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).
Written by American playwright Paul Kester, Sweet Nell of Old Drury was first performed at the Haymarket Theatre in London in August 1900 with Julia Neilson in the title role. It was an instant success and Neilson revived the play many times during the following two decades. When it was produced in America for the first time in December 1900, Ada Rehan was the Nell. On Broadway, the play was also performed in 1923 with Laurette Taylor in the lead. But it was in Australia in 1902 with Nellie Stewart as Nell Gwynne that the play was to have its greatest popularity.
Kester’s play, which is in four acts, charts the major events in the life of Nell Gwynne. Act 1, set in London in 1667, shows Nell outside the King’s Theatre in Drury Lane, where working as an orange seller she encounters the pleasure-seeking King Charles II (in disguise) for the first time. In Act 2, now an established favourite of the King’s, Nell shelters Lady Olivia Vernon (ward of the villainous Chief Justice Lord Jeffreys), whose lover Sir Roger Fairfax has been falsely accused of treason. Fairfax is captured in Nell’s boudoir and imprisoned by Jeffreys who, wishing to undermine Nell’s position at Court, tells the King that Fairfax is her lover. Act 3 sees Nell outwitting Jeffreys by donning a wig and cape and entering his house where Lady Olivia has been held captive. By impersonating Jeffreys, Nell facilitates Lady Olivia’s escape. In the final act, Lord Jeffreys’ infamy is revealed and Nell is reconciled with the King.
At the heart of this play, Nell Gwynne, in spite of her humble beginnings, is shown to be a woman of spunk, true to her friends, and loyal to the King, and worth more as a person than the so called nobles of the Court whose motives are driven by jealousy, personal gain and duplicity.
Nell Gwynne has been the subject of numerous operas and dramas. Prior to 1900 there was The Peckham Frolic; or Nell Gwyn (1799), a three act comedy by Edward Jerningham; Douglas Jerrold’s comedy Nell Gwynne; or, The prologue (1833); John Walker’s drama Nell Gwynne, the Orange Girl (1833); Charles Reade and Tom Taylor’s drama The King’s Rival (1854); G.A. A’Beckett’s burlesque Charles II; or, Something like history (1872); a comic opera, Nell Gwynne (1876), with libretto by H.B. Farnie and music by Alfred Cellier; and a second comic opera by Farnie, also called Nell Gwynne (1884) but with music by Robert Planquette. During the twentieth century, she was the central character in Anthony Hope and Edward Rose’s comedy English Nell (1900); and in Ivor Novello and Harold Fraser-Simpson musical comedy Our Nell (1924). She also made an appearance in George Bernard Shaw’s In Good King Charles’s Golden Days (1939).
Nell has been seen on the silver screen many times. The first, shot in 1900, was a scene from Julia Neilson’s stage production.1 In 1911, in Australia, Nellie Stewart’s performance was also filmed. The silent era saw Nell portrayed by Mary Pickford (1915), Lois Sturt (1922) and Dorothy Gish (1926). With the advent of sound, came Gracie Fields (1934), Anna Neagle (1934) and Margaret Lockwood (1949).
Nellie Stewart introduced Sweet Nell to Australian audiences on 15 February 1902 at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre. The Haymarket script was used, which incorporated additional dialogue and a reworked final act by J. Hartley Manners.2 The original music written for the London production by Raymond Rôze was employed throughout, including Nell Gwynne’s song in Act 2, ‘How happy the lover’, with words by John Dryden.
A sumptuous production, the scenery for the first two acts was painted by W.R. Coleman, and the final two by Phil Goatcher, possibly based on the original London designs by Joseph Harker. A special feature was the period furniture made at the Princess Theatre by William Gardiner (the property manager) from ‘drawings from the British Museum’. A harpsicord was also commissioned from Allan & Co. music warehouse, based on ‘tracings obtained at the British Museum’. The opening night program also tells us that the ‘Correct Costumes of the Period’ were by A. & L. Nathan, London, after ‘reliable authorities’ and ‘Characteristic Wigs’ were by Gustave of Paris.3
Supported by members of George Musgrove’s New English Comedy and Dramatic Company, the principal roles were played by Harcourt Beatty (King Charles II), Albert Gran (Lord Jeffreys), Ernest Imeson (Sir Roger Fairfax) and Minnie Sadler (Lady Olivia Vernon).
With the staging of this play, Nellie Stewart was appearing in a straight play for the first time. A well-established star of the comic opera stage, she had taxed her singing voice too much and it was no longer possible for her to maintain a career as a singing actress. The opening night reviews applauded her transition to the dramatic stage.
It is not too much to say that this performance places her amid the very first of the comedy actresses who have been seen in Australia. The brilliant success which she achieved in work of such high calibre, and so different from that in which she has been seen hitherto, was cordially and almost tumultuously recognised by the audience, who recalled her again and again at the close of every act.4
The same reviewer noted:
From the beginning to end Miss Stewart never failed and never flagged … There were depths in her voice that really touched the heart in the emotional passages, and there was an unconquerable gaiety and joyousness in the livelier moments with which the piece abounds.
Yet despite the positive reviews, in her autobiography Nellie recalled that for the first two weeks of the season ‘business was indifferent’ on account that people ‘associated me with comic opera and the singing stage, and they were quite unwilling to believe that I could possibly make a success in the speaking part’. George Musgrove very nearly pulled the play, but on the recommendation of Harcourt Beatty, he ‘gave it a chance’.5
Following a five week season in Melbourne, the play was taken to Tasmania and onto Adelaide, before opening in Sydney in June, where it played a further five weeks. The Sweet Nell boom had begun.
A souvenir booklet was produced commemorating the first production in Melbourne, featuring photographs by Talma. Postcards depicting Nellie Stewart in various costumes from the play were also widely circulated.
Over the next thirty years, Sweet Nell remained a key feature of Nellie’s repertoire. In 1906 she took it to America. The company received encouraging reviews in San Francisco, but when the earthquake hit on 18 April, they lost heavily and their tour came to an abrupt end.
In 1911 Spencer’s Pictures arranged to make a film version of the play, inviting Nellie to recreate her role. She received a whopping £1000 for her participation, said to be half the total budget of the project! The film was shot at Spencer’s Wonderland City studio in Bondi, and in the grounds of various Sydney mansions over a six week period commencing in September 1911. The cast, which was drawn from the current touring company, included Augustus Neville as the King, Charles Lawrence as Lord Jeffreys, Leslie Woods as Sir Robert Fairfax, and Roslyn Vane as Lady Olivia Vernon. George Musgrove took on the role of director, though his inexperience soon became evident and he was replaced by Raymond Longford. The film was screened for the first time at the Lyceum Theatre in Sydney on 2 December 1911. Some 12,000 people reportedly saw the film during the first seven sessions.6
Over the coming months, Nellie was a tireless promoter of the film, making personal appearances at showings. This was to be her only foray into films. Despite screening regularly for the next six years, no copies of the film have survived.7
On 2 February 1931, to commemorate Nell Gwynne’s birthday, Nellie Stewart featured in a radio broadcast of the play Sweet Nell. Produced under the direction of Laurence Halbert, in association with Nellie Stewart, the program was aired on Sydney’s 2BL at 8.00pm (and on relay to Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and other cities). Other than Nellie Stewart as Nell and Arthur Greenaway as Charles II, the cast members are unknown.
