During the second half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century there were a number of significant exponents of theatrical photography. In Great Britain, Elliott & Fry, Alfred Ellis and W. & D. Downey were conspicuous; while in America, Mathew Brady, Napoleon Sarony and Joseph Byron were the undisputed leaders in the field; and in Europe names like Nadar and Charles Reutlinger resonated. In Australia, perhaps the most famous was H. Walter Barnett of the Falk studios who went on to enjoy success in London as a society photographer. Barnett’s photographs are to be found in photographic anthologies and have been the subject of major exhibitions. Another photographer, Andrew Barrie, founder of the Talma studio still remains in the shadows. From 1892 to the 1930s, Talma was a household name and had a reputation for high-quality work. Barrie was not only a highly-skilled craftsman, but his drive and inventiveness gave Talma a competitive edge. His studio was the first to be lit by electric light and one of the first commercial studios in Australia to work with flashlight. He invested in the latest technologies in order to provide his clients with access to the best photographic solutions and was an early adopter of the postcard as a means of distributing his images. Unlike Barnett, he is not represented in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and he receives only a passing reference in The Mechanical Eye in Australia and Australians Behind the Camera. For reasons not known, his death in 1937 passed without public notice. His only major acknowledgement to date is in Jack Cato’s The Story of the Camera in Australia, first published in 1955. From its opening in 1892, the Talma studio in Swanston Street, Melbourne, was a premier destination for the theatrical profession, and for almost forty years, Barrie and his assistants captured the likeness of many thousands of sitters.
Setting the scene
In the 1951 British film The Magic Box, a bio-pic of the life of pioneer film maker William Friese Greene (1855-1921), a scene shows the young Greene working as a photographic assistant in the studio of Marcus Guttenberg. He is charming to the clients as he encourages more natural poses—something that infuriates his boss—and as sitters remain still and count up to 22, he asks his boss why he hasn’t considered buying one of the newer cameras with a quicker exposure time. As an evocation of a Victorian photographer’s studio, albeit recreated some 70 years later, it provides a window into the past: the clamps to hold the sitters’ heads in position, the scenic canvas back cloth and potted palms used to dress the scene, and the large tripod camera almost the size of a person.
One can imagine Andrew Barrie experiencing something similar in his role as an assistant at Stewart & Co. in Melbourne; full of youthful enthusiasm, keen to experiment with lighting and techniques, and create more artistic poses. However unlike Greene’s boss, Robert Stewart encouraged the young Barrie and allowed his talent as a photographer—and as an artist—to flourish.
Andrew Barrie’s birthplace, Campsie, Lennoxtown in Stirlingshire, near Glasgow. This photograph was taken by Barrie’s son Colin in the 1970s during a family visit.
Courtesy of Andrew Barrie.
One of several medals won by a youthful Andrew Barrie for his photography—from the Sandhurst [Bendigo] Industrial Exhibition of 1879.
Courtesy of Andrew Barrie.
Born on 8 October 1859 at Campsie, Lennoxtown in Stirlingshire, not far from Glasgow, Barrie was the second child of Andrew Barrie and his wife Mary Graham. His sister Mary was ten years his senior. Before he was two years old, his family decided to leave Scotland and travel to Australia, arriving in Melbourne aboard the Oithona in December 1861. In the 1860s, the Victorian gold fields were still an attraction and the Barries settled in Ballarat. By the late 1870s they had moved to Melbourne.
As a teenager, Barrie was already a serious amateur photographer and member of the Photographic Society of Victoria. He showed considerable talent from an early age, winning medals at juvenile exhibitions in Ballarat, Sandhurst, Geelong and Melbourne. He also took classes at the University of Melbourne’s School of Chemistry and at the National Gallery School.
Robert Stewart, proprietor and founder of Stewart & Co., Melbourne. Photograph by Falk Studios, Melbourne.
This photograph was published in The Australasian Photo-Review, 22 August 1912, p. 469.
Stewart & Co.’s logo, back of a carte-de-visite mount, c.1880s.
State Library Victoria, H2005.34/2541A, H2005.34/2541A
Studio portrait of Andrew Barrie, c.1880s. Copy of a photograph by Stewart & Co., Melbourne.
Courtesy Andrew Barrie.
British tenor singer C.M. Leumane, 1890. Cabinet photograph by Stewart & Co., Melbourne. It is very likely that this photograph was taken by Andrew Barrie. Note the similarity of the background foliage with the portrait of Barrie (left).
State Library of New South Wales, P1/973, https://archival.sl.nsw.gov.au/Details/archive/110324392
Stewart & Co.
Barrie soon found himself at the studio of Stewart & Co. at 217 Bourke Street, in the middle of Melbourne’s theatre district. At various times, Stewart’s also had branches at 219 and 42 Bourke Street. Founded in 1871 by Robert Stewart (1838-1912), a ginger-haired Englishman, the company grew rapidly, mass producing large quantities of inexpensive cabinet cards for a portrait-hungry public. A kindly man by all accounts, Stewart trained as an architect in England, but on arriving in Sydney in the early 1860s set up a photography business, relocating to Melbourne ten years later.
At Stewart & Co., Barrie met H. Walter Barnett (1962-1934) and Tom Roberts (1856-1931), both men of considerable artistic talent, who were also at the beginning of their careers. Barnett was employed as a studio assistant from about 1875 to 1880, and after a short stint in Hobart at the Elite Studios, which he co-ran with Harold Riise, he left for London via New York. There he gained further experience with the celebrated firm of W. & D. Downey. On his return to Australia in 1886, he established the prestigious Falk studios. Roberts, who went on to become a key figure in Australia’s Heidelberg School of painters, worked at Stewart’s on and off between 1881 and 1889, primarily as a means of supporting his ambitions as a painter.
Stewart’s establishment was one of many similar photographic studios in Melbourne that specialised in portraiture. From the mid-1850s photographic portraits were steadily replacing painted portraits as the preferred means of capturing a likeness—and it was also cheaper and less time consuming for the sitter. Nevertheless, many artists were quick to dismiss photography as too mechanical and lacking in soul. Tom Roberts for example believed that ‘oil paint offered entry into dimensions of personality not obtainable through photography’.
By 1885 Barrie had become a senior partner at Stewart & Co., and following Stewart’s retirement in 1892, he became the new owner, paying £5000 for the business. Under Barrie’s leadership the firm’s artistic quality improved and they developed a reputation for ‘natural-looking’ portraits.
Sir Henry Weedon, 1908, Barrie’s business partner. Seen here in his Mayoral robes, he was Lord Mayor of Melbourne, 1905-1908. He was knighted in 1908. Painting by Vincenzo Brun.
City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection, https://citycollection.melbourne.vic.gov.au/portrait-of-cr-sir-henry-weedon-lord-mayor-1905-08/
This wood engraving by A.C. Cooke showing Buxton’s new premises in Swanston Street was published in the Australasian Sketcher, 21 October 1885.
State Library Victoria, A/S21/10/85/173, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/240318
Talma & Co.
In 1892, Barrie formed a partnership with Henry Weedon (1859-1921), an astute businessman and aspiring politician. Barrie and Weedon continued to maintain an interest in Stewart & Co. which operated until the 1910s with branches variously at 40 and 284 Bourke Street.
In mid-1892, the two partners leased a new studio in Swanston Street, the former premises of Grouzelle & Co., artistic photographers. The studio’s owner Louis Grouzelle (1853-1931) had been declared insolvent in May 1892 and was forced to vacate the premises.
The new business of Talma & Co.—named most probably after Napoleon Bonaparte’s favourite actor François-Joseph Talma (1763-1826)—launched in October 1892.
Buxton’s building at 119 Swanston Street, opposite the Melbourne Town Hall, was located on Melbourne’s fashionable ‘Block’ which also included the newly-opened Block Arcade in Collins Street. ‘Doing the Block’ was a popular activity in Melbourne, and a photographer’s display window was just the thing to attract the attention of society ladies and gentlemen.
Designed by W.S. Law in the French Second Empire style, with a distinctive mansard roof, the five-storey building opened in October 1885 as the new home for Buxton’s Artistic Stationery Co., a company founded by James Thomas Buxton (1856-1930), a Geelong-born businessman and Melbourne City Councillor. The building soon became a hub for Melbourne’s artistic community, housing not only Buxton’s stationery and fancy goods business, but printing, engraving and embossing departments, as well as an exhibition gallery and photographer’s studio. In 1889, the second-floor gallery hosted an exhibition by Melbourne’s Heidelberg school of artists, the seminal 9" x 5" exhibition, which featured works by Tom Roberts, Charles Conder, Arthur Streeton among others, painted on the backs of wooden cigar box lids.
At Buxton’s, Barrie and Weedon moved into a studio on the first floor. Whereas most photographers occupied the roof tops of buildings so they could capitalise on access to natural light through the installation of sloping plate glass windows and skylights, Barrie had no need of this. He was the first commercial photographer in Australia to use electric light, installing a powerful ‘6000 candle power’ lamp that enabled him to take photographs on the dullest of days and at night time. The invention of W. Clayton Joel, a Melbourne-based electrical engineer, and patented as Joel Patent Lamps, the lamp provided a strong, clear light that mimicked daylight. Such was the power of the lamp that exposure time for the photographic plates was reduced to only two seconds.
During the early 1890s, the Melbourne land boom brought about by the goldrushes of the 1850s came to a spectacular end, with many thousands of businesses declared bankrupt, banks failing and shareholders losing their investments. Nevertheless many of the cannier investors managed to avoid bankruptcy, Barrie and Weedon among them as they seem to have struck some sort of financial arrangement with Thomas Baker (1854-1928) of Austral Laboratory, one of their major suppliers, which saw Baker and another man, accountant Sidney Lathbury Danby (1864-1897), appointed trustees of Talma and Stewart & Co. and responsible for any claims by creditors. This arrangement allowed Barrie and Weedon to continue trading and for their businesses to ride out the crash.
In the mid-1890s James Thomas Buxton sold his stationery business to Edward Groves, and by 1900 had closed the gallery, thus ending his association with a building once synonymous with Melbourne’s artistic community. With Groves’ acquisition of the Artistic Stationery Co., the ‘Buxton’s’ sign that adorned the building was replaced by one that read ‘Talma’s’. By the turn of the century, Barrie and Weedon’s business occupied much of the building, with Talma & Co. on the first floor, and the Talma studios (developing and dark rooms) on the second and third floors. In 1897, they sublet rooms on the first floor to the Oriental Beauty Parlours, and from about 1909 they also occupied the fourth floor.
Advertising card, c.1892.
Courtesy of the City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection.
Unknown sitter, c.1892. Many of these early cabinet photographs proudly boasted ‘Taken by Electric Light’. Photograph by Talma, Melbourne.
Courtesy of the City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection.
Albumen photograph of vocalist Marie Halton, 1892.
Photograph album of Australian actors and actresses compiled by Gordon Ireland, State Library Victoria, MS 6135, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/180180
A cropped version of the same image as a carte-de-visite. Marie Halton was performing in comic opera in Australia between January and July 1892.
Courtesy of the City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection.
Cabinet cards & Paris panels
During the 1880s, the cabinet card became the most popular way to mount and display photographs, replacing the smaller carte-de-visite. Utilising the same process as the carte-de-visite—a thin photographic print mounted on a card—the major difference was the size. Whereas the carte-de-visite comprised a 2.125" x 3.5" (54 mm x 89 mm ) photograph on a 2.5" x 4" (64 mm x 100 mm) mount, the larger cabinet photograph measured 4" x 5.5" (108 mm x 165 mm ) on a 4.25" x 6.5" (111 mm x 170 mm) mount. Larger still was the Paris panel, first used by Talma in 1894. Approximately double the size of a cabinet, the Paris panel mount measured 7.2" x 10" (185 mm x 254 mm).
Often, in addition to including the photographer’s name or logo on the front, mounts were decorated with elaborate borders and enhanced by the use of gold or other colours. The ‘Talma’ logo, which was printed on the bottom left hand side of the photographic mounts, remained fairly consistent over the years, with different designs being used for the various mount sizes. The rear of the mount provided further opportunity for the photographer to advertise his business, but examples of surviving Talma cards show only a logo on the front of the card.
Logo used typically on the early 1890s carte-de-visite mount.
Logo used on cabinet and Paris panel mounts throughout the 1890s and into the early 1900s.
Alternative version of the above logo, beige lettering on a brown background.
Logo from a Paris panel mount, used during the early 1900s.
Advertising card, c.1895.
Courtesy of the City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection.
In early 1895, Talma became the first photographic studio in Australia capable of taking almost life-size portraits. The gigantic ‘shadowcatcher’ as it was known, cost £600, and according to publicity was ‘capable of taking portraits or groups direct 5-feet square’ (1.5 metres square). This giant camera was said to be one of only three of its type in the world, one belonging to a ‘leading New York photographer’ and the other in Vienna. It utilised glass plate negatives, 50" x 41.3" (1270 mm x 1050 mm), manufactured and sanitized by Thomas Baker of the Austral Laboratory.
Albumen cabinet photograph of Alice Leamar, a member of the London Gaiety Company, c.1893. Photograph by Talma, Melbourne.
State Library of New South Wales, P1/975, https://archival.sl.nsw.gov.au/Details/archive/IE1662147
Paris panel photograph of British actress Maud Jeffries in costume as Kate Cregeen in The Manxman, 1898. Photograph by Talma, Melbourne
State Library of New South Wales, P1/837, https://archival.sl.nsw.gov.au/Details/archive/110344365
Under Barrie’s direction, Talma became one of Melbourne’s leading portrait studios, with a large number of their clients drawn from the theatrical professions.
As photographer Jack Cato notes in The Story of the Camera in Australia, Barrie’s work was in a ‘high key’ producing images of great refinement, a style ‘particularly suitable to women’. In contrast, H. Walter Barnett worked in ‘deep dramatic tones’. Barnett’s Falk studios, which also specialised in theatrical portraiture, was Barrie’s major rival.
One of Talma’s first theatrical clients was Florence Brough of the Brough and Boucicault Comedy Company. She visited the studios in October 1892 when she was photographed ‘in a series of situations’ sitting on a couch with a handsome screen behind.
Almost all the leading identities in the acting profession at the time had their likeness taken by Talma. Julius Knight, Maud Jeffries, Wilson Barrett, Mrs Brown Potter, Tittell Brune and Nance O’Neil were just some of the visiting celebrities who called in at the Talma studio, as did local performers including Carrie Moore, Violet Varley, Nellie Stewart and Mrs Maesmore Morris.
Barrie’s Platinotype prints were praised for their life-like qualities. In April 1895, having enlarged the reception room at his Swanston Street premises, Barrie held an exhibition of portraits that included not only leading members of the Gaiety Company, but prominent society people: ‘From immense pictures to Paris panels this series ranges. One of the finest exhibitions of photographs that has ever been made in Melbourne is now being held by Talma on the Block, where crowds assembled to con [connaître?] the artistic and flattering presentments that Talma is noted for.’
In 1898, when some new pictures of Maud Jeffries were released, the Melbourne Punch reported:
The average photographer can produce a likeness of his sitter, but the real artist makes a ‘picture’ as well as a photograph. Some striking proofs of this fact are now before us in the shape of a series of photographs of Miss Maud Jeffries in various characters in which she had appeared during the Wilson Barrett season. These pictures have been taken by Talma and Co. of Swanston-street. The beautiful face of the talented actress is accorded full justice, and the different poses are graceful and artistic. Talma and Co. had a good subject in Miss Jeffries, and they have done her and themselves credit in these artistic pictures.
Portrait of Edward Ernest Gray, Talma’s Sydney representative, published in The Sydney Mail, 7 June 1911, p. 36.
Paris panel photograph of American actress Nance O’Neil in costume as Peg Woffington in Masks and Faces, c.1900. Photograph by Talma & Co., Sydney—most probably taken by E.E. Gray.
State Library of New South Wales, P1/1266, https://archival.sl.nsw.gov.au/Details/archive/110324282
In March 1899, Talma opened a branch in Sydney. With the bank collapse in Melbourne in the early 1890s, the centre of business and theatrical activity had moved north to Sydney. Theatrical firm J.C. Williamson Ltd had relocated its headquarters to Sydney as had most of the large mercantile corporations.
The opening of the Sydney studio was a glamorous and clamorous affair. According to reports in the newspapers as soon as the doors opened hundreds of women tried to cram into the lift, keen to be the first to see the new studio space in Messrs Sands and Co.’s new building at 374 George Street, adjacent to the GPO and not far from Barnett’s Falk studios in the Royal Arcade.
Henry Weedon travelled to Sydney for the launch. Among the guests who attended the opening were many theatricals, including Pattie Browne, Rose Musgrove, Florence and Beatrice Perry, and Muriel Matters.
Actress Emily Soldene writing in the Sydney Evening News (16 March 1899) described the scene at the opening:
A crowd right out into George-street. Everybody blocking the gangway looking at the pictures … At last I got into the elevator. Oh didn’t I tell you. Why the glorified birdcage that carries and wafts you up high—still higher—way up—on the top, to the new and magnificent studios of Talma Photographic Company. A dream of a studio. Turkey carpets, Persian rugs and ottomans and cunning chairs that make one feel on good terms with all the world, and give one a charming expression … Walking through the spacious galleries and the comfortable dressing-rooms, everything thought of—nothing forgotten. I could not help thinking of the old days, when being photographed meant something stuffy, dusty, and dreadfully tiring.
In addition to commodious dressing rooms, the top-floor studio also featured ‘well fitted-up dark rooms, printing and enlarging rooms’.
Edward Ernest Gray (1869-1912) took on the role of managing director and principal photographer, and most likely had a financial interest in the running of the studio. Gray had spent the last fifteen years at the Falk studios, having joined Barnett when he first opened at the Royal Arcade in the 1880s. When Gray died suddenly on 2 June 1911, aged just 44, one obituarist noted:
With the exception of Mr. [Mark] Blow of the Crown Studios probably no photographer in Australia has “taken” more celebrities than did Mr. Gray for his patrons included Governors, politicians, and almost every notable to visit Sydney for a number of years past. He also held the exclusive right to J.C. Williamson, and was as well-known and respected in theatrical as he was in commercial circles.
It is interesting that Barrie is not mentioned. Nevertheless, after Gray’s death, the Talma Sydney studio closed its doors.
By 1914 Talma had established branches in other Australian capitals, opening in Brisbane in 1909 (Wickham Street, Fortitude Valley), Perth in 1912 (113 Barrack Street), and Adelaide in 1914 (31 King William Street).
Flashlight photograph of the audience at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, 2 June 1900, taken by Talma to commemorate the opening of the theatre under the management of J.C. Williamson Ltd.
State Library Victoria, H34846, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/77551
By 1896, photographs by Talma taken with the aid of a ‘flashlight’ started to appear in the pages of the illustrated newspapers. One of the earliest experiments in flashlight photography in Australia took place in 1890 when a gathering of the Lynn Camera Club in Adelaide was photographed by flashlight, the negative developed and the image then projected via lantern slide for the audience to see an hour later.
With the availability of magnesium flash powders in the late 1880s it became possible to take photographs indoors and at night-time. Highly volatile magnesium powder, when ignited by an electric spark, creates a brilliant and instantaneous flash. During the 1890s, this same technique was used to produce lightning effects on the stage. The Talma studio was not unique in the use of this new process, but was certainly one of the most prolific. With advancements in photo-lithographic printing, illustrated newspapers and journals were beginning to flourish and newspapers, such as The Australasian and Leader featured full and half-page photographic spreads, depicting everything from animals and architecture to sporting heroes and royalty.
When Talma’s ‘flashlight’ photograph of the Princess Theatre auditorium was published in The Australasian on 19 September 1896, it created a stir. Taken during a performance of A Trip to Chinatown, the photograph was said to be ‘the first time that any such view has been obtained in Australia’. It was called a ‘triumph of the photographer’s art’ and ‘one of the most remarkable of recent developments’. People were amazed at the clarity of the image, with the faces of people ‘readily recognisable as to be really portraits’.
This same picture was prominently displayed in the Talma studio showcase window in Swanston Street, with copies available at a guinea each.
A similar photograph of the Melbourne Opera House followed on the 17 October 1896. These types of photographs were a huge success, especially among audience members keen to obtain a souvenir of themselves in the crowd. When, in January 1897, it was proposed to take a photograph of the auditorium of the Bijou Theatre during a matinee performance of The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown, an advertisement appeared in the press announcing:
Public admitted at the usual tariff.
UNIQUE SOUVENIR of the OCCASION.
Messrs TALMA and Co. will take a flashlight photograph of the distinguished audience assembled in the auditorium of the Bijou Theatre on the occasion of the interesting event.
On 2 June 1900, to commemorate the opening of Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne (the former Alexandra Theatre) under the management of J.C. Williamson and the opening of the Nance O’Neil season, a commemorative flashlight photograph of the auditorium was taken by Talma. The photograph, together with a ‘statement of receipts’ for opening night and bound booklet of photographs of Nance O’Neil in private life and in costume, was available for purchase from the theatre.
One of the earliest stage photographs taken by Talma was of the A Gaiety Girl company on 14 October 1895 on the stage of the Princess Theatre in Melbourne with the aid of electric light.
National Library of Australia, PIC P1878 LOC Q15, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-136392095/view
A scene from The Sign of the Cross featuring Julius Knight and Ada Ferrar. This image is taken from an 1898 souvenir booklet to commemorate the 250th performance of the play in Australia.
Elisabeth Kumm Collection.
Around the same time that Barrie was taking photographs of theatre auditoria, he also turned his camera to the stage. With flashlight photography, and the introduction of electricity into theatres, the camera had become more versatile and stage scenes could now be photographed in loco, rather than recreated in the studio. The publication of stage scenes in newspapers soon became widespread—and by the 1900s magazines, such as The Theatre (published by W.J. Moulton, Sydney), focussing solely on the theatre began to appear.
British-born New York based photographer, Joseph Byron (1846-1926), of the Byron Company heralded in a new era in theatrical photography when in 1890 he took his camera onto the stage of Broadway’s Fifth Avenue Theatre and photographed a scene from the melodrama Blue Jeans, with the aid of a magnesium flash. Theatre managers and producers soon appreciated the full potential of stage photography as a marketing tool, and between 1895 and 1942, the Byron Company took thousands of stage photographs.
One of Talma’s first stage shots was taken on 14 October 1895. Though not a production scene, it featured all the members of the A Gaiety Girl company assembled on the stage of Princess Theatre in Melbourne. ‘Photographed on the stage by electric light’, the picture formed the basis of a commemorative souvenir given to every lady who attended a special matinee performance on Wednesday, 16 October 1895.
In February 1897, The Australasian published one of Talma’s first flashlight play scenes—the Coronation scene from The Prisoner of Zenda, taken on the stage of the Princess Theatre. The photograph depicts Julius Knight, Ada Ferrar and company, resplendent against George and John Gordon’s magnificent set. This was followed in May 1897 by scenes from the biblical epic The Sign of the Cross: ‘The “Sign of the Cross” was produced at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney, last week and made so profound an impression that the proprietors of “The Australasian” commissioned Talma (Mr. A. Barrie) to take views of the principal scenes. This he did by flashlight after the performance between midnight and 1 a.m.’ Many of these images later appeared in a 20-page souvenir, published by McKinley & Co., Melbourne, to commemorate the 250th performance of the play in Australia, which took place at the Princess Theatre on 9 August 1898.
The popularity of Talma’s stage scenes continued unabated. On 21 August 1897, The Australasian reproduced scenes from The Gay Parisienne; on 21 October 1897, Melbourne Punch featured two of the tableau scenes from A Royal Divorce: ‘Waterloo! Napoleon’s Final Effort’, and the ‘Retreat from Moscow’. A dramatic image of HMS Britannic, the battleship in Harbour Lights, published in the Leader on 20 August 1898, was described as a ‘a triumph of ingenuity and effective display’.
Subsequent productions in Melbourne and Sydney captured in Talma’s flashlight included The King’s Musketeers (1899), The Christian (1899), The Absent-Minded Beggar (1900), The Rose of Persia (1900), Cinderella (1901), Florodora (1901), Puss in Boots (1901), Aida (1901), The Casino Girl (1901), and The Christian King (1901).
The Retreat from Moscow—one of the tableaux scenes from A Royal Divorce, c.1897, with Julius Knight (centre) as Napoleon.
From A Royal Divorce: souvenir of play, playwright and players, Melbourne, c.1897. State Library of New South Wales, Q923.1/N.
Studies by Talma & Co., Melbourne and Sydney, published by Atlas Press, Melbourne, 1900. The inset photo is of Maud Jeffries in The Claudian.
Elisabeth Kumm Collection.
Talma contributed photographs to all manner of theatrical souvenirs and programmes, notably the productions of J.C. Williamson Ltd.
In March 1900, Talma published a small booklet entitled Studies by Talma & Co., which included portraits of leading actresses of the day, including Maud Jeffries, Mrs Brown Potter, Dorothy Vane, Hilda Spong, Maxine Elliott and others. As a ‘collection of the choicest specimens of the photographic art gleaned from the thousands of celebrities photographed by this noted firm,’ wrote the columnist in The Referee, ‘The souvenir is indeed worthy of the reputation of a firm famous for the excellence and thoroughness of its work.’
One of the Talma photographs that featured on JCW’s set of The Messenger Boy postcards, 1903.
State Library Victoria, H81.251/14, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/298769
Postcard of Maud Jeffries as Lady Mary Carlyle in Monsieur Beaucaire, c.1904. This same image also appeared as a cabinet card. See example in Gallery at the end of this article.
State Library Victoria, H2014.1013/26, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/336293
Novelty postcard of Carrie Moore, c.1906. Photograph by Talma.
State Library Victoria, H33707/30, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/297792
Postcard of Nellie Stewart in Sweet Nell of Old Drury, c.1912. Example of a ‘real’ photographic postcard, published by C.B. & Co., Sydney. Photograph by Talma & Co.
State Library Victoria, H84.64/3, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/298771
The postcard craze
Just as the cabinet photograph displaced the carte-de-visite in the 1880s, the 5.5" x 3.5" (140 mm x 89 mm) postcard had virtually replaced the cabinet card by the early 1910s.
Unlike its predecessors, the postcard seamlessly combined the pictorial image and the postcard backing. In Britain, offset printing techniques were employed prior to 1903, but after this date the introduction of rotary presses enabled the mass production of ‘real’ photographs, the most famous exponent being London’s Rotary Photographic Co. Ltd. In the early days before the perfection of colour printing, black and white images were often hand coloured to enhance their appeal—and the use of other novelty elements such as glitter and embossing was also common.
Talma was one of the first photographic businesses in Australia to embrace the pictorial postcard. In 1894 the British postal service gave permission for privately printed postcards to be sent through the post using an adhesive stamp, with postal services in Australia following suit the next year. However, it wasn’t until the nationalisation of the postal system in Australia after 1901 and the introduction of two deliveries a day, that the craze for postcards really took off, replacing envelopes and notepaper as the preferred means of correspondence. Postcard sending and collecting became a popular hobby. Many people kept standing orders with photographers and bookstores, filling scrapbooks and albums with new cards as they were issued.
In July 1903, J.C. Williamson Ltd issued a set of postcards featuring scenes from The Messenger Boy, photographed by Talma, ostensibly as a means of advertising their new show playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne. With the success of The Messenger Boy series, postcards for A Country Girl (1904), the Julius Knight and Maud Jeffries season (1904), the Gaiety Company season (1904) and The Cingalee (1905) followed.
Andrew Barrie saw the postcard as a simple and inexpensive means of distributing his growing number of theatrical portraits, creating a revenue stream for himself as well as and promoting the sitters and shows at the same time. As Melbourne Punch noted:
Amongst the best specimens of photographic post-cards are those issued by Talma of Melbourne and Sydney. The series illustrated the beauties of the stage, and includes Miss Nellie Stewart, Mrs Maesmore Morris, Miss Lillah McCarthy, Miss Maud Hobson and Miss May Beatty. All the pictures are photographic studies in lighting and posing, and are characterised by that technical excellence which has rendered Talma the premier stage photographer.
His regular printers were Syd. Day in Melbourne and C.B. & Co. (Collins Brothers & Co.) in Sydney.
Photograph of the former Whitney’s Building at 79 Swanston Street, c.1956-65. In February 1924, this became the new home of Talma. The sloping glass roof of the studio can clearly been seen atop the corner building.
City of Melbourne Arts and Heritage Collection, reg. no. 1751413, https://citycollection.melbourne.vic.gov.au/unmarked-book-negative-a19-intersection-of-swanston-and-collins-street/
Alan Wilkie, c.1926. Silver gelatin photograph by Talma Studios.
State Library Victoria, H92.253/10, https://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/299190
With Henry Weedon’s death in 1912, Barrie lost both a friend and a business partner. But at age fifty-eight, Barrie was still at the height of his powers and photography was a driving passion. Like many people working in the creative industries, retirement was not an option. Outside of the studio, he entered competitions, judged amateur photographic competitions and even gave lectures. He was a long-time member of the Photographic Society of Victoria (serving both as Vice President and President for a time), an active member of the Photographic Employers’ Association of Victoria (serving as President in 1913) and of the Professional Photographers’ Association of Victoria (for which he was President 1924/1925).
In February 1924, after thirty-two years at 119 Swanston Street, Talma relocated to new premises. Whitney Chambers at 79 Swanston Street was a two-story building on the south-west corner of Swanston and Collins streets. Sharing the first-floor with Table Talk magazine and Coghill and Haughton, auctioneers and estate agents, Talma’s new home was ‘specially designed as a photographic studio … with every modern and most approved device of lighting and convenience’. Barrie was one of the speakers at the opening and at sixty-seven years of age was described as ‘the oldest tenant of the premises’.
Little is known about the business and how many people it employed, but it seems they still had a number of theatrical clientele. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Barrie may have experienced financial loss as a result of the 1929 depression. By the mid-1930s, following the sudden death of his wife, and in poor health, he sold his business to Mendelssohn’s, a family-run photographic business located at 90 Swanston Street. By 1938 the business was trading as The New Talma.
Andrew Barrie, c.1894. Photograph by Talma & Co.
This portrait appeared in The Photographic Review of Review (Australian edition), no. 12, December 1894, p. 10.
Portrait of Andrew Barrie’s second wife, Mary Wyndham.
Courtesy of Andrew Barrie.
On 23 February 1886, Barrie had married Mary Elizabeth Brown, the third daughter of the late William Brown of Ballarat. The wedding ceremony was conducted by Rev. Lockhart Morton at Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in Ballarat. On 11 December 1886, Barrie’s first child Beryl Ellerslie was born; followed by Reginald William in 1888; Stanley Arthur in 1891; Mary Johnstone in 1892; Alice Graham in 1895; and Violet Johnston in 1900. In 1886, Barrie and his wife were living in Victoria Street, East St Kilda. At the time their third child was born, they resided at ‘Talma’, 68 Milton Street, St Kilda. On 25 January 1912, Barrie’s wife died, aged only 48. By this time, Andrew Barrie was living at ‘Rosedale’ on the corner of Foster and Smith streets in St Kilda. On 26 April 1920, at the age of 60, Barrie re-married. His second wife, Mary Wyndham (born Lucy Amelia Mary Wyndham) was thirty-two years his junior. She was the daughter of the late Heathcote George Wyndham of Great Salterns, Hampshire, England. The Wyndham’s family tree was quite an illustrious one. It boasted numerous dignitaries, including several British Prime Ministers, and could be traced back to Anne Boleyn. The marriage took place at the Presbyterian Church, Alma Road, St Kilda. Barrie and his wife had two children, Colin (born 1921) and Beris (born 1925). Mary Barrie died suddenly on 2 February 1934, aged only 42, of a brain aneurism. Following his wife’s death, Barrie’s health started to decline and his children went to live with a close friend of the family. In late 1936 Barrie had a stroke resulting in hemiplegia. He suffered a second stroke in March the following a year—and died on 5 April 1937, aged 77. At the time he was resident in the Alma Rest Home in East St Kilda. He was buried in Brighton Cemetery.
Curiously, no family notices were placed in the newspapers and no obituaries were published to mark his passing—something especially strange considering that Talma was once a household name in Melbourne and Sydney. Unfortunately history is full of similar stories.
Andrew Barrie was a man of considerable energy and invention, and his whole life was dedicated to the advancement of his craft and its artistic possibilities. He opened his Talma studio at a very challenging time, when the Melbourne bank collapse was at its height. He was one of the first commercial photographers in Australia to use electric light and he experimented with new techniques and cameras in his pursuit of photographic perfection. Between the 1890s and the 1930s, thousands of people sat before his camera. His services were in demand by fashionable society and celebrities, and his photographs of leading actors and actresses were greatly admired and highly sought after. Prior to 1910 he didn’t place advertisements in newspapers, the demand for his pictures by publishers was all he needed to spread his name and with the development of the postcard his images were soon being delivered to all corners of globe through the post.
Considering the number of photographs he and his studios took during their peak, surprisingly few are to be found in public collections. The State Library Victoria and the State Library of New South Wales have approximately five hundred between them; a modest number considering the many hundreds of thousands that must have been produced and sold. Of those that appeared in the illustrated newspapers and souvenirs, notably the stage scenes, their high-quality photographic equivalents are nowhere to be found. When the old Talma Building at 119 Swanston Street was being cleared by the City of Melbourne in the mid-1990s, hundreds of badly weathered photographs were discovered in the roof space, photographs by Talma, but also by Grouzelle & Co., who preceded Talma as tenants of the building. The majority of the photographs are of ‘ordinary’ people, and only a handful are recognisable as being from the acting profession. The photographs are now preserved in the City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection.
 In 2000-2001, the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra held a major touring exhibition on the work of H. Walter Barnett, Legends: the art of Walter Barnett, and an accompanying catalogue was published with the support of Saatchi & Saatchi Australia. Barnett’s London work also figured prominently in an exhibition held at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 1998 and in the accompanying book High Society Photographs 1897-1914 by Terence Pepper. In addition, Roger Neill, the curator of the Legends exhibition, wrote the entry for Barnett in the Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography, pp. 116-117.
 Cato, p. 94: Cato incorrectly records Barrie’s birth year as 1860; Scottish Birth Certificate; VIC Birth and Death Certificates. Another older son, also called Andrew, had died from scarlet fever in 1858. The family left Scotland to escape the scarlet fever epidemic that was sweeping through Scotland. Ironically, two sons, both christened David, born in Ballarat in 1863 and 1868, died from heat stroke, the first in 1867 and second in 1869.
 PROV Unassisted Passenger Lists; Cato, p. 94: Cato says, Barrie ‘came out to the Victorian goldfields when he was seven years old’, which is not correct.
 VIC Birth and Death Certificates; Sands & McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory, various issues
 The Ballarat Star (Vic.), 18 May 1878, p. 1; The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 8 March 1879, p. 7; Leader (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 May 1879, p. 21; p. 7; The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 5 March 1880, p. 9; The Photographic Review of Reviews (Australasian Edition), 1 December 1894, p. 10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-410408700/view; Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 15 February 1912, p. 29.
 Davies & Stanbury, p. 235; Sandy Barrie, p. 164; Cato, pp. 88–89: Cato incorrectly states that Stewart was a Scot and that his first name was Richard; ‘Death of Mr Robert Stewart’, Supplement to the Australasian Photo-Review, 22 August 1912, p. 469, https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/257902130
 Davies & Stanbury, pp. 102 & 160; Sandy Barrie, pp. 11 & 58–59; Paul De Serville, ‘Henry Walter Barnett (1862-1934)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barnett-henry-walter-5139. Though sources do not agree on the opening date of the Falk Studio in Sydney, some say 1885 and others 1887, directories and newspaper reports suggest he was definitely established by 1888, taking over the premises of Emil Riisfeldt in the Royal Arcade.
 Gael Newton, ‘A photo-literate generation’, essay for the catalogue Tom Roberts, NGA exhibition 4 December 2015–28 March 2016, https://www.photo-web.com.au/gael/docs/roberts.htm; Helen Topliss, ‘Thomas William (Tom) Roberts (1856-1931)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/roberts-thomas-william-tom-8229
 Quoted in Gael Newton, ‘A Photo-literate Generation’, https://www.photo-web.com.au/gael/docs/roberts.htm
 The Photographic Review of Reviews (Australasian Edition), 1 December 1894, p. 10. According to Sandy Barrie’s listing of Australian Photographers, p. 164, Andrew Barrie was proprietor of the business from 1881–1891, with Elizabeth Brown (his wife) as Operator, 1881–1889; and that Barrie continued to have an interest in the company until 1915. He also seems to have maintained an interest in Barroni & Co., a photographic studio run by William Dunning that specialised in portraits of cycling and sports people.
 David Dunstan, ‘Sir Henry Weedon (1859-1921)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/weedon-sir-henry-9034
 Davies & Stanbury, p. 235; Sandy Barrie, p. 164.
 Davies & Stanbury, pp. 171 & 238; Sands & McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory, various issues.
 The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 28 May 1892, p. 7.
 The Australasian Sketcher (Melbourne, Vic.), 21 October 1885, p. 163.
 Charles Conder, The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition, opened August 17, 1889, at Buxton's Rooms, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-52814188/view?searchTerm=buxton%27s+gallery&partId=nla.obj-285233791
 The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 October 1892, p. 4; The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 1 November 1892, p. 5; Leader (Melbourne, Vic.), 5 November 1892, p. 18.
 The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 11 February 1893, p. 14. Baker was one of Australia’s first successful manufacturers of dry plates for photography. In 1894 he teamed with J.J. Rouse, a dealer in photographic material, to form Baker & Rouse. Paul De Serville, ‘Thomas Baker (1854-1928)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/baker-thomas-5110
 Sands & McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory, various issues.
 Refer various entries in Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography.
 Advertising card, City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection.
 Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 14 May 1896, p. 7. It is interesting that only a few scant announcements appeared in the press and little was made of the camera and its capabilities. It may be speculated that the ‘leading New York photographer’ was Joseph Byron.
 The Photographic Review of Reviews (Australasian Edition), 1 December 1894, p. 10.
 Cato, p. 94; Falk opened a studio in Melbourne in March 1895, located on the ‘Block’ at 92–94 Elizabeth Street.
 The Prahran and St Kilda Chronicle (Vic.), 8 October 1892, p. 8.
 The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 1 November 1892, p. 5.
 Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 March 1898, p. 14.
 Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), 18 March 1899, p. 42.
 The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 14 March 1899, p. 6.
 The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 6 June 1911, p. 7.
 Following Gray’s death, Dun’s Gazette, 18 September 1911, p. 236, records under ‘Registered Firms’, Wm. Keith Mowbray Pascoe and Rd. Alex. Dunn as the new partners of Talma & Co., 374 George Street. Newspaper reports however suggest that Pascoe was a bankrupt and it seems the business was inactive until September 1923, when Hilda Monro become the proprietor and re-opened the business as the New Talma, as recorded by Dun’s Gazette, 15 October 1923, p. 257.
 Evening Journal (NSW), 21 March 1890, p. 4.
 The Bendigo Independent (Vic.), 19 September 1896, p. 6. In fact two photographs were taken in case of accident, but only one used.
 The Bendigo Advertiser (Vic.), 19 September 1896, p. 6.
 The Bendigo Independent (Vic.), 21 September 1896, p. 3.
 The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), 25 January 1897, p. 2.
 Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 29 June 1900, p. 7.
 Similar magazines were published in Britain, America and Europe after 1900, notably Play Pictorial (London), The Theatre (New York) and Le Théâtre (Paris).
 Felix Frederick, ‘Photography of the Stage,’ The American Annual of Photography 1923, vol. XXXVII, pp. 178-183. Frederick states Bryon’s first stage photograph was taken ‘around 1889’. This date was more likely ‘around 1890’ as Blue Jeans had its first performance in October 1890.
 Byron Company photo archive comprising more than 24,000 images is held by The Museum of the City of New York. This archive, which also includes New York street scenes and ships, has been digitised and can be viewed on the MOCNY website, https://collections.mcny.org/Explore/Highlights/Byron%20Company/
 Referee (Sydney, NSW), 28 March 1900, p. 9.
 Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 13 October 1904, p. 22.
 Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 15 February 1912, p. 29.
 Information about his roles on the various photographic societies has been gleaned from The Photographic Review of Reviews (Australasian Edition), 1 December 1894, p. 10, Australasian Photo-Review, 22 September 1913, p. 499 and The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 5 July 1924, p. 30. More research is needed to determine the exact dates of his various presidencies.
 Sands & McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory, various issues; Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 7 February 1924, p. 29.
 Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 7 February 1924, p. 29.
 Information from Andrew Barrie’s grandson Andrew Barrie, 2019.
 ‘Mendelssohn’s Photographic Studios’, Australian Variety Theatre Archive, 26 October 2012 (updated 16 January 2015), https://ozvta.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/mendelssohns-studios-1612015.pdf
 VIC Marriage Certificate, 1038/1886.
 VIC Marriage Certificate, 5958/1920; The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic), 5 June 1920, p. 61.
 VIC Death Certificate, 1000/1934; The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 3 February 1934, p. 7.
 VIC Death Certificate, 2543/1937. Barrie’s death certificate says that he was buried at Brighton Cemetery on 6 April 1937 and that the funeral director was Joseph Allison.
Andrew Barrie (grandson of Andrew Barrie), Mimi Colligan, Michael Galimany, Cressida Goddard (Art and Heritage Collection Administrator, City of Melbourne), Allister Hardiman, Peter Johnson & Judy Leech.
Australian Dictionary of Biography, https://adb.anu.edu.au
Geoff Barker, ‘Australian pictorial postcards’, 29 February 2012, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, https://maas.museum/inside-the-collection/2012/02/29/australian-pictorial-postcards
Sandy Barrie, Australians Behind the Camera: directory of early Australian photographers, 1841–1945, S. Barrie, South Sydney, 2002
Births Deaths and Marriages Victoria, https://www.bdm.vic.gov.au/research-and-family-history/search-your-family-history
Jack Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1955 (reprinted by the Institute of Australian Photography, 1977)
Charles Conder, The 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition, opened August 17, 1889, at Buxton's Rooms, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-52814188/view?searchTerm=buxton%27s+gallery&partId=nla.obj-285233791
Alan Davies & Peter Stanbury, The Mechanical Eye in Australia: photography 1841–1900, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985
John Hannavy (editor), Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Routledge, New York & London, 2008
Gael Newton, ‘A photo-literate generation’, essay for the catalogue Tom Roberts, NGA exhibition 4 December 2015–28 March 2016, https://www.photo-web.com.au/gael/docs/roberts.htm
Public Record Office Victoria (PROV), Unassisted Passenger Lists, https://prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/explore-topic/passenger-records-and-immigration/unassisted-passenger-lists
Sands & McDougall’s Melbourne and Suburban Directory, https://cedric.slv.vic.gov.au/R/RTGTPXEIIGJ4QIAD1762RPN6RP3C82MQDJA8XJT5TNABQF1YLN-02163?func=collections&collection_id=3907
Con Tanre, The Mechanical Eye: a historical guide to Australian photography and photographers, The Macleay Museum, The University of Sydney, NSW, 1977
Phil A'Vard, actor, producer, stage manager and long-time director of the Alexander Theatre at Monash University enthralled the audience at the THA 2019 AGM.
Elisabeth Kumm reviews Frank Van Straten’s new book on the history of Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre. This stunning tribute to one of the city’s most iconic theatres was recently launched at The Maj in true theatrical style.
Frank Van Straten has done it again! Australia’s answer to Mander & Mitchenson and Daniel Blum has written the definitive book on Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre. At 336 pages, full colour and with more than 400 images, this book is a glorious tribute to one of the city’s iconic theatres.
The book covers the 138 year history of the site, bringing to life in words and pictures the rich legacy and important role that The Maj has played in nurturing the cultural and social life of Melbourne.
The book was instigated by Mike Walsh, the owner of the theatre since 2000. Under Mike’s able direction, the theatre continues to be an important part of Melbourne’s East End theatre tradition. A spectacular $12 million refurbishment programme in 2002 has ensured the theatre remains vital and relevant. The foyers and auditorium are now the premier Art Deco interiors in the state, and with an enlarged proscenium, reconfigured orchestra pit, improved back of house, and the latest in communications and technology, the theatre is capable of staging shows of all types.
Divided into four main acts (chapters), plus prologue and epilogue, the book charts the history of the theatre year-by-year. From the construction of the Alexandra Theatre in 1886; the JCW years from 1900 (when the theatre was re-named Her Majesty’s); the theatre’s reconstruction in 1934 after the fire; and under Mike Walsh’s direction in 2000 to the present.
From circus and magic, to ballet and opera, comedy, drama and musicals, The Maj has seen it all. The shows are listed chronologically within the text, highlighting the principal stars and other facts about each production. All the shows are represented. There’s Florodora from 1900, JCW’s first big success at theatre; The Merry Widow in 1908 with Australian soprano Carrie Moore; the annual Christmas pantomimes; the spectacular Chu Chin Chow in the 1920s; and White-Horse Inn in the 1930s. Musicals continued to play a big role in the success of the theatre and through the 1940s and beyond hits included Annie Get Your Gun, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, Call Me Madam and My Fair Lady. And the list goes on … Hello, Dolly!, Sweet Charity, A Chorus Line, Annie, Evita … to the hits of today … Miss Saigon, Billy Elliott and Chicago, to name a few. They are all there!
Almost every show has an accompanying illustration, usually in colour. There are stage shots, portraits, programme covers and more. Also, a stunning five double-page spread of photos taken in 2018 by leading architectural photographer John Gollings. Many of the images are sourced from Her Majesty’s own extensive archives, while others come from private and international collections.
Extended captions accompany many of the images providing additional details. Not only the shows, but the stars. There’s everyone from Alfred Dampier, Nellie Stewart and Dorothy Brunton through to Gladys Moncrieff, the Great Franquin, Maggie Fitzgibbon, Peter Allen to name a few.
But it is not just the people on the stage that are feted. Frank also introduces us to the people behind the scenes, the directors, choreographers, musical directors, scene painters and architects.
The book includes a engaging Foreword by theatre stalwart Nancye Hayes. Mike Walsh also contributes a short introduction and epilogue. It has an extensive (and exhaustive) index and Col Bodie’s little caricatures are a delight!
Frank has produced a amazing book and one he can be truly proud off – a crowning achievement to a brilliant career dedicated to keeping Australian theatre history alive. His easy style of writing and keen sense of observation and attention to detail has helped to create a book that is a definite must for anyone who loves Melbourne and especially the theatre. Frank has been ably assisted by Jenny Zimmer (designer) and Jim Murphy (editor) who have ensured that it is a very special and remarkable book.
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne: The Shows, The Stars, The Stories
by Frank Van Straten
Australian Scholarly Publishing, Kew, Victoria, 2018
The book is an absolute steal at $65.00 and is available via the Her Majesty’s Theatre website (https://www.hmt.com.au/her-majestys-theatre-melbourne-the-shows-the-stars-the-stories/) or from all good bookshops.
Katie Flack has been obsessed with Pansy Montague for almost 10 years, ever since her interest was piqued when she fielded an enquiry on the research desk at the State Library of Victoria, where she works. In 2011, she received a staff fellowship through the SLV which enabled her to delve further into the life and career of this fascinating Australian artiste.
Pansy Montague was a entertainer in the late nineteenth, early twentieth century, in Australia and Great Britain. She developed a music hall act which saw her strip, cover herself in while paint and with a few loose bits of strategically placed drapery, pose as classical statues. A perfect figure and an ability to stand still helped immensely. She was a professional living statue. In her heyday, she earned more than a cabinet minister and at one time performed before a crowd of 50,000 people.
Katie spoke to a small gathering at the SLV on Wednesday, 5 September, presenting her findings so far and showing a selection of Pansy ephemera from both the State Library’s and her own collections.
By admission, Katie calls herself a “passionate potterer”, but with a librarian’s tenacity and a need to find out more, she has uncovered almost all there is to know about Pansy Montague. Theatre historians such as Anita Callaway, have touched on Pansy’s Australian career, but Katie could now be said to be the 'world expert' on the topic.
Like many performers, Pansy’s origins are still somewhat hazy (so hazy in fact that even her living relatives do not know when she was born and what happened to her). Was she the illegitimate daughter of Colonel Montague or the child of Irish-born Australian immigrants, Charles and Jane Manley?
Pansy grew up in Melbourne and made her stage debut in 1898, performing initially in popular dramas and in pantomimes, rising quickly from chorus girl to leading lady. What talent she had as an actress was enhanced by her 'natural advantages' and 'chubby charms'. By the early 1900s, she craved something more – and with the assistance of Alec Laing (aka Cruikshank, a lightening sketch artist) she developed a new line of entertainment – living statues. Styled as the 'Modern Milo', her first outing was at the Melbourne Opera House in June 1905.
Imitating classical statues was not entirely new, the tradition can be traced back to the seventeenth century, and in recent times, pose plastique performers such as the Faust Family and Mlle Lotty had presented similar turns in Melbourne. Whereas other acts had used coloured projections to enhance their routines, Pansy posed on a plinth in a brightly lit garden setting before which various people would pass, from policemen to canoodling couples.
Her act was a huge hit and she performed sell-out shows throughout Australia and New Zealand. But London was calling. Having adopted the sobriquet 'La Milo', she made her London debut the following year at the Pavilion Music Hall, where once again she proved a sensation. By this time, her repertoire comprised some 20 different poses based on classical statues such as La Milo, Electra, Sapho, and Diana. Much of her knowledge and detail came from studying statues in the National Gallery of Victoria. To encourage repeat visitations to the theatre, her act changed regularly and she introduced new novelties. When for example, Velasquez’ painting of Venus went on display in London for the first time, she copied the pose and introduced it into her act.
For three years, from 1906-1909, Pansy was big business. She reached a career high in August 1907 when she participated in the Coventry pageant dressed as Lady Godiva, wearing nothing but fleshlings and a long blond wig. Witnessed by over 50,000 people, she paraded six miles through the streets of Coventry on horseback.
Throughout her career she had to contend with issues of public morality, but by the time of the Lady Godiva episode, the voices had got a little louder, championed by the Bishop of London. Soon acts such as hers were being looked upon as indecent and music halls were being discouraged from including them on their bills.
Around this time she met Ferdinand (Fred) Eggena - and the two were “married” in Birmingham in December 1908, but Fred proved to be a confidence trickster and the marriage was a sham. Pansy also became embroiled in one of his schemes to obtain expensive jewels under false pretences. Eventually Eggena was caught and the case went to trial, but fortunately for Pansy she was deemed a 'mere tool in the transaction' and was not charged. The incident did not help her career. With the war clouds gathering, London was cooling and by 1914, she was in America. But her act was no longer a novelty, and there were other younger people doing similar things. She decided on a complete change and by 1921 had opened the La Milo Beauty Salon in New York.
From this point on, Pansy proves harder to track down. By 1924 she is back in Australia, touring throughout county NSW and QLD in pantomimes, and in 1929 she is mentioned in relation to a special event to mark the closure of the Sydney Tivoli, but after that the trail grows cold. Pansy disappears.
No doubt one day Katie will find out what happened to Pansy – and when she does, let’s hope she shares it with us. A fascinating figure (in more ways that one), Pansy Montague was an Australian original and a leading exponent of the art of 'living statues' that deserves to be rediscovered and placed once more upon a plinth for today’s audiences to admire.
*Anita Callaway, Visual Ephemera: Theatrical art in nineteenth century Australia, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2000, pp. 67-72.
Irish-born English actor Phil Day was born in Cork in 1844, the only son of the Rev. Samuel Phillips Day (1818-1885) and his wife Julia Maria Day. Named after his father, he was the second eldest in a family of five children. By the time of the 1861 census, the Day family had relocated to London and were living in Kentish Town.
Day’s father, the eponymous Samuel Phillips Day, was a man of many talents, a former Benedictine monk, Unitarian preacher, journalist and author, who travelled widely, spending time in America, Canada and Europe. At the time of his death in 1885 he had published eleven books on topics ranging from politics and religion to juvenile crime and the history of tea. During the period of the American Civil War he acted as special correspondent for the London Morning Herald, subsequently writing a book, Life and Society in America.
No doubt due to the peripatetic activities of his father – and as the only other male in a household of women, young Phil Day deciding to try his luck on the stage, despite the disapproval of his parents. A natural mimic, with the ‘rubber-face’ of a comedian, he soon found his niche.
One of his earliest engagements was in 1864 with Charles Calvert’s first company at the Prince’s Theatre in Manchester, where another young hopeful, Henry Irving was also engaged. Through his friendship with Irving, he was responsible for the unmasking of the notorious Davenport Brothers, two bogus spiritualists. When their agent, Dr Fergusson, offered £100 to any person ‘who could perform their feats’, Irving, Day and Frederick Maccabe decided to try their luck. With Irving dressed as Fergusson, and Day and Maccabe as the two brothers, the trio hired the Library Hall of the Manchester Athenaeum, and before a capacity audience, reproduced exactly all the Davenport ‘miracles’ thereby exposing their trickery.
By 1868, Day was in London, where he established himself a “light eccentric comedian”, performing at the Royalty, Follies Dramatique and Folly theatres. Over the following fifteen years, as well as playing some of most popular characters in the repertoire, he also created many original roles, including Ned Thornton in A Loving Cup (1868); Jonas Chuzzlewit in Pecksniff (1876); Dr Ox in Oxygen (1877); Signor Sproutzo Cabbagi in Balloonacy (1879); Captain Basil Bagot in Bow Bells (1880); Almaschar in Don Juan Junior (1880); and Viscount de Ternan in Diane (1882).
Unfortunately Day was plagued by poor health and in 1883, he accepted an offer from Williamson, Garner and Musgrove to visit Australia, hoping that the warmer climate would prove beneficial. Accompanied by his wife, Emily, whom he had married in 1872, and a young child, they sailed for Melbourne.
Day made his Australian debut at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne on 27 October 1883, playing the role of Daniel Jaikes in the first Australian production of The Silver King. This play also signalled the return of G.S. Titheradge, who played the title role, and Arthur Garner, who played Captain Skinner, the villain of the piece.
On Day’s first appearance, the critic on the Argus (29 October 1883) wrote:
Next to the two principals, the chief success of the evening was achieved by Mr Philip Day, a new member of the company, who plays the part of Daniel Jaikes, a delightful old man … His humour runs into pathos, and his pathos brightens into humour, and both are blended at time so ultimately that you find yourself “checking the career of laughter with a sigh”. Mr Day’s identification of himself with the part was complete and unvarying. He belongs to a good school of acting, and may be said to have leaped into the favour of the audience almost at a bound.
As predicted, Day quickly established himself as an audience favourite and went on to play further characters with equal success. These included the Doge of Venice in Estrella (1884) – a role he had performed in London – Mr Mumpleford in Confusion (1884), Bosco Blithers in Mixed (1885) and the title character in Uncle Dick (1886).
Undoubtedly Day’s most successful creation was Bosco Blithers in Mixed, which he introduced to Melbourne audiences for first time at the Bijou Theatre on 5 September 1885. Founded on a French farce called Les Trois Chapeaux [The Three Hats] by Alfred Hennequin, the play was first performed in Brussels in 1870 and in Paris in 1871.
One of the catch-lines in the play is “I've called about a hat”, spoken by the character of Bosco Blithers, a professor of penmanship, calling at the home of the George Selwyn seeking his lost hat, which Selwyn had picked up in place of his own, but then lost again when he picked up another hat.
As Blithers, Day “convulsed audiences with his ludicrous make-up and clever acting, which included giving the impression of having an unmanageable artificial leg” – which in one scene he attempts to raise over the back of a high sofa only to end up floundering on the floor in the most outrageously grotesque manner.
As the reviewer in the Argus (7 September 1885) goes on to say:
Mr Philip Day, as Bosco Blithers, was the cause of most of the unbounded hilarity which prevailed during the performance. His appearance, his expressions, his gestures, and his antics were throughout extravagantly and irresistibly droll, and evoked from time to time outbursts of unusually hearty laughter. His “make-up” was so clever and complete a disguise in its way as to be worthy of comparison with Mr Frederick Marshall’s Quilp [The Old Curiosity Shop], and he maintained the awkwardness of gait and the various broad eccentricities of the character consistently from first to last. Even if he had no share in the dialogue Mr Day’s appearance and manners would have kept up a simmer of amusement, and he is to be credited with a pronounced success in the character, which, however, is merely of a wildly farcical type.
The origins of the play and the circumstances around its production in Australia are worth recounting.
Included in the cast of the first Melbourne production was a certain Walter Stokes Craven who was said to be the author of the piece. It seems Craven did indeed write it, but a subsequent court case held in February 1887 (when Craven tried to prevent Day and others from producing the piece) revealed that Craven had merely “cribbed” the play, having been a member of J.H. Nunn’s company in India, when the piece was performed with G.P. Carey in central role. On this occasion, the play was announced as the highly successful farce Three Hats by Owen Dove and Alfred Maltby.
When a report of the Craven copyright case was published in the London Era, it elicited a letter from Walter Blount of the Junior Garrick Club (30 April 1887). In his letter, Blount says it was he who sold the play to Nunn for performance in India. And in a twist, not unworthy of the play itself, Blount claims the play he sold to Nunn had been written by Arthur Shirley not by Dove & Maltby. (Indeed, a copy of Shirley’s play was published by Fitzgerald Publishing in New York in 1889 and can be downloaded from the internet).* As Blount points out, Shirley has the character of Bosco Blithers in his text, whereas in both the French original and the Dove & Maltby version, this character is given another name.
So why did Nunn alter the authorship of the play? Was it to capitalise on the London success of Dove & Maltby’s play? As far as I can tell, the Shirley version was not performed in London until the 1890s.
When W.S. Craven arrived in Australia from India in 1885 he brought a copy of the Shirley play with him, producing it for the first time at the Theatre Royal in Adelaide on 10 June 1885 as Three Hats, announced as a work by Owen Dove and Alfred Maltby – “as played with immense success at the Royalty and Avenue Theatres, London, for over 200 Nights”. This was several months before Craven’s cribbed version was staged in Sydney and Melbourne. And in another twist, Phil Day was in the cast of the Adelaide production, playing Bosco Blithers for the first time!
