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Humming led her to the world stage

When Helen Porter Mitchell started her singing career, the world became her stage. However, the world knew her better as Dame Nellie Melba.

Born in 1861, Nellie was the eldest of 10 children to David Mitchell, building contractor, and his wife Isabella Ann, née Dow. Her first performance was at 6 years old and it was her humming that provided an effective vocal exercise, she would claim. Taking the pseudonym 'Melba' for her home town of Melbourne, it was where she started her performing life studying singing. After some modest success with her performances, Nellie moved to Europe, leaving behind a marriage breakup. She had one son, George Nesbitt Armstrong.

Dame Nellie Melba

It is 1886 London and performance engagements were hard to come by for Nellie so she moved to Paris where success found her. She was also very popular in Brussels. From there her work increased with a return to London where she became the leading lyric soprano at Covent Garden in 1888.

Her star was rising as she was soon performing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, debuting there in 1893. She sang around 25 roles in her career but was known for her performances in French and Italian opera and even a little German.

During World War One Nellie became known for raising large sums for the charities who were providing funds for the war efforts. Throughout the 20th century she returned to Australia, singing in opera and concerts and teaching singing at the Melbourne Conservatorium.

Dame Nellie Melba's grave in Lilydale Lawn Cemetery. Courtesy Annie Brown.

Even in the last months of her life Nellie was singing, making many farewell appearances. She eventually died in Sydney in 1931 of septicaemia. Her funeral became a national event at the Scots Church in Melbourne, where she had sung in her younger days. She is buried in Lilydale Lawn Cemetery in the Yarra Ranges Shire.


  • 'Dame Nellie Melba', Wikipedia. accessed 1st May 2022, Nellie Melba - Wikipedia

  • Jim Davidson, 'Melba, Dame Nellie (1861–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 2 May 2022.

  • 'Dame Nellie Melba', Findagrave, accessed 2 May 2022, Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931) - Find a Grave Memorial

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My grandaunt Muriel Barlow (1898-1975) entered the Melba Singing Scholarship in 1916. She was one of the final 8 to sing for Dame Nellie, but unfortunately did not win.

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