"There are two things I like stiff and one of them's jelly."
- Dame Nellie Melba, during a shipboard dinner on being served soft jelly as a result malfunctioning refrigeration.
Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931), born Helen “Nellie” Porter Mitchell in Richmond, Victoria, was an Australian operatic soprano. She was one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian era and the early 20th century, one of the first international superstars and the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!. Melba’s stage name was a shortened version of her native city, Melbourne. She had an ego and appetite to match her superstar status and Escoffier invented Peach Melba and Melba toast in her honour.
Melba dies in 1931 in St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, aged 69. The cause of death was septicaemia which had developed after facial surgery in Europe some time before. The circumstances of her death have been somewhat mysterious.
In 2004 the ABC’s Rewind program gave fuller details:
Historians have long puzzled over her death certificate. It says she died from septicaemia, but how did she contract this fatal infection? For 70 years, the nuns at St Vincent’s kept the cause of Melba’s death a secret. NURSING SISTER’S MEDICAL REPORT: “While in Europe, Dame Nellie Melba had a facelift, possibly in Switzerland. But an infection developed, so that by the time her homeward voyage had progressed as far as the Red Sea, she had erysipelas and was seriously ill. Not only was Dame Nellie in great pain from the incision on each side of her face, but she had a heart condition. She was specialised by a Sister of Charity and so strict were the rules of confidentiality that scarcely any other member of the nursing staff knew the nature of the complaint, even to this day.”
People will also know Nellie Melba as one of the faces on the Oz $100 note: