The "Music Master" of Nelson College

Born in Austria approximately 1860, Richard Carl Zimmermann arrived in New Zealand in 1879.

A noted violinist, composer and conductor, Zimmermann studied with Joseph Helmesburger (1828 -1893) at the Vienna Conservatory. There are variations in the spelling of his name including "Herr Von Zimmermann", "Professor Zimmermann", “RC Zimmermann” and "Zimmerman".

Zimmermann arrived in Nelson in January 1890 described as "A Member of the Conservatorium Leipsic [Leipzig] and Vienna" with a studio in the Brown's building on Hardy St for teaching. Zimmermann became part of the music scene in Nelson Tasman being "Music Master" of Nelson College, and playing concerts and conducting the Nelson Harmonic Society. The museum is fortunate to have a copy of Zimmermann’s “A New Zealand National Song” with lyrics by Alfred A. Grace that was sung at Nelson Jubilee Celebrations in February 1892.

Zimmermann left Nelson in September 1892. He married Sarah Dines Waterhouse (nee Halstead) in Auckland in 1896 who gave birth to their son Carl Zimmermann in 1898.

Zimmermann returned to the South Island in 1903 living in Christchurch, where he was extremely active within various music societies and was also a foundational member and leader of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra. He was also a notable conductor and musician in the early cinema orchestras in Lyttelton and Christchurch.

Like many people of Germanic heritage living in New Zealand during WWI, Zimmermann’s national allegiances were questioned and he was threatened. In 1915, Zimmermann changed his name Richard Charles Vernon which resulted in a conviction under Section 8 of the War Regulation Act 1914 that "enemy aliens" (even those naturalised as British subjects) could not change their name (except by marriage). Although convicted, the court imposed a lesser penalty because Zimmermann was able to prove he had received incorrect legal advice that as a British Subject that he could change his name. Within a year, newspapers were again referring to RC Zimmermann in concert announcements.

Zimmermann passed away in 1962 and is buried in Waimairi Cemetery, Burnside Christchurch.

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