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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Parker, Katharine (Kitty) (1886–1971)

by Margaret Glover

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Katharine (Kitty) Parker (1886-1971), pianist and composer, was born on 28 March 1886 at Parknook, Cressy, Tasmania, and registered as Catherine, third of seven children of Erskine James Rainy Parker, sheep farmer, and his wife Florence Agnes, née Leary. Inheriting her mother's musical talent, Kitty studied in Melbourne at the University Conservatorium from 1904, graduating with a diploma of music in 1906. Next year she won a gold medal, for 'piano solo over 20', at the Australian Exhibition of Women's Work in Melbourne. After a farewell concert at Launceston, Tasmania, early in 1909 she went to London, to further her career and study with Percy Grainger. Later that year, with fellow Tasmanians, Parker took part in a musical evening in honour of the newly appointed governor of Tasmania Sir Harry Barron.

Grainger described Parker as the most gifted piano pupil he ever had. 'She did everything by nature (or out of the good teaching she had at the Melbourne University Conservatorium) and I felt a fool trying to teach her'. Through Grainger, she met the English tenor Hubert Mortimer Eisdell, whom she married on 16 June 1910 at St Mark's Church, Hamilton Terrace, London. They had one son Michael (1912-1986). In 1911 she made her London concert début as a soloist. Her first compositions were published in 1913, but Hubert's career overshadowed hers. In 1920 the couple made a concert tour of Australia, their talents combining to be 'one in perfect harmony with the other'. At their final Australian concert at Launceston, Eisdell sang two of his wife's compositions.

Back in England, by 1930 the two had separated and two years later Hubert left alone for Canada where he remarried. Kitty remained in England. Her musical activities were affected by her personal misfortunes, and she did not resume composing. In 1930, however, she had sent to Grainger Four Musical Sketches, which included the piece for which she is best known, Down Longford Way, written in 1928, which Grainger orchestrated in 1935. Her music was published under the name Katharine Parker, some pieces by Boosey & Hawkes, others by Augener. Resuming her career as an accompanist, she toured Las Palmas and Tenerife in 1935 and Berlin in 1936 and 1937.

In London in World War II Kitty Eisdell drove an ambulance. Losing touch with the musical world, she experienced poor health and suffered depression. Her son had gone to Australia in 1935. After the war, during which he served in the Australian Imperial Force and was wounded, he resumed working as an announcer with the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Sydney.

Advised to find a dry climate to counter the effects of tuberculosis, Kitty returned to Australia in January 1947. The next two years were spent in various locations—with her son in Sydney, in Melbourne, in Tasmania, where she broadcast for the A.B.C., and in Sydney again. In 1950 she accepted a position with a radio station at Launceston and also began taking pupils there and in surrounding districts. Although she continued to give lessons at Launceston, ill health ended her teaching elsewhere and she did scarcely any composing.

A tiny person, she had a lively personality and a zest for life. From 1960 she lived with her sister Reike, also a musician, at Elizabeth Bay, Sydney. `Katherine Erskine Eisdell' died on 28 March 1971 in the Sacred Heart Hospice, Darlinghurst, and was cremated with Catholic rites. Her son survived her. A manuscript memoir by Kitty Eisdell is held by the Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • K. S. Inglis, This is the ABC (Syd, 1983)
  • E. Dorum, Percy Grainger (Melb, 1986)
  • Weekly Courier (Launceston), 24 Dec 1908, p 28, 26 Aug 1909, p, 22 June 1911, p 28, 11 Dec 1913, p 2, 15 July 1920, pp 27 & 29, 28 Oct 1920, pp 27 & 37
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Glover, 'Parker, Katharine (Kitty) (1886–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 30 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Eisdell, Katherine Erskine

28 March 1886
Cressy, Tasmania, Australia


28 March 1971
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence