Harry Rickards

  • Digging Up the Roots of Lilian Tree

    KURT GÄNZL dons his deerstalker (or is that gardening gloves?) to discover more about the life and adventures of nineteenth century song-bird Lilian Tree. This article was first published in Kurt’s Kurt of Gerolstein blog.

    Manchester-born Lilian Tree (soprano) was a well-known vocalist in, particularly, Australia, at the end of the nineteenth century.

    I bumped into her, ‘prima donna [leggiera] of the Carl Rosa’, this week and thought, I don’t really know anything much about this lady, except that she sang the lead in A Moorish Maid, New Zealand’s early attempt at a light opera. Well, as you who have read my reams of discoveries about Victorian vocalists will know, I can't let pass by one of the species without at least having a go at identifying her or him... so I started.

    I started in the middle, which is a good way of finding beginning and ends. Sometimes.

    On 10 October 1888 a Mrs. Tree (aged 39) and a Miss L. Tree (18) arrived at Adelaide. She had been hired by Martin Simonsen, along with a selection of Italian(ate?) vocalists for an ‘Australian’ opera company. The press assured that she had ‘sung for some nine months with Carl Rosa’. ‘Miss Tree’s voice, which is remarkable for its fulness and flexibility, embraces three octaves extending to F in alt. Besides this she is pretty, charming, graceful—and only twenty’. Twenty, eh?

    Well name and date were both fictional. The name was easily unveiled, for she had made her first appearances under the name of Lily Crabtree. But she was not to be found in the British birth records as such. Nevertheless, she turned up for me at 16 Shakespeare St, Ardwick, Lancashire in the 1871 census. Father Alexander Crabtree, corn merchant from Oswaldwistle aged 41, wife Ada b. Sheffield aged 30, Alexandrina aged 6, Alexander jr aged 3...  so, the future Miss Tree was not born in 1870, or even 1868, but in 1864. And there she is... Alexandrina Crockett, born Salford...  Crockett?

    However, by the time she was christened, 19 years later, she was known as ‘Lily’. And Crabtree. And her father was named as Alexander Crabtree. And he was deceased.

    Tree 2

    OK. This was not, it seemed, going to be straightforward. It wasn’t, but I got there. Ada Amelia Bendelow (b. Doncaster), a dressmaker from Sheffield, had been, since 1857, the wife of one Edwin Crockett and the mother of a little Bertha Eliza Crockett (1861).

    Alexander Crabtree was also a father and had been, from 1848 until sometime before Lily’s birth, a married man. His wife, Hannah née Graves, may even have been the one who died in Manchester in January 1864. His daughter was Harriet Eleanor Ann Crabtree (ka Ellen), born in Liverpool 3 March 1849, who became the wife of schoolmaster Thomas Kilner in 1870. Ada Amelia was her witness.

    Tree 3

    Then came the history! Alexandrina was born in December 1864. Indubitably to widower Alexander, and the married Mrs Crockett. And, some months later, the parents were wed...

    Tree 4

    Ada Amelia was, unsurprisingly, slightly unsure of her surname. She was pretty surely no widow.

    Alexander wasn’t sure either. As witness another marriage …

    Tree 5

    Why? How? It all came to court, with Alexander charged with bigamy …

    He was declared... not guilty! Why?

    Small wonder that daughter Lily grew up with a healthy disdain for the state of legal marriage.

    Alex continued to cohabit with Ada, Jane sued for divorce. Ada had a son (6 May 1867) and, in 1875 (9 March), a daughter, Catherine Rhoda. And then Alexander died (17 June 1877). Ada took on the running of the Lloyd Hotel in Chorlton-cum-Hardy where she can be seen in 1881 with Lily (‘age 16’) and Alexander jr ..

    And then the music started. In 1883 Miss Lily A. Crabtree, aged 18, of Manchester ‘a pupil of Charles Halle’ won a piano scholarship to the brand new Royal College of Music. She studied singing there, too. She was cast as Countess Almaviva in the college production of The Marriage of Figaro.

