The Bejewelled Box

Making Music at Saumarez Homestead

At one stage, those gathering in the grand drawing room at Saumarez Homestead in Armidale would enter to the sound of music. Alternating between a gramophone, piano, and radio, music would pleasantly fill the space and resonate throughout the home. However, one of the more curious music-makers was this exquisite music box.

It was likely made around 1890 during the heyday of musical boxes which presented the bell mechanism as a decorative feature rather than something hidden. The hammer tops feature delightful, jewelled insects which strike the bells etched with their own decorative patterns. A glass lid allows all the movement to be viewed in action. There is a brass roller, an 8-octave steel comb ‘harp’ and six bells which can be muted.

Still in relatively good condition, parts of the workings are beautifully crafted. The decorated bells were possibly designed in continental Europe whereas the machinery of the movement suggests late-nineteenth-century Britain. The inlaid wood exterior has a diamond pattern on top and a tambourine design on the front, further contributing to the ‘musicality’ of the object.

Unfortunately, the ‘Tune Sheet’ (which would provide the maker and sellers agent as well as a handwritten list of the musical tunes) is missing. One tune has been identified as ‘The Last Rose of Summer.’ an Irish song which also became known as ‘Martha’ after being used in a popular opera of the same name by Friedrich von Flotow in 1847.

With each tune lasting under a minute, it is easy to imagine the members of the household playing all seven tunes in a row while swaying alongside the chiming bells.