Elisabeth is a founding member of the Victoria Theatres Trust. Her series Pets of the Public was a regular feature of On Stage from 1999 to 2005, looking at “forgotten” nineteenth century performers. She continues to contribute articles for the THA website, and from 2018 has been editor of the THA Newsletter. As a theatrical historian and biographer she assisted Viola Tait with her book on pantomime – Dames, Principal Boys…and All That (published by Macmillan in 2001) and also worked with her on her memoirs I Have a Song to Sing (published by THA in 2018). Elisabeth has also undertaken research for the Riley/Hailes Scrapbook and JCW Scene Books projects. Most recently she has been working on the Falk Studios album project including acting as editor of The Falk Studios book (published by THA in 2021).
The word ‘cartoon’ was originally used to describe the outline sketches made by artists in the preparation of large pictorial works. In the mid-nineteenth century, the term was adopted by London Punch in relation to their comic black and white illustrations. Today it is used to describe not only satirical drawings, but animated films, such as those created by Loony Tunes and Disney.
Whereas cartoons generally evoke a humorous scene or event, caricatures are generally satirical portraits of individuals, usually famous people. Caricatures may gently mock their subjects or be out and out insulting. By exaggerating a single feature, be it face, figure or dress, at the same time retaining the identity of the subject, the artist is able to capture their personality, often with only a few deft stokes of the pen.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the term ‘black and white artist’ was used to describe those who used a pen rather than a paintbrush, with many of these artists associated more often than not with newspapers rather than the Royal Academy.
While politics and politicians are the most widely mocked, actors and members of the theatrical profession have not escaped the attention of the graphic satirist.
In Britain, William Hogarth (1697-1764) pioneered the satirical cartoon, lampooning the political and social conventions of the day. Hogarth made a few theatrical drawings, such as Rich's Glory or his Triumphant Entry into Covent-Garden (c.1732), a satire on John Rich and company arriving at the newly constucted Covent Garden theatre. John Gay, the playwright, is being carried on a porter’s back, while Rich, dressed as harlequin, is driving an open carriage.
During the Regency period, James Gillray (c.1756-1815) and Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) continued the satirical tradition.
Gillray’s 1801 depiction of the celebrated opera singer Elizabeth Billington gently mocks that lady’s large frame and stagey gestures. As Mandane in Thomas Arne’s opera Artaxerxes, she thumps her bosom and throws out her left hand, most probably while singing the virtuosic aria “The Soldier, Tir’d of War’s Alarms”.
In 1811, Rowlandson produced a close-up view of one of the 'pigeon holes' which flanked the upper gallery at Covent Garden, illustrating the cramped conditions experienced by the audience.
George Cruikshank (1792-1878) emerged as one of the leading satirists of the early nineteenth century. He took on a number of theatrical subjects, notably Edmund Kean. His 1814 print The Theatrical Atlas shows the great actor-manager, dressed as Richard III, supporting Drury Lane Theatre on his back; a satirical comment on the financial support received by the theatre’s owner Mr Whitbread through Kean’s performances of Shakespeare.
Seventy years later Horace Morehen (1841-1905), signing himself “H.M.”, depicted Henry Irving about to take on the perils of management. Irving is shown standing outside the Lyceum Theatre, a banner across the building’s facade announcing: “To be opened shortly with an entirely new management”. Morehen was a nephew of Alfred Bryan (see below) and had studied under his uncle. He enjoyed a modest career as a theatrical caricaturist.
During the nineteenth century black and white artist came into their own. One artist who deserves to be better known is Frederick Waddy (1848-1901). His work featured in Once a Week and other illustrated magazines from the 1860s. In 1873 a large selection of his drawings was published in Cartoon Portraits and Biographical Sketches of Men of the Day. Of the fifty men depicted many are from the theatrical profession including Dion Boucicault, J.L. Toole, Henry Irving and Lionel Brough. His portrait of Toole, originally published in Once a Week, shows the actor dressed as Paul Pry, captioned with that character’s favourite catchphrase, “I hope I don’t intrude”.
A contemporary of Waddy, Alfred Bryan (1852-1899) also specialised in theatrical caricatures. Born Charles Grineau in London, he was a regular contributor to Entr’Acte magazine and its almanack. In 1881 he supplied fifty portraits of actors and actresses to Charles H. Ross’s Stage Whispers and Shouts Without: a book for players, playgoers, and the public generally. A rare copy of this book, disassembled, is included in the Coppin Collection at the State Library Victoria. Bryan’s 1876 portrait of J.L. Toole shows the actor in his street clothes holding a bag bearing his name. The three examples from Stage Whispers and Shouts Without are of the playwright/novelists Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade and the actor Charles Coghlan.
Another artist specialising in theatrical portrait was Lewis John Binns (1871-1931). This British-born artist is largely forgotten today, however, the New York Public Library holds over 100 original watercolours in their collection depicting English actors and actresses. One such drawing is of the actress Fanny Brough in her role of Dorcas Gentle in the 1892 sporting drama The Prodigal Daughter. Many of Binns’ drawings are well known and his artistic skill widely admired, yet after 1900 he was involved in a series of thefts and other misdemeanours for which he served a number of prison sentences.
The late 1880s saw the emergence of the theatrical souvenir. One of the first was prepared for George Edwardes at the Gaiety Theatre in London to commemorate the 100th performance of the burlesque Monte Cristo Jr. This was followed in late 1889 by one for Ruy Blas. It comprised a small folio containing ten chromolithograph colour prints of the principals in the burlesque, including Nellie Farren, Fred Leslie, Sylvia Grey and Fred Storey. The prints are not signed but are very probably by the noted designer Percy Anderson (1851-1928) who created the costumes for both productions.
The most influential of the satirical magazines of the nineteenth century was undoubtedly Punch. First published in London in 1841, it employed some of the greatest black and white artists of the day, including John Leech, John Tenniel, George du Maurier, Linley Sambourne, Bernard Partridge, Phil May and Edward Tennyson Reed.
One of the finest satirical illustrators on Punch was Linley Sambourne (1844-1910). Associated with the newspaper from the 1860s, he reached his peak as a cartoonist in the 1880s, when, for example took aim at Oscar Wilde and the aesthetic movement. His pictures are filled with detail and he amassed a huge photographic collection that helped him to attain this level of accuracy, especially in relation to his caricatures of famous people, whose expressions he perfectly captures.
In 1898, Punch artist Edward Tennyson Reed (1860-1933) published a curious volume titled Mr Punch’s Animal Land. Comprising fifty-two likenesses of leading figures, the portraits are presented as though the subjects were newly discovered species, bearing a classification and brief explanation. The only actor included was Henry Irving, given the genus ‘Stagynite’ (presumably the ‘nite’ referred to Irving’s 1895 knighthood) with the following description:
This funny creature gets up things very nicely. When people go to see it it makes the queerest noises and stamps on the floor and drags itself about. I expect he says it all night but you can’t tell.1
As the nineteenth century wore on, illustrated magazines were in profusion, from The Illustrated London News and The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News to Once a Week and Vanity Fair.
When Vanity Fair launched in January 1869, it caused a stir by introducing the first chromolithographic caricatures. These coloured drawings of ‘prominent men of the day’ were printed on stiff card and ideal for framing. Sitters no longer sported large heads or exaggerated features, but instead exuded a casual and easy going air. Each week new portraits were released and for the first couple of years politicians and peers predominated, but soon novelists, artists, architects and actors joined their number.
Vanity Fair’s principal artist was the Italian-born Carlo Pellegrini (1839-1889), who signed himself “Ape”, producing over 2,000 portraits between 1869 and 1889. The theatrical profession is represented by Henry Irving (1874), Tommaso Salvini (1875), W.S. Gilbert (1881), Dion Boucicault (1882), and Oscar Wilde (1884), this last named pictured as the consummate dandy with curled locks and a button hole.
Pellegrini’s successor was Leslie Ward (1851-1922), who worked under the pseudonym “Spy”. He continued the tradition of producing beautiful colour prints that were more akin to actual portraits than comic caricatures. Over the course of four decades he drew over 1,300 “characteristic portraits” of leading men of the day. His 1889 portrait of Arthur Cecil does not betray the actor’s profession. With his brief case, cane and top hat in hand he could easily be mistaken for a stockbroker or a solicitor.
Cartoons and caricatures featured in many Australian newspapers and magazines. Melbourne Punch, founded in 1855, was closely modelled on the London publication. Though politicians were constantly lampooned, the theatre was also the butt of many a satirical cartoon. Noteworthy artists who contributed to the early success of Melbourne Punch, included Nicholas Chevalier, Samuel Calvert and S.T. Gill.
As actor-manager, property developer and politician, George Coppin was popular with cartoonists. During the mid-1850s his Olympic Theatre and Cremorne Gardens amusement park were depicted numerous times within Melbourne Punch. Generally the cartoons are unsigned, but the one of Coppin standing outside the rotunda at Cremorne Gardens is probably by Samuel Calvert (1828-1913), and the one depicting the audience at one of Anna Bishop’s recitals has been identified as by Nicholas Chevalier (1828-1902).
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
In 1863, Melbourne Punch enjoyed much merriment with a theatrical incident that was to become known as the Melbourne Shakespeare War. When George Coppin engaged the renowned English tragedians Charles and Ellen Kean to play a season of Shakespeare at the Haymarket Theatre in Melbourne, he was not prepared for the response elicited by Barry Sullivan, a young Irish tragedian, performing at the nearby Theatre Royal.
In a move to undermine his rivals, Sullivan sought to match the Keans’ repertoire by presenting Richard III on the same night and staging his production of The Merchant of Venice one night before them. The situation was further inflamed with the newspapers taking sides. The Argus sided with the Keans, while the Age rooted for Sullivan. Meanwhile, Melbourne Punch took full advantage of the situation by offering a humorous commentary. A cartoon published on 15 October 1963 shows Kean and Sullivan playing a card game to determine who is the better actor, with Mr Punch as referee. Two weeks later, on 29 October, in response to Sullivan pasting posters all over town, Punch suggested that Kean should do the same with copies of the Argus reviews.
Best known for his vivid watercolour sketches of life on the Victorian gold fields, S.T. Gill (1818-1880) also painted scenes of urban Melbourne. His pictures are often comic in tone and include portraits of character types rather than identifiable individuals, such as his c.1880 depiction of the dress circle boxes at Melbourne’s Queen’s Theatre in 1853. However, he did tackle actual people, notably with his ‘Heads of the People’ series. The first series, published in 1849, comprised five portraits, including an early caricature of George Coppin.
In Australia, visiting musician and opera singer, Charles Lascelles (1835-1883) was also an accomplished caricaturist. Born Charles Gray in England, he was a cousin of the novelist Wilkie Collins. Twelve surviving portraits by him in the National Library of Australia depict members of W.S. Lyster’s opera company. Drawn around 1870, they include Fannie Simonsen (as Maritana), Mariano Neri, Enrico Dondi (as Mephistopheles) and conductor Martin Simonsen.
National Library of Australia, Canberra
In the 1870s, Melbourne-born artist Tom Durkin (1853-1902) contributed 36 caricatures of prominent men (and one woman) to the Weekly Times. The series titled ‘Masks and Faces’ (an illusion to Charles Reade’s play of the same name) was published between 1873 and 1875. Durkin also drew cartoons to other newspapers and periodicals including Bull-Ant, Queensland Punch and Australian Graphic. From 1889, he was a regular contributor to the Sydney Bulletin, and from 1893 he was responsible for the Melbourne page.
From its establishment in 1880 the Bulletin took the art of caricature and cartooning to a new level of sophistication. Though they principally dealt with topical political issues, leading figures of the theatre were also represented, such as the portrait of George Coppin by Phil May (1864-1903) which graced the cover of the paper in December 1888. The caption “I hope I don’t intrude” references Paul Pry’s catchphrase. Like Toole in England, Paul Pry was one of Coppin’s favourite characters. British-born May spent three years in Australia, 1886 to 1888, during which time he produced over 800 drawings for the Bulletin. On his return to England he worked for Punch and also produced numerous annuals and anthologies of his work. He was one of the most popular illustrators of his day. In 1895 he received the honour of being included in Vanity Fair’s anthology of ‘men of the day’ when “Ape” drew his likeness.