Interestingly, when G.P. Carey came to produce the play in Hobart in November 1885, with himself as Bosco Blithers, he called the play The Three Hats; or Mixed – and also cited the play’s London and Melbourne success in his adverts. By the time Carey reached Sydney, in March 1886, the play’s title had changed again – to Three Hats Slightly Mixed. In both cases, the author’s name was conspicuously absent.
One final word on Craven’s version of Mixed, for anyone who wants to explore it further. In the Ward Family Papers at the State Library of New South Wales, there is an entry that reads: 1891; 'Mixed', MS., being an adaptation by Walter S. Craven (Call No.: MLMSS 6927/13/2).
Phil Day played the role of Bosco Blithers for the last time at the Melbourne Opera House in September 1887, just two months before his early death on 3 December 1887, aged only 42. He died at the Alfred Hospital from combined complaints of lung and heart disease. He was buried in the “actor’s corner” at Melbourne Cemetery. Among the many mourners who followed his coffin from the Oriental Hotel in Collins Street to the cemetery were G.S. Titheradge, Arthur Garner, Dion Boucicault and George Darrell, who occupied the mourning coach. Day left behind him his wife and young family, a second son Arthur Melbourne Phillip Day having been born in Melbourne in 1884. A subscription list was organised by Arthur Garner, George Darrell and others that raised some £300 to assist his family and aid their return to England.
*See for example, Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/26157
British Newspaper Archive
Madeleine Bingham, Henry Irving and the Victorian theatre, Allen & Unwin, 1978, pp. 52-53
Due to the great popularity of the Gilbert & Sullivan operas, Frank Thornton is best remembered for his work with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, having been associated with the company from its inception in 1877.
Born Frank Thornton Tubbs in London on 16 May 1845, he was a son of Richard Thomas Tubbs and Elizabeth Charlotte Astley. As a youngster he enjoyed singing comic songs and entertaining his friends, and while working in a merchant’s office in the city during the day, he performed in amateur theatricals in the evening reciting humorous monologues and singing popular songs.
Attracting the attention of Richard D’Oyly Carte, he was given the role of Foreman of the Jury in a production of Trial by Jury at the Westminster Aquarium in 1877. In November of that year Carte founded the Comedy Opera Company which was launched with The Sorcerer, the first full length opera to be written by the Gilbert & Sullivan partnership.
In securing artists for the first production of The Sorcerer, D’Oyly Carte invited Frank Thornton to audition for the role of John Wellington Wells. Thornton impressed with his singing and dancing, but was pipped at the post by another newcomer to the comic opera stage, George Grossmith, who like Thornton had commenced his stage career singing comic songs and performing in drawing-room entertainments.
Thornton was offered the position of understudy to George Grossmith and roles in the various curtain raisers and afterpieces that formed part of the bill. He also played a walk-on part in The Sorcerer, that of the Oldest Inhabitant.
For the next three years he continued to lead a double life, working in the city by day and performing at the Opera Comique in the evening. Finally, in 1881, he was given the opportunity to create a leading role in a new opera. As Major Murgatroyd, one of the three Officers of the Dragoon Guards in Patience, he scored a great success, personally and professionally - and was finally able to give up his day job!
From August 1879, the company became known as Mr D’Oyly Carte’s Opera Company, later shortened to the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company … and the rest, as they say, is history!
Over the following years, Thornton continued to ‘go on’ for George Grossmith when required, notably in April 1880 when he played Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance and in March 1882 when he performed Bunthorne in Patience (with Arthur Law taking on Thornton’s role of Major Murgatroyd). He also replaced Richard Temple as Dick Dead Eye in HMS Pinafore during 1879 and as Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance in 1880.
In 1883, Thornton played the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe on tour throughout the provinces, and also acted as stage manager for the production. Prior to the commencement of the tour, he was given a special matinee benefit at the Savoy Theatre, when, on 14 February 1882, Broken Hearts by W.S. Gilbert was performed with Thornton as Mousta.
In early 1884, D’Oyly Carte sent him to New York to stage manage the first production of Princess Ida in America.
At the end of the American tour, Thornton felt he needed a change and accepted the position of understudy to W.S. Penley at the Princes Theatre, where Penley had been engaged to create the role of the Reverend Spalding in the first London production of Charles Hawtrey’s farcical comedy The Private Secretary. The play had had its first production at Cambridge in November 1883 with Herbert Beerbohm Tree as the cleric.
In London, The Private Secretary opened on 29 March 1884, moving to the Globe Theatre on 19 May, where it played for over 500 performances.
Thornton’s familiarity with the role led to him being engaged by A.M. Palmer to perform the lead in the first American production.
The Private Secretary was largely a vehicle for displaying the comic skill of the actor playing Spalding, relying upon a series of improbable situations and pratfalls for laughs, with the central character suffering all sorts of indignities, being “pushed around, tripped up, shoved under tables, tied to a chair, hit by an umbrella, sat on, and stuffed into a chest”.
In New York, The Private Secretary opened at the Madison Square Theatre on 29 September 1884. It ran for 200 nights – something of a record at the time – attracting the attention of Williamson, Garner & Musgrove who promptly engaged Thornton to bring the play to Australia.
Thornton made his Australian debut at the Gaiety Theatre in Sydney on 18 July 1885, the first of six tours of Australia and New Zealand he would make between 1885 and 1909.
During his 15-month stay in Australia, Thornton also appeared as John Wellington Wells in the first Australian production of The Sorcerer at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne, and played the Learned Judge in Trial by Jury. But these performances were incidental to touring The Private Secretary throughout Australasia.
He returned to Australia again in November 1888 remaining for some 22 months. During this time he revived The Private Secretary and starred in the first Australian productions of Sweet Lavender and Mamma, the first-named a domestic drama by A.W. Pinero and the second a farce by Sydney Grundy. Sweet Lavender was by far the more successful of the two, and as Dick Phenyl, a warm-hearted old barrister with a propensity to drink, Thornton was able to demonstrate his versatility as a performer. In London, the role of Phenyl had been created by Edward Terry.
Thornton was back in Australia in 1893-1894 (his third tour) with Charley’s Aunt, a three-act farce by Brandon Thomas, which Thornton produced in association with Charles Arnold. The story goes that W.S. Penley, who held the rights to the play refused to negotiate with Thornton (was Penley jealous of Thornton’s success with The Private Secretary?), preferring to deal with Charles Arnold.
Charley’s Aunt was a phenomenal success wherever it went. On its first London production it broke existing records by running for 1,466 performances – and has remained popular ever since, being the basis for numerous films and musicals.
Thornton returned to Australia for his fourth tour in December 1896 and during the following 19 months produced in addition to revivals of his previous successes, another cross-dressing play, The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown, and a sporting farce, The Bookmaker; the first by Robert Buchanan and “Charles Marlowe” (Harriette Jay) and the second by J.W. Pigott.
His fifth tour commenced in May 1902, when he opened at the Princess’s Theatre in Melbourne in Facing the Music, a farcical comedy by J.H. Darnley. This play was also the only one he produced in England, performing the lead himself in the provinces and with James Welch at the Strand Theatre in London in February 1900.
Thornton’s fifth tour also saw the first Australian production of A Little Ray of Sunshine by Mark Ambient and Wilton Heriot, his only “failure”. In an interview, Thornton said that along with Dick Phenyl in Sweet Lavender, the role of Lord Markham in Sunshine was his favourite. This play has a curious plot – reminiscent of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol - in which a benevolent old peer returns unexpectedly one Christmas eve after a long absence and although mistaken by family and friends for a village pauper, a money-lender, a housemaid’s uncle, a baker’s man, a Cambridge don and a trainer of racehorses, appears to each of them in turn as a ‘little ray of sunshine’ dispelling any worries or concerns they might have. In London, Thornton’s former nemesis, W.S. Penley played the role.
Thornton’s sixth and final tour saw him open at the Criterion Theatre, Sydney, on 21 December 1907, with When Knights Were Bold by Charles Marlowe, a play that had been performed in London by James Welch.
Thornton made his final Australian appearance in Melbourne on 15 January 1909, when he played Charley’s Aunt for the last time.
From each of his Australian tours, Thornton made a packet, and for the most part rested back in England between visits. However, he made a few notable appearances during these times, joining the London Gaiety Company for the burlesques Miss Esmeralda and Frankenstein in 1886/1887, and creating the role of Pyjama in The Nautch Girl for the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in 1892.
Frank Thornton died in London on 18 December 1918, London, England, aged 73. He was survived by his wife and three children.
Michael Ainger, Gilbert and Sullivan: A duel biography (2002)
Cyril Rollins and R John Witts, The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in Gilbert and Sullivan Operas: A record of productions, 1875-1961 (1962)
The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, https://gsarchive.net/whowaswho/T/ThorntonFrank.htm
The New York Clipper, 15 March 1884
"A Chat with Frank Thornton", The Era, 16 March 1895
"Mr Frank Thornton", Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 21 November 1891
"Mr Frank Thornton: Reminiscences of a Great Comedian", Mercury, 17 June 1908
"Mr Frank Thornton", Table Talk, 29 November 1889
This is the first in a series of biographical pieces focusing on the performers highlighted in a recent talk given by THA members Elisabeth and Mimi at the State Library of Victoria. The talk was on the Troedel Collection of theatre posters, continuing THA’s quest to unearth theatrical gems within the library’s collection and reveal the stories behind the objects.
English actress Jennie Lee (1846-1930) is best remembered for playing the role of Jo, the pathetic crossing sweeper in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House – a role she is said to have played more than 9000 times – performing it throughout the United Kingdom, America and Australia, as well as South Africa and India.
