My father Patrick “Pat” Halling was born in Australia…in Rowella in the beautiful Tamar Valley in northern Tasmania on the 28th of August 1924…but largely raised in Sydney, the son of an Englishwoman, Phyllis Mary Pinnock, who I always knew as Mary, and a Dane by the name of Carl Halling.
Mary had been born into a middle – or upper middle – class family sometime towards the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century, possibly in the Dulwich area of South East London, and according to my father’s account, her first true love David was a scion of the Wilson Line of Hull which had developed into the largest privately owned shipping firm in the world in the early part of the century. Tragically, he perished during the First World War like so many young men who were the very flower of England, and her most precious possession, immortalised in innumerous war poems such as Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth”.
She subsequently married an officer in the British army, the aforesaid Peter Robinson, and they had two children, Peter Bevan, who went on to become a successful cellist, and Suzanne, known as Dinny.
For some reason, her husband – who was presumably no longer in the army – and she elected to work as tea planters in Ceylon – now Sri Lanka – and it was on that famously beautiful island that she met the two men – tea planters like herself – who were destined to become her second and third husbands. They were my namesake Carl Halling, a Danish devotee of Eastern mysticism and fluent Sanskrit speaker, and a quiet British engineer called Christopher Evans.
While in Ceylon, she became pregnant with her third child, and soon after having done so, she mysteriously took off with Carl to Tasmania, where the child was born Patrick Clancy Halling, to be raised as Carl’s son…but in the great city of Sydney – rather than the Tasmanian backwoods – where they lived in a predominantly Irish Catholic neighbourhood. It was in Sydney that Carl contracted the multiple sclerosis that would ultimately kill him, after which according to family accounts, Mary made a living variously as a journalist – writing for the Sydney Telegraph – and teacher, even running her own primary school for a time, but it was hard for her.
One blessing was that all three of her children were exceptionally gifted musically, Patrick as a violinist, Peter as a cellist and Suzanne as a pianist, but of all of them Pat was the only borderline prodigy. At just eight years old, he won a scholarship to the Sydney Conservatory of Music, soloing for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra a year later. However, he reserved his true passion for the water, this love of the sea and ships and specifically sailing being a legacy from Mary, who spent much of her adult life by the sea.
Soon after Carl’s death on the eve of the second world war, Mary and her family set off for Denmark, Carl having wished to be buried in his native country, and then to London where Pat studied both at the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama under the tutelage of the great Austrian violinist Max Rostal.
He joined the London Philharmonic 0rchestra while still a teenager during the Blitz on London during which he served in the Sea Cadets as a signaller, seeing action as such on the hospital ships of the Thames River Emergency Service, which, formed in 1938, lasted for three years, using converted Thames pleasure steamers as floating ambulances or first aid stations.
With Mary and her three children back in London, evidently some kind of reconciliation took place between herself and her family, which included financial aid. Given that her father had been what is known as a gentleman, meaning that he was independently wealthy, it’s probable that she’d been born into that part of the upper middle class known as the lower gentry. However, by abandoning her first husband for another man it may be that she irrevocably cut herself off from that hallowed social class.
In this one respect, she was somewhat akin to the mother of “Kind Hearts and Coronets” anti-hero Louis Mazzini, who suffers ostracism at the hands of her aristocratic family for the social crime of marrying an Italian opera singer, which is to say out of her social caste. Following the untimely death of her husband, she enters a state of deep mourning for the decision that wrecked her life, and after her own early death, passes her pathological preoccupation with social position onto her only child, who goes on to effectuate a terrible revenge on the class that rejected her.
Needless to say, nothing anywhere near as dramatic or violent as the fate of the Mazzinis of the pitch black Ealing comedy afflicted my own family, and my father went on to become – not a psychopath – but a successful professional musician and family man. However, as I say, the comparison can to some degree be made, and my own father occasionally spoke of a supposed distant connection to aristocracy to me when I was a young man. On at least one occasion, he did so as a means of boosting my morale by convincing me that my destiny was that of a scholar and athlete, one born for great things if you will.
A further comparison can be made to the mother of the great American Method actor Montgomery Clift, whose extraordinary physical beauty and magnetism constitute the very quintessence of the ideal of the aristocratic WASP Prince. Although born into a fairly humble middle class family, Clift was a scion of the southern aristocracy according to his mother Ethel “Sunny” Clift. She herself had reason to believe she was the illegitimate daughter of Woodbury Blair, son of one-time Lincoln Postmaster General, Montgomery Blair, and a great-granddaughter of Francis Preston Blair, a journalist and adviser to President Jackson, and Levi Woodbury, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Monty and his twin sister and elder brother Brooks were duly raised as if to the manor born, and educated in French, German and Italian.
Like Sunny Clift with her three children, Phyllis Mary Pinnock instilled it into my father that he was descended from a lost branch of an aristocratic family. I never fully believed her story until one day in the 1980s, while my family was being paid a visit by Mary’s younger sister Joan and her husband Eric, I surreptitiously placed a cassette tape recorder close to her chair during lunch or dinner, knowing that one or other of my parents would quiz her as to the veracity of Mary’s tales of the longstanding mystery of Ormonde. If my memory serves me aright, among the truths she revealed about our family that day was that Joan and Mary’s paternal great grandfather had been a coachman by trade and been left an enormous sum of money by a grateful employer, extraordinary act of philanthropy which introduced money into the family for the first time. Another was that her maternal grandmother’s maiden name had been Butler, which allegedly links the family to the Butlers of Ormond, a dynasty of Anglo-Norman nobles named after the Earldom they went on to rule in Munster, Ireland, although Walter was the name by which they were first known. Detailed historical background on the Butler dynasty follows in part two.