Charles Cawthorne sells music, composes, plays bassoon, promotes and manages orchestras

Charles Wittowitto Cawthorne was manager for the Professional Musicians Orchestra sixth annual concert 1918 in the Exhibition Building in aid of the Home for Incurables.
Image courtesy State Library of South Australia

Charles Wittowitto Cawthorne became a fulcrum of 19th Century Adelaide music as music sheet seller and band master. Cawthorne, son of teacher/painter W.A. Cathorne and pianist Maryann, began studying piano at 14 with Louis Eselbach and violin with F. Draeger. He also learnt the bassoon.

In 1870 he began work with his father in a newsagent's business in Morphett Street, Adelaide. The firm became Cawthorne & Co. with father and son as partners in 1884. In a new building in Gawler Place, they advertised as “music-sellers and artists’ colormen”. In 1911, a prime site in Rundle Street was leased as Cawthorne's Building.

By 1896, Cawthorne’s were carrying sheet music from 60 publishers from England, France and Germany. It also stocked instruments, books, opals and fine art. The firm acted as a box office for most musical events in Adelaide, and by 1900 was printing and publishing original compositions.

On most week nights, Cawthorne conducted, performed in and organised musical entertainments. At 18, he was conducting the Adelaide Amateur Orchestra of 40 players and had composed a prize-winning waltz. His Olivia Waltz also sold well in London as the Southern Cross Waltz. He married Amanda Lellmann who shared his musical interests.

In the 1890s, Cawthorne formed 15 players into the Adelaide Orchestra that became Herman Heinicke’s Grand Orchestra. Cawthorne continued to play bassoon and was secretary and treasurer. By 1896, they were staging 13 concerts a year and the town hall was too small to hold all their patrons.

In 1898, he began managing the short-lived students' Conservatorium Grand Orchestra. The two orchestras amalgamated to form the Conservatorium Grand Orchestra, soon renamed the Adelaide Grand Orchestra with Cawthorne as bassoonist and business manager. At Christmas 1899, they combined with the Adelaide Choral Society and the Orpheus Society in a production of The Messiah.

Cawthorne continued composing: his orchestral "Romance" won the prize at a concert judged by public ballot in 1902. In 1910, he founded and conducted Adelaide Orchestral Society.

In World War I, Cawthorne leased the German Club as the Queen's Hall for patriotic concerts. He also managed concerts for and helped to promote Clara Serena (Kleinschmidt), Adelaide Choral Society, Bach Choir, Adelaide Liedertafel Society, Metropolitan Male Voice Choir and Adelaide Glee Club. He encouraged young talents and helped raise money for them to study abroad.

Cawthorne’s eldest son “Gus” carried on his musical tradition.

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