John Joel Austin
Deputy Sheriff of Victoria, Provincial civil servant, musician, choir director and composer
Compiled by Maureen Duffus, great granddaughter of John Joel Austin
John Joel Austin (Family collection)
John Joel Austin was born in London, England, in 1838, and died in Victoria in 1906.
Sarah Ann Austin with eldest daughter Annie in 1867.
(Image G-02257 Courtesy of BC Archives)
1862: Came to British Columbia in 1862, one of many younger sons tempted by promised fortunes in Britain's new Pacific colony. His gold rush adventure in his early 20s failed to provide a fortune, but he found opportunities on Vancouver Island, a British Colony established 16 years earlier in 1849.
1863-64: Back in Victoria, the young city that emerged from Fort Victoria after the gold rush, John Joel sent for the girl he left behind in England, Sarah Ann Stout. They were married September 26, 1864, by Rev. Robert Dundas in St. John's Church - the pre-fab iron building shipped from England in sections and erected in Victoria in 1860.
1865-67: Worked at the Bank of British Columbia in 1865. His first public service appointment was as deputy sheriff of Victoria in 1866-67.
1871-83: Employed as accountant, then auditor in the department of Lands and Works after the Colony of British Columbia became a province of Canada in 1871.
1883: Resigned "to enter real estate, in which he has since been engaged," according to the 1891 Victoria Illustrated, published by Ellis &Co. with the Colonist. The same source says that he also represented the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Company as General Agent.
The Colonist reported his resignation from his government position on August 1, 1883:
"It is with extreme pleasure that we learn that Mr. John J. Austin was last evening ... presented by the Honorable the Premier ... with a most flattering testimonial ... [and]a farewell address from his associates in the service (embossed by Mr. F. G. Richards Jr.) in which regret at the discontinuation of their kindly intercourse and the most kindly wishes for his success in his new aspirations and the continued welfare of himself and family were most eloquently and feelingly blended."
A testimonial in elegant script is signed by then BC Premier Walken, Queen's printer Richard Wolfenden, other cabinet ministers and colleagues.
1888: Four of the Austin's nine children died within two weeks in September during a diphtheria epidemic. The Colonist reported on Nov. 27:
Mr. and Mrs. John J. Austin have sustained a severe affliction in the death of their fourth daughter, Emily Maude. The deceased child was aged 14 and was ill but a short time ... The funeral took place from the residence of the bereaved parents. A large concourse of sympathetic friends were present at Christ Church Cathedral. The mournful procession then proceeded to Ross Bay Cemetery where all that was mortal of a bright and lovable child was consigned to the grave ... the pallbearers were R. Ker, R. Monro, D. Ker and N. Hibben."
Two days later the Colonist reported "the many friends of Mr. and Mrs. John J. Austin will be grieved to learn that they have lost another child from diphtheria ... and several more of the children are dangerously ill ... ."
Fifteen-month old son William died next, followed by Lily Kate, 10, and Edith Rose, five. They, too, were buried at Ross Bay Cemetery beside 14-year-old Emily. Three daughters, Annie, Nellie and Carrie, and two sons, Harry and Philip, survived.
Family and Music
John Joel was prominent in Victoria's increasingly active musical scene for nearly 40 years. He was a chorister with the Germania Sing Verein as early as 1863. By 1868 he was choirmaster at St. John's Church. An early fund raiser by the St. John's Choral Society, a "grand amateur concert" with the HMS Zealous band contributing to the program, raised $300 for the Sunday School building fund.
For the next 20 years he was a popular guest conductor at other churches, including the Pandora Street Methodist church (later the Metropolitan United, now the Victoria Conservatory of Music); St. Paul's Church, Esquimalt, and St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. When St. Andrew's gave a "Sacred Concert and Organ Recital to mark the installation of a new organ "imported from Canada" in February, 1881, the Colonist praised Mr. J.J. Austin "to whose admirable management the public are indebted for a most agreeable evening's entertainment."
Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, who was greeted at the reception with music composed by J.J. Austin at a ball during her visit to Victoria.
(from Wikimedia Commons)
John Joel was a founder of the Victoria Choral Society in 1878. At its first performance in June, 1879, he conducted the choruses in an ambitious program which included the march from Bellini's Norma. "Too much praise cannot be accorded Mr. Austin, who directed the choruses, Mr. Chambers, conductor, and Mr. Thomas Wilson, leader of the orchestra," the Colonist reported on June 19. (For more Colonist entries, see A Documentary History of Music in Victoria British Columbia, Volume 1: 1850-1899. Robert Dale McIntosh, University of Victoria, Victoria, 1981)
For a most important musical occasion in 1882 he published his composition, Columbia's Welcome, for the visit of the Governor General of Canada, the Marquis of Lorne, and his wife, Queen Victoria's daughter Princess Louise. The march was performed at "A Grand Concert under the distinguished patronage and in Aid of the Royal Hospital and Protestant Orphanage, Victoria, by the Victoria Amateur Orchestra, assisted by Principal Vocalists of the City, at Philharmonic Hall, Fort Street ..."
A tumultuous welcome by the "large and brilliant company" greeted the vice-regal guests at the concert:
"After quiet was again resumed the programme commenced with Mr. J. J. Austin's chorus entitled Columbia's Welcome to our royal visitors. In this welcome, which as a piece of musical composition is of a high order of merit, Mr. Chambers resigned his baton to the composer ... The sweet chorus and perfect harmony of Mr. Austin's production elicited much applause throughout, the audience showing conclusively that is was thoroughly appreciated ..." (Colonist, Nov. 22, 1882)
The Colonist also reported on "the most brilliant social event ever witnessed in the Province," a reception in the Legislative chambers of for the vice-regal visitors. James K Nesbitt's article in the Islander December 2, 1979, revisits the earlier Colonist's "monumental task" of describing the elaborate gowns worn by the wives and daughters of the VIPs and their positions in 1880s Victoria. Mrs. John Austin wore "crimson grosgrain, en train, petticoat of crimson moire, trimmed with jet lace and ornamented with white rosebuds."
The next musical triumph of 1880s Victoria was the opening of a new theatre with an ambitious production of The Pirates of Penzance. John Joel was not involved in the highly successful production, but had organized a society to raise funds for its construction. He remained as secretary and treasurer of the institution for several years. His eldest daughters, Annie and Nellie, sang in the ladies chorus - as did two Yates brothers, James Stuart and Harry, who married the Austin girls a few years later.
John Joel was less active on the musical scene after 1888, when three of the younger girls, Emily, Rose and Lily, and the baby William died. The family moved from their home on the Gorge, with its sad memories, to a home on Fort Street at Belmont Avenue where John Joel and Sarah lived for the rest of their lives.