To be continued
John Adcock, Alfred Bryan (1852-1899), Yesterday’s Papers, john-adcock.blogspot.com/2011/10/alfred-bryan-1852-1899
Stanley Applebaum, Great Drawings and Illustrations from Punch, 1841-1901, Dover Publications, New York, 1981
British theatrical caricatures from Hogarth to Cruikshank in the Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard Theatre Collection, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006
Cartoon Portraits and Biographical Sketches of Men of the Day: the drawings by Frederick Waddy, Tinsley Brothers, London, 1873
William Feaver, Masters of Caricature: from Hogarth and Gillroy to Scarfe and Levine, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1981
Kate Flaherty & Edel Lamb, ‘The 1863 Melbourne Shakespeare War: Barry Sullivan, Charles and Ellen Kean, and the play of cultural usurpation on the Australian stage’, Australian Studies, vol. 4, 2012
Marguerite Mahood, ‘Melbourne Punch and its Early Artists’, La Trobe Library Journal, vol. 1, no. 4, October 1969
Edward Tennyson Reed, Mr Punch’s Animal Land, Bradbury, Agnew & Co., London, 1898
R. Smith, ‘Cartoonists of Australia’, Australian Left Review, Feb-March 1968
With thanks to Bob Ferris, Mimi Colligan, Judy Leech
When the palace theatre at 351 Pitt Street in Sydney opened on Friday, 19 December 1896, it was heralded as one of the most beautiful theatres in the southern hemisphere. “A dazzling spectacle of Oriental luxury and richness”, “As gorgeous as an Indian temple” and “Like a transformation scene from a pantomime”, were just a few of the phrases used to describe this little gem.1
The interior of the new theatre was indeed magnificent, designed in the Indian style, predating the atmospheric theatres of the 1920s. The design was the work of English-born Phil Goatcher (1851-1931), best known as a scenic artist, having worked principally in Melbourne on set designs for Williamson, Garner and Musgrove.
The Palace Theatre was the brainchild of George Adams (1839-1904) of Tattersall’s lotto fame. During the early 1890s, he had completely rebuilt and refurbished his Tattersall’s Hotel on Pitt Street, and in 1895 embarked on the second stage of the redevelopment that saw the design and construction of an 800-seat variety theatre.
When Adams’ hotel re-opened in January 1892 it was admired for the richness of its finishes and the luxuriousness of its appointments. One of the key elements was the redecoration of the main bar, being decked out in marble and glass and relaunched as the Marble Bar. It quickly became one of the most fashionable destinations in Sydney.
The Palace was the seventh new theatre to be opened in Sydney in the space of a decade, the other theatres being the Royal Standard (1886, reworking of the Foresters’ Lodge), Criterion (1886), Her Majesty’s (1887), Garrick (1890, replacing the Academy of Music), Lyceum (1892) and Tivoli (1893, reworking of Garrick).
For Adams, money was no object, and by 1895, he had assembled a talented team of designers to work on the theatre development, giving them carte blanche to let their imaginations runaway with them and create something remarkable. Both the architect, Clarence Backhouse (1859-1930), and the principal interior designer, Phil Goatcher, had worked together before, on the design of the Lyceum Theatre in Pitt Street, directly opposite Adams’ hotel. Backhouse had also been the architect for the Criterion and Garrick theatres.
In early 1896, after six years in Melbourne, Phil Goatcher had given up his job as head scenic artist at the Princess Theatre. At the suggestion of Arthur Garner (1851-1934), who had left the partnership of Williamson, Garner & Musgrove, Goatcher decided to try his luck as a theatre manager. With no written agreement, the two men arranged to take on the lease of the Palace Theatre. For Goatcher, the Palace was the most ambitious project he had even been involved with—and what could be better than to become manager of the theatre that showcased his talent as a designer. Goatcher borrowed money from Adams which he gave to Garner to spend on securing music hall “acts” for their new theatre. In February 1896 Garner left for England and America, leaving Goatcher behind to work on the theatre. When he returned, eight months later, relations between him and Goatcher began to sour.
To complicate matters, the new partners had also taken out a short lease at the Lyceum Theatre, where from the 26 December 1896, they presented the Irish-American comedian Charles F. McCarthy in the cross-dressing farce Lady Blarney.
Around this time, Goatcher developed an interest in decorative pressed metal and was keen to explore ways to use this product in interior design settings. Forming a strategic alliance with the Sydney-based Wunderlich company (founded in 1887 by German-born Ernest Wunderlich) he was appointed head of their Decorating Department, creating designs for pressed metal panels and other decorative items. Presumably this was a consultative role rather than a full-time appointment, but it gave him the opportunity to work closely with Wunderlich on several high profile projects. Key among them was the Palace Theatre (1896), the W.H. Paling & Co.’s music store in George Street (1896), and at the Singer Sewing Machine showroom in the Queen Victoria Building (1898).
On account of the Palace opening later than originally planned, Garner arranged for the new artists to perform in Melbourne prior to making their Sydney debut. In Melbourne, Garner placed advertisements in the press indicating the new company was under his management. Goatcher was furious, for it was his money that Garner had used to engage the artists. He struck Garner’s name off his advertisements for the new Palace Theatre and placed Harrie Skinner in the role of manager and treasurer. Just a few days before the theatre’s opening, Garner threatened Goatcher. Goatcher took out an injunction against Garner. Garner was bound over by the court and ordered to stay away from Goatcher for a period of six months.
The Palace Theatre fronted on to Pitt Street on a block 56 feet wide and 125 feet deep. Its imposing facade was in the Queen Anne style, a “handsome red brick front, with the lower storey in white glazed brick on a polished trachyte base”. The roof was of red French tiles, surmounted by a “lofty and imposing tower, rising almost 100 feet from the street level”. 2 A feature of the facade was four classical figures representing dancing girls, each “gracefully posed, and bearing in her hands a quaint-looking instrument symbolic of music”. 3 Almost life-sized, these terracotta figures were modelled by sculptor Nelson Illingworth after designs by Phil Goatcher. Illingworth also prepared a number of models for keystones in the interior of the building.
The main vestibule and corridors were richly decorated, with allegorical figures representing poetry and composition adorning the ceilings and walls. A double marble staircase, sporting elaborate candelabra, lead to the main second-storey foyer and dress circle. The foyer, described as an “exquisite” chamber, was decorated with bevelled mirrors, ornate plaster mouldings and elaborate painted ceiling executed by Phil Goatcher.
The auditorium was a feast of Oriental luxury in elaborate Indian style and considered an artistic triumph for Goatcher. All the decorative elements to the boxes and proscenium were made from embossed zinc, while balcony fronts, capitals and consoles were of perforated zinc. The groined ceiling and dome were also constructed from metal. The Indian theme was enhanced by the placement of a “Buddha” figure at the apex of the proscenium arch. The private boxes—four on each side of the stage—resembled “small Indian temples, with cupola-shaped roofs, arched fronts, and ornate tracery”. 4
The custom-designed Wunderlich panels were manufactured in the company’s Redfern facility.
From ‘The Wunderlich Patent Ceiling and Roofing Company, Limited: A Visit to the Works’, Sydney Mail, 24 October 1896, p.875
From Wunderlich Illustrated Catalogue, Sydney, 1899. Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Peacock blue and gold predominated in the auditorium, from the upholstery on the comfortable American “fauteuil” seating in the dress circle to the magnificent plush and satin of the drop curtain. Made entirely of needlework, this drop curtain replaced the traditional painted act drop. Of intricate Indian design, it was said to contain “eleven miles of gold Russian braid, and over 3500 pieces of satin”. 5
It was claimed that the “Indian” design adopted for the auditorium had never been employed before, though theatre historian Eric Irvin and others have pointed out that the design had previously been used at the Broadway Theatre in Denver, Colorado. 6
The dressing rooms, music room and property rooms were situated in the basement, as was the engine room. Refrigerating chambers, also located in the basement, ensured good air flow to all portions of the building. The theatre was the first building in Sydney to have its own generator, capable of powering over 4000 lights (i.e. in the theatre and the adjacent hotel). In the auditorium, the lights were hidden behind stained glass screens in the balcony fronts and dome to reduce glare.
At the commencement of construction, the theatre was announced to hold some 1500 people: 500 in the stalls, 250 in the dress circle and 750 in the upper circle; though by the time of opening, this number seems to have been somewhat reduced to between 800 and 1000.
This beautiful new theatre was launched on Friday, 19 December 1896. True to form, Adams’ held a ticket sweep for the opening night which saw patrons placing bids for their seats.
Mitchell Library Performance Program Collection, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Billed as the Stars of All Nations company, the headline act was R.G. Knowles (1858-1919), an American music hall comic, who had achieved success in London; and Henry Lee, a lightning change artist who impersonated celebrities from Gladstone to Shakespeare. Others included specialty acts such as the Three Delevines (grotesque dancers and pantomimists), Winifred Johnson (Mrs R.G. Knowles, banjo-soloist), Lottie Moore and Albert Bellman (song and dance artists), Clotilde Antonio (ballerina and hand-balancer), the Sisters Winterton (mandolinists and dancers), as well as a boy violinist and a lady tenor.
“Everywhere the eye is dazzled with the beauty of the place, and absolutely nothing has been omitted to secure the comfort of the patrons of the house”, reported the Referee. “The programme for the opening night, even if it occasionally was wanting in quality, certainly was never lacking in quantity.” 7
In the opening weeks it seemed the Palace was doing well. “This pretty house of entertainment is filled nightly with delighted audiences, who thoroughly enjoy the excellent variety entertainment provided by Mr Goatcher”, wrote the Daily Telegraph 8. Earlier, in Melbourne, readers were informed by Table Talk: “With McCarthy at the Lyceum and Stars of All Nations at the Palace Theatre, he [Goatcher] is raking in the almighty dollar by the shovel-full. … more fresh faces are on their way to Goatcher’s Palace” 9
On Saturday, 9 January 1897, Goatcher’s “delighted audiences” were captured in a flashlight photograph of the auditorium taken by C.H. Kerry and Co. This picture, and others, were reproduced in the Sydney Mail, 23 January 1897 and subsequently in Wunderlich’s 1899 illustrated catalogue.
But it seems, you can’t believe everything you read. Goatcher’s tenure at the Palace Theatre lasted just a month and a half. By the end of January, his Stars of All Nations company had disbanded and Goatcher himself was said to have fled Sydney. Within days he had set sail for New Zealand, having (apparently) been engaged to decorate a theatre in Wellington.
Clearly the lines in Table Talk were exaggerated puffery. According to a piece in the Champion, George Adams’ was “disgusted” with the way his theatre had been mismanaged. He blamed Arthur Garner for engaging predominately American artists “which managers ought to know does not please Australians”. Garner, the article said “toured the world to choose this feeble combination at great expense”. He was “once a member of the Firm [Williamson, Garner & Musgrove], but his own theatrical experiences and those of others seem to have taught him nothing”. 10
Adams’ turned to Harry Rickards to help get the new theatre back on its feet.
Meanwhile Phil Goatcher returned to Australia, and following another legal stoush with Garner, where he was sued for £3000 for breach of agreement, he filed for bankruptcy. Goatcher remained in Sydney for the next decade, re-joining J.C. Williamson’s as a senior scenic artist and continuing to take on private commissions decorating public buildings and shops. In 1899 he married (his second wife) and in 1906, on account of a bronchial condition, relocated to Western Australia.
To be continued
1. Sunday Times, 20 December 1896, p.2
2. Daily Telegraph, 17 December 1896, p.5
3. Evening News, 5 June 1896, p.5
4. Sydney Morning Herald, 16 December 1896, p.5
5. Australian Town and Country Journal, 26 December 1896, p.36
6. See Eric Irvin, Dictionary of the Australian Theatre, p.292. Also, Ailsa McPherson, in her entry on Goatcher for the Dictionary of Sydney (2010) says: “It can be assumed that Goatcher drew extensively on his own experience in his decoration of the Palace, since the decor strongly resembled that of the recently completed Broadway Theatre in Denver, Colorado.” A 2017 article by historian Wendy Rae Raszut-Barrett in drypigment.com lists the lead scenic artist on the Broadway Theatre project as Thomas G. Moses, supported by Ed Loitz, William and Charlie Minor, and Billie Martin.
