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Henry Russell was Anglo-Jewish and  born in Sheerness (probably Blue town ) on Christmas Eve 24th  of December 1812 and died in  London on the 8th December 1900 and  was known worldwide as a baritone  singer , organist , popular pianist, and composer. He had lived in Canada , the USA , and in France and he was fortunate to have  studied composition with Rossini , Bellini and  Donizetti

He had two brothers named Henry George Russell   and J . Russell  and he had two sons named Henry Russell (1871-1937) and Landon Ronald (1873- 1938) a George Alexander Russell  (1880- 1953 ) may also be related to him.


Sir Landon  Ronald was born Landon Ronald Russell ,he was an English conductor, composer, pianist and administrator born in London England. He studied at the Royal College of Music 1884-1890 he then worked at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and then became conductor of Augustus Harris touring company .In 1894 he toured theUSA as accompanist and pianist for Nellie Melba.

He composed over 200 songs these included “Serenade espagnole “ recorded by the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso , the song describes a  trip to Spain to see the capital city.

He was knighted in  1922 and published his memoirs “ Variations of a Personal Theme “in 1924


Henry Russell was a great-nephew of the British Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschel and he began his career as a child singer in Elliston’s Children’s Opera Company .While playing the organ at the Presbyterian church in Rochester New York he discovered that sacred music , played quickly, “ makes the best kind of secular music” For example the hymn   Old Hundredth played very fast became the music for the song “ Get out of de way, Ol’ Dan Tucker “

He wrote the tune A life on the ocean wave, and the tune to George Morris’ poem Woodman , Spare that Tree and many others while living in the United States form 1833 to 1841 before settling in London to produce musical extravaganzas until he retired in 1857.Many of his songs championed social causes like abolition, temperance  and reform of mental asylums.

 In 1841 ,he returned to England in company with Charles Mackay, who subsequently wrote many of the lyrics for his songs. He performed at the Hanover Square Rooms in London, and caused an instant sensation. At this time his most popular songs written with Mackay were There’s a good time coming , and Cheer, Boys ,Cheer and To The West.


After retirement he lived partly in France , and partly in England ,his first wife was a Christian,  Isabella Lloyd whom he married in 1835 ,She is descended from the bankers of Birmingham (Lloyds Bank) who were Quakers ,A friend has managed to trace that family back to 1597 it  being well documented and his second wife was Jewish and their family ,including their son who became the conductor Sir Landon Ronald was brought up in the Jewish religion.

Did they change their family name from Levy to Russell  ??

It is interesting to note that the Sheerness Synagogue was built the year before Henry Russell was born .Was his family from Holland  and did he marry at 12 years of age as one relative has suggested ??

I have four pages of the family tree of Russell. Levy , Jacob all related .




In The Sheerness Times of December 1900 at the council meeting it was reported that “ …Mr.Copland remarked that since the last Council meeting  Mr.Henry Russell had expired at his residence in London at the ripe old age of eighty seven years. Mr Russell was born in Sheerness on Christmas Eve 1813 and those who knew him had reason to be proud of him, he always led a good useful and gentle life and was well known as an author and the composer of “Life on the ocean wave “ and many other popular songs. It  was well known at the time of the Irish famine he went to all parts of the country singing for the benefit of  the poor sufferers and succeeded in raising £7,000 ,the whole of which he gave to the famine fund. Personally , Mr.Copland  looked upon it as an honour that such a man was born in Sheerness, he, therefore proposed that a letter of sympathy be sent from the council to the widow of the late gifted Henry Russell.

Mr.Brett  seconded and said he often heard his father say that he had the honour of attending school in Bluetown  with Mr. Henry Russell ,Douglas Jerrold and many others.

Douglas Jerrold was the first Editor of that well known , now no longer published , satire  magazine Punch.



Do you want to publish this little piece on the end , it does show that even in those days people disagreed


Mr.Tower ; This is bound to have the unanimous support of the Council.

Mr.Walsh ;I’m against it in principle ,once we introduce this kind of thing ,where will it end We have had two or three such votes during the last few months .What would the council say if I proposed a vote of sympathy for Tim Healey.

The Clerk said he would convey the wishes of the Council to Mrs. Russell



In April 1904 Sun Street was renamed Russell Street in his houour and until recently the public house in that street was still called The Sun , it is now a takeaway food outlet.


Henry Russell’ s music was used in the sound track of many films      including “ Ship Ahoy “ in 1942,  “ Tugboat Annie sails again “ in 1940 , “South of Suez”  in 1940 , “ Meet the people “ in 1944,  “Cargo of innocents “ in 1942 .


A Life on the Ocean Wave was published in  the1840’s and originated from the poet Epps Sargent ,one day he and Russell were walking on The Battery in New York City watching the ships enter the harbour. This scene inspired Sargent to write a poem which Russell then put to music. The song proceeded to become popular in both England and the USA.

In 1882 the Deputy adjutant General Royal Marines requested that the bandmasters of each Royal Division ,Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham submit an arrangement for a new regimental march for the corps. if possible based on a naval song. Kappey, the bandmaster of Chatham Division , submitted an arrangement of Life on the Ocean Wave which was then  authorised for use as the regimental quick march of the Corps of the Royal Marines in 1882.

Although most people recognise the tune only a very few know the second line of the tune.


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