Biographical Notes on Dorian Le Gallienne,
composer and critic

by Ralph Traill


Like forty eight Bach fugues that he had played,
The years, so fugitive, reach life's full close;
The harmony dissolves, and the pointless groove
The fretted counterpoint; but time has stayed
To numb the dusty scores: and all that made
For joy and tears, for wit whence laughter rose,
For that content that Grecian grace bestows
Upon the Muse's son, becomes a shade.
In vain The Prize may call, Sebastian call;
The Voyageur is gone, and Solveig's Song
Is answered by no Peer: but the blue sky
Looks down on gentle slopes below the hall
Where artists gather and where magpies throng;
And gum leaves, stirred by gentle airs, still sigh.

                                                                                                                                                        Ralph C Traill

Copyright (c) Estate RC Traill 1982                      See References for elaborations




  Dorian Le Gallienne played a significant part, both as composer and critic, in the musical life of Melbourne, and was liked and respected by his many friends, colleagues and acquaintances. He was, I believe, the third Australian-born composer whose work was played by prominent orchestras overseas, after Alfred Hill and Percy Grainger. Much of his professional life is probably well known, or well recorded, and this has been left to others*. His origins and family life are not; and these are interesting, not only as providing a background to, and perhaps some explanation of his work, but also intrinsically in their own right.

  This work was begun to put on record what I, as a near relative, knew about him; but it inevitably expanded to include what could be learned from other relatives and from written records. These last proved to be rather few, especially those concerning his parents; but I believe I have included most, if not all, of available material.

  It seems worthwhile to examine some aspects of his mother's life in greater depth; this, and a comment on Dorian's attitude to his father, are included in the third part.

  I wish to express my gratitude and thanks to those who have helped me with information or otherwise, as shown in the list of references; and to acknowledge my indebtedness to J. W. Goethe for help help from his poems
Anakreon's Grab and Der Musensohn, which have been set to music by H. Wolf and F. Schubert respectively.

(signed) Ralph Traill
September 1982

*For example, the entry in Wikipedia

Copyright (c) Estate RC Traill 2009



Part One      Dorian Le Gallienne's Parents

Part Two      Dorian Le Gallienne's Life

Part Three    Comments
References    Sources of Information
Appendices         A.    Children and Grandchildren of Edward John White and Sarah Susannah Catharine White
                           B.    Three letters from Dorian Le Galliene
                           C.    Note on Goethe's Play Stella

Editor's Notes






  The father of Dorian Leon Marlois Le Gallienne was, on his own report, born in 1884 at Lille in France, son of Napoleon Le Gallienne, an army surgeon who had died before his son married in 1914. According to the marriage certificate (1), for which he supplied the information, his full name was Dorian Reginald Harold Ronald Le Gallienne; but it is hard to believe that the three names in the middle, very unlikely names for a Frenchman, were given to him by his parents or, indeed, were recognized officially in France, of which country he remained a citizen. A nephew of his wife remembers that he gave his name differently in Australia as Harold Reginald Napoleon Dorian Marlois Le Gallienne (2a). It has been stated to me long ago, but on what authority I cannot remember, that the English poet, Richard Le Gallienne, was his cousin. In 1958, his son received a letter from a great niece of the poet, asking if he were related (3); but his answer is not available. It may be noted that in the family 'Dorian' was always pronounced with a short 'o', as in 'torrid'; and also, that 'Leon' has been derived by contraction of 'Napoleon'.


  The elder Dorian, being a socialist and pacifist, had avoided the legally obligatory military duty in France, and left that country to avoid arrest; he went to England, where he became an actor under the stage name of Harold Vernon, and engaged in one or other of the touring companies, then common, usually in small, supporting parts. He had a good command of English, with only a very slight accent.


  The younger Dorian's mother was Charlotte Edith Estella White, usually called 'Stella' by her seven sisters and one brother, children of Edward John White, assistant astronomer at the Melbourne Observatory. It may have been his interest in stars that suggested the name 'Estella'. She was the second youngest in the family, born on the thirty first of January 1880. Sometimes, too, she was called 'Bid', and this was the name by which she was almost invariably known to her seventeen nieces and nephews.

