Story: Parsons, Elizabeth

Page 1 - Parsons, Elizabeth

Parsons, Elizabeth

1846–1924

Singer

This biography was written by M. J. Kelly and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 1, 1990

Elizabeth Widdop was born at London, England, on 10 February 1846, the third of four children and the elder daughter of William Widdop, a coachman, of Wakefield, Yorkshire, and his wife, Hannah Byatt, of Cheadle, Staffordshire. On 25 June 1855 the Widdop family left Gravesend for New Zealand on the barque William and Jane. They arrived in Wellington on 1 December 1855. By 1857 the family was living in Wellington Terrace and William was employed as a servant. Elizabeth, who had a beautiful soprano voice, was a member of the choir at St Paul's Church, Thorndon, where on 7 May 1864, she married William Frederick Parsons, a builder (and later a member of Wellington City Council from 1890 to 1893). They had a common interest in music, and passed on their musical talents to their 12 children.

Elizabeth Parsons was a prominent figure on the Wellington music scene. Remaining an amateur throughout her career, she sang at every important musical event in the town for over 30 years, and freely gave her time and talent to sing when other soloists were taken ill, or to help raise money for worthy causes. Her first solo was in oratorio at the age of 15; she joined the first Wellington Choral Society in 1860 and the St Paul's choir in 1861. She continued to sing at St Paul's, performed regularly at the Theatre Royal from its inception, and also appeared with the Wellington Festival Choral Society, the Orchestral and Harmonic societies, the Musical Festival, and the Musical Union. She sang at concerts in the Tinakori Schoolroom, and at the first Sunday-school Musical Festival. On 16 December 1896 Mrs Parsons and her family gave a 'grand concert' to a full house at the Wellington Industrial Exhibition.

In 1898 Elizabeth and William decided to go to England to further their daughters' musical training. On 15 March 1898 a farewell concert was held in the Grand Opera House and Elizabeth Parsons was presented with a purse of sovereigns and an illuminated address from the city of Wellington. She resigned her membership of the St Paul's Pro-Cathedral choir after 37 years. The parishioners presented her with a diamond ring and an address, and the choir gave her a travelling rug and cushion.

In England the family stayed in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London. Their daughter Phoebe attended the Royal College of Music and another daughter, Ellen, attended the Guildhall School of Music. While in England Elizabeth Parsons underwent lung surgery for tuberculosis. For her health's sake the family returned to New Zealand in 1902.

Elizabeth Parsons gave her last major public performance at the opening of the town hall in Wellington on 7 December 1904. She died at Lower Hutt on 1 March 1924, aged 78 years.