7. Referee, 23 December 1896, p.7
8. Daily Telegraph, 14 January 1897, p.3
9. Table Talk, 1 January 1897, p14
10. Champion, 30 January 1897, p.3
Eric Irvin, Dictionary of the Australian Theatre, Hale & Iremonger, 1985
Ailsa McPherson, ‘Goatcher, Philip W.’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2010, https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/goatcher_philip_w
Ailsa McPherson, ‘Palace Theatre’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008, https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/palace_theatre
Craig Morrison, Theatres, WW Norton & Company, 2006
Philip Parsons (ed), Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, p.423
Ross Thorne, Palace Theatre Pitt St: A Photo Essay, www.rossthorne.com/downloads/Palace_theatre.pdf
Ross Thorne, Theatre Buildings in Australia to 1905: from the time of the first settlement to the arrival of cinema, Architectural Research Foundation, University of Sydney, 1971
Wendy Rae Waszut-Barrett, Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar, Part 231: Thomas G. Moses and the Broadway Theatre in Denver, Colorado, drypigment.net, 7 October 2017, https://drypigment.net/2017/10/07/tales-from-a-scenic-artist-and-scholar-acquiring-the-fort-scott-scenery-collection-for-the-minnesota-masonic-heritage-center-part-231-thomas-g-moses-and-the-broadway-theatre-in-denver-color/
Wendy Rae Waszut-Barrett, Travels of A Scenic Artist and Scholar: John C. Alexander, Frank R. Alexander, and the Broadway Theatre, drypigment.net, 23 November 2020, https://drypigment.net/2020/11/23/travels-of-a-scenic-artist-and-scholar-john-c-alexander-frank-r-alexander-and-the-broadway-theatre/
John West, Theatre in Australia, Cassell, 1978
Wunderlich’s Patent Embossed Metal Ceilings: Illustrated Catalogue, Sydney, 1899
Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW); Champion (Melbourne, Vic); Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW); Evening News (Sydney, NSW); Referee (Sydney, NSW); Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW); Sydney Mail (NSW); Sydney Morning Herald (NSW); Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic)
John S. Clark, Mimi Colligan, Ian Hanson, Judy Leech, Simon Plant, Les Tod
THIS YEAR, the American singer, actor and producer Jeff Warren would have turned 100 on 21 January 2021.
To commemorate his centenary, Robert Ray has compiled a video tribute to Jeff. The video is divided into two parts. The first half traces Jeff’s career in America, the UK and Australia, drawing on personal and stage photos, theatre programmes, film footage, song recordings and interviews. In the second part, filmed in 2003, Jeff faces the camera and tells his story in his own words. This ‘visual-oral autobiography’ is both funny and candid. For those who knew Jeff, this is a chance to reconnect with an old friend. And for those who did not know him, this provides a heartwarming and intimate introduction.
Jeff made his New York stage debut in Lady in the Dark in 1943, playing opposite Gertrude Lawrence. During the 1950s he appeared in numerous musicals including the original Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (starring Carole Channing), and the Broadway and West End seasons of Call Me Madam alongside Ethel Merman.
In 1960, he toured the US as the King of Siam in Rogers & Hammersteins’s The King and I. Two years later, in 1962, he was brought to Australia by Garnet H. Carroll to reprise the role. The show premiered at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre on 22 December and was an instant hit playing to record crowds around the country until April 1964.
Throughout the 1960s Jeff worked as a lecturer, performer and director in both Australia and America before becoming an Australian citizen in 1973. Over the next two decades he worked as a resident director of St Martin’s Theatre, then at the Open Stage at Melbourne State College. He also provided funding for a series of awards for young theatre artists through the National Theatre Drama School, Melbourne.
During his time in Australia Jeff was regarded as a leader in musical theatre and a mentor for many up-and-coming performers. Although he retired from the stage in 1986 he made a memorable return in the Follies In Concert for the Melbourne International Festival in 1993. Jeff died on 21 September 2003, aged 82.
In November 2019, Les Tod and Anthony Buckley’s feature length documentary about two North Sydney theatres premiered at Sydney’s Cremorne Orpheum, prior to a short season at Melbourne’s Nova and Sun theatres. An extended cinema release planned for 2020 was cut short following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Les Tod is a Sydney theatre historian and member of Theatre Heritage Australia while Anthony Buckley is a noted film producer and editor.
Narrated by award-winning Australian film director Bruce Beresford, the documentary tells the story of the two theatres that stood side-by-side in Miller Street in North Sydney, both called the Coliseum.
The documenary places these building at the centre of a story that spans 150 years of entertainment in Australia, from skating and dancing to vaudeville and moving pictures.
A single photograph of the two Coliseums formed the basis for an elaborately detailed 3D recreation of the buildings’ interiors, gleaned from newspaper descriptions and architectural drawings.
The documentary which grew out of six years of research includes film footage not seen in public since its original release. Of particular interest to Theatre Heritage Australia is the sequence detailing the arrival of Maurice Sestier in Australia in 1896. As the representative of the Lumière brothers, he would team with H. Walter Barnett (of Falk Studios fame) to make and screen some of the first moving pictures seen in Australia.
At the Coliseum deLuxe is now available for purchase on DVD. As a bonus, also included on the DVD is the documentary Palace of Dreams, created in 1984 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Sydney's magnificent State Theatre.
The DVD is available from Anthony Buckley Films for $35.00, https://buckleyfilms.com.au
BOOK REVIEW: Hanky-Panky: The Theatrical Escapades of Ernest C. Rolls by Frank Van Straten, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Kew, Vic, 2020
Who was Ernest C. Rolls? Why write a book about him?
These are the questions that Frank Van Straten poses in the introduction to his biography of colourful theatrical producer Ernest Charles Roll: Hanky-Panky: The Theatrical Escapades of Ernest C. Rolls.
For various reasons Rolls’ work and achievement, until now, has been overlooked by theatre historians. A couple of his revues are pictured in Mander and Mitchenson’s Revue: A Story in Pictures (1971), but Rolls is not given adequate acknowledgement. He is also included in Kurt Gänzl’s mighty The Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre (2001), albeit as part of a much larger entry on his more successful siblings Herman and Max Darewski; but that is it.
Even during his life time, his name was absent from theatre reference books such as Who’s Who in the Theatre, and his death in 1964 passed without the usual tributes.
Rolls was a man who devoted his life to the theatre, producing high quality and original revues and musicals in Britain and Australia from the 1910s to the 1950s. He was a larger than life personality who didn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story, and like all good showmen, he made and lost several fortunes, and experienced triumphs and disasters, both on stage and off. His turbulent private life saw him embroiled in bankruptcy, indecent exposure and even murder.
Rolls didn’t leave behind any letters or diaries. He contemplated writing an autobiography, but didn’t get around to it.
To piece together the story of Rolls’ life, Frank Van Straten has achieved the near impossible. He has managed to unearth all manner of sources including autobiographies of people who knew and worked with him, such as the scenic artist George Kenyon. These first-hand accounts show a man of great determination and conviction, a man of imagination and skill, and a hard task master when needed. A loner in many respects, he lost contact with his family after moving to Australia. He didn’t seem to have any close friends other than his loyal and long-suffering wife, Jennie, who remained by his side: ‘a lifetime of devotion that survived two world wars, the Great Depression and a daunting succession of personal crises’.
Frank has also manged to find some amazing illustrations—and no doubt there are many more that weren’t included. It is interesting that no glamorous studio portraits exist of either Rolls or Jennie.
So why did Rolls fall out of favour? He was clearly a very talented man. His fall from grace seems to have occurred in June 1922 when standing in the second floor window of his home in the London suburb of Maida Vale, he ‘flashed’ two passing ladies.
In the court case that followed, Rolls’ lawyer maintained (with a straight face), ‘although the accused had had about 10,000 chorus girls through his hands, there had never been the faintest suggestion of improper conduct’. The judge sentenced Rolls to three months jail, though this was reduced to six weeks following an appeal. This unfortunate incident earned Rolls the nickname ‘Flash’ Ernie.
With Rolls’ misdemeanour in mind, the title of Frank Van Straten’s book has added piquancy. Named after one of his most popular revues, Hanky-Panky, which ran for five months in London’s West End during 1917. When asked to define ‘hanky-panky’ Rolls said (with a smirk) he had no idea what it meant and offered a reward to the person who sent him the best definition.
Born Joseph Adolphe Darewski on 6 June 1890, possibly in Austria, Ernest C. Rolls, was one of five children. His parents Eduard and Irene Darewski were both European Jews who settled in England around 1893. The Darewskis were a very musical family. Rolls’ father was an opera singer of some notoriety and his bothers Herman Darewski (1884-1947) and Max Darewski (1894-1929) both achieved fame as composers. They collaborated on several of Rolls’ early productions, writing music and lyrics.
One of Rolls’ earliest theatre credits was for The Dawn of Love, a variety turn that he concocted with his brother Max. An ‘erotic’ retelling of the Garden of Eden story, danced by Nydia Nerigne and Ivan Petroff, it raised a few eyebrows when it opened at the London Palladium in 1911.
The following year, 1912, Rolls produced his first revue, a genre that would become his specialty. Based on a concept popular in Paris, revues in Britain comprised a series of sketches and musical scenas generally built around a slight plot or theme. Glamour was a key ingredient and lavish costumes and sets were de rigueur as were hordes of pretty chorus and ballet girls. Revue gradually split into two types, spectacular and intimate. Charles B. Cochran specialised in the first type, while André Charlot became the ‘the genius of intimate musical revue’. Rolls did both.
Oh! Molly, Rolls’ first revue, opened at the London Pavilion on 2 September 1912, forming half of a variety bill. It introduced Nelson Keys, who would go on to become a leading West End musical star.
Over the next decade Rolls produced some ten full-length revues in London and the provinces, including Ragmania (1913), Step This Way (1913), Full Inside (1914), Venus Ltd (1914), Hanky-Panky (1917), Topsy Turvey (1917), Any Old Thing (1917) and Laughing Eyes (1918).
When Full Inside transferred from the Oxford Theatre to the Palladium, Jennie Benson, a talented singer and comedienne, joined the cast as the new leading lady. In the revue Topsy Turvey (1917), she introduced the ‘haunting ballad’ ‘Smoke Clouds’, which featured lyrics by Davy Burnaby and Ernest C. Rolls with music by Herman Darewski. An image of the sheet music cover features Jennie dressed in khaki holding a cigarette.
The post war years proved somewhat challenging for Rolls. In 1919 he was forced to pay costs when his production of Aladdin (1916) went to court over unpaid royalties. In 1921 he was declared bankrupt for the first time, after losing £12,000 [$840,000 in today’s money] on the revue Laughing Eyes (1918) and £16,000 [$1,120,000] on the musical Oh! Julie (1920).
And in 1922, the ‘flashing’ episode put paid to Rolls’ theatrical ambitions in England. Through all of this, Jennie Benson stood by him, the two having finally married in November 1920.
When Jennie received an offer from J.C. Williamson Ltd in Australia to perform on their newly-acquired Tivoli vaudeville circuit, Rolls’ luck changed. Here was the opportunity to start afresh in a new market.
Almost as soon as he landed in Australia, Rolls began wheeling and dealing. He interested JCW in his production of Aladdin which became the 1924 Christmas attraction at His Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne with Jennie in the title role.
Over the next decade Rolls’ name was regularly in the press. At one time or another, he worked with all the major theatre managers and companies in Australia. From JCW he moved to Fullers, by way of Rufe Naylor, travelling to New York (London was closed to Rolls) to acquire shows and stars for Naylor’s new Empire Theatre in Sydney.
The Empire duly opened on 28 February 1928 with the Jerome Kern musical Sunny. Despite some awkward comments in the press about Rolls’ ‘flashing’, Sunny proved a glorious triumph. Rolls’ Australian career as a producer of bright, lively and tuneful shows was off to a good start.
After Fullers (with whom he produced Sunny, Rio Rita and Good News in Melbourne), he joined forces with George Marlow and oversaw the productions of Clowns in Clover and Whoopee! in Sydney.
Once again storm clouds were gathering. Though artistically successful, box office receipts were down, and by July 1929 the Marlow-Rolls company was placed in voluntary liquidation with a total loss of £50,000 [$4m]. Talking pictures and then the Great Depression were cited as contributors.
After a hiatus of twelve months Rolls emerged with his own company. His first production was the pantomime Puss in Boots which opened at Sydney’s St James Theatre on 26 December 1930 with Jennie in the lead. In 1931, a whole series of revues followed, many reusing the names rather than the content of earlier revues: Topsy Turvey, Laughing Eyes, Step This Way and Follow a Star, as well as the Gershwin musical Funny Face.