    In April 1886, she took out the prestigious Parepa Rosa Scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music where she continued her piano studies with Randegger and her vocal ones to such effect that later that year she was engaged by Nelson Vert for the ‘London Symphony Concerts’ at St. James’s Hall (Meistersinger quintet). And got herself hired, though still a student, by Carl Rosa.

    Lily Crabtree made her debut, as Micaela, to the Carmen of Marie Roze, at the Liverpool Royal Court, where she also sang at the Halle concerts alongside Joachim, being well received on both stage and platform. She later affirmed that she also sang in Nordisa, which I do not find.

    In 1888 I see her at the Halle Concerts again, taking on no less a program than ‘Ocean, thou mighty monster’, ‘Non mi dir’ and ‘Volte la terra fronte’ in another program with Joachim, and at de Jong’s Free Trade Hall concerts, before she returned to the Rosa. Micaela was now sung by her erstwhile understudy, Kate Drew, and Lily was cast as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, as Countess Almaviva...

    And then she was gone. Why?, I wonder. With a pretty good English career in view, why did she exile herself to deepest Australia and a company where the manager’s wife was the prima donna? I guess we'll never know. Although Lily would go into versions of the subject at length in later years.

    Anyhow, she and mama set sail... and lost a few years of age during the transit of the seas. Lillian (as she was now known) shrunk from 23 to 18. Mamma shrank from 44 to 39. ‘Mrs. Tree is a lady of means and she and her daughter have come more for the trip than anything else’ spake the Australian gossip columns. Ah! Journalism. Mrs. Tree was a pubkeeper.

    She sang The Rose of Castile, The Bohemian Girl, Il Guarany, Rigoletto, Maritana, Faust, Satanella, Carmen (yes, Micaela again!) before it all fell to pieces, and Lilian rushed to the press with long stories about how she hadn’t wanted to come anyway, and was talked into it... (Sydney Telegraph, 30 January 1889). Her engagement was, however, enlivened by the attentions of the Italian baritone Achille Ettore Torquato (ka Attilio) Buzzi (b. 1850; d. 27 June 1909). Buzzi, who had created the role of Shylock in Pinsuti’s operatic Merchant of Venice in 1878 was one of those brought out by Simonsen in 1886. Lilian soon declared she and he would settle in Melbourne... they were ‘engaged’. Lily got ‘engaged’ quite a lot.

    Through 1889 she (and he) appeared in frequent concerts, and contracted with John Solomon for a season at the New Opera House, where they appeared in The Bohemian Girl (with interpolations), Der Bettelstudent (Laura, ‘a perfect dream'’), Kowalski’s Moustique (Queen Venus), Maritana, Martha, La Sonnambula, Faust, The Sultan of Mocha, Nemesis, The Beggar’s Opera...

    Mother was still there, so was Buzzi, but Lilian—who had gathered loving reviews in the highly popular lighter works of the repertoire—was flinching. She ‘contracted typhoid fever’, was ‘off’ a lot, and would, she announced, return to England in the new year. But come the new year, she was still in Australia, playing the repertoire with what had now become Henry Bracy’s company. That company finally closed in mid-1890, and Lilian returned to the concert platform. I see her in October 1890 singing in The Seasons. Baritone: Signor Buzzi. 

    Finally, she did head for Europe. Where mother had seemingly gone before. Back to hotel management at Gregg’s Hotel in Darwen. Buzzi didn’t. ‘After a short rest [she] journeyed to Milan where she stayed eleven months, [studying with Blasco] appeared on the stage there, and in February [1892] made an appearance with the Carl Rosa at Liverpool’ in the title part in Aida. Georgina Burns had been forced out of the role through illness, Marie Roze had taken her place... but on 19 February Lilian ‘who has kindly undertaken the part at a few hours notice’ stepped in. ‘Her first appearance this season’.

