Maggie Moore

  • Little Wunder: The story of the Palace Theatre, Sydney (Part 11)

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    During 1910 the Palace Theatre enjoyed much prosperity, from the polished performances of the Hugh J. Ward company to the mighty melodramas of Bland Holt performed by the Hamilton-Maxwell Dramatic Company. ELISABETH KUMM continues her history of the Pitt Street playhouse.

    With thearrival of Hugh J. Ward’s company, Ward was heralded as ‘A New Australian Manager’. Since his first appearance in Australia in 1899, as a member of the Hoyt-McKee company, American-born Ward had proved a popular actor and dancer, and his shift to management was a welcome move. In 1906, in association with George Willoughby, his English company had undertaken an eighteen-month tour of Australasia with the comedy The Man from Mexico. Having returned to London in 1908, he organised his own company, touring India, Burma, China, and the Straits Settlements. An article in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph (1 January 1910, p.6) noted:

    In the tour in the East, just concluded, he was his own financier and manager; his knowledge of stage craft and long experience of the theatre enabled him to direct the production of his plays; and in the ultimate result, the box office receipts showed that the venture was, in a pecuniary sense, thoroughly successful. So far as the artistic merits of the productions are concerned, Sydney audiences who are enjoying the brisk acting of a talented, all-round company in “A Bachelor’s Honeymoon” will have but one opinion.

    The Company’s first offering, A Bachelor’s Honeymoon, kicked off the 1909 Christmas season at the Palace, playing for a jolly six weeks. It was followed on 11 February 1910 by VIvian’s Papas, a farcical comedy by Leo Ditrichstein, that was described as a twin to A Bachelor’s Honeymoon on account of its ‘mirth-provoking qualities’. Vivian’s Papas had received its Australian debut during Hugh J. Ward’s initial Perth season, where it played several nights at the Theatre Royal from 12 June 1909.

    Palace Ward CoMembers of the Hugh J. Ward company on tour in the East. Hugh Ward is in the centre, with Grace Palotta to the left. From The Mirror, 21 May 1909, p.15.

    Ditrichstein’s farce had premiered in New York in August 1903. The principal roles were played by Hattie Williams as Vivian Rogers, an actress who attracts the attention of two admirers or ‘papas’—Chester D. Farnham and Frederick W. Walker—played by comedians John C. Rice and Thomas A. Wise. In this production, the role of Alice Farnham, Chester’s wife, was played by Esther Tittell, a sister of actress Tittell Brune. Mixing comedy, drama and song, the play’s big attraction was a Wagnerian/grand opera spoof set against a realistic fire scene.

    At the Palace, Grace Palotta had the titular role, renamed Vivian Gay, with Arthur Eldred and Hugh J. Ward as the two papas. As the piece contained several songs, tenor Walter Whyte was specially engaged to play one of the singing firemen; W.B. Beattie, another singer formerly with Williamson’s Royal Comic Opera Company, played the role of Edouard Pollak, a singing teacher. Ward’s wife, Grace Miller Ward (who would go on to establish herself as a noted Sydney-based singing teacher) paired with Whyte for the operatic fire scene. Maud Chetwynd (previously seen at the Palace with Allan Hamilton’s Dramatic Company in 1909) played the small role of Carrie the housemaid.

    The fire scene provided an exciting climax to the play’s first act, with the Sydney Morning Herald (13 February 1910) observing: ‘Machinery recently imported from the United States provides a remarkable illusion, and it is hard to believe that the stage is not a mass of flames.’

    Palace Musgrove GhiloniFrom Table Talk (Melbourne), 1 July 1909, p.21. Author’s collection.

    Vivian’s Papas played for just a week, closing on 18 February 1910. With the end of the season fast approaching, The Fencing Master (for the first time in Sydney) and The Man from Mexico(first introduced during the 1906 Willoughby-Ward tour), were performed for a week each. The first named play was a far cry from the antics of the two former plays. It was a serious drama, which provided Ward with the opportunity to show his versatility as an actor. A comedy-drama in three acts by Herbert Hall Winslow, the play was described by Ward as ‘one of the most beautiful and interesting plays I have ever had or seen’.1 Ward played the title character, Angelo Rossi, an Italian nobleman who has emigrated to New York after killing a man in a duel. When his son seeks to marry a young lady (Grace Palotta) of an upright family, the father of another man (W.B. Beattie) also after her affections, recognises Rossi as the man in the duel, thereby jeopardising the son’s chances of a good marriage. 