         Dorian Le Gallienne (senior); the only known photograph


 Of her early schooling, there is no record; but she was Dux of the Methodist Ladies' College in December 1896; and this event was described by her sister Emily in a letter (4) :-

"Dec 16th. 1896 . . Yesterday morn. Stella & I were shopping again. She came in to the studio to lunch. She was so excited & was just longing for the time to pass quickly & for the eve. to come. I went with them in the even. just to see the 'pretty Dux' get her prizes. She looked so sweet & got such lovely prizes; amongst them were an almost complete edition of 'Browning', it in two volumes & only published this year. We really had enough to do  between us to get her books home.
   'The nicest part was that everyone in the college from the Head Master down to the smallest child seemed so pleased that she had won it.

   'The worst of it seems to me is that, it is rather too public a position for a child to take. I never saw the Town Hall so packed, and she was introduced as the 'Dux of the College for 1896' & had to wait while the photo was being taken."  The photograph was published in the press (5).



Stella White (centre) receiving her prizes at the Methodist Ladies College's 'At Home' in the Melbourne Town Hall, 15th December, 1895 (photograph by Talma; from 'The Leader,' courtesy of the La Trobe Library).

  It is believed that, in 1897, Stella undertook studies in music, especially the piano, probably at the Melbourne Conservatorium. He father recorded in his diary some of the visits to the Conservatorium, and also of her going to the Conservatorium Ball (6); and she sat for some examination, the subject of which is not recorded, at the end of the year (7). The Conservatorium was then, in effect, the private property of G. W. L. Marshall-Hall, Professor of music at the University of Melbourne, and he successfully asserted his right to it after losing his position at the University at the end of 1900: but, if any separate records were kept, they now seem to be unavailable. The University, however, recorded in 1900 that she passed in three written subjects; harmony, counterpoint and aesthetics, in the first year of study for the Diploma of Music (8).  It may be supposed that, after Marshall-Hall's departure from the University at the end of that year, she gave-up the course for the Diploma; but she may have continued at the Conservatorium. It is a family tradition that she, like most of his pupils, was a staunch admirer of Marshall-Hall, and that he named his one-act opera 'Stella' after her (9).

  On the fourteenth of January, 1907, her father booked a return passage to England for her on the 'Miltiades,' which sailed from Melbourne on the twenty eighth of March, and reached London on the the thirteenth of May  (6). Apart from her presence, in July, in Bristol, her father's home town (6), where it is likely that she would visit one or both of her aunts, her father's younger, twin sisters, nothing is known of her movements till she returned on the same ship, reaching Melbourne on the ninth of December of that year. In a letter to his nephew, Cuthbert Traill, who had married Stella's sister Emily, David Traill, of West Bromwich in Staffordshire, wrote :

14th May, 1907. . . I hope Emily's sister Stella will derive much benefit to her health from her voyage and visit to England.' (10a)

  It is said that she became a founding member of the Suffragette movement; (11); but the National Women's Social and Political Union, in which Mrs Emmaline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel were prominent, and to which the term 'suffragette' seems properly to belong, was formed in 1906, and her membership at its foundation may be doubted.


              Stella White, aged about 17 (photograph by Talma)                                                                                                    Stella White (details unknown) 

  After her return to Melbourne, it is probable that she continued musical studies because, in the electoral roll for 1908, the first year of women's suffrage in Victoria, her occupation is described as that of 'student'. Otherwise, there is little information to suggest that she did much more than than make occasional excursions to the country or seaside with various sisters, or visits to one or other of her two married sisters; but her performance at the piano is occasionally mentioned in her father's diary, and her eldest nephew, 'Bob' (now Sir Arthur) Barrett states (9):

   "My earliest picture of Stella is one of an attractive romantic and I am surprised to learn . . that she was about sixteen years older than

   'She joined (possibly about 1910) the fashion in Melbourne of those who 'discovered' the Russian novelists, and of those, the ones with the longest names took precedence.

