron in December 1923.

 

* Illuminated addresses were once a popular way to thank prominent people for outstanding service, or to celebrate or mark a special event.

[If you have a photograph of Charlotte or her daughters, I’d love to be able to add it to this article!]

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