In September 1931 he took over the lease of Melbourne’s Palace Theatre presenting Bright Side Up, League of Happiness, Venus Ltd, Hanky-Panky, Laughing Eyes and The Big Show; with a concurrent season at the Sydney Empire from early 1932.
At this time Rolls’ started to push the boundaries by introducing ‘nudes’ into his shows with daring programme covers to match. One of the most controversial was Tout Paris which opened at the Melbourne Princess in June 1933, prior to going on tour. But this and the revues that followed did not make money and once again Rolls was forced to liquidate his assets.
Over the next six years he experienced highs and lows. He enjoyed success at Melbourne’s Palace Theatre (renamed the Apollo in 1934) with the musical comedies The Merry Malones and Flame of Desire, and the revues Rhapsodies of 1935 and Vogues of 1935 which both featured stunning costumes by Joan Scardon (many of which are illustrated). Scardon also designed the jazzy programme covers.
In 1935, keen to turn Flame of Desire into a motion picture, he set about founding a film studio (based in Werribee), but this was not to be.
In 1938 he managed to inveigle his way onto the JCW Board. He was also appointed chief producer of the newly formed Australian and New Zealand Theatres Ltd (ANZT). In what proved to be one of the most challenging periods in the history of ‘the Firm’, Rolls set about spending money on lavish productions and trips abroad to secure shows and stars. Though ANZT proved to be a financial disaster for Williamson’s, some of the shows Rolls’ championed were sure-fire winners such as The Women by Clare Boothe Luce, which featured a female-only cast headed by Irene Purcell.
During the year and a half that he was at the helm of ANZT, he presented some of his most creative and artistic creations. The revue Folies d’Amour for example, featured costumes and settings of the highest standard.
Rolls’ extravagances had almost bankrupted ANZT. In June 1939 its accumulated losses were valued at £60,000 [$5,273,000]. Rolls too was being hounded by the Fullers’ for unpaid rent on the Palace and Princess theatres. So, rather than stick around face his creditors, Rolls and Jennie packed up their bags and returned to England.
Rolls arrived back in Britain just as war was declared. His first theatrical gambit, A Margin of Error by Clare Boothe Luce, proved a disaster, closing at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre after only 45 performances. Retreating to the provinces he returned to revues with Jennie as his leading lady. He also tried to revive old time music hall. Post war he acted as business manager and promotor for some ageing stars of stage and screen with little success. His final ‘hurrah’ was the stage spectacle ‘The Dancing Waters’, an illuminated fountain which ‘played’ British seaside resorts from 1956 to 1963.
Rolls’ died after a short illness on 20 January 1964, aged 74. Jennie died in 1979, aged 95.
A story worth telling? I think so! But, what about the murder? Well, you'll just have to read Frank’s book!
BOOK REVIEW: Judith Anderson: Australian Star, First Lady of the American Stage by Desley Deacon, Kerr Publishing, 2019
Review by Elisabeth Kumm
The ephemeral nature of performances for theatre differs from the more enduring nature of performances for movies, assisted by the physical and lasting record created by film.
Most people know Judith Anderson as a film actress, most notably as Mrs Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 thriller Rebecca. But as Desley Deacon describes in her recent publication, Judith Anderson: Australian Star, First Lady of the American Stage, Anderson’s career was grounded in theatre. From the 1920s to the 1950s she enjoyed an almost unparalleled career as a leading light on Broadway, equal to Katharine Cornell, Lynn Fontanne and Ruth Gordon.
Until reading Desley Deacon’s page-turning biography of Judith Anderson, I had no appreciation of the extent of Anderson’s stage career and status, often being praised by critics as ‘America’s greatest living actress’.
Deacon draws on many sources, including Judith Anderson’s unpublished memoir and appointment diaries, now both part of the Anderson Papers held at the University of California Santa Barbara Library, in addition to letters and newspaper reports. Deacon’s book is also informed by correspondence and discussion with people who knew Anderson. Deacon has had an interest in Judith Anderson for a long time. She has written several articles that touch on different aspects of her career and influence, and authored her biography for the Australian Dictionary of Biography (2016). This book is the inevitable culmination many years of research.
Born Frances Margaret Anderson in Adelaide, South Australia in 1897, Judith Anderson was the youngest of Jessie Margaret Saltmarsh and James Anderson Anderson’s four children. When she was six years old, her parents separated and she was raised by her mother.
From an early age, Judith showed potential as a singer and reciter, and at eleven she abandoned music to study elocution under the guidance of Mabel Kerr and later Lawrence Campbell. By 1912, she was performing in amateur theatricals, and by 1915, after the family moved to Sydney, she made her first professional appearance for J.C. Williamson Ltd in a touring company headed by matinee idol Julius Knight. Adopting the stage name ‘Francee Anderson’, she achieved some success in supporting roles, particularly Stephanie de Beauharnais in A Royal Divorce.
In 1917 she accepted a position with J. & N. Tait in the musical Turn to the Right, but this did nothing to further her career. With few opportunities in Australia and many of her actor friends departing for Hollywood, she decided that her future would be in America.
In January 1918, accompanied by her mother, she left for Los Angeles. But it was not a career in the movies that she found when she reached the United States. Anderson’s appearance was not suited to the movies of the time. Her nose was too big and her eyes too deep set. By June, she was in New York, making rounds of the theatres, but it would take several years before she would get her first break.
After her arrival in the United States, Judith Anderson’s story starts to come alive. Her friendships, her lovers, her hopes and dreams, successes and disappointments.
In 1923, at the suggestion of actor Frank Keenan, she changed her name to ‘Judith Anderson’. It was as Keenan’s leading lady that she made her first appearance in New York, in the drama Peter Weston. But it wasn’t until her next role, as Elise Van Zile, the erotic vampire woman in Cobra, that critics started to take notice. It wasn’t just her striking appearance, but the manner in which she inhabited her characters. Her velvety speaking voice, the way she moved across the stage and her hand gestures, also assisted her reputation.
Off stage, Anderson was charming and funny, stylish and accomplished, ambitious and determined. She loved music and literature. She enjoyed the high-life, attending parties and dinners. She made friends easily. Not just theatre people, like Noel Coward, John Gielgud and Katharine Cornell, but writers, musicians and art collectors. Close friends included the poet Robinson Jeffers (whose adaptation of Medea was one of her greatest triumphs) and the actor Mary Servoss. But she was less successful in her choice of husbands. Her two marriages, to academic Peter Lehman in 1937 and producer Luther Greene in 1946, both ended in divorce. Though several commentators later viewed Anderson as a gay icon, there is no indication of any such liaisons, although she did have many gay women friends.
Anderson’s career as a leading stage actor grew with each successive play, but as Deacon notes, there were several pivotal roles that cemented her success. The first was Cobra (1924), followed by Come of Age (1934), Family Portrait (1939) and Medea (1947), covering the vamp, the neurotic, the mother of Jesus, and the revengeful murderer. Four very different roles that marked her rise from sophisticated leading lady to character actor to tragedian.
By the 1950s, Anderson’s Broadway appearances became fewer, due to the rise of the musical and the decrease in the number of dramas being produced and she turned to Hollywood and the new medium of television to augment her income.
It is curious that Anderson only played three major Shakespearean roles, but the three she tackled were performed with great force and poetry. In 1936 she portrayed Gertrude on Broadway opposite the Hamlet of John Gielgud. She also played Lady Macbeth numerous times: in London (Old Vic, 1937), throughout the USA (1940s), and on television (1954 and 1960). In England she was supported by Laurence Olivier and on the other occasions by Maurice Evans. During 1970-71, she achieved one of her greatest ambitions: to play Hamlet. Sadly critics panned her performance and the pared-back production that sought to place Shakespeare’s language and Anderson’s delivery at the centre was considered a ‘fiasco’.
Her last stage appearance of any great import was in 1982, when at the age of 85 she played the Nurse in a revival of Jeffers’ Medea at the Kennedy Centre in New York (and on tour), with Australian Zoe Caldwell in the title role. A film version of the production was aired on PBS in 1983.
Judith Anderson returned to Australia only three times. The first was in 1927 for J.C. Williamson, when she appeared in a round of plays that included Cobra, Tea for Three and The Green Hat. Though each of these plays had achieved success on Broadway, the focus on sex and seduction left Australian audiences cold, and what was meant to be a glorious homecoming was instead an unmitigated disaster, personally and financially.
The second time was under the auspices of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust in 1955 when she toured in Medea, with Clement McCallin as Jason, and new costumes and scenery designed by William Constable.
Her third Australian visit came in 1966 for the Adelaide Festival playing in Medea and Macbeth, with James Condon as her leading man. Though the choice of venue, Elder Hall, was deemed a poor choice, the event was an artistic success.
She was in Australia for the last time in 1973 to appear in a ‘western horror’ movie directed by Terry Bourke called Inn of the Damned (released November 1975).
In December 1959, her homeland gave her a huge compliment by appointing her a Dame Commander of the British Empire, the second Australian woman in the performing arts after Melba to receive such an accolade. In 1992, just prior to her death, she received the Companion of the Order of Australia.
Judith Anderson was an amazing woman and despite being called ‘Australia’s greatest export’, is like so many figures of the past, remembered for a single achievement or not remembered at all. With this book, it is hoped that she will be rediscovered. With more than forty films, numerous television productions, and many audio recordings to her credit, it is possible to get some idea of her remarkable talent.
Photo by Vandamm. PIC Box P1836 #P1836/1, National Library of Australia, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-136377983/view
An APA picture by Norman L. Danvers, PIC/7970/133 LOC Drawer PIC/7970, National Library of Australia, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148423637/view
During the second half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century there were a number of significant exponents of theatrical photography. In Great Britain, Elliott & Fry, Alfred Ellis and W. & D. Downey were conspicuous; while in America, Mathew Brady, Napoleon Sarony and Joseph Byron were the undisputed leaders in the field; and in Europe names like Nadar and Charles Reutlinger resonated. In Australia, perhaps the most famous was H. Walter Barnett of the Falk studios who went on to enjoy success in London as a society photographer. Barnett’s photographs are to be found in photographic anthologies and have been the subject of major exhibitions. Another photographer, Andrew Barrie, founder of the Talma studio still remains in the shadows. From 1892 to the 1930s, Talma was a household name and had a reputation for high-quality work. Barrie was not only a highly-skilled craftsman, but his drive and inventiveness gave Talma a competitive edge. His studio was the first to be lit by electric light and one of the first commercial studios in Australia to work with flashlight. He invested in the latest technologies in order to provide his clients with access to the best photographic solutions and was an early adopter of the postcard as a means of distributing his images. Unlike Barnett, he is not represented in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and he receives only a passing reference in The Mechanical Eye in Australia and Australians Behind the Camera. For reasons not known, his death in 1937 passed without public notice. His only major acknowledgement to date is in Jack Cato’s The Story of the Camera in Australia, first published in 1955. From its opening in 1892, the Talma studio in Swanston Street, Melbourne, was a premier destination for the theatrical profession, and for almost forty years, Barrie and his assistants captured the likeness of many thousands of sitters.
In the 1951 British film The Magic Box, a bio-pic of the life of pioneer film maker William Friese Greene (1855-1921), a scene shows the young Greene working as a photographic assistant in the studio of Marcus Guttenberg. He is charming to the clients as he encourages more natural poses—something that infuriates his boss—and as sitters remain still and count up to 22, he asks his boss why he hasn’t considered buying one of the newer cameras with a quicker exposure time. As an evocation of a Victorian photographer’s studio, albeit recreated some 70 years later, it provides a window into the past: the clamps to hold the sitters’ heads in position, the scenic canvas back cloth and potted palms used to dress the scene, and the large tripod camera almost the size of a person.
One can imagine Andrew Barrie experiencing something similar in his role as an assistant at Stewart & Co. in Melbourne; full of youthful enthusiasm, keen to experiment with lighting and techniques, and create more artistic poses. However unlike Greene’s boss, Robert Stewart encouraged the young Barrie and allowed his talent as a photographer—and as an artist—to flourish.
Andrew Barrie’s birthplace, Campsie, Lennoxtown in Stirlingshire, near Glasgow. This photograph was taken by Barrie’s son Colin in the 1970s during a family visit.
Courtesy of Andrew Barrie.