Following the success of the radio broadcast, Nellie was approached by the Columbia Graphophone Company to recorded scenes from Sweet Nell of Old Drury at their studio in Homebush, Sydney on 24 March 1931. Issued on two 12 inch 78 rpm records (catalogue numbers DO346 and DOX165), the first record featured Nell Gwynne’s entrance, Act 1, and the Finale, Act 4, with Nellie Stewart as Nell, Nancye Stewart (Nellie’s daughter) as Lady Olivia, and Mayne Lynton (Nancye’s husband) as Charles II. The second record featured a comedy scene from Act 1 and Nellie Stewart ‘Addresses Her Public’.8
Extracts from these records were featured in Ladies, Please!, a CD compiled by THA in 2010.
Nellie Stewart played Sweet Nell for the last time at a charity performance in 1931, just weeks before her death on 20 June at the age of 72. In August 1931, ‘in view of the high esteem in which Miss Nellie Stewart was held’, the Columbia Co. offered the original matrices of their recordings, ‘suitably framed and engraved’ to the Mitchell Library (State Library of New South Wales) in Sydney.9
Sweet Nell lives on in other ways too. In 1930, artist William B. McInnes painted a full-length portrait of Nellie in Sweet Nell as she appeared in the early 1900s. The portrait was commissioned via subscription and presented to Nellie by Sir Robert Best on behalf of her admirers at a function at Melbourne’s Tivoli Theatre on 19 October 1930. Nellie immediately offered the painting to the trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria so that it may be placed on public view.10
In June 1931, Table Talk magazine published a full colour plate of the McInnes painting ‘ready for framing’, urging people to place their orders early to avoid missing out.11
Another portrait by Mary Edwards, also painted in 1930, depicted Nellie as Sweet Nell. Like McInnes’ painting Edwards (apparently) entered her portrait in the Archibald Prize. In late years, the portrait hung in Nancye Stewart’s sitting room.12
Further artefacts connected with Nellie Stewart’s depiction of Sweet Nell reside in various public collections. The State Library Victoria, for example, holds a turquoise ring worn by Nellie in the play, and the Australian Performing Arts Collection has an apron that she wore as part of her Act 1 orange seller costume.
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Nellie Stewart will long be identified with her namesake Sweet Nell through the many pictures that exist, but wouldn’t it be something if the film version of her performance were discovered, so we could see her in action!
1. Denis Gifford, British Film Catalogue: Fiction film, 1895–1970, p.15 . The same year, scenes from English Nell, which was performed at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London with Marie Tempest, were also released. See also Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com/title/tt6687694/
2. The Daily Mail, 5 September 1900
3. Sweet Nell of Old Drury theatre program, Princess Theatre, Melbourne, 15 February 1902
4. The Argus, 17 February 1902, p.6
5. Nellie Stewart, My Life’s Story, p.138
6. Andrew Pike & Ross Cooper, Australian Film, 1900–1977, p.41
7. Graham Shirley, ‘The lost film of Nellie Stewart’, Openbook, Summer 2020
8. Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 26 April 1931, p.10
9. Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga), 26 August 1931, p.4
10. The Argus, 20 October 1930, p.12
11. The Herald, 23 June 1931, p.12
12. ABC Weekly, 14 February 1942, p.14
W. Davenport Adams, A Dictionary of the Drama, vol. 1, Chatto & Windus, 1904
Reginald Clarence, The Stage Cyclopaedia, Burt Franklin, 1909
Denis Gifford, British Film Catalogue: Fiction film, 1895–1970, 3rd edn, 2001
Barbara Korte & Doris Lechner (eds), History and Humour: British and American perspectives, Transcript, 2013
Andrew Pike & Ross Cooper, Australian Film, 1900–1977, Oxford University Press, 1980
Marjorie Skill, Sweet Nell of Old Sydney, Urania Publishing Company, 1974
Nellie Stewart, My Life’s Story, John Sands Ltd, 1923
Graham Shirley, ‘The lost film of Nellie Stewart’, Openbook, Summer 2020
Lewis C. Strang, Famous Actresses of the Day in America, second series, L.C. Page and Company, 1902
Sweet Nell of Old Drury [souvenir of first performance at Princess Theatre, Melbourne], Atlas Press, 1902
J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1900-1909, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014
Judy Leech, Rob Morrison
Following the final performance by the Hawtrey Comedy Company on 13 July 1901, actor-manager Robert Brough (of the Brough Comedy Company) took on a short lease of the Palace Theatre. Rather than producing a season of plays, he introduced British magician Charles Bertram to Sydney audiences.
Known as the ‘Court Magician’ or the ‘Royal Conjurer’, Bertram was a master of sleight of hand, appearing before Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on 23 occasions.1 Bertram’s Australian visit was part of a world tour that also took him through India, China, Japan, New Zealand and America. Robert Brough, who had had been performing with his dramatic company in India and China, had seen one of Bertram’s shows and agreed to manage his Australian visit.
Following a short season in Melbourne (8 June 1901), Bertram visited Bendigo and Wagga Wagga en route for Sydney, opening at the Palace Theatre on 20 July 1901. Announced initially for ‘twelve nights only’, he stayed on for an extra week, during which time he introduced some new illusions including ‘The Vanishing Lady’. Yet despite his cordial welcome in Sydney, his overall Australian tour was not deemed a success. His skilful manipulation of cards, flags, rings and flower pots was better suited to a drawing room and too small for audiences accustomed to watching much larger shows.2
The author of several books, Bertram wrote a comprehensive account of this tour which he called A Magician in Many Lands.3
Following Bertram’s departure, Henry Lee and J.G. Rial took over the Palace with a season of ‘polite vaudeville’, opening on 10 August 1901. Their company, known as the World’s Entertainers, had been formed in America and comprised a number of clever and accomplished variety turns. Key among them was Henry Lee (seen at Palace in 1896 with Phil Goatcher’s Stars of All Nations company), who impersonated ‘Great Men, Past and Present’. Through the use of lighting and changes in costume, he morphed from Shakespeare to Bismarck, to Tennyson, to King Edward VII and Pope Leo XIII. Other artists included the acrobatic comedians Kelly and Ashby who stunned audiences with their billiard table act; Josephine Gassman from Louisiana who sang songs supported by two ‘quaint and diminutive’ piccaninnies; and Charles R. Sweet, the ‘musical burglar’ who amused with humorous ditties and anecdotes. Edison’s latest movie camera, the Projectoscope also made an appearance. All in all it was deemed a ‘capital’ bill of entertainment.4
On the final night of the season, 30 October 1901, photographer Talma took a flashlight photo of the audience.5
With the vaudeville season over, the theatre was made available to amateur groups and others pending the return of Charles Arnold and his company on 26 December 1901.
Arnold, who had played two previous seasons at the Palace opened with a revival of Hans the Boatman, a sentimental play with songs that he had first performed in Australia in the 1880s. Hans was followed by a reprisal of plays from his current repertoire: What Happened to Jones and Why Smith Left Home. Mid-way through the season, on 18 January 1902, he presented a new play, The Professor’s Love Story by J.M. Barrie.
The Professor’s Love Story first saw the light of day in New York in 1892 when it was produced at the Star Theatre, with E.S. Willard in the lead. It seems it had originally been written for Henry Irving who turned it down. Believing the play to be worthless, Barrie subsequently sold the American rights to Willard for £50. After touring the play successfully for two years, Willard eventually brought it to London (opening at the Comedy Theatre in June 1894), by which time Barrie had acquired an agent who secured a flat-rate royalty for the play that also covered any future American (and presumably Australian) performances.6
Charles Arnold obtained the colonial rights from E.S. Willard and The Professor’s Love Story was performed for the first time in Australia at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne in June 1900.