    She gave a second performance at a matinee 25 February while Mme Rose sang Trovatore in the evening and seemingly a third before the Rosa Liverpool season ended. And so did Lilian’s Rosa career.

    In May 1892 she sailed back into Sydney, from Naples, on the Oruba. With a husband. An Australian husband. Or ‘husband’. The not-long widowed Dr. Arthur John Vause was the wealthy owner of the private mental asylum at Bay View, Tempe, and the couple, it seems, had met shipboard. The marriage or ‘marriage’ lasted some two years. Her absence from the platform was of no length at all (Stabat Mater, Her Majesty’s Sydney, 31 March 1893) but that from the stage, in spite of perpetual rumours, was to be longer.

    In 1894 she was touted to visit America ‘engaged for the Metropolitan Opera House’. But she didn’t. Then, or any of the other times similar rumours were propagated. What she really did was scarper from Australia with a major (married) local personality, Dr. Harman Tarrant.

    According to her, she travelled with him through Europe, where she sang Aida at ‘the Grand Opera, Milan’, then at Genoa, Naples, and Cracow, over a period of two years. I can’t quite fit ‘two years’ in here, and I have yet to exhume those soi-disant European performances from any source. Anyhow the couple ended up in England.

    Lilian appeared in the Halle concerts (‘her first appearance since her successful Australian tour’), and then got involved in E.C. Hedmondt’s ambitious season of opera at Covent Garden, where she was cast as Brünnhilde in The Valkyrie and Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana. Her reception was diverse: one paper described her as ‘stout’ another as ‘pretty and petite’. Her acting, some opined, left something to be desired. Her physique was clearly not in her favour. And though the voice seemed to have been excellently maintained, and was generally described in favourable terms, one journo described her Santuzza as ‘not up to the average of an English provincial one’. It’s just a suspicion, but I think her ‘manager’, Dr. Tarrant may have been getting up some people’s noses. But other writers make Lilian the villain in the tale of a relationship which was pretty well ended before Tarrant’s death, in poverty and alcohol, 10 September 1900. The international press was favourable: ‘une belle voix, une jolie femme, et une artiste consciencieuse’.

    One other important person, however, liked her performance. Augustus Harris hired her for his opera company at Drury Lane, and her Santuzza, there, was perfectly well received, although one paper worried that it was hard to imagine the tragic Santuzza ‘when uttered by such a bright, cheerful and handsome prima donna’. She sang Venus in Tannhäuser(‘sang with grace and refinement, looking the part of Venus to the very letter’) and repeated her Brünnhilde (‘deserved success’) where, once again it was noted ‘Miss Tree cannot be blamed because Nature has not endowed her with an Amazonian figure’ but her ‘excellent singing and dramatic feeling’, it was judged, made up for lack of Teutonic butchness. When Harris produced Hansel and Gretel, Lilian sang the mother, Gertrude. A range of parts which would seemingly have fitted her usefully into any major opera company.

    But at the end of the season, it was back to the concert platform—the Queen’s Hall Promenade Concerts (where she sang the ‘Liebestod’, Beethoven’s Egmont, Robert le diable), the Glasgow Sundays, Samson in Edinburgh, more Halle concerts, a concert party tour (‘Mme Lilian Tree and party’) … and finally, in March 1897, she turned up back in London topping the bill at London’s Palace Music Hall. She sang ‘I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls’ and ‘The Children's Garden’. And then she headed back to the Antipodes.

    Back ‘home’ she continued her music-hall experience at the Sydney Palace and the Tivoli with Harry Rickards (‘The Song that Reached my Heart’, ‘The Last Rose of Summer’, ‘Robert, toi que j’aime’) and subsequently toured with Rickards’ Biograph Company. She also continued her habit of giving lengthy newspaper interviews which didn’t always tally with verity... ‘I shall be 25 at Christmas’. No, Alexandrina, you will be 33.

