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Handbells in Geelong

Handbells in Geelong

First time handbells played in Geelong

Written by Gwyn Gillard in 2002


The Lancashire Ringers’ first visit to Geelong in 1863 would have been the first time that most local residents had seen handbells played.  However a select few in Geelong had already witnessed a demonstration of handbell ringing seven years prior to this. The following story comes from the Geelong Advertiser of 18th November 1856:


On Saturday evening several gentlemen assembled at the Union Hotel, Malop-street, for the purpose of listening to a selection of tunes performed on the first peal of hand bells which have been introduced into the colony, the same having been brought out in the Mermaid to order. The performance seemed to give great satisfaction, and as the bells rang out their liquid silvery notes thoughts of the old country came vividly back, recalling many pleasant memories of those “old village anthems”, which rung from the steeples, when Christmas came joyously on.


The following notice with regard to these bells is from the Gloucester Journal of June 28th, 1856:


On Tuesday evening last, the Society of College and Crypt Ringers met at Mr Robinson’s Stag Inn, in this city, and opened a new peal of hand bells, No 20, in the key of D, cast by Messrs Mears & Co., of London. During the evening several courses of grandsires, cinques, caters, and a variety of tunes were ably executed by them. We understand they are intended to be taken to Geelong, by Mr W. Robinson, of Littleworth, in this city, and will be the first ever introduced into that colony.


We understand that it is the intention of Mr Robinson to convey these hand bells to Ballarat at once. If Mr Robinson would keep them in town a day or two to enable more persons to witness a performance on them he would unquestionably confer a great pleasure on many, who would avail themselves of the opportunity.


Mr Robinson did take his bells up to Ballarat and on Christmas Eve 1856 he took his group carol-ringing down the main street of town to the delight of the locals. On the 25th December 1856 the Ballarat Starreported:




Last evening Mr Robinson, of the Duchess of Kent Hotel, with several others, perambulated the Main-road, and at various places favored the inhabitants with a few tunes on the hand-bells lately received by him from England. There were seven or eight performers, who, from the practised manner in which they handled the bells, seemed to be proficient in the art. A considerable crowd followed the performers, apparently much delighted with the novelty.


Could this group be the “local amateur company” referred to twelve years later in the Ballarat Star’s review of the concerts given by the Australian Bellringers (= the Lynch Family)?


When advertising his hotel in the Ballarat Star during January and February 1857 Mr Robinson proudly featured his handbells as a special attraction of the establishment:


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