From Whitefield to Wellington

In response to ceaseless requests and displaying amazing courage, the Band decided to tour the World. Between the years 1906 and 1911 they did just this not once, but twice! Both trips lasted an incredible eighteen months. Stories of players leaving home, on the pretence of heading for normal band practice, and arriving back home one-and-a-half years later may contain more than a grain of truth. Detailed itineraries show that the Band played hundreds of concerts covering venues in North America, Canada, Hawaii, Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. They were regarded as pop stars of the day and welcomed by enthusiastic crowds of thousands wherever they went.

An arrival parade in Melbourne during one of the tours saw the Band preceded by no fewer than twenty-two of Australia's finest brass bands. Their stay culminated in four days of concerts in the city that attracted a total crowd of over 100,000. It took the arrival of The Beatles more than sixty years later before the city once again saw such vast crowds for visiting musicians.

50,000 gather to hear Alexander Owen conduct the Band in Paris (1903)

The wealth of information on these early tours comes largely from diaries written by various members of the Band. Luckily some of these very personal records are still in existence and carefully tended in the Band's archives or by descendants. The details in the diaries are truly fascinating and even include train and boat timetables from all over the world. One such document dutifully records that during the Band's second tour of New Zealand Alexander Owen composed a march, which he named after a famous porpoise, known to seafarers as Polorus Jack. The diary faithfully chronicles the event, even down to the name of the ship (SS Pateena) on which the Band were sailing when the idea was first conceived. The score even includes a triangle part, said to be an imitation of the dinner gong, which rang to summon the players to their meal just as Alexander finished writing the piece. Polorus Jack has now become one of the Band's favourite signature tunes and is often included in present-day concert programmes.

Other notable souvenirs from those early tours include a genuine wild boar trophy presented to the Band in New Zealand in 1910. None of the music in the Band’s immense library, however, is thought to be inspired by that awesome creature! It is still proudly displayed on the Band room wall, opposite the large (some would say intimidating) photograph of Alexander Owen, whose eyes seem to follow you around the Band room – especially if your playing isn’t up to standard!

Promotional photograph for one of the World Tours

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