    She was still, though considerably plumper, a star, and paragraphs regarding the offers she had refused for the Metropolitan Opera, NYC, Covent Garden et al hit the press regularly. As did such earth-shaking news as her sprained ankle, her intention to enter a convent, and the continuing propinquity of Mr. Tarrant.

    When tenor Philip Newbury was added to the Rickards company, the Trovatore ‘Miserere’ was added to the program, on which Lilian was now featuring such as ‘Softly Sighs’, ‘Ernani involami’ alongside ‘Come Back to Erin’ and ‘Home, Sweet Home’. Such was her success, that she continued with Rickards through 1898. Then she returned to the stage for John Solomon. The opera was Carmen, and now Lily was no longer Micaela, but ‘a very substantial’ Carmen, supported by Jack Leumane and Ted Farley and a rather second-rate cast. It was agreed that she sang it well, but the bill was soon varied with Maritana and The Bohemian Girl.

    At the end of the season, ‘Madame’ Tree advertised for pupils. And Tarrant, who had failed in his efforts to re-establish himself in the eyes of authority, in spite of heavy advertising, died. Back in Italy, Buzzi was said to have joined a Carthusian brotherhood.

    Lily, who had not been spared in her paramour’s obituaries, advertised for vaudeville engagements, and soon returned to Rickards. It was not a success. She was no longer the public's darling.

    She was sued for debt... interestingly, as ‘Miss Lilian Tree’ spinster... and shortly after quit Australia for, this time, New Zealand, where, in 1903, she was reported to have married one Charles Lund ‘well known in connection with the Lund line of steamships’. The records show that Charles John Gilbert Lund of Wellington married Lilian Margaretta Lancaster... another husband, another name... ? But she would be Mrs. Lund for the next two decades. She remained in Auckland, teaching singing from 15 Grafton Road, and giving concert opera with the locals, until Alfred Hill and J. Youlin Birch brought out their opera A Moorish Maid (26 June 1905). Lilian was starred in the leading role of La Zara at the head of a cast made up largely of amateurs for six nights at Auckland’s His Majesty’s. When the show went further, Lilian did not go with it. She had a ‘serious illness’.

    In 1906 Mr. and Mrs. Lund voyaged to England. All sorts of rumours as to grandiose offers filtered back to the Australasian press, including one that she had been offered the role of Lady Jane in Patience. I see her only, in 1910, at a short-lived Brighton Festival singing Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana and the Verdi Requiem (4 February) alongside Watkin Mills...

    Tree 20

    Lilian was now chopping 15 years off her age. And Charles was a... hatter? What happened to the shipping line?

    Come the war, he joined the airforce, and revealed his birthdate. 28 May 1886. That can’t be right. Married at 17? Elsewhere its 1881. Married at 22. Oh! Alexandrina! Now we see why you are shrinking your age so drastically!

    Charles Lund died at Epsom, Surrey 1 September 1926 ‘aged 45’. He left £146.12.3d to his wife Lilian Margarita Lund of Furnival Mansions, 25 Wells Street, Marylebone.

    I imagine that Lily was the Lilian Lund who died in Paddington in 1933. Admitting to 52 years of age. She was 68.

    So, that tidies up the bits and ends of Miss Alexandrina Crockett ka ‘Lilian Tree’. There are a few left to sort out, but this is a pretty fair start. And I’m thinking what might have happened had she stayed in Manchester, with Halle, the Carl Rosa et al. A lady who could sing the Liebestod one minute, and ‘Robert toi que j’aime’ the next. But I suppose she did extremely well as a big fish on the other side of the pool. And had a good few ‘adventures’.


    First published in Kurt of Gerolstein blog, 16 May 2023.

