“A Romance of Real Life”: Miss Christina Dawson

An article on page two of The Glasgow Herald, on Monday the 23rd of September, 1850, reads:




In the evenings, towards the end of the year 1846, when the typhus fever was making its ravages amongst the poor in the

populous districts of Glasgow, a female was often heard singing at the edge of the pavement before the Western Club-house.

Her dress consisted of little more than a petticoat and a shawl. With the latter she covered her face, head, breast, and shoulders.

The passer-by could not distinguish whether she was well-formed or crooked, good-looking or marked by the small-pox, young

or old, but the musical connoisseur could judge, from the melancholy strains that forced their way from within the all-protecting

shawl, that the sounds came from the voice of a girl of about 17 years of age. She never solicited alms, but took whatever was given

her with a curtsey, and now and then with a blessing, murmured in a low voice. One night, when ‘the winds were whistling cold,’

and the rain was pouring down in torrents, two young German gentlemen were passing the girl, who was striving all in her power,

against wind and weather, to keep her features concealed from the world. They gave her a trifle, and hurried on, always accompanied

by the-heart-touching tones of her voice. Suddenly one of them stopped, and said ‘Do you hear that voice? What beauty and power!

Does no one try to save the possessor of such a voice from destruction? Shall a girl with such a gift from Heaven die from hunger or

worse?’ ‘Let us see what we can do,’ answered the other. They returned, – called the watchman of the district and sought information

from him. The watchman could say very little about her. He did not know where she lived, nor what her name was, nor had he ever

seen her face, but he gave her an excellent character, as far as he could judge. He was told to ask her for her name and address; and

one morning, after having got this, the two young philanthropists went to the assigned place, but were very much disappointed by

finding that no such place existed. After having again spoken to the watchman, they got an answer through him that the girl purposely

gave a wrong address, in order to get rid of the young men, and that she also decidedly refused to give her right name and address, or

go to see any person, adding that ‘no one knew who she was, and no one ever should know.’ After about a month’s diplomatic

negotiations by means of the watchman, the girl agreed at last to visit a German lady universally esteemed in Glasgow for her kindness

and benevolence. Arrived there, and putting the jealous shawl aside, a pale interesting face was discovered. The girl gave satisfactory

references as to her former life. It appeared that she was a native of Edinburgh; that, having become destitute from the death of her

father, – the illness of other members of her family (they were bed-rid with fever), and many other circumstances, and not being able

to get work sufficient to provide for a sick mother and young brother, and being possessed of a good voice – her only family inheritance –

she resolved to try to make a precarious living by singing on the streets during the twilight and evening. Being asked to sing, she readily

complied. Mr. Seligmann, the well-known professor of music, who was present, and one of the young men who had first taken an interest

in the voice, said: ‘the voice of that young girl is not the one we admired so much.’ He remarked as something peculiar, and which he had

observed on previous occasions, that the voice sounded on some evenings most beautifully, while at other times it was very indifferent.

The girl insisted that she was the person in question, and by repeating her conversation with the watchman, by naming over the list of

songs she was in the custom of singing, established beyond doubt that she was the individual in whom theyseemed to take an interest.

The matter remained unexplained at the time, and the visit ended by the lady and Mr. Seligmann promising to call on her sick mother,

after having had inquiries made into the character of the family. Having found this to be in all respects satisfactory, the promised call

was given, and then it was found out that the girl had a sister, who was then with a distant relation in Paisley, and who, when she

happened to be in Glasgow, sometimes relieved her from the task of singing on the streets. The two girls were taken by the gentlemen

and the watchman for only one, and as the two sisters communicated their adventures to each other, the mistake was thus easily

explained. The second girl, who was the elder of the two, was sent for, and her voice soon proved her identity. Most satisfactory

information as to her character having also been received, another benevolent German lady instructed her in reading, writing, and

other elementary branches of education; and Mr. Seligmann gave her singing and piano lessons. When her kind instructress left

Glasgow the girl was put at board to different respectable families in succession, and her education soon took a higher bent. Her conduct

and diligence gave great pleasure to her patrons, who, by private subscription, raised a sum of money for her support. After more than

two years’ instruction in Glasgow, it was considered expedient to send her to Germany to pursue a higher branch of musical study than this

country affords. From thence, where she has been labouring successfully about 18 months, we receive the most flattering accounts of her

voice, the compass of which is from G below the lines to E flat in alt, nearly three octaves. We hear, moreover, that she makes great

progress in every female accomplishment, and that she is received into the best society. As she is to appear soon in concerts in her native

country, we consider it our duty to direct the attention of our readers to her history, and to interest them in her behalf. The name of the

handsome young lady, in whose elegant manners, lady-like deportment, and great musical abilities no one would find out any trace of

the street singer, is Christina Dawson.


We have watched the progress of Miss Dawson’s education since she was taken in charge by her philanthropic protectors, and have much

pleasure in bearing testimony to the rapid and steady progress she made under her different tutors before her removal to Germany. We

may also add, that we have been long acquainted with the facts contained in the above simple narrative, and would have given them

publicity, but we delayed the recital until their publication might be of service to her on the occasion of her first public appearance as a

professional vocalist.


We may add here that the father of Miss Dawson was through life an industrious mechanic, originally we believe, from Rothesay. Christina,

the heroine of the above little story is his eldest child. The widowed Mrs. Dawson, with her second daughter and son, are now in

Edinburgh, where they have been, by the kind aid of Miss Dawson’s patrons, put into a small and respectable way of gaining their

livelihood, so that they are now placed beyond the necessity of depending upon eleemosynary aid. Miss Dawson’s professional career it is

to be hoped will farther remove them from want, and may, as she has always shown great filial and sisterly affection towards her relatives,

place them in a more comfortable position in society than their late gloomy prospects would have led them to hope for.”



The British Newspaper Archive.


“eleemosynary” = charitable, benevolent



George Fairfull-Smith, August 2022.