After his touring days were over, opera singer Thomas Rainford lived in Glebe until his death. His daughter Eva also had a long association with the suburb.

Tom Rainford (Image: The Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser 29 July 1899)

Born in Leicester, England, Thomas was reputed to have swum ashore after being shipwrecked as a young man off the African coast, and to have sung five times before Queen Victoria. In 1863 he arrived in Melbourne with Christy’s Minstrels, a blackface troupe (his numbers included My Home in Kentuck [sic] and Poor Old Jeff). Deciding to stay in Australia, he then performed with Frank Weston’s Minstrels and Frank Hussey’s Minstrels and in 1868 sang in a concert for the visiting Duke of Edinburgh.

In 1870 Rainford was stage manager and solo performer at Melbourne’s Theatre Comique and consolidated his reputation as an audience favourite. The next year he was given special billing with moving panoramas staged in Victorian gold rush towns. A precursor of cinema, the panorama was a series of elaborately painted scenes rolled out on stage accompanied by spoken commentary, musical interludes and the occasional theatrical effect such as the sudden transformation of day to night or the blowing up of a bridge. Rainford created mood changes for The Franco-Prussian War with his renditions of The Watch on the Rhine, La Parisienne and My Loved and Native Home.

By 1873 Rainford was concentrating on opera. He received glowing reviews as Count Arnheim in the English Opera Troupe’s The Bohemian Girl. As principal basso with William Saurin Lyster’s company his repertoire of 16 works included Faust (Mephistopheles) and The Grand Duchess (General Boum). In 1874 he toured with visiting pianist Mme Arabella Goddard. The next year he sang with Mme Christian (who taught a teenaged Melba) and with Croatian soprano Ilma de Murska on her Australian tour, and joined Alice May’s opera company which toured India (in Calcutta he sang before the Prince of Wales). Thomas Rainford also went to China with Howard Vernon’s company. In comic opera his most celebrated role was Dick Deadeye in HMS Pinafore with Maggie Moore as Josephine. His last stage appearance was in this part, at Sydney’s Theatre Royal. Rainford was also a composer and arranger. Among his known works are a song Christmas Bells (1894) and the piano music for Beneath the Southern Cross (1888).

By January 1879 when he sang at the NSW Highland Society’s celebration of Robert Burns’ birthday, Tom Rainford was living permanently in Sydney. For the next two years he was landlord of the Forest Lodge Hotel where he hosted meetings of the Derwent Cricket Club and the Glebe Cricket Association. In June 1880 his brother-in-law Henry Charles Farley, a wealthy Queensland gold prospector, was staying at the hotel but failed to return after a night out. Farley died after being found unconscious on a Newtown street, minus his £60 watch ripped from its chain and pawned by an opportunistic thief.

Rainford moved from Forest Lodge into the newly built Palmerston Terrace. Here his wife Marian Jane ‘Jennie’ (born at Whitstable, Kent, 39 years earlier) died on Boxing Day 1887.

After giving up his professional singing career, Rainford became a music teacher. At the time of his death on 9 November 1906 his address was Doreen, 168 (now 204) Glebe Rd. The Long Day Closes was sung at his funeral service at St John’s Glebe where he had been an occasional choir member. He was buried in Waverley Cemetery with his wife and brother-in-law.

Thomas’ daughter Eva was born on 1 April 1869 and christened at Richmond, Victoria. After her father’s death she remained at Doreen with the house’s other occupants William Henry Webb and his daughter Madeline Lilian ‘Lily’, a masseuse.

William Webb, who had migrated from England in 1867, was assistant secretary, librarian and bookkeeper with the NSW Royal Society, and for 25 years honorary treasurer of St Barnabas’ Sunday School. He died at Doreen on 29 August 1916, survived by Lily and his married daughter Florence Emily, then living at Bathurst, and was buried in Waverley Cemetery with his wife Emily who had died, aged 33, on 12 October 1881.

A supporter of the Wentworth Free Kindergarten, Eva Rainford during the First World War ran patriotic concerts at Glebe Town Hall in aid of the Belgian Fund and the Red Cross, organised a Christmas gift evening in the Record Reign Hall for the 5th Field Artillery, and was treasurer of the 45-member Glebe branch of the Red Cross (not formed until the war was near its end). With other volunteers she sold buttons on Red Cross Day, and became a Commandant with the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment).

Eva and Lily remained at Doreen until 1920 when they both moved to 12 Toxteth Rd, Eva’s address at the time of her death on 11 February 1952. Unmarried, she was buried in the family grave at Waverley Cemetery.

Eva Rainford’s home, 12 Toxteth Rd (image: Phil Young)

In 1952 the Toxteth Rd house was bought by Jack Stitt who lived there for over six decades until his death. An employee and union organiser at the Max Factor cosmetics factory (now Sydney University’s Woolcock building), Jack was a renowned collector of boxing memorabilia. The story of his acquisition of Les Darcy’s sparring gloves was the subject of an article in the Melbourne Age on 1 July 2009.

Sources: Argus (Melbourne) 10.2.1863; Australian Town and Country Journal 21.11.1906; Evening News 10.11.1906; NSW cemetery records; NSW electoral rolls; NSW registry of births, deaths, marriages; personal information; Sands Directories; Sunday Times (Sydney) 17.1.1909, 14.4.1918, 30.6.1918; Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser 29.7.1899; Sydney Morning Herald various issues including 27.12.1887, 19.12.1890, 19.11.1906.