  • Little Wunder: The story of the Palace Theatre, Sydney (Part 2)

    Palace Theatre

    ELISABETH KUMM continues the story of Sydney’s Palace Theatre, focusing on the years 1897 to 1899, a period that saw the great vaudeville promoter Harry Rickards take over the reins of the theatre with mixed success. Read Part 1»

    Harry Rickards, c.1895. Photo by Talma, Melbourne. State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.Harry Rickards, c.1895. Photo by Talma, Melbourne. State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.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’.

    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.

    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 WesternArgus (WA), Sydney Morning Herald (NSW); Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic)


    John S. Clark, Mimi Colligan, Bill Egan, Frank Van Straten

  • Re-discovering Syria Lamonte: Pioneering Recording Artist

    Syria Lamonte was one of the first professional musicians to be recorded in London—in August 1898. Possibly the first. But who was she? Roger Neill takes a look at the life and achievements of this almost-forgotten Australian diva. First published in The Record Collector, March 2014, this article is republished with permission.

    Syria Lamonte HanaSyria Lamonte. Photo by Hana, London. Thanks to John Culme for restoring this cabinet card.

    So little seemsto have been known about this pioneering recording artist. In his memoirs of 1947, Fred Gaisberg, the American recording engineer who had come over to set up the first London studio—at 31 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, in 1898, for The Gramophone Company—wrote:

    The autumn of ’98 saw me making the first records in London … As [the music hall artists’] rendezvous was Rules in Maiden Lane, next door to the premises we had taken as a recording studio, [Bert] Sheppard brought his companions to us to be amused and this served to give us contact with the greatest artists of the then flourishing music-hall world.1

    Then in a later conversation (in 1949) with Brian Rust, Gaisberg added:

    I remember Syria Lamonte. She was an entertainer: I suppose she must have served drinks—in Rules, the pub next door to the first recording studio in Maiden Lane. She was the first artist I recorded, I’m sure of that… she had a big voice, and that was what we wanted.2

    So what does that tell us about her? A “barmaid” at Rules? A singer who had made one of, possibly the earliest studio recordings in Europe? At some stage it was suggested that she was Australian. But was she really? Who exactly was this mystery woman?

    In July 2009, the search for Syria Lamonte was set in motion by an email from Rob Morrison in Melbourne. Attached was a letter he had received from the doyen of Australian collector-researchers, Peter Burgis. In the course of one paragraph on Lamonte, Burgis refers to her as a “Melbourne soprano” and also a “Sydney soprano”. And in a letter to For the Record magazine (Spring 2008), Peter Adamson of St. Andrews University asks, “So was Syria Lamonte perhaps Australian?”

    Quite quickly a group of interested individuals3started the search for her. Given the growth of the online newspaper database, TROVE, by the National Library of Australia, assembling her early career turned out to be a relatively straightforward matter.4She first appears in March 1892, performing with the touring theatre company from England of Mrs Bernard Beere in Melbourne. Then singing the coloratura aria “Regnava nel silenzio” from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Trotère’s “In Old Madrid” at the first of several concerts at the Rotunda Hall, Bourke Street.

    By March the following year she was touring Victoria and South Australia (venturing as far as Broken Hill in New South Wales) with Gourlay, Walton and Shine’s Musical Comedy Company in G.R. Sims’s Skipped by the Light of the Moon, the singing of Syria Lamont (without the e) “much admired”. By September she was back in Melbourne performing at a benefit for the unemployed stagehands of Melbourne theatres.     

    By January 1894 Syria Lamont was a leading member of the Melbourne-based touring Austral Opera Company, recently formed by two English-born singers, tenor Charles Saunders and baritone William D’Ensem. Initially they gave Benedict’s The Lily of Killarney and Dibdin’s The Waterman, interspersing these performances with “sacred recitals”. Later in their tour of Victorian towns, the company introduced Balfe’s Dolores (with Lamont in the title role). Throughout that tour, Syria Lamont was praised by local newspapers as young, beautiful and an excellent singer.