Like so much of Barrie’s work, The Professor’s Love Story is a quixotic piece. Its central character is a Scots physicist, Professor Goodwillie, who falls in love with his secretary, but unaware of why he feels the way he does, he consults a physician. Critics and audiences were delighted by Arnold’s performance. The Sydney Morning Herald for instance observed:
Mr Charles Arnold showed himself a light comedian who could touch the pathetic stop with a sure hand, and his portrait of the old-young professor was true to the picture drawn by the author … [He] played throughout with extreme quiet and refinement, showing with much simplicity of manner the professor’s entire unconsciousness of his love for Lucy. His professor was, indeed a man of many winning and endearing qualities.7
Arnold was supported by Dot Frederic as Lucy, with other roles filled by Inez Bensusan, Hope Mayne, Agnes Knights and George Willoughby.
The close of the Sydney season on 12 February 1902 brought Arnold’s 96 week Australian tour to an end. During that time it was estimated he had played before 750,000 people. He was also said to have netted £24,000 from the tour, £4000 of which went to George Broadhurst, the author of What Happened to Jones, in royalties.8
In a sad footnote to the tour, November 1901 also saw the beginning of the second wave of bubonic plague in Sydney, with cases peaking in February/March 1902.9 Two members of Arnold’s company succumbed, Sallie Booth on 27 February and Ada Lee (a younger sister of Jennie Lee) on 1 March. Miss Booth had played Alvina in What Happened to Jones and Lavinia Daly in Why Smith Left Home, and Ada Lee had been seen as Helma in What Happened to Jones and Effie in The Professor’s Love Story.
On 15 February 1902 the World’s Entertainers returned for an extended season, with new artists having arrived from America on 8 February. They were now under the management of J.C. Williamson, Lee and Rial. In addition to Henry Lee, Charles R. Sweet, Josephine Gassman and Arthur Nelstone, new acts included Bunth and Rudd (eccentric comedians); The Marvellous Lottos (novelty cyclists); Carl Nilsson’s Troupe (in their Original Flying Ballet); George Lyding (American tenor); Mdlle Ilma De Monza (Parisian singer); and Mdlle Adele (‘The Lady with the Wonderful Fingers’).
Over the next four months the line-up changed with artist swapping between the Palace in Sydney and Bijou in Melbourne, or going on tour. Some local artists also joined the company including Violet Elliott, often referred to as the ‘Lady bass’. The World’s Entertainers filled the theatre for four months, closing on 28 May 1902.10
Frank Thornton was one of the most popular comedians to ever visit Australia, making his fifth trip ‘down under’ in 1902. During previous visits he had introduced some well-known farces including The Private Secretary, Charley’s Aunt, The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown and The Bookmaker. On this visit, he had two new plays: Facing the Music by J.H. Darnley and A Little Ray of Sunshine by Mark Ambient and Wilton Heriot.
He also brought with him his London Comedy Company of eight players: Vera Fordyce (leading lady), Phoebe Mercer (aristocratic old ladies), Leonie Norbury (ingenue), Katie Lee (character), Joseph Wilson (comedian), Alex Bradley (principal juvenile), Galway Herbert (juvenile), J.H. Denton (character), and Frank Wilson (stage manager). Katie Lee was perhaps the best known of these players being a sister of Jennie Lee and the late Ada Lee.
Thornton commenced his tour in Melbourne on 3 May 1902 with the Australian premiere of Facing the Music, relocating to the Sydney Palace on 31 May.11
Like so many farces, Facing the Music has an absurd plot. It involves two ‘John Smiths’, one a curate and the other the owner of racehorses, two ‘Mrs John Smiths’, a Colonel Duncan Smith, and two housekeepers.
First performed in the English provinces during 1900 with Thornton as Mr John Smith, Thornton also produced the first London production at the Strand Theatre (10 February 1900) with James Welch as the star.
Facing the Music proved something of a hit with Sydneysiders, playing for six weeks at the Palace, but it was withdrawn prematurely to make way for the first Australian production of A Little Ray of Sunshine on 19 July 1902. This comedy was in a different vein to Facing the Music. Rather than relying on broad humour for laughs, it was more of a character piece, and closer in sentiment to a morality tale than a knock-about farce. It had been a success in London, with W.S. Penley as Lord Markham, an eccentric millionaire who having deserted his family as a youth returns to the family seat and through various acts of benevolence helps them into become better people.
A Little Ray of Sunshine played until the close of the season on 7 August. Although not as engaging as its predecessor, it seemed to please much of the audience.
In August, J.C. Williamson Ltd. sub-leased the theatre from Messrs Lee and Rial for a four months period . Once again the Pitt Street venue was coming to the rescue of a company that had lost its usual theatre due to fire. In 1899 with the destruction of the Tivoli, Harry Rickards turned to the Palace. Now JCW was in need of a new venue following the burning of Her Majesty’s Theatre in March. Williamson’s maintained two Sydney theatres, Her Majesty’s in Pitt Street, and the Theatre Royal in Castlereagh Street. With one theatre out of action they needed somewhere to present their new raft of musical comedy attractions.
JCW’s first offering was San Toy, an original musical play by Edward Morton, with music by Sydney Jones. San Toy had its Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s in Melbourne in December 1901 and since that time it had toured throughout Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland. When it arrived in Sydney, only one of the original twenty-seven principals remained, namely Ernest Mozar, who played Lieutenant Harvey Tucker.
The key roles were now performed by Rose Musgrove as San Toy (replacing Carrie Moore); Lillian Digges as Dudley (in place of Grace Palotta); Fred H. Graham as Li (rather than George Lauri); Arthur Crane as Captain Bobby Preston (for Charles Kenningham); Charles Trood as the Emperor of China (instead of Hugh J. Ward); and Lulu Evans as Poppy (succeeding Florence Young). Fred H. Graham had also taken over from Spencer Barry as stage director.
San Toy had its initial performance at George Edwardes’ Daly’s Theatre in London in October 1899, with Marie Tempest in the title role. It held the stage for over two years during which time the lead was also played by Florence Collingbourne. The musical’s oriental setting provided the opportunity for superb costumes (designed by Percy Anderson) and settings (painted by Hawes Craven and Joseph Harker), the latter being copied from London models by JCW resident scenic artists John Gordon and George Dixon.
The next production was a revival of The Belle of New York, a musical comedy that had first been seen in Australia during 1899 with a largely American cast headed by Louise Hepner. At the Palace, it played from 13 September 1902 to 7 October 1902, with Lillian Digges as the Belle.
On 3 October a potentially fatal accident occurred when a member of the audience fell from the gallery balcony into the stalls. Miraculously no-one was below and he survived the fall suffering only from shock and a fractured knee.12
The final offering for the present season was The Messenger Boy, which was being performed in Australia for the first time. Due to the elaborate preparations necessary for the production, the opening night was postponed from the Saturday to the following Wednesday, 8 October 1902.13
Featuring a book by James T. Tanner and Alfred Murray, lyrics by Adrian Ross and Percy Greenbank, and music by Ivan Caryll and Lionel Monckton, The Messenger Boy had first been performed at the Gaiety Theatre in London during February 1900 following a try-out in Plymouth. With principal roles played by Edmund Payne, Harry Nicolls, Violet Lloyd, Maud Hobson and Connie Ediss, the musical was a ‘runaway success’, playing for 429 performance.
The Australian production featured artists from JCW’s comic opera company: Fred H. Graham as Tommy Bang (the Messenger Boy), Arthur Crane as Clive Radnor, Arthur Lissant as Hooker Pasha, Lillian Digges as Nora, Blanche Wallace as Lady Punchestown, Rose Musgrove as Rosa, and Fred H. Graham as the stage director.
The exotic locales in which the musical was set gave JCW scenic designer John Gordon the opportunity to impress with scenes of London, Brindisi, Cairo and Paris.