    The Fencing Master had received its premiere by Ward’s company in Calcutta in April 1909. According to Variety (May 1909), it ‘established a record for an opening of an American piece in point of distance from Broadway’. The same article noted that the play had been handed over to Ward without a title and ‘The Fencing Master’ had been selected by the players. It is not clear if the play was ever produced in America as the title had already been assigned to another work—Reginald de Koven’s 1892 opera—and would have been given another name. The piece received its first Australian outings in Perth in June 1909 and in Melbourne in August 1909.

    The Man from Mexico, the comedy by George Broadhurst, that was the hit of the 1906 Willoughby-Ward season, brought the company’s Palace season to a close. Hugh Ward repeated his success as the ‘picturesque liar who talks about his adventures in Mexico so as to account for his absence from home while he has been serving a sentence in gaol’.2 The audience demanded repeated encores of his song ‘Nobody’ (written by Alex Rogers, with music by Bert A. Williams, and first published in 1905). Grace Palotta and Reginald Wykeham reprised their roles, along with Celia Ghiloni and Maud Chetwynd.

    Palace Roaring CampNellie Fergusson (Jovita de Sutro), Harry Diver (Tom Barnes), Ethel Buckley (Nell), Kenneth Hunter (Dick Gordon) in The Luck of Roaring Camp. Photos by Talma. From Punch (Melbourne), 10 February 1910, p.185.

    With the departure of Hugh J. Ward, George Marlow’s company made a welcome return. They began their season on 5 March 1910 with the first Sydney production of The Luck of Roaring Camp, a melodrama in four acts by Benjamin Landeck, set on the Californian goldfields. It was apparently adapted from a story by American novelist Bret Harte (‘America’s Charles Dickins’), however, reviews soon revealed that the title was the only similarity. The Daily Telegraph, for example, noted, Landeck’s play ‘bears not the faintest resemblance to Bret Harte’s well-known story of the that name … It relates not to the doings of Oakhurst, the gambler; Stumpy, the good-natured Kentuck, and the rest of them, but the schemes of one Tom Barnes to obtain undisputed possession of a certain hidden mine, and to destroy the happiness of Will Gordon and Nell Curtis—persons who are conspicuously absent from the pages of Bret Harte’.3

    Landeck’s play had first been performed in London at the Fulham Theatre in March 1909, and in Australia in January 1910 during George Marlow’s Adelaide season.

    Ethel Buckley played the heroine, Nell (she was to repeat the role in a 1911 film-version of the play), with Nellie Fergusson as the Spanish adventuress, Jovita de Sutro, who along with Tom Barnes, played by Harry Diver, is one of the villains of the piece. Kenneth Hunter proved popular with audiences as Will Gordon, the hero, and J.P. O’Neill provided ‘a good deal of merriment’ as Mary Flynn, ‘a buxom dame’ who has buried two husbands.4

    Palace audiences did not mind that the play had little to do with Bret Harte’s original story. It attracted packed houses, with Marlow reportedly turning people away each night. It played for the full three weeks of the season, after which the company departed for Western Australia.

    On Easter Saturday, the Allan Hamilton-Max Maxwell Dramatic Company opened their season at the Palace. Following the retirement of Bland Holt, the sole rights to some of his greatest successes were secured by the new partnership of Hamilton and Maxwell. Allan Hamilton was a well-known and respected theatre manager, whose dramatic company had played at the Palace in 1909. Max Maxwell, a Tasmanian-born actor, had been with the Bland Holt company for 14 years, starting off in bit parts and graduating to leading man.

    The company’s repertoire of plays included Woman and Wine, In London Town, Revenge, The Lights o’ London and Woman’s Hate. They also acquired the original scenery for these plays, painted by John Brunton, who had only recently died, in July 1909, aged 60. English-born Brunton had been in Australia since 1886, having been engaged by Willliamson, Garner and Musgrove at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne, painting backdrops for everything from Gilbert & Sullivan to pantomime and drama. By the early 1890s, he was also working on cloths for other managements, and in 1896 he had replaced W.B. Spong as scenic artist with Bland Holt. During his fifteen years with Holt, he painted the scenes for a raft of melodramas. In addition to the five selected for revival, they included The Cotton King, The Union Jack, The Prodigal Daughter, A Life of Pleasure, Straight from the Heart, Sporting Life, The Breaking of the Drought, The White Heather, The Great Millionaire and The Great Rescue. He was working on The Sins of Society at the time of his death.

    Actors were drawn principally from the Bland Holt company, including Harrie Ireland, Jennie Pollock, Arthur Styan, Godfrey Cass and Charles Brown, while Beatrice Holloway was from the Hamiliton company.

    Hamilton and Maxwell launched their Sydney season with Woman and Wine, a melodrama by Arthur Shirley and Benjamin Landeck. Bland Holt’s staging was carefully observed, and the play was presented in true ‘Blandholtian’ style. Set pieces included the Longchamps Steeplechase, the Japanese Ball, and the spectacular revolving set to the Paris Flower Market, which featured a duel with knives between two women!