    Early in 1895, Syria performed at Melbourne Opera House in a benefit for Mrs Edouin Bryer and by April she was making her debut season in Sydney (with William D’Ensem) in vaudeville for Harry Rickards at the Tivoli. By this time, Miss Lamont had become Lamonte. In June she sang at another benefit, this time a farewell, at the Lyceum for the celebrated English singer who had settled in Sydney, Emily Soldene (1838-1912). The audience included most of the great and good of the city.

    By August Syria Lamonte had left the Rickards company at the Tivoli and had joined Williamson and Musgrove’s Royal Comic Opera Company, initially performing in Brisbane in Ross and Leader’s musical comedy In Town. They followed this up at the Lyceum in Sydney with Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, Syria Lamonte as one of the “little maids”, but by January the following year she was back in Melbourne with Harry Rickards’s company at the Opera House.

    In May 1896, Syria Lamonte was reported as having sailed the previous month to London “to complete her musical studies under Marchesi”. Whether her target was Mathilde Marchesi, Nellie Melba’s teacher in Paris, or Mathilde’s daughter Blanche in London, is not clear—and there is no indication (thus far) that this ambition was ever fulfilled.

    Arriving in London, she seems to have been offered a part in Wagner’s Lohengrin in Berlin and at the same time a three-year contract with the Tivoli and Oxford music-halls. She seems, not unnaturally, to have taken up the latter, the London Stage reporting that she had “a true, sweet soprano voice of much flexibility and good range, and her singing [of Ganz’s ‘Sing, Sweet Bird’] is something to be enjoyed.” She was in exalted company at these halls, the other artists including Vesta Tilley, Katie Lawrence, R.G. Knowles and James Fawn.

    Clearly the contract with the Tivoli and Oxford was not too restrictive for her, and by December she had been cast to play the role of Principal Girl in the pantomime Dick Whittington in Birmingham, with George Robey as Idle Jack.

    In 1897 Syria Lamonte sailed to South Africa for a three months’ engagement “at £35 a week”. Her return to London in November was not to be a happy experience. Before the voyage from Cape Town, she had met a cattle dealer named Ian Henterick Hugo, who had “conceived a grand passion for the fair Australian”, and showered her with expensive diamond jewels. Unfortunately, on arrival at Southampton together, Hugo was arrested, apparently having obtained money by false pretences, and Miss Lamonte had to relinquish the jewels to the police.

    This episode was followed, according to Era in December, by a “severe illness of five months”, from which she was “now on the road to recovery.” What was the nature of her “illness”? Pneumonia? Pregnancy? Imprisonment?   

    HistoryOfEMI 2 1The Gramophone Company studio, 1898. EMI Archive Trust.

    The stint at Rules and the consequent pioneering recordings came in August the following year. In all, she recorded some fourteen sides with Gaisberg (one, a duet, being uncredited). It is probable that it was Gaisberg himself who accompanied her on the piano. The exact dates of all these remain unclear. By October she was back at the Oxford Music Hall, accompanied by Tom Collins, touring with him the following spring.

    By 1900 her career had also encompassed continental Europe. November saw her at Ronacher’s in Vienna, where, according to reports, the band one day struck up “God Save the Queen”, Syria leading the singing “with heart and voice, winning much applause”. Vienna was followed by Bucharest and St. Petersburg, and Paris in 1903.

    In July 1906 she had emigrated to America, where she appears to have lived and presumably worked in vaudeville for the following years (reportedly making further recordings for Columbia), before returning to Australia in 1912.

    She seems to have opened at the Empire in Brisbane in early April, before misfortune overtook her following a train journey between Sydney and Melbourne. Her luggage was lost—including all her performing wardrobe and her jewellery “which she values at £800”. This mishap (the luggage was quite quickly found at Wagga Wagga and restored to her) created the possibility of dramatically raising her profile again in Australia, from which she had been absent for some sixteen years.