With the departure of the JCW company, William Anderson took over as sub-lessee and manager. He launched his season with Cyrano de Bergerac on 1 November 1902, with American Henry Lee (formerly seen with the World’s Entertainers) in the title role, and Eugenie Duggan as Roxane. This was the debut of Edmund Rostand’s play in Sydney. First performed in Paris in 1897, the play was adapted for the English-speaking stage in 1900 by Stuart Ogilvie and Louis N. Parker, with Richard Mansfield creating the title role in America and Charles Wyndham in the UK.
Anderson’s company had premiered the play at the Melbourne Bijou in August 1902, with Lee as Cyrano and Janet Waldorf as Roxane. It featured elaborate costumes designed and executed by Messrs Lincoln, Stuart & Co., and scenery by John Little and Alfred Tischbauer (Alta).
It seems Henry Lee prepared the text himself. ‘Lee’s is a bad translation, in which much of the point and relish of the comedy was lost’, wrote one critic, ‘Probably the Sydney gallery would have been just as uneasy had the play been well done, but I must claim for them that the Cyrano of the performance leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.’14
In fact the behaviour of the gallery so incensed Lee that on opening night he stopped the play during the last act to address the audience, declaring: ‘This is my first appearance in Sydney in drama, and were it not that I am under engagement to Mr Anderson, and am in honour bound to fulfil my contract, it would be my last appearance.’15 The following Monday, Lee called in sick with gout and Edmund Duggan took over. Despite suggestions that Lee would be back, he was not, and the planned four-week season came to an abrupt close at the end of the week. As a result, William Anderson had to rush in a new show: Walter Melville’s melodrama The Worst Woman in London. As the titular character, Frances Vere, Eugenie Duggan was at her evil best, and with a plot brimming with dastardly acts of blackmail, murder, arson and robbery, audiences were kept on the edge of their seats. With Anderson’s lease ending on 28 November 1902, The Worst Woman in London was withdrawn at the height of its success.
To be continued
1. Advertisement, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 1901, p.2
2. Charles Waller, Magical Nights at the Theatre, p.112
3. Charles Bertram, A Magician in Many Lands, G. Routledge & Sons Ltd., 1911. Bertram died in 1907 (aged only 53) and the book was finished by his wife.
4. The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 August 1901, p.3
5. The Evening News (Sydney), 30 October 1901, p.1. Unfortunately the photo does not seem to be extant.
6. Denis Mackail, The Story of JMB, p.203
7. The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 January 1902, p.5
8. The Critic (Adelaide), 22 February 1902, p.13; Brisbane Courier, 22 February 1902, p.9
9. The first wave of plague occurred in Sydney between January and August 1900, with 103 deaths. The second wave, which lasted six weeks, claimed 39 lives. See The History of Plague in Australia, 1900–1925.
10. For more information on the World’s Entertainers, see Australian Variety Theatre Archive, https://ozvta.com/international-tourists/
11. The Princess Theatre was required by George Musgrove’s company.
12. The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 October 1902, p.11
13. The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 October 1902, p.4
14.The Critic (Adelaide), 29 November 1902, p.13
15. Punch (Melbourne), 13 November 1902, p.31
Charles Bertram, A Magician in Many Lands, G. Routledge & Sons Ltd., 1911
Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A chronicle of comedy and drama, 1869–1914, Oxford University Press, 1994
JHL Clumpston & F. McCallum, The History of Plague in Australia, 1900-1925, Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Health, 1926
Denis Mackail, The Story of JMB, Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1941
Charles Waller, Magical Nights at the Theatre, edited and published by Gerald Taylor, 1980
J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1890–1899, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014
J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1900-1909, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014
The Critic (Adelaide, SA); Brisbane Courier (QLD); The Evening News (NSW); Punch (Melbourne); The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)
John S. Clark, Mimi Colligan, Judy Leech, Les Tod
Theatre Heritage Australia would like to congratulate Dr Mimi Colligan on being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2022 Australia Day Honours.
The award has been bestowed for 'significant service to community history, and heritage preservation'.
A founding member of Theatre Heritage Australia (originally Victoria Theatres Trust) in 1995, and long-time Committee member, Mimi also served as President (2015-2017) and Vice President (2013-2015). In 2019, on her retirement from the Committee, she was presented with a THA Lifetime Member certificate.
Mimi's contribution to our understanding and appreciation of Australian history—and Australian theatre history in particular—has been profound. In addition to publishing dozens of articles in THA's On Stage Magazine, she has authored numerous books, notably Circus and stage: the theatrical adventures of Rose Edouin and GBW Lewis (2013) and Canvas documentaries: panoramic entertainments in nineteenth-century Australia and New Zealand (2002). In addition, she has contributed essays to leading Australian and international scholarly publications, presented conference papers, and curated exhibitions of theatre history.
She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria; an Adjunct Research Fellow with the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University; a former Board Member of the International Panorama Council; and a former member of the Victorian Working Party and contributor to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
As a champion of Australian theatre history, mentor, colleague and friend, we are delighted that Mimi’s important and continuing contribution has been recognised by the receipt of an Australia Day Award.
The Operetta Research Center’s John Groves calls Kurt Gänzl’s new Gilbert and Sullivan book ‘the most important book’ to be written on the Savoy Operas for many years.
Rickards’ tivoli company made their last appearance at the Palace on 19 January 1900. With their departure, short-lease seasons resumed at the theatre, ranging from single performances to one or two week seasons. They included Victor the conjuror; the Sydney Comedy Club; the Sydney Liedertafel (who premiered a new opera by Alfred Hill called Lady Dolly), and McAdoo’s Georgian Minstrels (with a variety programme and performances of Uncle Tom’s Cabin). During February 1900, the tragedian Walter Bentley was using the theatre for rehearsals prior to taking his company on an extended tour around Australia.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, manager Skinner was making arrangements for significant alterations to the theatre to make it suitable for large-scale dramatic presentations.
In May 1899 Adams had purchased the premises of Gowing Brothers, tailors and outfitters, which occupied the corner of Market and George streets, part of which backed onto the Palace Theatre. In addition to consolidating his property holdings on the block, it also gave him the opportunity to expand the rear of the Palace Theatre. Minor works had been undertaken in mid-1899 when the stage was increased by a few feet. Now it was proposed to increase the depth of the stage by a further sixteen feet, making it 46 feet deep. Other changes to the auditorium and the widening of the proscenium by two and a half feet, would provide better views of the stage, allowing for increased seating capacity of the theatre. While still one of the smallest theatre in Sydney, the house could now seat over 1,300 patrons. Contracts were struck with builder Alexander Dean, and James Bull Alderson, the architect, was engaged to draw up the plans. Alderson had been responsible for the design of Adams’ Marble Bar in 1891.1
Sometime in 1901 Adams and Skinner commissioned the firm of Melbourne-based metalworker James Marriott to design a new verandah and portico to the Palace Hotel and Palace Theatre. These drawings, dated 1901, are at the State Library Victoria. It is not clear if these designs were carried out, but the new wrought iron canopies may have been proposed ahead of the Royal Visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York who arrived in Sydney on 27 May after opening the first Federal Parliament in Melbourne on 9 May 1901.
With the re-working of the interior complete, the Palace could now welcome a wider range of companies. The plan was to open with a comedy season by Charles Arnold and company on 9 June 1900, but Arnold’s plans changed and the date was pushed back to 28 July, though this too was altered and he was expected to open in late August following the completion of his Melbourne and Adelaide seasons.
To bridge the gap, Johnstone Sheldon’s War Lecture (with limelight views) occupied the theatre for a week from 30 June, and Boar War films, under the direction of Messrs Wyld and Freedman, were screened from 28 July to 21 August 1900.
