From the collection: Catherine Hayes illustration

Illustrated portrait of woman with hair up in bun, wearing dark dress - framed by title of sheet music and publishing details.
Sheet music cover illustration of Catherine Hayes for Richard Frederick Harvey’s ‘Tis sad to say adieu’, S J Pigott, Dublin, 1850. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums. Gift of Richard Bonynge AC CBE, 2018
This sheet music cover is the only known copy of this illustration of the soprano Catherine Hayes (1818–1861), one of the world’s first international opera and concert stars.

Born in Ireland, Hayes escaped abject poverty through her talent to a life of stardom in the opera houses and concert halls of Europe, America, Asia, the Pacific and Australia.

‘Tis sad to say adieu’ is a sentimental ballad written by Richard Frederick Harvey, published in Dublin in 1850 as a companion to Hayes’s earlier hit ‘Home of my heart’, and suited her sense of Irish patriotism. The diva spent much of her career performing to rapturous audiences as she travelled the world, and she sometimes included new compositions, like this one, dedicated to her local audiences. Before her departure from Sydney in October 1854, Hayes performed ‘Fair land of Australia’, a song composed for her by her tour conductor, Lewis Lavenu (1818–1859), who then spent the rest of his life working in Australia.

Today, the only known full copy of ‘Tis sad to say adieu’ is an edition without the portrait in the British Library.

To find out more about Catherine Hayes and her impact on the Australian cultural scene, visit the Songs of Home exhibition at the Museum of Sydney, 10 August – 17 November.


This article originally appeared in Unlocked: The Sydney Living Museums Gazette, our Members’ magazine.

Not a Member?

Join now

About the author

Dr Matthew Stephens

Research Librarian

Matthew Stephens is research librarian at the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection.  He is particularly fascinated by early book, musical instrument and sheet music collections in NSW and the stories they tell.

Related stories