One of several medals won by a youthful Andrew Barrie for his photography—from the Sandhurst [Bendigo] Industrial Exhibition of 1879.
Courtesy of Andrew Barrie.
Born on 8 October 1859 at Campsie, Lennoxtown in Stirlingshire, not far from Glasgow, Barrie was the second child of Andrew Barrie and his wife Mary Graham. His sister Mary was ten years his senior. Before he was two years old, his family decided to leave Scotland and travel to Australia, arriving in Melbourne aboard the Oithona in December 1861. In the 1860s, the Victorian gold fields were still an attraction and the Barries settled in Ballarat. By the late 1870s they had moved to Melbourne.
As a teenager, Barrie was already a serious amateur photographer and member of the Photographic Society of Victoria. He showed considerable talent from an early age, winning medals at juvenile exhibitions in Ballarat, Sandhurst, Geelong and Melbourne. He also took classes at the University of Melbourne’s School of Chemistry and at the National Gallery School.
Robert Stewart, proprietor and founder of Stewart & Co., Melbourne. Photograph by Falk Studios, Melbourne.
This photograph was published in The Australasian Photo-Review, 22 August 1912, p. 469.
Stewart & Co.’s logo, back of a carte-de-visite mount, c.1880s.
State Library Victoria, H2005.34/2541A, H2005.34/2541A
Studio portrait of Andrew Barrie, c.1880s. Copy of a photograph by Stewart & Co., Melbourne.
Courtesy Andrew Barrie.
British tenor singer C.M. Leumane, 1890. Cabinet photograph by Stewart & Co., Melbourne. It is very likely that this photograph was taken by Andrew Barrie. Note the similarity of the background foliage with the portrait of Barrie (left).
State Library of New South Wales, P1/973, https://archival.sl.nsw.gov.au/Details/archive/110324392
Barrie soon found himself at the studio of Stewart & Co. at 217 Bourke Street, in the middle of Melbourne’s theatre district. At various times, Stewart’s also had branches at 219 and 42 Bourke Street. Founded in 1871 by Robert Stewart (1838-1912), a ginger-haired Englishman, the company grew rapidly, mass producing large quantities of inexpensive cabinet cards for a portrait-hungry public. A kindly man by all accounts, Stewart trained as an architect in England, but on arriving in Sydney in the early 1860s set up a photography business, relocating to Melbourne ten years later.
At Stewart & Co., Barrie met H. Walter Barnett (1962-1934) and Tom Roberts (1856-1931), both men of considerable artistic talent, who were also at the beginning of their careers. Barnett was employed as a studio assistant from about 1875 to 1880, and after a short stint in Hobart at the Elite Studios, which he co-ran with Harold Riise, he left for London via New York. There he gained further experience with the celebrated firm of W. & D. Downey. On his return to Australia in 1886, he established the prestigious Falk studios. Roberts, who went on to become a key figure in Australia’s Heidelberg School of painters, worked at Stewart’s on and off between 1881 and 1889, primarily as a means of supporting his ambitions as a painter.
Stewart’s establishment was one of many similar photographic studios in Melbourne that specialised in portraiture. From the mid-1850s photographic portraits were steadily replacing painted portraits as the preferred means of capturing a likeness—and it was also cheaper and less time consuming for the sitter. Nevertheless, many artists were quick to dismiss photography as too mechanical and lacking in soul. Tom Roberts for example believed that ‘oil paint offered entry into dimensions of personality not obtainable through photography’.
By 1885 Barrie had become a senior partner at Stewart & Co., and following Stewart’s retirement in 1892, he became the new owner, paying £5000 for the business. Under Barrie’s leadership the firm’s artistic quality improved and they developed a reputation for ‘natural-looking’ portraits.
Sir Henry Weedon, 1908, Barrie’s business partner. Seen here in his Mayoral robes, he was Lord Mayor of Melbourne, 1905-1908. He was knighted in 1908. Painting by Vincenzo Brun.
City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection, https://citycollection.melbourne.vic.gov.au/portrait-of-cr-sir-henry-weedon-lord-mayor-1905-08/
This wood engraving by A.C. Cooke showing Buxton’s new premises in Swanston Street was published in the Australasian Sketcher, 21 October 1885.
State Library Victoria, A/S21/10/85/173, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/240318
In 1892, Barrie formed a partnership with Henry Weedon (1859-1921), an astute businessman and aspiring politician. Barrie and Weedon continued to maintain an interest in Stewart & Co. which operated until the 1910s with branches variously at 40 and 284 Bourke Street.
In mid-1892, the two partners leased a new studio in Swanston Street, the former premises of Grouzelle & Co., artistic photographers. The studio’s owner Louis Grouzelle (1853-1931) had been declared insolvent in May 1892 and was forced to vacate the premises.
The new business of Talma & Co.—named most probably after Napoleon Bonaparte’s favourite actor François-Joseph Talma (1763-1826)—launched in October 1892.
Buxton’s building at 119 Swanston Street, opposite the Melbourne Town Hall, was located on Melbourne’s fashionable ‘Block’ which also included the newly-opened Block Arcade in Collins Street. ‘Doing the Block’ was a popular activity in Melbourne, and a photographer’s display window was just the thing to attract the attention of society ladies and gentlemen.
Designed by W.S. Law in the French Second Empire style, with a distinctive mansard roof, the five-storey building opened in October 1885 as the new home for Buxton’s Artistic Stationery Co., a company founded by James Thomas Buxton (1856-1930), a Geelong-born businessman and Melbourne City Councillor. The building soon became a hub for Melbourne’s artistic community, housing not only Buxton’s stationery and fancy goods business, but printing, engraving and embossing departments, as well as an exhibition gallery and photographer’s studio. In 1889, the second-floor gallery hosted an exhibition by Melbourne’s Heidelberg school of artists, the seminal 9" x 5" exhibition, which featured works by Tom Roberts, Charles Conder, Arthur Streeton among others, painted on the backs of wooden cigar box lids.
At Buxton’s, Barrie and Weedon moved into a studio on the first floor. Whereas most photographers occupied the roof tops of buildings so they could capitalise on access to natural light through the installation of sloping plate glass windows and skylights, Barrie had no need of this. He was the first commercial photographer in Australia to use electric light, installing a powerful ‘6000 candle power’ lamp that enabled him to take photographs on the dullest of days and at night time. The invention of W. Clayton Joel, a Melbourne-based electrical engineer, and patented as Joel Patent Lamps, the lamp provided a strong, clear light that mimicked daylight. Such was the power of the lamp that exposure time for the photographic plates was reduced to only two seconds.
During the early 1890s, the Melbourne land boom brought about by the goldrushes of the 1850s came to a spectacular end, with many thousands of businesses declared bankrupt, banks failing and shareholders losing their investments. Nevertheless many of the cannier investors managed to avoid bankruptcy, Barrie and Weedon among them as they seem to have struck some sort of financial arrangement with Thomas Baker (1854-1928) of Austral Laboratory, one of their major suppliers, which saw Baker and another man, accountant Sidney Lathbury Danby (1864-1897), appointed trustees of Talma and Stewart & Co. and responsible for any claims by creditors. This arrangement allowed Barrie and Weedon to continue trading and for their businesses to ride out the crash.
In the mid-1890s James Thomas Buxton sold his stationery business to Edward Groves, and by 1900 had closed the gallery, thus ending his association with a building once synonymous with Melbourne’s artistic community. With Groves’ acquisition of the Artistic Stationery Co., the ‘Buxton’s’ sign that adorned the building was replaced by one that read ‘Talma’s’. By the turn of the century, Barrie and Weedon’s business occupied much of the building, with Talma & Co. on the first floor, and the Talma studios (developing and dark rooms) on the second and third floors. In 1897, they sublet rooms on the first floor to the Oriental Beauty Parlours, and from about 1909 they also occupied the fourth floor.
Advertising card, c.1892.
Courtesy of the City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection.
Unknown sitter, c.1892. Many of these early cabinet photographs proudly boasted ‘Taken by Electric Light’. Photograph by Talma, Melbourne.
Courtesy of the City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection.
Albumen photograph of vocalist Marie Halton, 1892.
Photograph album of Australian actors and actresses compiled by Gordon Ireland, State Library Victoria, MS 6135, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/180180
A cropped version of the same image as a carte-de-visite. Marie Halton was performing in comic opera in Australia between January and July 1892.
Courtesy of the City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection.
During the 1880s, the cabinet card became the most popular way to mount and display photographs, replacing the smaller carte-de-visite. Utilising the same process as the carte-de-visite—a thin photographic print mounted on a card—the major difference was the size. Whereas the carte-de-visite comprised a 2.125" x 3.5" (54 mm x 89 mm ) photograph on a 2.5" x 4" (64 mm x 100 mm) mount, the larger cabinet photograph measured 4" x 5.5" (108 mm x 165 mm ) on a 4.25" x 6.5" (111 mm x 170 mm) mount. Larger still was the Paris panel, first used by Talma in 1894. Approximately double the size of a cabinet, the Paris panel mount measured 7.2" x 10" (185 mm x 254 mm).
Often, in addition to including the photographer’s name or logo on the front, mounts were decorated with elaborate borders and enhanced by the use of gold or other colours. The ‘Talma’ logo, which was printed on the bottom left hand side of the photographic mounts, remained fairly consistent over the years, with different designs being used for the various mount sizes. The rear of the mount provided further opportunity for the photographer to advertise his business, but examples of surviving Talma cards show only a logo on the front of the card.
Logo used typically on the early 1890s carte-de-visite mount.
Logo used on cabinet and Paris panel mounts throughout the 1890s and into the early 1900s.
Alternative version of the above logo, beige lettering on a brown background.
Logo from a Paris panel mount, used during the early 1900s.
Advertising card, c.1895.
Courtesy of the City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection.
In early 1895, Talma became the first photographic studio in Australia capable of taking almost life-size portraits. The gigantic ‘shadowcatcher’ as it was known, cost £600, and according to publicity was ‘capable of taking portraits or groups direct 5-feet square’ (1.5 metres square). This giant camera was said to be one of only three of its type in the world, one belonging to a ‘leading New York photographer’ and the other in Vienna. It utilised glass plate negatives, 50" x 41.3" (1270 mm x 1050 mm), manufactured and sanitized by Thomas Baker of the Austral Laboratory.
Albumen cabinet photograph of Alice Leamar, a member of the London Gaiety Company, c.1893. Photograph by Talma, Melbourne.
State Library of New South Wales, P1/975, https://archival.sl.nsw.gov.au/Details/archive/IE1662147
Paris panel photograph of British actress Maud Jeffries in costume as Kate Cregeen in The Manxman, 1898. Photograph by Talma, Melbourne
State Library of New South Wales, P1/837, https://archival.sl.nsw.gov.au/Details/archive/110344365
Under Barrie’s direction, Talma became one of Melbourne’s leading portrait studios, with a large number of their clients drawn from the theatrical professions.
As photographer Jack Cato notes in The Story of the Camera in Australia, Barrie’s work was in a ‘high key’ producing images of great refinement, a style ‘particularly suitable to women’. In contrast, H. Walter Barnett worked in ‘deep dramatic tones’. Barnett’s Falk studios, which also specialised in theatrical portraiture, was Barrie’s major rival.
One of Talma’s first theatrical clients was Florence Brough of the Brough and Boucicault Comedy Company. She visited the studios in October 1892 when she was photographed ‘in a series of situations’ sitting on a couch with a handsome screen behind.
Almost all the leading identities in the acting profession at the time had their likeness taken by Talma. Julius Knight, Maud Jeffries, Wilson Barrett, Mrs Brown Potter, Tittell Brune and Nance O’Neil were just some of the visiting celebrities who called in at the Talma studio, as did local performers including Carrie Moore, Violet Varley, Nellie Stewart and Mrs Maesmore Morris.
Barrie’s Platinotype prints were praised for their life-like qualities. In April 1895, having enlarged the reception room at his Swanston Street premises, Barrie held an exhibition of portraits that included not only leading members of the Gaiety Company, but prominent society people: ‘From immense pictures to Paris panels this series ranges. One of the finest exhibitions of photographs that has ever been made in Melbourne is now being held by Talma on the Block, where crowds assembled to con [connaître?] the artistic and flattering presentments that Talma is noted for.’