    However, there are few reports of further performances by Syria Lamonte. Aside from a broadcast in Melbourne in May 1926 and an entertainment at Caulfield Military Hospital in June 1929, she seems effectively to have retired.

    But does her long association with Australia mean that she was really an Australian? After all, she could well have come initially from England with Mrs Bernard Beere’s troupe.

    This remained a puzzle for quite some time. Exploration of the online births, marriages and deaths indexes of both Victoria and New South Wales revealed plenty of Lamonts of Scottish origin, but no-one who could be our Syria. Eventually it became clear that she was neither a Lamont nor a Syria by birth.

    In fact, she was Sarah Cohen, daughter of Morris Cohen and Rachel née Isaacs, born 12 March 1869 at Elizabeth Street, Sydney. Father Morris was 23 and a clerk, mother Rachel just 18. Both had been born in London and were married in the gold-rush city of Ballaarat in Victoria in 1868. Morris Cohen was later described as a “commission agent”. Exactly when the Cohens moved from Sydney to live in Melbourne is not clear, but it was most probably in 1873. Sarah, the eldest, was to have at least six siblings.  

    It is clear from newspaper reports in the 1890s that Sarah Cohen’s singing teachers had been Lucy Chambers and Pietro Cecchi. These were arguably the finest teachers in the city, their work reflected in the good reviews that Lamonte received throughout her performing careers in Australia and England. The contralto Chambers was born in Sydney in 1840 and studied under Manuel Garcia jnr in London, then with Romani and Lamperti in Italy. Following a successful career in Europe, she returned to Australia in 1870 with Lyster’s Italian Opera Company. She was often described as the “Australian Marchesi”, her successful pupils including Amy Sherwin and Florence Young. The Italian tenor Cecchi was Nellie Melba’s main teacher in Melbourne prior to her move to study with Marchesi in Paris.

    In February 1889, at nineteen, Sarah Cohen married Joseph Pearl, a Melbourne jeweller. He strongly opposed her performing ambitions, but she persisted. There were two offspring of the marriage, both dying in childhood. The marriage was dissolved in 1900, when Syria was living in London, following her “desertion and misconduct with one J.J.A. McMeckan.”

    She next married Anton Vincent Jonescu, an electrical engineer, in London in April 1905, presenting herself grandly on the marriage certificate as Syria de Lamonte Cowane. Whether or not he went with Syria to America the following year remains unclear, but he supposedly died in 1908.

    As Syria Jonescu she married a third time in June 1924—in Melbourne, to George Arthur Senior, a master butcher. She was 55, he 59. Sarah/Syria Cohen/Pearl/Lamont/Lamonte/de Lamonte Cowane/Jonescu/Senior died at St. Kilda, Melbourne, aged 67, on 8 April 1935, eight months after her last husband.

    While she was by no means a major star, nevertheless Syria Lamonte was an admired performer with a thriving career in light opera, musical comedy and music hall, and was an important pioneer in the fledgling recording industry—not someone to be a mere footnote in musical history.

    Having listened to several of her recordings in 2009, Tony Locantro, veteran of EMI, concluded: “I would say that Syria’s voice had a firm and well supported lower register that enabled her comfortably to sing in the mezzo range but a bright top and a good technique to do the more showy soprano pieces. And I was quite impressed with her trills—would that more of today’s songbirds could do as well!”


    When I wrote about Syria Lamonte in 2014, I was convinced that she had been the first Australian singer to be recorded—by Berliner in London—on 28 August 1898. Now I believe that particular garland belongs to Frances Saville, who recorded ‘Caro nome’ from Rigoletto on cylinder for Bettini in New York in 1896/97.