Born Emily Lee in London on 1 July 1846, she was a daughter of watercolour artist and wood engraver Edwin George Lee and his Irish wife Mary Anne Ryan. (1) Raised in a large household in Marylebone in London (Charles Dickens lived just around the corner in Fitzroy Square and along with Millais was a regular visitor), Jennie displayed an aptitude for dancing and singing at an early age. (2)
In 1869, following the death of her father, she decided to try her luck on the stage, and with a letter of introduction to Messrs Richard and William Mansell sought an opening at the Lyceum Theatre. (3) She made her stage debut as one of the twelve pages in the opera bouffe Chilperic in January 1870. The following year, she scored her first ‘hit’ as the Street Arab in Herve’s Little Faust. From the Lyceum, she moved to the Strand, where she enjoyed further successes in the burlesques The Pilgrim of Love, The Idle ‘Prentice and Coeur de Lion. Two of her sisters, Ada and Katie followed her on to the stage and at various times the three of them acted together.
By late 1871, Jennie was in New York earning rave reviews for her performance of Mary Meredith in a revival of Tom Taylor’s Our American Cousin, with starring roles in burlesque and comedy to follow, in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.
It was in America that she married JP Burnett (1946-1917), an Edinburgh-born actor and playwright. (4) They first met in 1870 while performing at the Strand Theatre, and were reunited again in August 1872 when he joined the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia where she was performing with the Vokes Family. It is not clear if their meeting was by arrangement or circumstance, but from this time on they became inseparable, but were not free to marry until late 1873.
It seems that in 1867, Jennie had wedded a certain William Parker Scott, with whom she “lived very happily” until the time of her American engagement. (5) In 1873, Jennie’s husband filed for dissolution of their marriage on the grounds of his wife’s misconduct, with JP Burnett cited as co-respondent. Jennie and Burnett returned briefly to London, but were back the USA by September 1873. In November, Jennie received her decree nisi and was free to marry Burnett. (6)
From September 1873 to August 1875, the Burnetts remained in San Francisco, performing initially at the Alhambra and Opera House and later at the California Theatre.
It was at the California Theatre that Burnett’s dramatization of Bleak House had its genesis, when in June 1875, they were supporting visiting tragedienne Fanny Janauschek. One of the plays being performed was Chesney Wold, a dramatization of Bleak House by Henry A Rendle. For this production, Jennie Lee played Jo, the crossing sweeper, with Janauschek in the double-role of Lady Deadlock and Hortense. With her emotional and heart-wrenching performance, Jennie stole the show, a performance reportedly witnessed by the Irish playwright Dion Boucicault.
It was apparently at Boucicault’s suggestion that Burnett devised his own adaptation of Bleak House as a starring vehicle for his wife. (7) On their return to England, the play had its premiere at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Liverpool on 8 November 1875, where it proved something of a sensation. The Era (13 November 1875) for example wrote:
Miss Lee’s conception and embodiment of the part could not easily be excelled, and it may rightly take rank as one of the best of modern impersonations. Her make up alone stamped the impersonation as one of the most realistic nature, faithful in every detail; and her realisation of Joe’s utter wretchedness was most artistic, natural and touching. The affecting death scene was specially good, and Miss Jennie Lee fairly secured the genuine triumph the true artist deserves.
After a season of pantomime at London’s Surrey Theatre playing Jack in Jack the Giant Killer and Tom Thumb, Jennie Lee introduced Jo to London audiences. It opened at the Globe Theatre on 21 February 1876, where it was even more successful.
Burnett’s play is a loose paraphrase of Dickens’s novel with some of the dialogue copied directly from the original text. It roughly follows the chronology of the novel but leaves out many characters and situations. Plotlines involving Lady Dedlock, Hortense and Tulkinghorn have been preserved, but revolve around their interactions with Jo. The play culminates with Jo’s death at Tom-all-alone. (8)
An interesting story surrounds Jo’s last words. In the novel, Dickens has him say the Lord’s Prayer, ending with “Hallowed be thy …” - whereas in the play, he ends with “I’m movin on” – recalling words used by Inspector Bucket. It seems that in the original manuscript that Burnett sent to the Lord Chamberlain, the correct words were crossed out, as it was forbidden at that time to quote sacred text on the stage. (9)
Though some critics found issue with the pacing and construction of the play, audiences embraced it whole heartedly, and after touring throughout the British Isles, Jennie Lee took the play to America (appearing at the Fourteenth Street Theatre in August 1881) and then on to Melbourne, where it had its Australian premiere at the Princess’s Theatre on 29 April 1882.
In reviewing the play, the critic in the Argus (1 May 1882) echoed similar sentiments to reviewers in the UK and USA.
It is impossible to make Jo the leading personage in the drama but he is brought on the stage very frequently, and the part is sustained with such consummate art by Miss Jennie Lee that the interest centres in the fortunes of the poor crossing-sweeper. It is evident that Miss Lee has studied this character from the life, when she is on the stage the illusion is complete. It is difficult to believe that she has ever been anything else than the ragged London street boy. The action of the broom, the facial expression, and the little bits of bye-play, which are sparingly used, are important aids in the filling in of a very complete picture. Miss Lee has the personal advantages for this part of the petite figure and boy-like voice, without which much of the art displayed would fail of some of the intended effect. But there is also a great deal of real feeling in the impersonation, and her acting is often charged with a natural pathos which is very touching. The poor lad’s remonstrances with the police inspector for always “chivvying him on”, comic enough in the first scenes, become tragic in the last, when the victim of starvation and want, wasted with disease, knows that he is “moving on” out of this world. The death scene is artistically managed, without any objectionable prolongation. The reputation Miss Lee has gained elsewhere in this character was fully endorsed by the audience. The applause she received was of the heartiest, and she often extracted the highest tribute of moistened eyes.
The play was a huge success in Melbourne, playing for 5 weeks (not 5 months as Wikipedia states), before touring throughout Australia and New Zealand. Jennie Lee remained in Australia until 1885. Though she performed in other plays, such as The Grasshopper and Where’s the Cat?, that showed off her abilities as a singer and dancer, her portrayal of Jo was the one everyone wanted to see, so it remained at the forefront of her repertoire.
Jennie Lee made two subsequent trips to Australia, in 1889-1894 under engagement to Williamson, Garner & Musgrove, and in 1908 with her daughter, Joan Burnett, who had been engaged by JC Williamson Ltd to perform in Peter Pan. Sadly, a few weeks after arriving in Melbourne, Joan succumbed to tuberculosis, somewhat reminiscent of the death of Jennie’s sister Ada, who had died in Sydney in 1902 from the plague. (10) In February 1916, her sister Kate died in London, just five months before her only son, John Burnett was killed fighting with the Canadian forces in Belgium. (11) JP Burnett died in London on 17 April 1917, aged 71. (12)
Though Jennie had retired from full-time acting by 1906, the last full-length version of Bleak House being given at Drury Lane in 1896, she performed Jo on two notable occasions: on 30 March 1908 at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne when a benefit was held following the death of her daughter, and for the last time at the Lyric Theatre in London on 7 February 1921 to commemorate Charles Dickens’ birthday. Jennie Lee died on 3 May 1930 at her home in London after a brief illness, aged 83. (13)
ELISABETH KUMM © 2018
(1) UK BMD, Births, Sep 1846, Marylebone, vol. 1, p. 143; Mainly About People, 1 October 1904, p. 380
(2) Mainly About People, 1 October 1904, p. 380
(4) JP Burnett is said to have been born John Pringle Dodds in Scotland in 1846, the son of an Edinburgh barrister.
(5) UK BMD, Marriages, Mar 1867, Marylebone, vol. 1a, p. 782; Divorce Court File 2699, The National Archives, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk
(6) “An actress’s divorce case”, Lloyds Weekly London Newspaper, 30 November 1873, p. 4.
(7) “Bleak House Scene” by Malcolm Morley, The Dickensian, vol. 49, 1 January 1953, p. 177: “After seeing her performance he [Boucicault] said to her " Tell that man of yours," meaning Jennie's husband JP Burnett, "to take the book of Bleak House and write a play making Jo the part, and you'll never want a penny and you can play Jo until you're seventy, if you don't get too fat".
(8) “JP Burnett’s Bleak House: A Drama in Three Acts” by Carrie Sickmann Han, Streaky Bacon: A Guide to Victorian Adaptations, https://www.streakybacon.net/tag/jennie-lee/
(10) NSW Deaths, 3503/1902 (Ada Lee); Sydney Morning Herald, 3 March 1902, p. 7; VIC Deaths, 2911/1908 (Joan Burnett); Bendigo Advertiser, 11 March 1908, p. 3.
(11) Era, 16 February 1916, p. 11 (Katie Lee); Era, 16 August 1916, p. 10 (John Burnett); Canadian Virtual War Memorial, https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/canadian-virtual-war-memorial/detail/485842
(12) UK BMD, Deaths, Jun 1917, Hampstead, vol. 1a, p. 738; Era, 25 April 1917, p. 5.
(13) UK BMD, Deaths, Jun 1930, Marylebone, vol. 1a, o. 591; Era, 7 May 1930, p. 6; Stage, 8 May 1930, p. 18.
British Newspaper Archive
Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection
Austro-Hungarian conductor. Born 1832, Trieste, Italy. Died 28 December 1907, Melbourne, VIC, Australia. Married Emily Hodgkinson, 1873, VIC, Australia. Father of Alberto Zelman (conductor) and Victor Zelman (landscape painter).
In India with GBW Lewis's company in 1868. Conducted at the opening of the Academy of Music in Melbourne on 6 November 1876.
Australian actress & vocalist. Née Florence Maude Young. Born 2 October 1870, Melbourne, VIC, Australia. Daughter of Henry Henrard Young (jeweller) and Elizabeth Tonkin. Sister of Millie Young (actress), Gladys Young (actress), Harry Young (actor), Fred Young (stage manager). Married Robert Campbell Rivington, 8 February 1897, Melbourne, VIC, Australia (div. 1912), (2) Reginald Roberts (de facto). Died 11 November 1920, Melbourne, VIC, Australia.
On stage from 1890, performing in musical comedy and pantomime, having studied singing with Madame Lucy Chambers.