Charles Arnold’s company finally opened at the Palace on 25 August 1900, launching their comedy season with What Happened to Jones. Arnold was well-known to Australian theatregoers, having made two previous visits, during the 1880s, and again in the 1890s with Hans the Boatman, Captain Fritz and other plays.
For his third tour, he brought with him several new comedies. The first, What Happened to Jones, a three-act farce by George Broadhurst, had been performed in New York in 1897, with George C. Boniface as Jones, the travelling salesman who disguises himself as a cleric in an attempt to escape the police. Having purchased the British and Colonial rights, Charles Arnold first produced the play at the Grand Theatre, Croydon on 30 May 1898 (with himself as Jones), prior to opening at the Strand Theatre in London on 17 July 1898, where it played for 325 performances. With the conclusion of the London season, he took it and other plays to South Africa. He arrived in Australia in April 1900, opening at the Melbourne Princess’s on the 18th of the month. The play proved a huge success and played an unprecedented eight weeks or 52 nights (76,000 people). Arnold was said to have made £5000, with the nightly receipts eclipsing all previous records for the theatre (with the exception of the Bernhardt and London Gaiety Burlesque seasons of 1895).2
In Sydney, What Happened to Jones played to full houses for seven weeks. It closed on Wednesday, 17 October 1899, the occasion of its 54th night, thereby eclipsing Melbourne by two performances! As a result of playing Jones for the full term, Sydney did not get to see The Professor’s Love Story, which had been given its Australian premiere in Melbourne.
With the conclusion of the Arnold season, the company departed for New Zealand, via Hobart.
Pending the arrival of the Hawtrey Comedy Company in December, the theatre remained dark, with the exception of a few one-off performances. The most notable was the world premiere on 1 November 1900 of Thou Fool by the Rev. George Walters, author of Joseph of Canaan. The play was being performed for copyright purposes, with the prospect of producing it in London (though this does not seem to have happened). The play was staged by Philip Lytton, who also played the leading role. He was supported by a cast of amateurs.
The next play at the Palace was A Message from Mars, a fantastical comedy-drama in three acts by Richard Ganthony, which was being performed for the first time in Australia on 22 December 1900. This play had been a huge hit in London, and was still playing at the Strand Theatre when the Australian production opened.3 The play was a morality tale, not unlike Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, whereby a selfish man is reformed after a visitor from Mars appears to him in a dream and shows him the effect of his actions on the people around him. When the play opened in London, the principal characters were played by Charles H. Hawtrey (Horace Parker), Arthur Williams (Tramp), Jessie Bateman (Minnie Templer) and G.S. Titheradge (Messenger from Mars).
The Hawtrey Comedy Company was managed by Charles Hawtrey’s brother William F. Hawtrey, who also played the role of the tramp in A Message from Mars. Hawtrey had been working in Australia since 1897 as stage manager for Williamson and Musgrove’s Dramatic Company, but on the dissolution of the partnership had returned to England to arrange the current tour. The role of Horace Parker was played by Herbert Ross, Ruby Ray was Minnie Templer, and the Messenger from Mars was portrayed by Henry Stephenson, who had understudied the role in London. With the conclusion of the Australian season, Stephenson would join Charles Hawtrey in New York, making his Broadway debut in the role of the Messenger.
Ahead of the company’s arrival scenic artist Harry Whaite recreated the London scenery.
The play proved a huge success in Sydney and played to packed houses for eight weeks.
To mark the new year 1901 and the foundation of the Commonwealth of Australia, Sydney’s building were decked with lights. The illuminations along Pitt Street were considered particularly striking:
Tattersall’s Hotel and the Palace Theatre were prettily lighted up with electric lights, small coloured globes outlined the windows; over the verandah in the centre of the building was a transparency scene representing Her Majesty the Queen; above this likeness were the words ‘Our People, One Destiny’, underneath a representation of the British coat of arms, supported by the Australia coat of arms with the words ‘The Crimson Thread of Kinship Sealed with Australian Blood’.4
From The Arena (Melbourne), 28 September 1901, p.12
The second play of the Hawtrey season was Tom, Dick and Harry, a three-act farcical comedy by Mrs Romualdo Pacheco, described as a ‘hyper-inflated farcical version of The Comedy of Errors’ involving three identical red-headed men: one pair of twins and another who for reason of his own copies their appearance. First produced in New York in 1892 under the title Incog, it starred Charles Dickson, Louis Mann and Robert Edeson as Tom, Dick and Harry, with Clara Lipman as Mollie Somers. When Charles H. Hawtrey produced the play in England he changed the title and relocated the setting from San Francisco to Margate. The first production took place at the Theatre Royal, Manchester in August 1893, and it opened in London at the Trafalgar Square [Duke of York’s] Theatre in November 1893. In London, the complexity of the plot with three identical characters, confused audiences and when the play was sent on tour, Charles Hawtrey hit on the idea of adding an additional scene that showed the bogus twin applying his make-up.5 The play later formed the basis for the 1908 musical Three Twins.
Tom, Dick and Harry was performed for the first time in Australia at the Palace on 23 February 1901. The cast included Herbert Ross, O.P. Heggie and Philip Lytton as the eponymous Tom, Dick and Harry, with W.F. Hawtrey as Colonel Stanhope, and Roxy Barton and Ruby Ray as Molly [sic] Somers and Daisy Armitage. Also on the bill was the one-act play A Highland Legacy by Brandon Thomas (the author of Charley’s Aunt), with W.F. Hawtrey as Tammy Tamson MacDonnel. This Scots trifle, first performed in London in 1888, saw W.F. Hawtrey as a Scottish laird who disguises himself as an old Highland retainer in order to discover the character of an estranged nephew who stands to inherit a substantial fortune.
The double-bill played to packed houses at the Palace until the end of the season on 29 March 1901.
The following evening saw the return of Charles Arnold with the comedy Why Smith Left Home. This piece, like What Happened to Jones, had been written by George Broadhurst. In England, the title role had been created by Maclyn Arbuckle at the Grand Theatre, Margate, 27 April 1899. Arbuckle would go on to star in the first London (Strand Theatre, 1 May 1899) and New York (Hoyt’s Theatre, 2 September 1899) productions.
First produced by Charles Arnold during his South African tour, Why Smith Left Home was given its Australian premiere at the Palace Theatre on 30 March 1901. The farce concerned a newly married couple who decide to spend their honeymoon at home, but are unable to get any time together when their house is filled with noisy servants and visitors. The roles of Mr and Mrs Smith were played by George Willoughby and Agnes Knights, with Charles Arnold as Count von Guggenheim and Dot Frederic as Julia. Smith was played until 3 May 1901.
With the departure of Charles Arnold, there was a change of pace at the Palace.
On 4 May 1901, G.H. Snazelle presented Our Navy. This was not a play, but an illustrated lecture on the capabilities of the British Navy. Rather than simply a catalogue of achievements and a description of the Navy’s arsenal, Snazelle’s ‘lecture’ included anecdotes and songs delivered in his own inimitable way. The illustrations were provided in the form of a projected film made by G. West and Son of Southsea, which was made on board HMS Jupiter during manoeuvres. Snazelle was well known to Sydney audiences having toured Australia in the early 1890s, presenting his one-man show Music, Song and Story. The possessor of a fine baritone voice, during his first visit he also sang with the Royal Comic Opera Company, notably as Bouillabaisse in Paul Jones, alongside Nellie Stewart and Marion Burton.
Snazelle’s entertainment held the stage at the Palace for five weeks.
