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Amy was born near Judbury in the Huon Valley on 23 March 1855. Her father, George Sherwin, had arrived in Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen's Land) in 1832 with his parents, becoming an early pioneer in the Huon District. In 1843 he married Miss Elizabeth Dean and together they had five children, Sarah, Marianne, Lucy, Arthur and Amy. The Sherwin's were musically talented, giving many concerts in the local district.
Amy's amateur debut was probably in a performance of Puss in Boots in 1866 in the Del Sarte Rooms. Her first 'proper' music teachers were William Russell and Frederick Augustus Packer, a renowned Hobart composer and organist.
Amy made her professional debut on 1 May 1878 at the Theatre Royal in Hobart as Norina in Donizetti's Don Pasquale with the Royal Italian Opera Company. The Mercury newspaper in its review of Don Pasquale on 2 May 1878 said of her debut:
"Of Miss Amy Sherwin's Norina, we are glad to speak in warmest terms." and "The whole of Miss Sherwin's rendition was remarkable for the delicate flexibility of her voice and for her conscientious compliance with the demands of the composer."
In May 1878 Amy travelled to Melbourne, accompanied by her mother, appearing at the Opera House in Melbourne on 3 June with the Royal Italian Opera. Her success was outstanding and she became known as "The Tasmanian Nightingale" by admiring critics. The year 1878 was one of continued triumphs for Amy, both professionally and personally. On 14 December she married Hugo Gorlitz, a German who became her concert manager, in Dunedin, N.Z. where she was touring with the Royal Italian Opera Company.
In 1879 Amy left the Italian Opera Company and sailed for America with Hugo. She joined the Strakosch Company and made her American debut at the Grand Opera House in San Francisco as Violetta in La Traviata. Amy spent several years in America combining performances with study under teachers Signor Errani, Madame Kappiani and Dr Damrosch.
She went to Europe to finish her musical education, studying oratorio and German opera under Herr Stockhausen, and in Paris studied opera and deportment under Madame Hustache. Whilst in Europe in either 1881 or 1882 (date uncertain) Amy gave birth to her son, Louis Sherwin.
In 1883 Amy made her debut in London at the Drury Lane Theatre with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, performing in Maritana. Amy's career as a concert singer seems to have taken off at this point and she performed regularly in London. By 1886 she had performed in the Richter Concerts and in the Crystal Palace Concerts.
Early 1887 saw Amy on a short American and Canadian tour, where she received much acclaim. The same year she returned to Australia giving concerts in Melbourne, most notably as one of the performers at the Queen's Jubilee Celebration Concert.
Having been abroad for nine years Amy finally returned in triumph to Tasmania. On 12 July Amy was given a reception by the Mayor, Mr Harbottle. This was followed by an enthusiastic welcome from the crowds as she made her way down Liverpool Street in an open barouche. The Mayor made the following speech at the Town Hall, where about 4,000 people had gathered to greet her:
Miss Amy Sherwin, I have been asked by the committee to present your with an address, which I will do with very great pleasure, because many here recollect you in old times when you delighted them - myself amongst the number - in this hall with your sweet voice. We have watched with great pleasure, first of all your career in the Australian colonies, which was gratifying to us, but upon your arrival in the Old Country we became proud of your great success, and of you as the Tasmanian Nightingale. Other Australian colonies have claimed you as theirs, but we protest against this and claim you as "our own". I trust that the success you have already achieved will be but the forerunner of still greater success.1
Amy gave concerts in Hobart and then toured mainland states giving a large number of concerts in Melbourne, New South Wales and Queensland. This concert series proved lucrative, but Amy also made time to give some fund raising performances for various good causes. After the death of her father in 1888 she gave farewell concerts in Hobart and headed off to New Zealand to tour.
In late 1888-89 Amy toured the East, taking her brother Arthur with her. Her concert party toured Calcutta, Colombo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kobe, Nagasaki, Yokohama and Tokyo.
Amy returned to Europe in 1889 performing regularly until 1894 when she gave birth to her daughter, Jeanette. By 1896 she was touring again, this time in South Africa. Over the following years Amy continued to tour and also branched into teaching. One of her most notable students was Fraser Gange who toured Australia with Amy in 1906-7.
Amy was back in Tasmania in 1897-98 as part of another Australian tour. On 8 January 1898 she gave a concert in the Wesleyan Church, Hobart in aid of the Fire Relief Fund for Tasmanian bushfire victims. Having experienced bushfires as a child in the Huon she would have identified strongly with the cause. This is, perhaps, one of the reasons Amy was always so very popular in her own state. No matter how much international recognition she received she would always include Tasmania in her Australian tours and was willing to support good causes by performing in aid of them.
In 1898 Amy was touring internationally again, this time in New Zealand. After returning to Tasmania after this tour she gave farewell concerts in the Hobart Town Hall. By 1899 she was back in England, which she now made her home.
Amy's last visit to Tasmania was during the 1906-7 Australian tour. She retired from the stage in 1908, restricting herself to teaching.
At some point through the early 1900's she and Hugo separated. She experienced financial hardship which was exacerbated when she took on the support of her invalid daughter Jeanette. It is unclear what became of her son Louis. During the first years of the First World War he left for America, and, given the anti-German sentiment at that time he probably went under the name Louis Sherwin.
Amy's income declined to the point of poverty. In 1934 when she became ill she had to go into a charity ward in the Charing Cross Hospital in London. An article appeared in the Mercury on 18 May of that year detailing her straightened circumstances. The Lord Mayor of Hobart urged the people of Tasmania to contribute to a fund to assist her as "she had made Tasmania known all over the world." Two hundred pounds was collected and forwarded to Amy to help pay for her treatment. Amy wrote to the people of Tasmania thanking them for their help. The letter was printed in the Mercury on 7 September 1934.
Amy died on 20 September 1935, aged 80. A wreath was sent from the Tasmanian Government with the inscription "A tribute to the memory of a famous Tasmanian, from the Government of Tasmania."
Although Amy has not been remembered to the same extent as her contemporary, Nellie Melba, she achieved a level of international acclaim never experienced by another Tasmanian singer.
On Monday 8 August 2005, the Minister for Women Tasmania, Paula Wriedt MHA, unveiled a plaque commemorating the life of Amy. The plaque is situated on the Dobson, Mitchell and Allport building, formerly the Del Sarte Rooms, in Harrington Street.
Bowler, Judith A., Amy Sherwin: The Tasmanian Nightingale, Hobart: Specialty Press, 1982.
The Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women 2005
Croyston, John, Past the near meadows, over the still stream: a story of Amy Sherwin : film script, Hobart: [s.n.], 1977 available for viewing in the Tasmania Collection of the State Library of Tasmania.
Several concert programs can be viewed in the Tasmania Collection of the State Library of Tasmania and the National Library of Australia.
1Bowler, Judith A., Amy Sherwin: The Tasmanian Nightingale, Hobart: Specialty Press, 1982, p.28