In 1898, when some new pictures of Maud Jeffries were released, the Melbourne Punch reported:
The average photographer can produce a likeness of his sitter, but the real artist makes a ‘picture’ as well as a photograph. Some striking proofs of this fact are now before us in the shape of a series of photographs of Miss Maud Jeffries in various characters in which she had appeared during the Wilson Barrett season. These pictures have been taken by Talma and Co. of Swanston-street. The beautiful face of the talented actress is accorded full justice, and the different poses are graceful and artistic. Talma and Co. had a good subject in Miss Jeffries, and they have done her and themselves credit in these artistic pictures.
Portrait of Edward Ernest Gray, Talma’s Sydney representative, published in The Sydney Mail, 7 June 1911, p. 36.
Paris panel photograph of American actress Nance O’Neil in costume as Peg Woffington in Masks and Faces, c.1900. Photograph by Talma & Co., Sydney—most probably taken by E.E. Gray.
State Library of New South Wales, P1/1266, https://archival.sl.nsw.gov.au/Details/archive/110324282
In March 1899, Talma opened a branch in Sydney. With the bank collapse in Melbourne in the early 1890s, the centre of business and theatrical activity had moved north to Sydney. Theatrical firm J.C. Williamson Ltd had relocated its headquarters to Sydney as had most of the large mercantile corporations.
The opening of the Sydney studio was a glamorous and clamorous affair. According to reports in the newspapers as soon as the doors opened hundreds of women tried to cram into the lift, keen to be the first to see the new studio space in Messrs Sands and Co.’s new building at 374 George Street, adjacent to the GPO and not far from Barnett’s Falk studios in the Royal Arcade.
Henry Weedon travelled to Sydney for the launch. Among the guests who attended the opening were many theatricals, including Pattie Browne, Rose Musgrove, Florence and Beatrice Perry, and Muriel Matters.
Actress Emily Soldene writing in the Sydney Evening News (16 March 1899) described the scene at the opening:
A crowd right out into George-street. Everybody blocking the gangway looking at the pictures … At last I got into the elevator. Oh didn’t I tell you. Why the glorified birdcage that carries and wafts you up high—still higher—way up—on the top, to the new and magnificent studios of Talma Photographic Company. A dream of a studio. Turkey carpets, Persian rugs and ottomans and cunning chairs that make one feel on good terms with all the world, and give one a charming expression … Walking through the spacious galleries and the comfortable dressing-rooms, everything thought of—nothing forgotten. I could not help thinking of the old days, when being photographed meant something stuffy, dusty, and dreadfully tiring.
In addition to commodious dressing rooms, the top-floor studio also featured ‘well fitted-up dark rooms, printing and enlarging rooms’.
Edward Ernest Gray (1869-1912) took on the role of managing director and principal photographer, and most likely had a financial interest in the running of the studio. Gray had spent the last fifteen years at the Falk studios, having joined Barnett when he first opened at the Royal Arcade in the 1880s. When Gray died suddenly on 2 June 1911, aged just 44, one obituarist noted:
With the exception of Mr. [Mark] Blow of the Crown Studios probably no photographer in Australia has “taken” more celebrities than did Mr. Gray for his patrons included Governors, politicians, and almost every notable to visit Sydney for a number of years past. He also held the exclusive right to J.C. Williamson, and was as well-known and respected in theatrical as he was in commercial circles.
It is interesting that Barrie is not mentioned. Nevertheless, after Gray’s death, the Talma Sydney studio closed its doors.
By 1914 Talma had established branches in other Australian capitals, opening in Brisbane in 1909 (Wickham Street, Fortitude Valley), Perth in 1912 (113 Barrack Street), and Adelaide in 1914 (31 King William Street).
Flashlight photograph of the audience at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, 2 June 1900, taken by Talma to commemorate the opening of the theatre under the management of J.C. Williamson Ltd.
State Library Victoria, H34846, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/77551
By 1896, photographs by Talma taken with the aid of a ‘flashlight’ started to appear in the pages of the illustrated newspapers. One of the earliest experiments in flashlight photography in Australia took place in 1890 when a gathering of the Lynn Camera Club in Adelaide was photographed by flashlight, the negative developed and the image then projected via lantern slide for the audience to see an hour later.
With the availability of magnesium flash powders in the late 1880s it became possible to take photographs indoors and at night-time. Highly volatile magnesium powder, when ignited by an electric spark, creates a brilliant and instantaneous flash. During the 1890s, this same technique was used to produce lightning effects on the stage. The Talma studio was not unique in the use of this new process, but was certainly one of the most prolific. With advancements in photo-lithographic printing, illustrated newspapers and journals were beginning to flourish and newspapers, such as The Australasian and Leader featured full and half-page photographic spreads, depicting everything from animals and architecture to sporting heroes and royalty.
When Talma’s ‘flashlight’ photograph of the Princess Theatre auditorium was published in The Australasian on 19 September 1896, it created a stir. Taken during a performance of A Trip to Chinatown, the photograph was said to be ‘the first time that any such view has been obtained in Australia’. It was called a ‘triumph of the photographer’s art’ and ‘one of the most remarkable of recent developments’. People were amazed at the clarity of the image, with the faces of people ‘readily recognisable as to be really portraits’.
This same picture was prominently displayed in the Talma studio showcase window in Swanston Street, with copies available at a guinea each.
A similar photograph of the Melbourne Opera House followed on the 17 October 1896. These types of photographs were a huge success, especially among audience members keen to obtain a souvenir of themselves in the crowd. When, in January 1897, it was proposed to take a photograph of the auditorium of the Bijou Theatre during a matinee performance of The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown, an advertisement appeared in the press announcing:
Public admitted at the usual tariff.
UNIQUE SOUVENIR of the OCCASION.
Messrs TALMA and Co. will take a flashlight photograph of the distinguished audience assembled in the auditorium of the Bijou Theatre on the occasion of the interesting event.
On 2 June 1900, to commemorate the opening of Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne (the former Alexandra Theatre) under the management of J.C. Williamson and the opening of the Nance O’Neil season, a commemorative flashlight photograph of the auditorium was taken by Talma. The photograph, together with a ‘statement of receipts’ for opening night and bound booklet of photographs of Nance O’Neil in private life and in costume, was available for purchase from the theatre.
One of the earliest stage photographs taken by Talma was of the A Gaiety Girl company on 14 October 1895 on the stage of the Princess Theatre in Melbourne with the aid of electric light.
National Library of Australia, PIC P1878 LOC Q15, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-136392095/view
A scene from The Sign of the Cross featuring Julius Knight and Ada Ferrar. This image is taken from an 1898 souvenir booklet to commemorate the 250th performance of the play in Australia.
Elisabeth Kumm Collection.
Around the same time that Barrie was taking photographs of theatre auditoria, he also turned his camera to the stage. With flashlight photography, and the introduction of electricity into theatres, the camera had become more versatile and stage scenes could now be photographed in loco, rather than recreated in the studio. The publication of stage scenes in newspapers soon became widespread—and by the 1900s magazines, such as The Theatre (published by W.J. Moulton, Sydney), focussing solely on the theatre began to appear.
British-born New York based photographer, Joseph Byron (1846-1926), of the Byron Company heralded in a new era in theatrical photography when in 1890 he took his camera onto the stage of Broadway’s Fifth Avenue Theatre and photographed a scene from the melodrama Blue Jeans, with the aid of a magnesium flash. Theatre managers and producers soon appreciated the full potential of stage photography as a marketing tool, and between 1895 and 1942, the Byron Company took thousands of stage photographs.
One of Talma’s first stage shots was taken on 14 October 1895. Though not a production scene, it featured all the members of the A Gaiety Girl company assembled on the stage of Princess Theatre in Melbourne. ‘Photographed on the stage by electric light’, the picture formed the basis of a commemorative souvenir given to every lady who attended a special matinee performance on Wednesday, 16 October 1895.
In February 1897, The Australasian published one of Talma’s first flashlight play scenes—the Coronation scene from The Prisoner of Zenda, taken on the stage of the Princess Theatre. The photograph depicts Julius Knight, Ada Ferrar and company, resplendent against George and John Gordon’s magnificent set. This was followed in May 1897 by scenes from the biblical epic The Sign of the Cross: ‘The “Sign of the Cross” was produced at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney, last week and made so profound an impression that the proprietors of “The Australasian” commissioned Talma (Mr. A. Barrie) to take views of the principal scenes. This he did by flashlight after the performance between midnight and 1 a.m.’ Many of these images later appeared in a 20-page souvenir, published by McKinley & Co., Melbourne, to commemorate the 250th performance of the play in Australia, which took place at the Princess Theatre on 9 August 1898.
The popularity of Talma’s stage scenes continued unabated. On 21 August 1897, The Australasian reproduced scenes from The Gay Parisienne; on 21 October 1897, Melbourne Punch featured two of the tableau scenes from A Royal Divorce: ‘Waterloo! Napoleon’s Final Effort’, and the ‘Retreat from Moscow’. A dramatic image of HMS Britannic, the battleship in Harbour Lights, published in the Leader on 20 August 1898, was described as a ‘a triumph of ingenuity and effective display’.
Subsequent productions in Melbourne and Sydney captured in Talma’s flashlight included The King’s Musketeers (1899), The Christian (1899), The Absent-Minded Beggar (1900), The Rose of Persia (1900), Cinderella (1901), Florodora (1901), Puss in Boots (1901), Aida (1901), The Casino Girl (1901), and The Christian King (1901).
The Retreat from Moscow—one of the tableaux scenes from A Royal Divorce, c.1897, with Julius Knight (centre) as Napoleon.
From A Royal Divorce: souvenir of play, playwright and players, Melbourne, c.1897. State Library of New South Wales, Q923.1/N.
Studies by Talma & Co., Melbourne and Sydney, published by Atlas Press, Melbourne, 1900. The inset photo is of Maud Jeffries in The Claudian.
Elisabeth Kumm Collection.
Talma contributed photographs to all manner of theatrical souvenirs and programmes, notably the productions of J.C. Williamson Ltd.
In March 1900, Talma published a small booklet entitled Studies by Talma & Co., which included portraits of leading actresses of the day, including Maud Jeffries, Mrs Brown Potter, Dorothy Vane, Hilda Spong, Maxine Elliott and others. As a ‘collection of the choicest specimens of the photographic art gleaned from the thousands of celebrities photographed by this noted firm,’ wrote the columnist in The Referee, ‘The souvenir is indeed worthy of the reputation of a firm famous for the excellence and thoroughness of its work.’
One of the Talma photographs that featured on JCW’s set of The Messenger Boy postcards, 1903.
State Library Victoria, H81.251/14, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/298769
Postcard of Maud Jeffries as Lady Mary Carlyle in Monsieur Beaucaire, c.1904. This same image also appeared as a cabinet card. See example in Gallery at the end of this article.
State Library Victoria, H2014.1013/26, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/336293
Novelty postcard of Carrie Moore, c.1906. Photograph by Talma.
State Library Victoria, H33707/30, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/297792
Postcard of Nellie Stewart in Sweet Nell of Old Drury, c.1912. Example of a ‘real’ photographic postcard, published by C.B. & Co., Sydney. Photograph by Talma & Co.
State Library Victoria, H84.64/3, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/298771
Just as the cabinet photograph displaced the carte-de-visite in the 1880s, the 5.5" x 3.5" (140 mm x 89 mm) postcard had virtually replaced the cabinet card by the early 1910s.
Unlike its predecessors, the postcard seamlessly combined the pictorial image and the postcard backing. In Britain, offset printing techniques were employed prior to 1903, but after this date the introduction of rotary presses enabled the mass production of ‘real’ photographs, the most famous exponent being London’s Rotary Photographic Co. Ltd. In the early days before the perfection of colour printing, black and white images were often hand coloured to enhance their appeal—and the use of other novelty elements such as glitter and embossing was also common.
Talma was one of the first photographic businesses in Australia to embrace the pictorial postcard. In 1894 the British postal service gave permission for privately printed postcards to be sent through the post using an adhesive stamp, with postal services in Australia following suit the next year. However, it wasn’t until the nationalisation of the postal system in Australia after 1901 and the introduction of two deliveries a day, that the craze for postcards really took off, replacing envelopes and notepaper as the preferred means of correspondence. Postcard sending and collecting became a popular hobby. Many people kept standing orders with photographers and bookstores, filling scrapbooks and albums with new cards as they were issued.