   'About that period, a young violinist from Bendigo, called Gibson Young, took her fancy, and I remember going to hear him play, and maybe I was taken with both as chaperon. Young eventually went to England, where I think he married, but died comparatively early.

   'Stella's portrait was painted by Mrs Muntz-Adams; it is appealing and attractive, she in a white flimsy dress . . . There was an earlier portrait of Stella, who was wearing a hat, and I am told that both were in the custody of Downing."

  To these, it may be added that: David Traill (10b) in another letter to his nephew, dated 19th January, 1910, wrote:

   'I should think that there is not much chance of Mr Young meeting Violet Pearce', -

            who was the daughter of David's stepdaughter, and an able violinist. The two portraits of Stella are now held by Mrs Downing, Professor Downing's widow. After Gibson Young's departure, his place was taken by Felix Garde, about 1912 (2b).


  Stella was still in Victoria in 1913, and no mention was made in her father's diary up to the date of the last decipherable entry on the twenty fourth of April, to suggest otherwise. He died on the second of August, as did his widow, on the eighth of November of the same year. It is unlikely that Stella would have left any earlier than some weeks after that date; but early in 1914, she was again in England. In London, she met Dorian Le Gallienne, a Frenchman, at a Suffragette march (12), and they were married at the Registry Office of St Martins, in London, on the twenty fourth of July of that year (1).

  Four days after their marriage, the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand, was assassinated at Sarajevo, and after the fourth of August, Britain was involved in the the First World War. Stella probably returned on the first ship offering her a berth, but it is believed that Dorian followed her to Melbourne a short time later, possibly late in 1914. There is a strong belief that, at some time, he was in the British Army Service Corps under the assumed name of 'Oeters' (said to be that of a Belgian or Dutch friend; Sir Arthur Barrett has written :

   'At some time, he adopted the identity of a friend, and I have a dim memory that he served in the Army under the name of Oeters, a Dutch name used, possibly to conceal his own, during the first war period. I cannot say whether this memory is correct but, at any rate, he used that name in travelling to
Australia, and landing illegally, about 1920.' (9).

  In fact, he landed here (Australia) before the end of April, in 1915, but the date is unknown, John Traill (2a) can also remember a similar story. If so, it may be supposed that he enlisted at the beginning of the War but, being of slight build, or for other (medical ?) reasons, was discharged soon after; this would explain why he used this assumed name for the journey for, having Army papers, he would be in less need to reveal his French nationality, which might have caused him trouble, if the uncertainties of the War had brought him into contact with representatives of his country. He seems to have reached Melbourne in time for the birth of his son ['an eight months baby and a difficult birth' (9)] on the nineteenth of April, 1915, for, he is recorded on the Birth Certificate as the Informant, living at 'Donati', Orrong Road, Armadale; the birth having taken place at 'Lalbert,' also in Orrong Road, immediately opposite 'Donati.'
   Stella White (details unknown, probably later than those before)


  Of these two houses, 'Donati', then at number 24, but since renumbered as 538, had been built by a man called Chambers, perhaps a speculative builder (2b), and bought by the White family, probably soon after the father died in August, 1913, having, until then, lived in the staff house at the Observatory, not only as Assistant Astronomer, but even after he had retired. It is believed that the move was not made until after his widow's death in November of that year. The new house was called 'Donati' after the discoverer of the comet, the movements of which E. J. White had observed and plotted from the gold diggings at Bendigo in 1858, publishing his results in the form of a letter to the 'Argus' Newspaper (13); this had led to his appointment at the Observatory. Belonging to the family as a whole, the house was occupied, for the most part, by four of the daughters (Kit, Liz, Stella and Lil), but all the family retained rights in it, except for two married daughters, who relinquished their shares. Until sold, after the death of Stella, the last remaining sister with a share in it, it was a ready haven for others in the family who might need it.


