The perils of teaching ukulele in Australia, 1920s

Just browsing for ukulele news, and found a number of bits of information converging on Henry Alexander Peelua Bishaw (born 1889 — death 1972?). 

 Henry authored at least two instruction manuals for ukulele and steel guitar. The Albert Ukulele Hawaiian Guitar: complete instruction for accompaniment and solo work (ca. 1919), and The Albert Steel Guitar: complete instruction for accompaniment and solo work (ca. 1920s).

Henry was a native Hawaiian who came to Australia in 1917 under a 12 months’ contract to perform with Miss Muriel Starr in “The Bird of Paradise”, for which he was paid $25 a week [Henry was possibly involved in “Music on Wheels”, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, 27 April 1918, where Hawaiian ukulele players from the ‘Bird of Paradise Company’ joined other musicians to play in a motorcade]. Once that contract expired, he gave lessons in ukulele and steel guitar in rooms at Kings Street, Sydney, making between $1700 and $3000 a year for the first few years. As interest in the ukulele fell, so did his income. He spent quite a bit in advertising to no good effect, and, in May 1923, found himself in bankruptcy court (Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 1923, page 7).

This was not the end of his troubles. In September 1923, Downs Johnstone took Henry to court to prevent Henry from “advertising or otherwise offering, to teach ukulele and steel guitar, or either of such instruments, on his own account, or for any other person or persons, other than” for Downs Johnstone. Johnstone got his way (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 September 1923, page 11).

Life can be hard, even for a ukulele player [UPDATE — The Argus (23 October 1923) — that paper of good ukulele news — ran an ad. in which it was stated that Mr. Henry A. Bishaw and his Hawaiian Trio. would play on Henley Day (some boat gig); and he was giving daily demonstrations at Suttons in Melbourne, as advertised in The Argus, 8 December 1923.]

From one of Mr. Bishaw’s ads

A Warning to Intended Students

There are numerous so-called teachers of these instruments [uke and steel guitar], therefore students should look for real qualifications before they decide to take lessons.  Hear Mr. Henry A. Bishaw demonstrate and play ukulele and steel guitar. They will convince you that he is the only expert teacher and player in Australia.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Do you have any other info or pics of my great grandfather?


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