Philip  Douglas Hargrave was born in Toowoomba on September 11 1921. His mother Margaret Murray (sometimes known as Marjorie) was a talented pianist.  She was  performing with a theatre company called The Globetrotters at the time, and worked until the last three weeks of her pregnancy.  Philip was taken to the theatre in a dress basket for first months of his life. The child’s  much older  father,  Arthur Hargrave, had been an actor and  singer in vaudeville shows.

By the time Philip was five his  parents were living in Adelaide. It is unclear whether the couple were actually married. The ‘talkies’ had made earning a living in  music halls extremely difficult. Mr Hargrave eked out a living running a tiny corner store in Burnside. Meanwhile, Margaret managed to find a job leading the orchestra at the Adelaide Majestic Theatre in King William Street. This was a real coup for a woman in those days.

Source – Adelaide News, March 6 1927


Philip Hargrave's mother conducted the orchestra at the Majestic Theatre

Interior of The Majestic Theatre. (Source – Cinema Treasures)

Arthur Hargrave was the  carer for his  only  son and dreamed of a future in music for  him. When a customer mentioned a piano teacher in the area  called  Henriette Garnaut he took Philip along  to meet her. Miss Garnaut was Australian born and educated, but of French extraction. She was initially  reluctant to take on a five year old, but almost immediately the child’s amazing talent became apparent to her.

Sadly, Mr Hargrave died a few months later, in 1926.  Philip’s mother took over his care and the lessons with Miss Garnaut continued. However, due to Margaret’s  professional commitments and the  fact that Miss Garnaut lived five miles away, the teacher suggested that Philip should reside with her.  She relinquished  her other students to concentrate on the boy she recognized as a child prodigy. Miss Garnaut was independently wealthy and lived in a beautiful home at the foot of Mount Lofty (3 Egmont Avenue).  She was devoted to Philip. who reciprocated her affection and called her Aunty Hetty.

One of the child’s first public performances was in front of 100 guests  at South Australia’s Government House. He was then seven and a half; an unspoiled but self assured little fellow. He attended school at Loreto Convent Marryatville, where he excelled academically and enjoyed playing sport. His genius on the piano never appeared  to affect his life as a normal young schoolboy.

In November 1932 he gave his first major recital at the Town Hall, which was an overwhelming success. He loved all the great composers, but especially Bach. The following newspaper photo was published in the Adelaide News under the headline, CHILD PRODIGY BEGINS HIS CAREER;

The young Philip Hargrave at play and at the piano.

The  Adelaide Advertiser featured the boy and Miss Garnaut  together the morning after the recital. Philip is surrounded by gifts from adoring fans.

Miss Garnaut and her pupil Philip Hargrave.


In April 1933 ten year old Philip and Miss Garnaut  set out on a recital tour of all the Australian capitals, organized by the management company J. and N. Tait.  They were accompanied by the teacher’s niece, Helena Fisher. Twenty five year old Helena was  a talented violinist who had been  adopted by her aunt as an infant. Despite the age difference she and Philip were great friends and  enjoyed playing music together.

That same year Philip’s mother, then 32, married 42 year old, widowed engineer Reginald Marston. Marston was from South Australia, but the newlyweds moved to NSW and rented  a flat at Milson’s Point, Sydney.

When Philip and entourage arrived in Sydney in August, Margaret Marston tried to regain custody of her son.

On August 8, in  company with two policemen, she went to a house in Rushcutters Bay, where she saw her son and Miss Garnaut. Her son was coming down the steps in front of the house, and Miss Garnaut called out to him; ‘Do not go with her Philip, come back here.’ Her son had greeted her, and appeared to be surprised at her presence there. but on hearing the words of Miss Garnaut, he retraced his way up the steps. The policemen had a conversation with Mr John Tait, who was also at the Rushcutters Bay House. Mr Tait informed them that his firm had a contract under which they were entitled to her son, and  the police advised her that they could do nothing towards taking possession of him, ‘ (The Advertiser, Aug 22 1933)

The Marstons then applied to adopt Philip. Permission was granted in NSW, but Miss Garnaut appealed, with the boy  effectively co-appellant. The teacher  contended that the couple were not suitable to be the boy’s legal guardians, and that they did not have the means to properly educate and raise him. (Mr Marston was unemployed at the time.) This led to a bitter and protracted court battle, and the recital tour came to a halt.

Margaret Marston travelled to Adelaide to give evidence in the  case. At one point she and Philip met in a corridor, but did not speak to each other, which surely said a lot.



For 13 year old Philip, the prospect of having to leave  everything he knew and loved must have been horrifying.  It would mean  living  in a different state with his estranged mother and a stepfather he barely knew.  To outward appearances he was as calm and cheerful as ever, but Miss Garnaut told reporters that he understood the situation as well as any adult, and was upset and worried about the outcome.  Miss Garnaut and Philip were represented by Francis Villeneuve Smith K.C., whose son Cairns was Philip’s best friend.


Philip Hargrave leaving court during the custody case.


The boy’s pets  were another source of  comfort.


Philip Hargrave with his pets.


Report on court battle for custody of Philip Hargrave.

SOURCE – Adelaide Mail, Dec. 16 1933


Henriette Garnaut, guardian of Philip Hargrave

J. and N. Tait produced letters  in court  revealing that the Marstons had been traveling to Philip’s concerts and charging the costs to the boy’s trust account. Of course Mrs Marston countered by claiming that she had a perfect right as a mother to attend, and that she wanted to make sure the young star was not being overworked.  There were suggestion in the press that Marstons had ulterior motives, as the boy was  expected to earn around £20,000 per year and this was the era of the Great Depression.

The final judgement was made in June 1934. Philip had inherited his musical genes from his mother, but circumstances  beyond her control meant  she’d had little to do with his upbringing. The strongest bond Philip had was  with the elderly woman who had nurtured his genius. After the judge deliberated and interviewed the boy alone it was Henriette Garnaut who was awarded guardianship.

The disrupted recital tour resumed and Philip toured Australia   and New Zealand. He was an enormous success  everywhere he went. Perhaps the following review of a concert in Perth was just a tad ‘over the top’. 😎

A PRINCE AT THE PIANO – The elephant that supplied the ivory for the keys. the tree the walnut, and the mines the metal for the Steinway played upon last night by Philp Hargrave should be c0-ordinately proud.  (Sunday Times, Perth, July 29 1934)

The next step was  to be a recital tour of Europe, and the chance for further  study under  some of the world’s great teachers.

Advertisement for Philip Hargrave's concerts


Meanwhile his portrait was painted by the artist Max Meldrum, and entered in the Archibald Prize. Sitting for the painting was not something the boy enjoyed. His  endless patience and good humour with photographers and reporters was a credit it him, but in this instance the price of fame was almost more than he could tolerate.

‘It was really more tiring than giving a recital….I had to sit every day from 10 to 5 and all the time Mr Meldrum talked to me about his views on art. He seemed to think that no other artist was fit to paint anything by wallpaper. It was because of the portrait that my hair is still long. I had to have it like this, so that Mr Meldrum could get the shadows right, but I am going to have it cut again as soon as I have the chance.’ (Adelaide Mail, December  29 1934)


Philip's portrait by Max Meldrum.

Source – The Herald, 16 December 1934.

Over the next few years  Philip Hargrave would make decisions others found difficult to understand. However, his choices  demonstrated an  assurance and  strength of character  as remarkable as his musical talent.
















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