                        'Donati,' Orrong Road, Armadale

Lalbert, a large, two-storied house in spacious grounds, now subdivided, but commemorated by Lalbert Crescent, was the house of Arthur O. Barrett, who had married Florence, the daughter of Edward J. White. While the whole family seems to have been very closely knit, the relationship between Florence and Stella was especially close, and it was natural enough that the greater space and convenience of the larger house, with opportunity for quiet and better attention, should have been offered to Stella for the birth. In due course, Stella returned with her son to Donati, rejoining her husband and sisters living there.

  What the elder Dorian did at that time is not clear to me. I understood, either then or later, that he found some employment, but not as an actor; for theatre in Victoria was not developed at that time to any any extent, certainly far less than it had been in England up to the outbreak of war; and, during the war, it was probably quite inactive in Melbourne, apart from light musical shows and pantomime. He produced an amateur performance of a one-act play about the trial 'Bardell v. Pickwick' from Dickens' 'Pickwick Papers'. This was given at Lalbert to raise funds for patriotic purposes, and was acted by members of the Barrett family, their cousins and friends (2a). It was performed, probably about the middle of 1915, for Lorna Traill then at the Girl's Grammar School at Ipswich, Queensland (where her aunt Helen White was headmistress), sent a letter to her father in August, 1915, in which she wrote :

   'It's rather strange, because the Ipswich Boys' Grammar had their concert last Thursday . . A lot of us went. Stranger still, they acted Bardell v. Pickwick. I didn't see our one, but I think this was a bit different.' (14)

  Whether Dorian received a fee for this, I do not know. Later, there was little that he could find to do other than labouring work, for which his slight build was ill fitted; and such work was all that Stella's brother-in-law, Arthur O. Barrett could find to offer him. He must have continued with this until the end of the War gave hope of more activity in the theatre; but even then, there was little to be had. I saw him as the village priest, Father Con, in an Irish play called 'Mother Machree', staged ('a real play in the open') at the Follies Theatre, St Kilda, in February, 1920 (15); and it is said that he played as a cat in a pantomime (16a); but on the fourth of April 1923, he left Melbourne, and returned on the 'Jervis Bay', to England, presumably to be able to earn a living in the theatre. Stella and their son Dorian, remained with her sisters; but the next year, after two of her nephews, John Traill and Lance Barrett, who were in England for other reasons connected with their respective professional or business interests, found him, she left her son under the care of his aunts, and went, apparently, to persuade him to come back.

  John and Lance, at first, found it almost impossible to find out where Dorian was when they made inquiries about him using his normal name, but had little difficulty when they used his stage name.(12) John met him, and went with him to see the first London production of G. B. Shaw's 'Saint Joan.'(2a) Stella, too, had her difficulties; because of her marriage, she was then of French nationality, as far as Australian officials were concerned, and she could not, therefore get a British passport, but must, instead, use other papers for identification. Further, since her husband was then using another name in England, she had to pass herself off as his sister on arrival.(9) It may be noted that, because of this loss of nationality, her name did not appear on the Victorian electoral roll until 1939, though that of her son was on it after 1936. There is some irony in the fact that she, who had supported women's suffrage in England, thus lost her own right to vote for twenty five years, though Victoria had conceded to suffrage in 1908. Stella's attempt to persuade Dorian to come back to
Melbourne failed (as, indeed, did his attempt, if he made it, to persuade her to stay in England); and she came back, accompanied on the same ship by Lance, towards the end of 1924.(2a)

  Dorian's acting, being in minor parts in minor productions, did not, as John noticed (2b), give him much of an income; and by about 1928 he, under his stage name of Harold Vernon, and a man named H. P. Lawrence (17a&b), had set up a Continental and British Travel Bureau, with a small office at 97 Hatton Garden in London. I visited him there in 1929, and he took me to see a cricket match at the ground of the Marylebone Cricket Club, late in the afternoon, when no entrance fee was charged; he had a keen interest in cricket, especially test matches. Later in the year, he escorted a party of six members of the Barrett family to Paris and other parts of France (18); and, following that, he escorted my parents, sister, and an aunt (Elizabeth White) for a short European tour; the first three and I had been in Scandinavia and Germany, and we met him in Brussels on the second of October. Before I went back to England, he showed me around some of the town. He was a good guide, and I was impressed by his interest in, and knowledge of art.

