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Julia Matthews

1842 – 1876

Julia Matthews (1842-1876), actress and singer, came to Australia as a girl with her parents, and made her debut at Sydney's Royal Victoria Theatre in 1854, aged twelve. The following year she surprised Melbourne audiences in George Coppin's Olympic Theatre in Old and Young and King John. By 1856, still only fourteen, she was a favourite with theatregoers, and in 1858 she made her second appearance on the goldfields. Matthews is best remembered, however, as the object of the admiration of Robert O'Hara Burke, twenty-one years her senior. He is said to have proposed marriage to the ingenue in August 1860, immediately before his departure on the Victorian Exploring Expedition. Although she spurned him, Matthews is said to have urged a search party upon hearing that the expedition was in trouble, and on the day of the funeral procession for Burke and Willis on 21 January 1863 she sang Rule Britannia and the national anthem in a memorial Grand Tableau in Castlemaine. Later that year, Matthews departed Melbourne for New Zealand, farewelled by members of the Garrick and Orpheus clubs with a benefit at the Princess Theatre and a gold bracelet. Making her last appearance in Sydney in 1867, in November that year she became the first Australian-trained singer to appear at Covent Garden.

Updated 2018