    1. F.W. Gaisberg, Music on Record, Robert Hale, London, 1948, pp.28/42

    2. Jerrold Northrop Moore, A Voice in Time: The Gramophone of Fred Gaisberg 18731951, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1976, pp.241242

    3. The group, which corresponded mostly by email, included Peter Adamson, Anton Crouch, Kurt Gänzl, Andrew Lamb, Tony Locantro, Peter Martland, Rob Morrison, Roger Neill and Frank Van Straten. Andrew Lamb wrote up the results in an article for On Stage (Summer, 2010) in Australia and Call Boy (2010) in Britain.

    4. Australian newspapers consulted include: The Argus (Melbourne); Bendigo Advertiser; The Advertiser (Adelaide); South Australian Register; Barrier Miner (Broken Hill); Euroa Advertiser; Riverine Herald; Horsham Times; Camperdown Chronicle; Colac Herald; Bairnsdale Advertiser; Traralgon Record; Morwell Advertiser; Warragul Guardian; Sunday Times (Sydney); Sydney Morning Herald; Evening News (Sydney); Brisbane Courier; North Melbourne Gazette; Daily News (Perth); Chronicle (Adelaide); Referee (Sydney); West Australian (Perth); Kalgoorlie Miner; Queensland Figaro (Brisbane); The Register (Adelaide); Williamstown Chronicle

    Gramophone 2


    Syria Lamonte’s Berliner recordings

    The Gramophone Company, 31 Maiden Lane, London, with piano

    A Geisha’s Life (The Geisha, Jones)
    E3000 28 August 98

    Star of Twilight
    E3001 no date

    The Holy City (Adams)
    E3002 no date

    Sing, Sweet Bird (Ganz)
    E3003 no date

    Si tu m’aimais (Denza)
    E3004 no date

    Il Bacio (Arditi)
    E3005 1 September 98

    Il Bacio (Arditi)
    E3005X 7 September 98

    Tell Me My Heart (Bishop)
    E3006 not seen

    Comin’ thro’ the Rye (trad)
    E3007 2 September 98

    Jewel of the East (sic) (The Geisha, Philp)
    E3008 7 September 98 (unissued)

    The Cows are in the Corn (Harding)
    E3009 no date

    Roberto tu che adoro (Roberto il diavolo, Meyerbeer)
    E3010 7 September 98

    Listen to the Band (= “Soldiers in the Park”, A Runaway Girl, Monckton)
    E3011 27 September 98

    The Jewel of Asia (The Geisha, Philp)
    E3012 27 September 98

    They always follow me (The Belle of New York, Kerker)
    E3013 27 September 98

    Dear Bird of Winter (Ganz)
    E3014 27 September 98

    Home, Sweet Home (Bishop)
    E3015 3 October 98

    The Poor Little Singing Girl (A Runaway Girl, Caryll)
    E3016 3 October 98

    A Streamlet full of Flowers (duet, uncredited)
    E3017 not seen

    When a Merry Maid Marries (The Gondoliers, Sullivan)
    E3018 3 October 98

    The Amorous Goldfish (The Geisha, Jones)
    E3020 3 October 98

    Listen to Syria Lamonte singing ‘Comin’ thro’ the Rye’, as featured on From Melba to Sutherland: Australian Singers on Record (Decca Eloquence):


    This article was first published in The Record Collector, March 2014. Republished with permission.


  • RICKARDS, Harry (1840-1911)

    English music hall performer & manager. Né Benjamin Henry Leete. Born 4 December 1843, Stratford, Essex, England. Married (1) Carrie Tudor (actress), (2) Lottie D'Aste (gymnast) (de facto), (3) Kate Roscow (actress), 24 November 1880, Manchester, England. Died 13 October 1911, London, England. Father of Noni Rickards (actress).

    Cockney music hall singer; visited Australia several times prior to founding the Tivoli circuit in 1893, and establishing himself as Australia's King of Vaudeville.

    Riley/Hailes Scrapbook, pages 137, 206.

  • She Was the Most Popular Woman on the Continent: Marie Lloyd's visit to Australia in 1901