Nellie Melba was born Helen Mitchell in Richmond, an inner suburb of Melbourne, in 1861. She was married for a short time to Charles Armstrong, giving birth to their son, George, in 1883 in Queensland, but she decided that she wanted to be an opera singer. She returned to Melbourne in early 1884 and gave her debut concert in May that year.
In 1886, she travelled with her father to England to make a name for herself in Europe. Her Paris teacher Mathilde Marchesi encouraged her to change her name and she chose Melba as a tribute to her home town. Her European debut was in Brussels in 1887, and by 1889 she had returned to London to sing at Covent Garden, the beginning of major worldwide success. She was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1918.