LAST MODIFIED Sunday 26 August 2018 16:27

James Pearson

Dr GRAEME SKINNER (University of Sydney)


To cite this:

Graeme Skinner (University of Sydney), "James Pearson", Australharmony (an online resource toward the history of music and musicians in colonial and early Federation Australia):; accessed 22 February 2019


Organist, pianist, teacher of music, composer, shopkeeper

Born Manchester (probably), England, 18 September 1795
Married Eliza Doodey (1799-1879), St. Nicholas, Liverpool, 16 October 1822
Arrived Hobart, TAS, 2 July 1824 (passenger per Prince Regent, from England, 29 January, via Bahia)
Arrived Sydney, NSW, 12 March 1825 (per Deveron, from Hobart, 3 March)
Died Cowpasture, NSW, 13 July 1841, age "43" (TROVE tagged by Australharmony)


James Pearson was the fourth son of Thomas Pearson (1760-1827), and of his wife Elizabeth Brierley (d.1821) of Manchester (Burke's colonial gentry, 1891). According to James himself (death notice, Sydney, 1829 below), his father was a priest, and for a time a schoolmaster at Liverpool, and some of his former pupils were now in the colony. James's cousin, John Norman Pearson (1787-1865) was also a clergyman, and author, who in 1825/26 became founding principal of Islington College of the Church Missionary Society.

James and his wife, Eliza, and their infant daughter, arrived in Hobart Town in July 1824, and the Van Diemen's Land government accounts for 1825 include an unspecified annual payment to "J. Pearson, Conductor of Church Music". Notwithstanding, the Pearsons sailed from Hobart for Sydney on the Deveron early in March 1825, and his first professional advertisement duly appeared in the Sydney press on 17 March:

MR. JAMES PEARSON, Teacher of the Piano Forte, and Professor of Thorough Bass. Mr. Pearson's Plan of Instruction is to unite Science with Practice, that his Pupils may thoroughly understand the Elements of Music. They are taught the Rules of Modulation; the practical Use of the major and minor Keys, as connected with Modulation and the playing of Extempore Preludes; with the Method of adding to a Melody the proper Accompaniments, from a figured or thorough Bass. Exercises in Outline are given to his Pupils, with appropriate Rules and Examples, to enable them to write on each Part of the Science, from its most simple to its highest Branches, and so to familiarize the whole, that they may attain a complete Knowledge of the theoretical as well as practical Part of Music . . .

He relocated from lodgings to 22 Castlereagh-street in May, when he advertised again that:

Mr. P. has at present Leisure to attend to 2 Pupils on Tuesday and Friday Afternoons, after 3 o'clock, at their own Residences, Pianofortes, tuned and repaired, in the most complete Manner. It is Mr. P.'s intention shortly, to arrange some of Handel's Chorusses, Fugues, and Airs for the Pianoforte, in a familiar Style. Should this Attempt to forward the Progress of Musical Science in the Colony meet with Encouragement, it will be followed by others of a more extended Nature.

Pearson notably came to the assistance of an Indigenous woman who was being assaulted by a group of whites in January 1827.

By early March 1827, he had taken over from John Edwards as director of the music at St. James's Church (though this was also the subject of some dispute in letters to the press), the Monitor reporting:

The choir of St. James's Church, will chaunt on Sunday evening next, the Magnificat, arranged by Mr. Pearson, who has accepted the office of leader.

In April Pearson advertised for sale "an elegant cabinet piano", and also that he was seeking:

A COPY of HANDEL'S MESSIAH, arranged by Dr. Clarke, of Canterbury. Any person willing to dispose of a copy may meet with a purchased by applying to Mr. Pearson, teacher of the Piano.

As reported in July 1830:

That beautiful piece of sacred music adapted to the responses in the Communion Service, and sung by the choir of St. James's Church, is the composition of Mr. PEARSON, the Organist.

Early in 1833, the Monitor noted:

Mr. Pearson, music master, has commenced silvering mirrors, and is the first person in this Colony who has attempted this portion of the useful arts. The great difficulty of bringing over mirrors and looking-glasses from England without injury to the silver, will, we should imagine, obtain for Mr. P. profitable employment in this branch of business. Mr. P. was the organist of St. James's Church. Ever since he was dismissed his situation, the music of St. James's has not been worth listening to. It is indeed painful to all Iovers of organ-music, to hear so fine an instrument murdered.

Pearson's latest musical notice was in November 1834, when John Lhotsky advertised his A song of the women of the Menero tribe near the Australian alps, "arranged with the kind assistance of several Musical Gentlemen for the Voice and Piano Forte . . . Pe[a]rson, Josep[h]son and Sippe".

Pearson retired to the country, where during his last years he was clerk of the bench at Cowpasture near Camden. He died there suddenly in July 1841.

With thanks to Peason descendent Lynne Smith, for sharing her ongoing research (October 2016).