On 27 May 1901, the Hawtrey Comedy Company returned to the Palace. A Message from Mars and Tom, Dick, and Harry were revived for the first four weeks of the season, and on 15 June 1901, they presented a new three-act farce, In the Soup by the late Ralph R. Lumley.
In the Soup concerned an impoverish junior barrister, Horace Gillibrand, who after marrying takes on an expensive London apartment. In order to maintain its upkeep and deceive a visiting uncle, the apartment is sub-let to a number of different tenants, the play culminating in an riotous dinner scene in which sleeping powder is added to the soup. Following a ‘tryout’ at the Opera House, Northampton in August 1900, a revised version of the farce was brought to London later the same month. Comedian James A. Welch (who would go on to score a huge hit in When Knights Were Bold) played one of the lead roles, supported by John Beauchamp, Audrey Ford and Maria Saker.
In Sydney, the role of the barrister was played by Herbert Ross, with W.F. Hawtrey as Monsieur Moppert, one of the tenants, Henry Stephenson as the peppery uncle, and Ruby Ray as Mrs Gillibrand. The farce, which had played for over a year in London, proved just as popular with Sydneysiders and played until the end of the season on 13 July 1901.
To be continued
1. Australian Star, 6 January 1900, p.3; Sydney Morning Herald, 2 May 1900, p.4
2. Evening Journal, 2 July 1900, p.3
3. A Message from Mars was performed at the Avenue Theatre, 22 November 1899 to 30 March 1901, transferring to the Prince of Wales Theatre, 6 April 1901 to 20 April 1901, a total of 544 performances.
4. Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 1901, p.14
5. Charles Hawtrey, pp.245-246
Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A chronicle of comedy and drama, 1869–1914, Oxford University Press, 1994
Guide to Selecting Plays, Samuel French, 1913
G.S. Edwards, Snazelleparilla, Chatto & Windus, 1898
Charles Hawtrey, The Truth at Last, Thornton Butterworth Ltd., 1924
J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1890–1899, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014
The Arena (Melbourne); Australian Star (Sydney, NSW); Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA); Sydney Mail (NSW); Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)
With thanks to
John S. Clark, Judy Leech
The exhibition of j.c. williamson ltd. costumes at Beleura on the Mornington Peninsula almost didn’t go ahead. Only days before the opening, Melbourne and its surrounds experienced a severe storm that brought down trees and blew off roofs. The road to Beleura, nestled among parklands and golfing ranges, was blocked by debris from the storm, and power to the area was cut. And before that, the ravages of covid had meant that Beleura like so many other ‘unessential’ businesses was closed and shuttered.
But on Thursday, 11 November 2021, the sun was shining, power had been restored, and a small ‘covid safe’ crowd made its way to Beleura for the opening of ‘My Fair Ladies’.
‘My Fair Ladies’ showcases costumes from the collection of Kevin Coxhead. The amazing thing about the fifteen costumes on display is that when Kevin acquired them, they were all in a poor state of disrepair following decades of wear and tear, in need of Kevin’s careful care and attention.
Kevin was previously a dancer with J.C. Williamson’s in the mid-1970s, just before the ‘Firm’ ceased operation—having held the position of Australasia’s number one theatre producers for over 100 years. Kevin’s costume collection began when he decided to look for the costumes he had worn in Gypsy. His search took him to The Costume Factory in Kensington (originally J.C. Westend), where former JCW costumes were being hired out for fancy dress parties and amateur stage productions.
It was a great thrill for Kevin when he located ‘his’ costumes, and he soon struck up a friendship with Maureen McInerny who ran the costume hire shop. So when Maureen came across costumes from notable shows, rather than put them back into circulation in the shop, she placed them aside for Kevin’s consideration. Over the years, Kevin’s collection has grown. He taught himself sewing and other tailoring skills. Hours of patient research and repairs has seen a pile of tattered garments transformed to their original splendour.
It is wonderful to be able to inspect these garments up close, to marvel at the skill of the original designers and the skill of Kevin whose careful restoration has made it impossible for the untrained eye to know what is original fabric and what is restoration. There is an unexpected delicacy in the selection of fabrics, their design and construction that belies the practical nature of stage costumes, that are generally designed to be seen from a distance and to be able to withstand the rigors of continuous wear during the run of a show.
Some of the highlights of Kevin’s collection have been assembled for ‘My Fair Ladies’ exhibition. As might be expected from the title of the show, costumes from the Lerner and Lowe musical My Fair Lady (1959) figure prominently, along with original garments from No, No, Nanette (1972), Irene (1974) and Camelot (1963).
Nearly all the costumes are displayed within the Beleura House with one in an adjacent building. Kevin, with assistance from curator Ingrid Hoffmann, has carefully placed them around the house, selecting a particular room that will work as a backdrop against which to best display the colours of the fabrics and style of the dresses. For instance, in the Drawing Room, with its heavy drapes and shuttered windows are found two of Cecil Beaton’s costumes from the Ascot Scene in My Fair Lady: a gentleman’s frock coat complete with top hat and button hole, and a stunning dress of bold vertical black and white stripes topped off with a large Edwardian picture hat. When the Ascot dress came into Kevin’s possession it was in a very poor state having been ‘let out’ at the back to fit larger-framed customers at the costume hire shop.
In the Study is one of Kenneth Rowell’s designs for Act 2 of Irene. This costume was featured in the Fashion Parade scene and Kevin used stills from the production to help recreate the matching coat, hat and parasol. The coat, with its masses of hand-frayed ‘flower petals’ on the shoulders, was a particular challenge and success for Kevin.
Courtesy of Beleura House & Garden, Mornington
Another costume from My Fair Lady, holding pride of place in the Dame Nellie Melba Bedroom, is Eliza’s Embassy Ball gown. This particular dress took Kevin over a year to repair. The lace bodice needed to be completely recreated as did the belt. Another spectacular dress from the Embassy Ball scene (based on Cecil Beaton’s designs, but made for the 1970 revival) may be found in the dining room. A concoction of yellow and blue, this dress also took a year to repair with hundreds of tiny holes in the lace and sequined panels needing to be mended.
Courtesy of Beleura House & Garden, Mornington
Jill Perryman’s Act 1 dress from No, No, Nanette is found in the Wintergarden. Created by the costume department at JCW from original designs by New York-based designer Raoul Pene Du Bois, the striking deep orange crepe silk dress looks vibrant against the white walls and hanging plants. Another dress from No, No, Nanette is on display in the library. Fully beaded in grey and purple diagonal stripes with diamond-shaped chevrons of blue sequins, this stunning dress which beautifully evokes the flapper era, was worn by a member of the chorus in the Act 3 finale. Badly damaged from years of hiring, it took Kevin two years to re-thread and insert strengthening panels to stop the dress from sagging under the weight of the many thousands of sequins, beads and pearls.
Courtesy of Beleura House & Garden, Mornington
Another outstanding costume, located in the Vestibule, is one by Sydney society designer Beril Jents created especially for Bettina Welch, whose name is on the label. Decorated with large green vine leaves on a yellow base, this silk chiffon dress probably dates from the 1940s. Bettina Welch is noted for having all her costumes designed by Jents, even her period costumes!
I have not described all the costumes in the exhibition, but a final word should be said for one of John Truscott’s costumes from Camelot, to be found in the foyer of the Pavilion (an intimate recital space) adjacent to the House. Originally worn in the Act 1, Scene 1 Winter scene, amazingly little repair work was needed to restore the medieval splendour of this creation. In researching the production Kevin located a drawing of the original costume in a private collection which is also on display.
