LAST MODIFIED Friday 1 December 2017 12:25

William Joseph Cavendish

Dr GRAEME SKINNER (University of Sydney)


To cite this:

Graeme Skinner (University of Sydney), "William Joseph Cavendish", Australharmony (an online resource toward the history of music and musicians in colonial and early Federation Australia):; accessed 23 February 2018

CAVENDISH, William Joseph (William Joseph CASTELL; William Joseph CAVENDISH DE CASTELL)

Musician, dancing-master, composer, arranger

Born Kilkenny, Ireland, May 1789 (baptised 27 May)
Arrived Sydney, NSW, 20 January 1833 (per Sovereign from Mauritius)
Died Sydney Harbour, 26 January 1839 (TROVE tagged by Australharmony)

CAVENDISH, Mary (alias of Mrs. Mary CECIL)

Teacher of music

Arrived Sydney, NSW, 20 January 1833 (per Sovereign from Mauritius)
Died Sydney Harbour, 26 January 1839



Born William Joseph Castell, he was a professional musician in London until debts forced him to leave for France in 1826. Later, in Mauritius, he affected the surname Cavendish de Castell, which he also used during his first months in Australia, then simply as Cavendish. Based on his papers, including a large number of letters from his wife in London, in the NSW State Archives (Papers of the Curator of Intestate Estates, 1839-41), Ann Beedell's 1992 study presents fascinating and scarifying, if incomplete, reconstruction of what she characterises as his failed career. Much evidence, some of it not sighted by Beedell, suggests that he was, however, well respected in Sydney musical circles. A recent donation to the SLNSW, his 1833 manuscript is, so far as is known the very earliest example of a settler Australian musical composition to survive from colonial times.

Reporting on his well-attended funeral, The Australian noted: "The musical profession has lost a friend and a warm supporter in Mr. Cavendish, who has always been foremost to render his services, gratuitously, to the advancement and encouragement of the science. In private life he was greatly esteemed." Cavendish would be remembered as the "founder" of the Cecilian Society, which, as a memorial, hung a portrait of him at its June 1839 meeting. Speculatively, Beedell (97) reproduces a "portrait of an unknown man, Sydney, c.1835, possibly William Joseph Castell", from Cedric Flower, Duck and cabbage tree: a pictorial history of clothes in Australia, 1788-1914 (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1968). He and his "sister" (in fact, his de facto partner), a "teacher of music", drowned in Sydney Harbour during the 1839 Anniversary Regatta.


"REVIEW OF MUSIC", The Harmonicon (May 1824), 97 [W. I. CASTELL]

"ARRIVALS", The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (22 January 1833), 2

"MELANCHOLY ACCIDENT", The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (29 January 1839), 2

"MELANCHOLY ACCIDENT", The Colonist (30 January 1839), 3

"THE ANNIVERSARY REGATTA", The Australian (29 January 1839), 2

"DOMESTIC INTELLIGENCE", The Sydney Herald (30 January 1839), 2

"CECILIAN SOCIETY", The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (8 June 1839), 2

Musical works online:

5 quadrilles and 2 waltzes ("The Fairy Quadrilles"; "Australian, Notasian, Arabian, or Mal[a]gareske quadrilles"); (2 Quadrilles have Sydney titles: Woo-loo-moo-loo and Kurry Jong). MS score and accompanying letter (dated "Parramatta, Notasia [i.e. Australasia], April 20, [18]33"), at SL-NSW; Castell family papers, 1786-1993 (MLMSS 7989) (DIGITISED)

Bibliography and resources:

Beedell 1992

Skinner 2011

Skinner 2015

© Graeme Skinner 2014 - 2018