In July 1903, J.C. Williamson Ltd issued a set of postcards featuring scenes from The Messenger Boy, photographed by Talma, ostensibly as a means of advertising their new show playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne. With the success of The Messenger Boy series, postcards for A Country Girl (1904), the Julius Knight and Maud Jeffries season (1904), the Gaiety Company season (1904) and The Cingalee (1905) followed.
Andrew Barrie saw the postcard as a simple and inexpensive means of distributing his growing number of theatrical portraits, creating a revenue stream for himself as well as and promoting the sitters and shows at the same time. As Melbourne Punch noted:
Amongst the best specimens of photographic post-cards are those issued by Talma of Melbourne and Sydney. The series illustrated the beauties of the stage, and includes Miss Nellie Stewart, Mrs Maesmore Morris, Miss Lillah McCarthy, Miss Maud Hobson and Miss May Beatty. All the pictures are photographic studies in lighting and posing, and are characterised by that technical excellence which has rendered Talma the premier stage photographer.
His regular printers were Syd. Day in Melbourne and C.B. & Co. (Collins Brothers & Co.) in Sydney.
Photograph of the former Whitney’s Building at 79 Swanston Street, c.1956-65. In February 1924, this became the new home of Talma. The sloping glass roof of the studio can clearly been seen atop the corner building.
City of Melbourne Arts and Heritage Collection, reg. no. 1751413, https://citycollection.melbourne.vic.gov.au/unmarked-book-negative-a19-intersection-of-swanston-and-collins-street/
Alan Wilkie, c.1926. Silver gelatin photograph by Talma Studios.
State Library Victoria, H92.253/10, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/299190
With Henry Weedon’s death in 1912, Barrie lost both a friend and a business partner. But at age fifty-eight, Barrie was still at the height of his powers and photography was a driving passion. Like many people working in the creative industries, retirement was not an option. Outside of the studio, he entered competitions, judged amateur photographic competitions and even gave lectures. He was a long-time member of the Photographic Society of Victoria (serving both as Vice President and President for a time), an active member of the Photographic Employers’ Association of Victoria (serving as President in 1913) and of the Professional Photographers’ Association of Victoria (for which he was President 1924/1925).
In February 1924, after thirty-two years at 119 Swanston Street, Talma relocated to new premises. Whitney Chambers at 79 Swanston Street was a two-story building on the south-west corner of Swanston and Collins streets. Sharing the first-floor with Table Talk magazine and Coghill and Haughton, auctioneers and estate agents, Talma’s new home was ‘specially designed as a photographic studio … with every modern and most approved device of lighting and convenience’. Barrie was one of the speakers at the opening and at sixty-seven years of age was described as ‘the oldest tenant of the premises’.
Little is known about the business and how many people it employed, but it seems they still had a number of theatrical clientele. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Barrie may have experienced financial loss as a result of the 1929 depression. By the mid-1930s, following the sudden death of his wife, and in poor health, he sold his business to Mendelssohn’s, a family-run photographic business located at 90 Swanston Street. By 1938 the business was trading as The New Talma.
Andrew Barrie, c.1894. Photograph by Talma & Co.
This portrait appeared in The Photographic Review of Review (Australian edition), no. 12, December 1894, p. 10.
Portrait of Andrew Barrie’s second wife, Mary Wyndham.
Courtesy of Andrew Barrie.
On 23 February 1886, Barrie had married Mary Elizabeth Brown, the third daughter of the late William Brown of Ballarat. The wedding ceremony was conducted by Rev. Lockhart Morton at Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in Ballarat. On 11 December 1886, Barrie’s first child Beryl Ellerslie was born; followed by Reginald William in 1888; Stanley Arthur in 1891; Mary Johnstone in 1892; Alice Graham in 1895; and Violet Johnston in 1900. In 1886, Barrie and his wife were living in Victoria Street, East St Kilda. At the time their third child was born, they resided at ‘Talma’, 68 Milton Street, St Kilda. On 25 January 1912, Barrie’s wife died, aged only 48. By this time, Andrew Barrie was living at ‘Rosedale’ on the corner of Foster and Smith streets in St Kilda. On 26 April 1920, at the age of 60, Barrie re-married. His second wife, Mary Wyndham (born Lucy Amelia Mary Wyndham) was thirty-two years his junior. She was the daughter of the late Heathcote George Wyndham of Great Salterns, Hampshire, England. The Wyndham’s family tree was quite an illustrious one. It boasted numerous dignitaries, including several British Prime Ministers, and could be traced back to Anne Boleyn. The marriage took place at the Presbyterian Church, Alma Road, St Kilda. Barrie and his wife had two children, Colin (born 1921) and Beris (born 1925). Mary Barrie died suddenly on 2 February 1934, aged only 42, of a brain aneurism. Following his wife’s death, Barrie’s health started to decline and his children went to live with a close friend of the family. In late 1936 Barrie had a stroke resulting in hemiplegia. He suffered a second stroke in March the following a year—and died on 5 April 1937, aged 77. At the time he was resident in the Alma Rest Home in East St Kilda. He was buried in Brighton Cemetery.
Curiously, no family notices were placed in the newspapers and no obituaries were published to mark his passing—something especially strange considering that Talma was once a household name in Melbourne and Sydney. Unfortunately history is full of similar stories.
Andrew Barrie was a man of considerable energy and invention, and his whole life was dedicated to the advancement of his craft and its artistic possibilities. He opened his Talma studio at a very challenging time, when the Melbourne bank collapse was at its height. He was one of the first commercial photographers in Australia to use electric light and he experimented with new techniques and cameras in his pursuit of photographic perfection. Between the 1890s and the 1930s, thousands of people sat before his camera. His services were in demand by fashionable society and celebrities, and his photographs of leading actors and actresses were greatly admired and highly sought after. Prior to 1910 he didn’t place advertisements in newspapers, the demand for his pictures by publishers was all he needed to spread his name and with the development of the postcard his images were soon being delivered to all corners of globe through the post.
Considering the number of photographs he and his studios took during their peak, surprisingly few are to be found in public collections. The State Library Victoria and the State Library of New South Wales have approximately five hundred between them; a modest number considering the many hundreds of thousands that must have been produced and sold. Of those that appeared in the illustrated newspapers and souvenirs, notably the stage scenes, their high-quality photographic equivalents are nowhere to be found. When the old Talma Building at 119 Swanston Street was being cleared by the City of Melbourne in the mid-1990s, hundreds of badly weathered photographs were discovered in the roof space, photographs by Talma, but also by Grouzelle & Co., who preceded Talma as tenants of the building. The majority of the photographs are of ‘ordinary’ people, and only a handful are recognisable as being from the acting profession. The photographs are now preserved in the City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection.
 In 2000-2001, the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra held a major touring exhibition on the work of H. Walter Barnett, Legends: the art of Walter Barnett, and an accompanying catalogue was published with the support of Saatchi & Saatchi Australia. Barnett’s London work also figured prominently in an exhibition held at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 1998 and in the accompanying book High Society Photographs 1897-1914 by Terence Pepper. In addition, Roger Neill, the curator of the Legends exhibition, wrote the entry for Barnett in the Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography, pp. 116-117.
 Cato, p. 94: Cato incorrectly records Barrie’s birth year as 1860; Scottish Birth Certificate; VIC Birth and Death Certificates. Another older son, also called Andrew, had died from scarlet fever in 1858. The family left Scotland to escape the scarlet fever epidemic that was sweeping through Scotland. Ironically, two sons, both christened David, born in Ballarat in 1863 and 1868, died from heat stroke, the first in 1867 and second in 1869.
 PROV Unassisted Passenger Lists; Cato, p. 94: Cato says, Barrie ‘came out to the Victorian goldfields when he was seven years old’, which is not correct.
 VIC Birth and Death Certificates; Sands & McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory, various issues
 The Ballarat Star (Vic.), 18 May 1878, p. 1; The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 8 March 1879, p. 7; Leader (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 May 1879, p. 21; p. 7; The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 5 March 1880, p. 9; The Photographic Review of Reviews (Australasian Edition), 1 December 1894, p. 10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-410408700/view; Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 15 February 1912, p. 29.
 Davies & Stanbury, p. 235; Sandy Barrie, p. 164; Cato, pp. 88–89: Cato incorrectly states that Stewart was a Scot and that his first name was Richard; ‘Death of Mr Robert Stewart’, Supplement to the Australasian Photo-Review, 22 August 1912, p. 469, https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/257902130
 Davies & Stanbury, pp. 102 & 160; Sandy Barrie, pp. 11 & 58–59; Paul De Serville, ‘Henry Walter Barnett (1862-1934)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barnett-henry-walter-5139. Though sources do not agree on the opening date of the Falk Studio in Sydney, some say 1885 and others 1887, directories and newspaper reports suggest he was definitely established by 1888, taking over the premises of Emil Riisfeldt in the Royal Arcade.
 Gael Newton, ‘A photo-literate generation’, essay for the catalogue Tom Roberts, NGA exhibition 4 December 2015–28 March 2016, https://www.photo-web.com.au/gael/docs/roberts.htm; Helen Topliss, ‘Thomas William (Tom) Roberts (1856-1931)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/roberts-thomas-william-tom-8229
 Quoted in Gael Newton, ‘A Photo-literate Generation’, https://www.photo-web.com.au/gael/docs/roberts.htm
 The Photographic Review of Reviews (Australasian Edition), 1 December 1894, p. 10. According to Sandy Barrie’s listing of Australian Photographers, p. 164, Andrew Barrie was proprietor of the business from 1881–1891, with Elizabeth Brown (his wife) as Operator, 1881–1889; and that Barrie continued to have an interest in the company until 1915. He also seems to have maintained an interest in Barroni & Co., a photographic studio run by William Dunning that specialised in portraits of cycling and sports people.
 David Dunstan, ‘Sir Henry Weedon (1859-1921)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/weedon-sir-henry-9034
 Davies & Stanbury, p. 235; Sandy Barrie, p. 164.
 Davies & Stanbury, pp. 171 & 238; Sands & McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory, various issues.
 The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 28 May 1892, p. 7.
 The Australasian Sketcher (Melbourne, Vic.), 21 October 1885, p. 163.
 Charles Conder, The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition, opened August 17, 1889, at Buxton's Rooms, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-52814188/view?searchTerm=buxton%27s+gallery&partId=nla.obj-285233791
 The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 October 1892, p. 4; The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 1 November 1892, p. 5; Leader (Melbourne, Vic.), 5 November 1892, p. 18.
 The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 11 February 1893, p. 14. Baker was one of Australia’s first successful manufacturers of dry plates for photography. In 1894 he teamed with J.J. Rouse, a dealer in photographic material, to form Baker & Rouse. Paul De Serville, ‘Thomas Baker (1854-1928)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/baker-thomas-5110
 Sands & McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory, various issues.
 Refer various entries in Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography.
 Advertising card, City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection.
 Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 14 May 1896, p. 7. It is interesting that only a few scant announcements appeared in the press and little was made of the camera and its capabilities. It may be speculated that the ‘leading New York photographer’ was Joseph Byron.
 The Photographic Review of Reviews (Australasian Edition), 1 December 1894, p. 10.
 Cato, p. 94; Falk opened a studio in Melbourne in March 1895, located on the ‘Block’ at 92–94 Elizabeth Street.
 The Prahran and St Kilda Chronicle (Vic.), 8 October 1892, p. 8.
 The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 1 November 1892, p. 5.
 Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 March 1898, p. 14.
 Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), 18 March 1899, p. 42.
 The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 14 March 1899, p. 6.
 The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 6 June 1911, p. 7.
 Following Gray’s death, Dun’s Gazette, 18 September 1911, p. 236, records under ‘Registered Firms’, Wm. Keith Mowbray Pascoe and Rd. Alex. Dunn as the new partners of Talma & Co., 374 George Street. Newspaper reports however suggest that Pascoe was a bankrupt and it seems the business was inactive until September 1923, when Hilda Monro become the proprietor and re-opened the business as the New Talma, as recorded by Dun’s Gazette, 15 October 1923, p. 257.
 Evening Journal (NSW), 21 March 1890, p. 4.
 The Bendigo Independent (Vic.), 19 September 1896, p. 6. In fact two photographs were taken in case of accident, but only one used.
 The Bendigo Advertiser (Vic.), 19 September 1896, p. 6.
 The Bendigo Independent (Vic.), 21 September 1896, p. 3.
 The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), 25 January 1897, p. 2.
 Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 29 June 1900, p. 7.
 Similar magazines were published in Britain, America and Europe after 1900, notably Play Pictorial (London), The Theatre (New York) and Le Théâtre (Paris).
 Felix Frederick, ‘Photography of the Stage,’ The American Annual of Photography 1923, vol. XXXVII, pp. 178-183. Frederick states Bryon’s first stage photograph was taken ‘around 1889’. This date was more likely ‘around 1890’ as Blue Jeans had its first performance in October 1890.
 Byron Company photo archive comprising more than 24,000 images is held by The Museum of the City of New York. This archive, which also includes New York street scenes and ships, has been digitised and can be viewed on the MOCNY website, https://collections.mcny.org/Explore/Highlights/Byron%20Company/
 Referee (Sydney, NSW), 28 March 1900, p. 9.
 Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 13 October 1904, p. 22.
 Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 15 February 1912, p. 29.
 Information about his roles on the various photographic societies has been gleaned from The Photographic Review of Reviews (Australasian Edition), 1 December 1894, p. 10, Australasian Photo-Review, 22 September 1913, p. 499 and The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 5 July 1924, p. 30. More research is needed to determine the exact dates of his various presidencies.
 Sands & McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory, various issues; Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 7 February 1924, p. 29.
 Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 7 February 1924, p. 29.
 Information from Andrew Barrie’s grandson Andrew Barrie, 2019.
 ‘Mendelssohn’s Photographic Studios’, Australian Variety Theatre Archive, 26 October 2012 (updated 16 January 2015), https://ozvta.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/mendelssohns-studios-1612015.pdf
 VIC Marriage Certificate, 1038/1886.
 VIC Marriage Certificate, 5958/1920; The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic), 5 June 1920, p. 61.
 VIC Death Certificate, 1000/1934; The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 3 February 1934, p. 7.
 VIC Death Certificate, 2543/1937. Barrie’s death certificate says that he was buried at Brighton Cemetery on 6 April 1937 and that the funeral director was Joseph Allison.
Andrew Barrie (grandson of Andrew Barrie), Mimi Colligan, Michael Galimany, Cressida Goddard (Art and Heritage Collection Administrator, City of Melbourne), Allister Hardiman, Peter Johnson & Judy Leech.
Australian Dictionary of Biography, https://adb.anu.edu.au
Geoff Barker, ‘Australian pictorial postcards’, 29 February 2012, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, https://maas.museum/inside-the-collection/2012/02/29/australian-pictorial-postcards
Sandy Barrie, Australians Behind the Camera: directory of early Australian photographers, 1841–1945, S. Barrie, South Sydney, 2002
Births Deaths and Marriages Victoria, https://www.bdm.vic.gov.au/research-and-family-history/search-your-family-history
Jack Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1955 (reprinted by the Institute of Australian Photography, 1977)
Charles Conder, The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition, opened August 17, 1889, at Buxton's Rooms, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-52814188/view?searchTerm=buxton%27s+gallery&partId=nla.obj-285233791
Alan Davies & Peter Stanbury, The Mechanical Eye in Australia: photography 1841–1900, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985
John Hannavy (editor), Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Routledge, New York & London, 2008
Gael Newton, ‘A photo-literate generation’, essay for the catalogue Tom Roberts, NGA exhibition 4 December 2015–28 March 2016, https://www.photo-web.com.au/gael/docs/roberts.htm
Public Record Office Victoria (PROV), Unassisted Passenger Lists, https://prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/explore-topic/passenger-records-and-immigration/unassisted-passenger-lists
Sands & McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory, https://cedric.slv.vic.gov.au/R/RTGTPXEIIGJ4QIAD1762RPN6RP3C82MQDJA8XJT5TNABQF1YLN-02163?func=collections&collection_id=3907
Con Tanre, The Mechanical Eye: a historical guide to Australian photography and photographers, The Macleay Museum, The University of Sydney, NSW, 1977
Phil A'Vard, actor, producer, stage manager and long-time director of the Alexander Theatre at Monash University enthralled the audience at the THA 2019 AGM.
Elisabeth Kumm reviews Frank Van Straten’s new book on the history of Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre. This stunning tribute to one of the city’s most iconic theatres was recently launched at The Maj in true theatrical style.
Frank Van Straten has done it again! Australia’s answer to Mander & Mitchenson and Daniel Blum has written the definitive book on Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre. At 336 pages, full colour and with more than 400 images, this book is a glorious tribute to one of the city’s iconic theatres.
The book covers the 138 year history of the site, bringing to life in words and pictures the rich legacy and important role that The Maj has played in nurturing the cultural and social life of Melbourne.
The book was instigated by Mike Walsh, the owner of the theatre since 2000. Under Mike’s able direction, the theatre continues to be an important part of Melbourne’s East End theatre tradition. A spectacular $12 million refurbishment programme in 2002 has ensured the theatre remains vital and relevant. The foyers and auditorium are now the premier Art Deco interiors in the state, and with an enlarged proscenium, reconfigured orchestra pit, improved back of house, and the latest in communications and technology, the theatre is capable of staging shows of all types.
Divided into four main acts (chapters), plus prologue and epilogue, the book charts the history of the theatre year-by-year. From the construction of the Alexandra Theatre in 1886; the JCW years from 1900 (when the theatre was re-named Her Majesty’s); the theatre’s reconstruction in 1934 after the fire; and under Mike Walsh’s direction in 2000 to the present.
From circus and magic, to ballet and opera, comedy, drama and musicals, The Maj has seen it all. The shows are listed chronologically within the text, highlighting the principal stars and other facts about each production. All the shows are represented. There’s Florodora from 1900, JCW’s first big success at theatre; The Merry Widow in 1908 with Australian soprano Carrie Moore; the annual Christmas pantomimes; the spectacular Chu Chin Chow in the 1920s; and White-Horse Inn in the 1930s. Musicals continued to play a big role in the success of the theatre and through the 1940s and beyond hits included Annie Get Your Gun, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, Call Me Madam and My Fair Lady. And the list goes on … Hello, Dolly!, Sweet Charity, A Chorus Line, Annie, Evita … to the hits of today … Miss Saigon, Billy Elliott and Chicago, to name a few. They are all there!
Almost every show has an accompanying illustration, usually in colour. There are stage shots, portraits, programme covers and more. Also, a stunning five double-page spread of photos taken in 2018 by leading architectural photographer John Gollings. Many of the images are sourced from Her Majesty’s own extensive archives, while others come from private and international collections.
Extended captions accompany many of the images providing additional details. Not only the shows, but the stars. There’s everyone from Alfred Dampier, Nellie Stewart and Dorothy Brunton through to Gladys Moncrieff, the Great Franquin, Maggie Fitzgibbon, Peter Allen to name a few.
But it is not just the people on the stage that are feted. Frank also introduces us to the people behind the scenes, the directors, choreographers, musical directors, scene painters and architects.
The book includes a engaging Foreword by theatre stalwart Nancye Hayes. Mike Walsh also contributes a short introduction and epilogue. It has an extensive (and exhaustive) index and Col Bodie’s little caricatures are a delight!
Frank has produced a amazing book and one he can be truly proud off – a crowning achievement to a brilliant career dedicated to keeping Australian theatre history alive. His easy style of writing and keen sense of observation and attention to detail has helped to create a book that is a definite must for anyone who loves Melbourne and especially the theatre. Frank has been ably assisted by Jenny Zimmer (designer) and Jim Murphy (editor) who have ensured that it is a very special and remarkable book.
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne: The Shows, The Stars, The Stories
by Frank Van Straten
Australian Scholarly Publishing, Kew, Victoria, 2018
The book is an absolute steal at $65.00 and is available via the Her Majesty’s Theatre website (https://www.hmt.com.au/her-majestys-theatre-melbourne-the-shows-the-stars-the-stories/) or from all good bookshops.
Katie Flack has been obsessed with Pansy Montague for almost 10 years, ever since her interest was piqued when she fielded an enquiry on the research desk at the State Library of Victoria, where she works. In 2011, she received a staff fellowship through the SLV which enabled her to delve further into the life and career of this fascinating Australian artiste.
Pansy Montague was a entertainer in the late nineteenth, early twentieth century, in Australia and Great Britain. She developed a music hall act which saw her strip, cover herself in while paint and with a few loose bits of strategically placed drapery, pose as classical statues. A perfect figure and an ability to stand still helped immensely. She was a professional living statue. In her heyday, she earned more than a cabinet minister and at one time performed before a crowd of 50,000 people.
Katie spoke to a small gathering at the SLV on Wednesday, 5 September, presenting her findings so far and showing a selection of Pansy ephemera from both the State Library’s and her own collections.
By admission, Katie calls herself a “passionate potterer”, but with a librarian’s tenacity and a need to find out more, she has uncovered almost all there is to know about Pansy Montague. Theatre historians such as Anita Callaway, have touched on Pansy’s Australian career, but Katie could now be said to be the 'world expert' on the topic.
Like many performers, Pansy’s origins are still somewhat hazy (so hazy in fact that even her living relatives do not know when she was born and what happened to her). Was she the illegitimate daughter of Colonel Montague or the child of Irish-born Australian immigrants, Charles and Jane Manley?
Pansy grew up in Melbourne and made her stage debut in 1898, performing initially in popular dramas and in pantomimes, rising quickly from chorus girl to leading lady. What talent she had as an actress was enhanced by her 'natural advantages' and 'chubby charms'. By the early 1900s, she craved something more – and with the assistance of Alec Laing (aka Cruikshank, a lightening sketch artist) she developed a new line of entertainment – living statues. Styled as the 'Modern Milo', her first outing was at the Melbourne Opera House in June 1905.
Imitating classical statues was not entirely new, the tradition can be traced back to the seventeenth century, and in recent times, pose plastique performers such as the Faust Family and Mlle Lotty had presented similar turns in Melbourne. Whereas other acts had used coloured projections to enhance their routines, Pansy posed on a plinth in a brightly lit garden setting before which various people would pass, from policemen to canoodling couples.
Her act was a huge hit and she performed sell-out shows throughout Australia and New Zealand. But London was calling. Having adopted the sobriquet 'La Milo', she made her London debut the following year at the Pavilion Music Hall, where once again she proved a sensation. By this time, her repertoire comprised some 20 different poses based on classical statues such as La Milo, Electra, Sapho, and Diana. Much of her knowledge and detail came from studying statues in the National Gallery of Victoria. To encourage repeat visitations to the theatre, her act changed regularly and she introduced new novelties. When for example, Velasquez’ painting of Venus went on display in London for the first time, she copied the pose and introduced it into her act.
For three years, from 1906-1909, Pansy was big business. She reached a career high in August 1907 when she participated in the Coventry pageant dressed as Lady Godiva, wearing nothing but fleshlings and a long blond wig. Witnessed by over 50,000 people, she paraded six miles through the streets of Coventry on horseback.
Throughout her career she had to contend with issues of public morality, but by the time of the Lady Godiva episode, the voices had got a little louder, championed by the Bishop of London. Soon acts such as hers were being looked upon as indecent and music halls were being discouraged from including them on their bills.
Around this time she met Ferdinand (Fred) Eggena - and the two were “married” in Birmingham in December 1908, but Fred proved to be a confidence trickster and the marriage was a sham. Pansy also became embroiled in one of his schemes to obtain expensive jewels under false pretences. Eventually Eggena was caught and the case went to trial, but fortunately for Pansy she was deemed a 'mere tool in the transaction' and was not charged. The incident did not help her career. With the war clouds gathering, London was cooling and by 1914, she was in America. But her act was no longer a novelty, and there were other younger people doing similar things. She decided on a complete change and by 1921 had opened the La Milo Beauty Salon in New York.
From this point on, Pansy proves harder to track down. By 1924 she is back in Australia, touring throughout county NSW and QLD in pantomimes, and in 1929 she is mentioned in relation to a special event to mark the closure of the Sydney Tivoli, but after that the trail grows cold. Pansy disappears.
No doubt one day Katie will find out what happened to Pansy – and when she does, let’s hope she shares it with us. A fascinating figure (in more ways that one), Pansy Montague was an Australian original and a leading exponent of the art of 'living statues' that deserves to be rediscovered and placed once more upon a plinth for today’s audiences to admire.
*Anita Callaway, Visual Ephemera: Theatrical art in nineteenth century Australia, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2000, pp. 67-72.