    Palace Woman Wine From The Star (Sydney), 11 April 1910, p.8Woman and Wine was initially produced in 1897 at the Pavilion Theatre in London, and in March 1899 at the Princess’s Theatre.

    When Bland Holt first staged the play in Melbourne in April 1899 and Sydney in June 1900, the principal characters were played by Elizabeth Watson/Harrie Ireland (Marcel Rigadout), Frances Ross (Mary Andrews), Fitzmaurice Gill (La Colombe), Walter Baker (Dick Seymour) and Arthur Styan (Pierre Crucru). For this current revival, Arthur Styan was the only actor from the original cast. Other roles were now played by Jennie Pollock (Marcel Rigadout), Beatrice Holloway (Mary Andrews), Vera Remee (La Colombe) and Max Maxwell (Dick Seymour).

    Woman and Wine played for a fortnight, and on 16 April 1910, the company presented In London Town, a rag to riches melodrama by George R. Sims and Arthur Shirley. First produced in London at the Crown Theatre in Peckham in August 1899, the play entered Bland Holt’s repertoire the following year when it played three nights at the Opera House in Brisbane in April 1900. It was subsequently seen in Melbourne in June 1901 and Sydney in May 1902.

    Once again, the only original cast member in the current revival was Arthur Styan who reprised his role of the blind tramp, Richard Norrison. Other parts were played by Max Maxwell (John Hargreaves), Godfrey Cass (Frank Dalton), Beatrice Holloway (Alice Dalton), Charles Brown (Jack Parker), Muriel Dale (Liddy Blist) and Jennie Pollock (Rosa Norrison).

    Two weeks later, on 30 April 1910, the company presented their final revival of the season: Revenge, a romantic military drama by E. Hill Mitchelson. This was the most recent of the Bland Holt melodramas, receiving its first Australian outing at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne in January 1907. Woven around the Austrian revolution, this tale of daring-do was set in a royal palace, providing John Brunton with the opportunity to design some elaborate sets, ranging from a throne room to a prison. Max Maxwell played the dashing hero, Captain Loris Vanessa, with Godfrey Cass and Beatrice Holloway as the King and Queen. Richard Bellairs and Jennie Pollock added ‘weight and emphasis’ as the two baddies, Prince Orloff and Braga Vanessa.

    Revengeproved a money-maker for Hamilton and Maxwell, but with West Pictures driven from the Glaciarium by the winter skaters and due to commence their season at the Palace Theatre on 7 May 1910, the melodrama company was required to call it quits. Thus, the company, comprising some 32 people and 130 tons of scenery, departed on a protracted tour of New Zealand and Tasmania.

    West Pictures held court until the first week of September, and on 10 September 1910, the Hamilton-Maxwell company made a welcome return. Their opening production was Women’s Revenge by Henry Pettitt, one of the most popular dramas in the Bland Holt repertoire. First produced at the Adelphi Theatre in London in 1893, with Charles Warner (Frank Drummond), Elizabeth Robins (Mary Lonsdale), Gertrude Kingston (Mabel Wentworth), and Charles Cartwright (Jephtha Grimshaw) as the leads. The following year, it was performed in Australia for the first time by the Bland Holt company, with Edward Sass, Henrietta Watson, Edith Blande and Walter Baker. The scenery was designed by George and John Gordon. Holt mounted an elaborate revival in 1897 with new scenery by John Brunton. The leads, on this occasion, were Walter Baker, Elizabeth Watson, Frances Ross and John Cosgrove.

    The line-up of the Hamilton-Maxwell company was largely the same as it had been the previous March, with Beatrice Holloway, Max Maxwell and Richard Bellairs as the leads. However, two newcomers, Nellie Strong and Ronald W. Riley, now filled the roles vacated by Jennie Pollock and Arthur Styan, who had joined the Clarke and Meynell organisation.

    Alas, one day into the season Beatrice Holloway fell ill with enteric fever (typhoid), with Vera Remee taking over the part of the heroine Mary Lonsdale.

    Women’s Revenge played until 23 September. By way of farewelling the play—and in anticipation of the one to follow—‘J.B.’ contributed a little poem to the Bulletin.

    Palace Womans Revenge PoemFrom The Bulletin (Sydney), 22 September 1910, p.8

    With the end of the season looming, Allan Hamilton announced two new dramas, The Little Breadwinnerand Why Men Love Women. These were being presented by arrangement with Messrs Clarke and Meynell.