Located on the Mornington Peninsula, Beleura is an hour’s drive from Melbourne via the Peninsula Link Freeway. Once the home of Sir George Tallis, a director of J.C. Williamson’s in the 1920s, and his son John, the house is filled with memorabilia and antiques. Evoking a lost world of theatrical glamour and social ease, it is the perfect setting for Kevin’s JCW costumes. ‘My Fair Ladies’ runs until 11 March 2022, and if you haven’t yet visited Beleura, now is the time to arrange a visit. Further details may be found on the Beleura website, https://www.beleura.org.au/exhibition-my-fair-ladies
Thanks to Kevin Coxhead and Ingrid Hoffmann for their assistance in the preparation of this article.
On Christmas Eve 1896, George Adams opened his little vaudeville theatre in Pitt Street, Sydney, amongst much fanfare. ‘With regard to decorations, the theatre has no equal in Australia, and possibly it is superior to any building of its kind in London’, wrote one paper. Scenic artist Phil Goatcher, who designed the auditorium in a spectacular Indian style, was also the first lessee. But lack of experience as a theatre manager and arguments and law suits with his business partner, spelled disaster for the enterprise. ‘For a few nights it drew large audiences, and then a bit of a frost set in.’1
After only six weeks, Goatcher’s lesseeship of the Palace Theatre came to an abrupt end. George Adams turned to Harry Rickards, striking a three-year lease with Australia’s undisputed King of Vaudeville. For Rickards this was an opportunity to secure a monopoly in this class of business, look at expanding his empire, and at the same time fend off any competition. But could Sydney support two variety theatres?
Without any interruption to programming, Goatcher’s company made their final appearance on 29 January 1897, and the following evening, Harry Rickards’ company took over the stage, with Rickards’ brother John C. Leete as General Manager.
While a couple of Goatcher performers joined the ranks of the new company, most were drawn from Rickards other theatres, the Sydney Tivoli and Melbourne Opera House.
Grand Opening Night on Saturday, 30 January 1897, was a great success and boded well for the new venture. ‘Mr Harry Rickards has reason to feel satisfied with the result of his initial performance at this bright little playhouse on Saturday night’, wrote the Evening News. ‘From a financial as well as artistic standpoint it was a gratifying success.’2
The line up boasted a number of popular artists, seen before at the Tivoli, including American illusionist Carl Hertz, supported by his wife Mdlle D’Alton, and champion whistler Frank Lawton in his ‘The Whistling Waiter’ sketch. Other artists were Australian serio-comic Florrie Forde (singing ‘Oh Harris, Ain’t it Nice in Paris’ and ‘I am an Innocent Dickie Bird’); grotesque dancers and acrobats The Three Delevines; American sketch duo Albert Bellman and Lottie Moore; mandolin artists, the Winterton Sisters; child serio-comic and dancer Little Alma Gray; and Ada Colley, the Australian Canary. Of the newcomers, there was Edgar Granville, an English character comedian who delighted audiences with several songs, including ‘I Haven’t Got it Out Yet’ and ‘This Life is But a Derby’, and ‘Tiddle-ee-wink, what d’ye Think of Me’, which he sang, dressed in widow’s weeds!
Three weeks later, armed with photos of his new theatre, Rickards left for England and Europe to recruit enough new talent to fill the bills at his three theatres.
Over the next three months, the programme at the Palace changed, with new artists joining the bill. From England came vaudevillian all-rounder Will Crackles; C.H. Chirgwin (‘The White-Eyed Musical Kaffir’); serio-comic and dancer, Jessie De Grey; and comedian Harry Shine. Among the locals there was soprano Florrie Esdaile; dancers Lucy Cobb and Millie Osborne; and ‘the clever contralto’ Hettie Patey.
The vaudeville season closed on 3 April 1897 ‘pending the new engagements now being made by Mr Rickards in Europe and America’.3
While waiting for his brother to return with the new artists, John C. Leete oversaw a varied programme of entertainment at the Palace. From 17–30 April 1897, star violinist Ovide Musin gave a series of concerts, and from 1 May, John Gourlay and Percy St John’s Musical Comedy Company presented a short season of plays, including Gourlay’s musical farcical comedy Skipped by the Light of the Moon. With the conclusion of the Gourlay season on 29 May, the Palace closed, and remained so until Rickards’ return from overseas in August 1897.
Rickards’ plan was to run the Palace along new lines from the Tivoli, with completely different entertainments at his two Sydney theatres. During the break, the Palace stage was enlarged by six feet to accommodate some of the new acts.
Among the novelties secured by Rickards was the Biograph—an early motion picture projector—billed as the ‘very latest and most wonderful invention’ and the ‘marvel of the Nineteenth Century’. Rickards was said to have paid £3,000 to secure the sole Australian rights for six months. In an interview, he described it as being ‘a great advance upon Lumière’s Cinematographe’, which Carl Hertz had introduced to Tivoli audiences in 1896.4
Made and operated by the American Biograph Company, the projector was the invention of Herman Casler (1867-1939). Unlike Edison’s Kinetograph, which used 35 mm gauge film, Casler’s Biograph employed 68/70 mm sprocket-less film which produced an exceptionally large and clear image. From September 1896 it was being presented at vaudeville houses in America, and in March 1897 it was included on the bill at the Palace Theatre of Varieties in London for the first time. It would remain an attraction at the London Palace until 1902.
Rickards’ Biograph-Vaudeville Company re-opened the Palace on Monday, 23 August 1897. The first night programme comprised twelve short films including ‘President McKinley Receiving the Result of His Election, ‘Union Square New York, ‘The Falls of Niagara’ and ‘The Horseless Fire Engine’. This last named film, which showed a New York fire engine ‘snorting out volumes of smoke and raising clouds of dust’ as it races off to a extinguish a fire, was one of the most popular and repeated on subsequent nights by popular demand.5
The Biograph was just one of the highlights of a packed programme. Opening night also saw the first Australian appearance of Fanny Wentworth, an English pianist, vocalist and character entertainer, who introduced the song ‘The Little Tin Gee-Gee’; the return of Lilian Tree, an operatic prima donna, who had previously been seen in Australia with the Simonsen Opera Company; Master Arthur Sherwood, a boy mezzo-soprano; illusionist Professor Charles Marritt; and Australian popular favourite, operatic and character vocalist Fanny Liddiard. The Biograph-Vaudeville combination ran until 30 September 1897.
A season of American musical comedies by Charles H. Hoyt followed on 2 October with A Bunch of Keys, featuring another of Rickards’ recent acquisitions, Addie Conyers, supported by Fannie Liddiard, Lottie Moore, Albert Bellman and George Lauri. This was not Conyers first Australian appearance, she had been seen in 1892–93 as a member of the London Gaiety Burlesque Company.
Binks the Photographer followed on 20 October, with William Gourlay, Addie Conyers, Minnie Everett, Marietta Nash and George Lauri, but it lasted only a week. It seems American plays were not a popular choice and audiences stayed away. The musical comedy season came to an abrupt end on 26 November 1897—and with it, Harry Rickards’ lease on the Palace.
With audience numbers at the Tivoli in decline, Rickards soon realised that Sydney couldn’t profitably support two vaudeville houses. He reluctantly decided, after eleven months, to give up his lease on the Palace and devote his energies to the management of the Tivoli and the Opera House in Melbourne.
With Rickards’ early departure, George Adams’ representative Harrie Skinner was given the task of finding a suitable tenant for the theatre, and soon communications were being issued to leading English, American and European agents and managers.
In order to keep the ‘lights on’ between seasons, the theatre was made available to amateur groups such as the Lotus Club and Sydney Comedy Club.