Cast of the characters for the performance

of 'Mother Machree' in February 1920;

Dorian (senior) is Harold Vernon, Fr. Con


  Dorian and Stella must have kept a correspondence up until that time for, when in England in 1929, I had the address of the Travel Bureau; and this correspondence certainly continued until 1931 when, in one of his letters to her, he mentioned a shrinking employment for actors because of the newly introduced 'talkies', and of a decline in business for the travel agency at the onset of the Great Depression.(17b) Indeed, since his son Dorian told me of his place of employment in 1938, Gamages, a well-known shop in London, that correspondence must have continued, at least, until then. About a month or so later, I tried to find him but, forgetting that information, made vain inquiries at Hatton Garden, where replies to my questions suggested that the man I asked knew more than he chose to tell; but that might relate more to himself, than to Dorian. I never heard any more of him after that, and there is no hint that Stella, when in England with young Dorian and Dick Downing in 1952, made any effort to find him. He might have died before then.

  In view of his son's attitude towards him, some of what he wrote in his two surviving letters is interesting :

   "What an extraordinary thing, of Dorian having inherited my bad habit of licking fingers. I suppose we must have something wrong with our skins; but it does seem funny. I do hope he  gets through his exams  . . .
   'Ever so much luck to you both and particularly Dod
* in his exams
                   *(a nickname for 'Dorian', see Appendix A)


  My wife, Dorothea, remembers hearing that Dorian lost interest in his son after young Dorian was affected by diabetes
(mellitus; insulin-dependent, Type 1) and was forced to leave school. There is no evidence to show whether this (the school leaving) was caused by that event (the onset of diabetes), or was a result of the economic depression.

  During the Great Depression, in the years after 1931, Stella, in partnership with Mrs Wilkie, opened a bookshop, called 'Literature', at 87 Collins Street, to supplement her small income.(18) This arrangement continued until some time near the end of the Second World War, with what success, I do not know; but the partnership then broke up, Stella retiring from the business which her former partner continued. The shop still exists with the same name today, but it has probably changed hands, perhaps several times, since then. I suspect that Stella got the worst part of the deal, and profited rather little from the venture; she was not a business woman.

  Apart from visits abroad in 1924 and 1951, and occasionally to her son's house at Eltham, Stella continued to live at Donati until failing health, which was combined with a failing memory (notable also, in several of her sisters in old age), necessitated her entering Xaralee
(sic, Caralee ?) Private Hospital, in Camberwell, where she died on the fourth of April 1959, the second last of the White sisters, survived only by Florence and her brother Ted.

  There seems to be no need to suppose that the marriage of Dorian and Stella broke up; rather, that it faded away. He was a pleasant, likeable man, a good conversationalist and well read; Rod Barrett, who was with his family when it was escorted in France by Dorian, has remarked on the latter's good sense of humour.(18) I never heard that he quarrelled with anyone; and his failure as a husband and father seems to have been caused by an inability, in the conditions of the First World War and after, to meet to meet the financial responsibility involved. She was a romantic, gentle person, strongly inclined to support the underdog and those in distress (19a,b,c); also somewhat vague and impractical. She adored her son and admired all of his works; and was, I believe, on good terms with all of her sisters. Her nephew, John White, recalls that, when Dorian, her son, died, Dick Downing gave him various papers and photographs, including '. . a bundle of letters from uncle Dorian to Bid, that she had very carefully and, I imagine, lovingly preserved', written before he came to Australia; and had remarked that 'She remained in love with him always, I think.'(20) Those letters have not been preserved.


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Copyright Estate Ralph C. Traill 1982

Editor: Malcolm Adams Traill, September 2009

Edited Edition Copyright MA Traill 2009

Ralph Cuthbert Traill