"SHIP NEWS", "PASSENGERS PER PRINCE REGENT", Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen's Land Advertiser (2 July 1824), 2 

[Advertisement], Hobart Town Gazette (11 February 1825), 4

"Ship News", Hobart Town Gazette (11 March 1825), 2

"SHIP NEWS", The Australian (17 March 1825), 3 

[Advertisement], The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (17 March 1825), 1

[Advertisement], The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (12 May 1825), 1

"GOVERMENT ORDER", Hobart Town Gazette (25 February 1826), 1s

SALARIES Paid . . . one year to 31 December . . . Ditto, J. Pearson, as Conductor of Church Music. [no sum indicated]

[News], The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (3 January 1827), 3

[News], The Monitor (6 January 1827), 4

[News], The Monitor (9 March 1827), 8

"To the Editor", The Australian (31 March 1827), 2

"To the Editor", The Australian (3 April 1827), 2

"TO THE EDITOR", The Monitor (6 April 1827), 5

"To the Editor", The Australian (7 April 1827), 2

[Advertisement], The Monitor (13 April 1827), 1

"ST. JAMES'S CHOIR", The Monitor (8 June 1827), 8

[News], The Monitor (15 June 1827), 8

"ST. JAMES'S CHOIR", The Monitor (24 July 1827), 3

[News], The Australian (26 September 1827), 2

[Editorial], The Monitor (7 May 1828), 7

[Editorial], The Monitor (12 July 1828), 2

[Editorial], The Monitor (11 October 1828), 3

"DEATHS", The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (17 February 1829), 3

Lately, at Totness, near Plymouth, in the 63d year of his age, the Rev. THOMAS PEARSON, A. M. father of Mr. JAMES PEARSON, of this town. Mr. P. was a Venerable and highly respectable Clergyman of the Church of England; and to his eminent abilities and engaging deportment as a tutor, some of his pupils, now in this Colony, can bear an affectionate testimony. He formerly resided in Liverpool, (England), where his seminary was in great repute. He was a man of most amiable disposition and unspotted reputation, and, by a very large circle of enlightened friends, was greatly esteemed and beloved, and has been sincerely lamented.

"A MUSICAL BAROMETER", The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (13 June 1829), 2

Colonial Secretary LC, Cash vouchers 1829, State Archives NSW, 4/296 (transcr. Rushworth 1988, 363, corrected)

[St. James's Church], Chaplain Hill, £250 [per annum]; Clerk, 20; Collector of Pew Rents, 5; Sexton, 20; Beadles (2), 15 each; Pew openers (2), 10 each; Teacher of the Choir and Organist, Mr. Pearson, £26; ditto, for tuning the organ, 8; Singers, Harriet Edmonds, 10; Ann Lancaster, 5; E. Hoare, J. Parton, G. Shepherd, Wm. Aldis, R. Cooper, S. Pawsey, 5 each; Organ blower, Geo. Mills, 4 6s 8d; Watchman, 13; Grave Digger, 13.

[News], The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (6 July 1830), 3

[News], The Australian (22 July 1831), 3

[Advertisement], The Sydney Monitor (30 November 1831), 3

"Domestic Intelligence", The Sydney Monitor (2 May 1832), 3 

Mr. Pearson has completed several sounding boards for Piano Fortes whose boards have been damaged so as to render the instrument either useless or of very inferior tone. Mr. P. is the first person who has attempted this line of business in the Colony, and his application to the mechanical part of the operation is likely to be repaid by extensive patronage. Within the last week, he has reorganized four instruments, which now have tones equal to their original ones. The calls on him for tuning Piano Fortes are very numerous.

"TO THE EDITOR", The Sydney Monitor (18 August 1832), 3

[News], The Sydney Monitor (8 December 1832), 3

[News], The Sydney Monitor (13 February 1833), 2

[Advertisement], The Sydney Monitor (20 July 1833), 4

"TO THE EDITOR", The Sydney Monitor (10 August 1833), 4

[News], The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (18 July 1833), 2

[Advertisement], The Sydney Herald (10 April 1834), 1

[Advertisement], The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (8 February 1838), 3

[News], The Sydney Monitor (4 March 1835), 2

NSW, BDM, 1232/1841 V18411232 25B, age 43 (= born c.1798)

"NEWS FROM THE INTERIOR", The Sydney Herald (28 July 1841), 3

"Deaths", The Sydney Morning Herald (29 May 1879), 1 

Musical publication

A song of the women of the Menero Tribe arranged with the assistance of several musical gentlemen for the voice and pianoforte, most humbly inscribed as the first specimen of Australian music, to her most gracious majesty Adelaide, queen of Great Britain & Hanover, by Dr. J. Lhotsky, colonist N. S. Wales (Sydney: Sold by John Innes, [1834]) (DIGITISED)

[Advertisement], The Sydney Monitor (29 November 1834), 1

AUSTRALIAN Philosophical Repository . . . Published at this establishment. 1. A Journey from Sydney to the Australian Alps . . . 2. A Song of the Menero tribe near the Australian Alps, arranged with the kind assistance of several Musical Gentlemen for the Voice and Piano Forte, and most humbly inscribed to Her Most Gracious Majesty, Adelaide, Queen, &c. The collaborating at this song of such able musicians as Pearson, Josephson and Sippe demonstrate clearly that it is neither (as some of my enemies say) a Portuguese air, nor any thing else than a wild air, carrying however a great depth of feeling. Several families having expressed their wishes to buy this Air for their children, its present price at Sydney is one shilling and sixpence. J. LHOTSKY. Castlereagh-street, near Hunter-street, Nov. 25th 1834.


Bernard Burke, A genealogical and heraldic history of the colonial gentry . . . vol. 1 (London: Harrison & Sons, 1891), 88 

Rushworth 1988, Historic organs of New South Wales, 28, 29, 30, 105, 363-64

Skinner 2011, First national music, 113-116 (DIGITISED)

© Graeme Skinner 2014 - 2019