From 8 October 1898–9 December 1898, the theatre played host to an extended season by the 29-year-old American magician Dante the Great, who was making his first appearance in Australia. Hailed as ‘the greatest magician living’, Dante lived up to the hype and enthralled audiences with his ‘original experiments in sleight-of-hand’. He also performed a number of elaborate tricks including ‘The Marvellous Bicyclist’, wherein his assistant Mdlle Edmunda (the stage name of his wife Virginia Eliason] ‘cycles through the air, upside down, in and out, backwards and forwards, in complete defiance of all the laws of gravitation’. In another trick, ‘The Beggar’s Dream’, Mdlle Edmunda, wearing rags, is placed under a canopy on a platform, and almost immediately her rags vanish and she is wearing a magnificent evening dress. Dante kept audiences spellbound for two months.6
Skinner’s next big coup was the engagement of Orpheus Myron McAdoo, an American singer and minstrel impresario, who was making a return visit to Australia.
McAdoo was a big draw card, having cemented a position as a favourite with Australian concert-goers since his first trip in 1888 with Fisk’s Jubilee Singers. He made a second extended visit with Fisk’s company in 1892 and remained on until 1895 with his own company, McAdoo’s Jubilee Singers. McAdoo had a deep voice, described as an ‘A-flat basso profundo’.
National Library of Australia, Canberra.
The McAdoo company opened at the Palace on Saturday, 17 December 1898, for an initial three weeks, but ended up staying for two-months. The company specialised in singing plantation songs, jubilee choruses and glees. Favourite songs included ‘Steal Away to Jesus’, ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and ‘Hear Dem Bells’. In addition to McAdoo, the principal members of the company were Mattie Allan McAdoo (Mrs McAdoo), billed as ‘the only lady tenor’—her rendition of ‘Come into the Garden, Maude’ was warmly encored; and Susie B. Anderson—described as ‘America’s Black Melba’—who sang the ‘Queen of the Night’ aria from The Magic Flute.
The current season ended on 28 January 1899 and in March 1899, McAdoo departed for America to organise a full-size African-American minstrel troupe. He placed recruitment advertisements in the Indianapolis Freeman informing prospective artistes: ‘The Palace Theatre, Sidney [sic], is the handsomest and most complete vaudeville house in the world.’7
During McAdoo’s absence, the Lands Department Draftsmen's Association gave a performance of Farnie and Lecocq’s operetta The Sea Nymphs on Friday, 10 May 1899. The following night, Dante returned for a four-week season (11 March 1899–8 April 1899), bringing with him a raft of new illusionistic wonders.
In June 1899, McAdoo returned with his new company, the Georgia Minstrels and Alabama Cakewalkers. They opened at the Palace on the seventeenth of the month. The first part of the entertainment resembled an ordinary minstrel show, ‘but the numbers introduced were greatly above those in the usual minstrel show’, including comic songs and dances. One of his leading recruits was the singer Flora Batson, known as the ‘coloured Jenny Lind’. Another was William Ferry, a rubber-boned performer known as ‘The Human Frog’. The second part of the bill introduced the ‘Cakewalk’, which saw the complete company strutting about the stage amid ‘rousing roars of laughter’ from the audience.8
Two weeks into the season, a rival minstrel company opened at the nearby Criterion Theatre. The presence of two similar outfits in Sydney proved challenging for McAdoo, and after struggling on for a further fortnight, he closed his season at the Palace on 12 July 1899 and embarked on an extended tour of the regions.
Mitchell Library Performance Program Collection, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
In the early hours of Monday morning on 11 September 1899, fire broke out in Harry Rickards’ Tivoli Theatre in Castlereagh Street. The building was entirely gutted, destroying valuable sets, costumes and personal belongings. Rickards had only recently purchased the freehold of the building, having leased it since 1893. Fortunately the theatre was insured, but only for half its value. Though Rickards was in England at the time of the fire securing new acts, manager Leete lost no time in finding a new venue and the following day the company re-opened at the nearby Palace at a matinee performance. As one journalist put it:
The pretty little Palace Theatre—one of George Adams’ white elephants—will now have a chance to return the owner some interest on the outlay in its construction and elaborate decoration, which was carried out on a scale that no one but a ‘sweep promoter’ could stand.9
Rickards’ company remained at the Palace for five months, while the Tivoli Theatre was being rebuilt. To save costs, they reused the Tivoli programme covers.
Artists who appeared at the Palace at this time included the London comedian and raconteur G.W. Hunter; the world renown Polish juggler Paul Cinquevalli (said to be one of the highest-paid entertainers ever engaged by Rickards); opera singer Signor Jesse Brandani (who interrupted his walking tour of the world to appear for a few nights); character vocalist Tom Costello; and the Russian specialty performers the Newsky Family; along with numerous old favourites such as Little Alma Gray.
The Tivoli company gave their last performance at the Palace on 19 January 1900. As the new Tivoli was still not complete, Rickards relocated his company to the Criterion Theatre pending the launch of his new variety theatre on 12 April 1900.
With Rickards out of the way, Adams had big plans for the Palace.
To be continued
1. Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), 6 April 1897, p.4.
2. Evening News (Sydney), 1 February 1897, p.3.
3. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 5 April 1897, p.6.
4. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 17 August 1897, p.6.
5. Sydney Morning Herald, 30 August 1897, p.3.
6. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 10 October 1898, p.9.
7. Bill Egan, African American Entertainers in Australia and New Zealand, p.72.
8. Sydney Morning Herald, 19 June 1899, p.8.
9. Kalgoorlie Western Argus, 5 October 1899, p.24.
Gae Anderson, Tivoli King: Life of Harry Rickards, Vaudeville Showman, Sid Harta Publishing, Glen Waverley, Vic, 2008.
Bill Egan, African American Entertainers in Australia and New Zealand: A history, 1788-1941, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2019.
Frank Van Straten, Tivoli, Thomas C. Lothian, South Melbourne, Vic, 2003.
Charles Waller, Magical Nights at the Theatre, Gerald Taylor Productions, Melbourne, 1980.
Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW); Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW); Evening News (Sydney, NSW); Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA), Sydney Morning Herald (NSW); Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic)
John S. Clark, Mimi Colligan, Bill Egan, Frank Van Straten
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, in April 1887, 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 1863 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 for 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 & 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 Garrick Theatre (1890) and had undertaken remodelling works on the Criterion Theatre in 1892.
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, 1995
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 IS THE FIRST BIOGRAPHY of Australian soprano and variety theatre artist Dorothy Rudder, unheralded today but well-known in the 1920s and 30s.
Cathy Koning became interested in Dorothy Rudder when her husband inherited an old battered suitcase belonging to his great aunt. The many treasures discovered within the suitcase revealled the story of a courageous woman with a wonderful voice who was compelled to perform no matter what life threw her way.
Drawing on letters, documents, photographs and newspaper reports, Koning traces Rudder’s career from community concert appearances in rural New South Wales to the hallowed halls of the Covent Garden Opera House in London.
As Koning discovers, it was not an easy path and the peripatetic life of the theatre often meant grabbing what opportunities you could. For years Rudder was diverted into vaudeville and musical comedy, before landing her first opera engagement with J.C. Williamson's Grand Opera Company in 1932.
Along the way economic depression and two world wars contributed to her changing fortune, as did a brief marriage that ended in a sensational and very public divorce. But throughout she remained positive—and though largely on her own—she received the support of a devoted sister and wide circle of women friends and theatrical contacts.
As Frank Van Straten notes in the book’s forward: “With its treasure trove of fascinating illustrations, Dainty Diva is an invaluable exploration of a now largely forgotten world of Australian and international show business.”
Dainty Diva may be accessed or downloaded from the THA Digital Collection at https://theatreheritage.org.au/digital-collection/