    The first of these plays, The Little Breadwinner, had already been performed throughout Western Australia, Victoria, and Queensland by the Clarke and Meynell company. It had been given its Australian premiere at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth in February 1908, with G.P. Carey, Fred Coape, Beatrice Holloway, C.R. Stanford, Ida Gresham and Queenie Williams in the principal roles. The last named was a child star who had been seen to good effect in the Meynell and Gunn hit show The Fatal Wedding, performing with the ‘Tin Can Band’.

    Described as a Domestic Drama in five acts, the play by J.A. Campbell, had first been performed in Birmingham in December 1905 (by J.A. Campbell’s own company), prior to opening in London, at the Standard Theatre, on 19 March 1906. The London cast included J.C. Aubrey (Lord William), C. King (Richard), Kathleen Russell (Margaret) and Little Maud Harris (Meg).

    The play tells the story of Dick Lawrence, the adopted son of Lord William Dorrington, who wrongly convicted of stealing, is banished from the household. Moving to London with his betrothed, Margaret, the couple live in poverty, and with his wife now blind, they rely on their little daughter Meg to keep ‘the wolf from the door by singing in the street’. Eventually the true perpetrator of the theft is found, and the whole family is reunited.

    The first Sydney production of The Little Breadwinner opened on 24 September 1910. Apart from Queenie Williams, who played Meg, the ‘little breadwinner’ of the title, the line up of the company was completely new, with Charles Brown (Lord William), Max Maxwell (Dick Lawrence), Vera Remee (Margaret), with Richard Bellairs as Joseph Prior, the chief villain.

    The Little Breadwinnerproved a little winner, especially the performance of Queenie Williams.5

    The final play of the season was Why Men Love Women by Walter Howard, the author of the highly popular melodrama The Midnight Wedding. This play had been announced for performance by the Harcourt Beatty-Madge McIntosh company in 1908 but was not performed. And in early 1910, it was slated for performance in Melbourne by the Clarke-Meynell company. It finally received its first Australian production at Maitland (NSW) on 12 March 1910 by the Edwin Geach company. The principal characters were played by Walter Vincent (Gerald Fielding), Lottie Lyell (Violet Livingstone), Raymond Longford (Captain Serge Staniloff), Ida Gresham (Mariel Toloski), and C.R. Stanford (Maharajah of Balore).

    Described as an ‘Anglo-Indian drama, with many stirring and sensational interests’, the play had first been performed in Manchester (UK) in 1901. It did very well in the British provinces, but never reached the West End.

    When the play opened In Sydney on 8 October 1910, it was incorrectly advertised as being the ‘first production in Australia’. It received a warm reception, being ‘joyously acclaimed by a crowded house at the Palace Theatre’.6 The principal characters were performed by Vera Remee (Violet Livingstone), Max Maxwell (Gerald Fielding), Richard Bellairs (Captain Staniloff), Ronald W. Riley (Maharajah) and Nellie Strong (Muriel Zoluski). Interestingly, all the reviews make it clear that the title of the play is never really explained. There was a scene in which the hero gave a poetic speech, the ‘Allegory of Love, the Maiden, and the Rose’, which gave promise of a solution, but apparently left the most attentive listeners still without a firm answer!

    Why Men Love Women played to packed houses, but was withdrawn at the height of it success on 28 October 1910 to make way for The Spider and the Fly. Described as a ‘sensational drama of modern times’, this new play, being performed in Australia for the first time, was written by two stalwarts of the genre, Sutton Vane and Arthur Shirley.

    It had first been performed at the Grand Theatre, Brighton, in April 1906, and at the Kennington Theatre, London, the following August. The story of two half-brothers, one good, and one bad. The good brother, Cyril Girdlestone, is happily married with a wife and infant. Cyril had previously been tricked into a marriage with an adventuress, Lola Grey, but following her death was free to marry his true sweetheart, Edith McAllister. When Cyril’s half-brother, Welby, learns that Cyril has become the sole heir of their father’s fortune, he plots with Lola (who isn’t really dead, and who had married Cyril bigamously), to kill the young family. She sets a trap, whereby Cyril and Edith are locked in a room in which the ceiling can be mechanically lowered, thereby squashing any inhabitants! Ultimately the villainous Lola is caught in her own snare. The cast included Max Maxwell and Vera Remee as the hero and heroine, with Richard Bellairs as the scheming half-brother, and Nellie Strong as the adventuress.

    The Spider and the Flywas played until 11 November 1910, and on the following night the company reprised the melodrama Revenge, which they had first presented earlier in the year—and which had been the hit of that season. Max Maxwell and Richard Bellairs once again played Captain Loris Vanessa and Prince Orloff respectively, while Ronald W. Riley and Vera Remee now played the King and Queen, with Nellie Strong as Braga Vanessa.

    Revengeplayed for twelve nights, closing on 25 November, thus bringing the highly successful Hamilton-Maxwell season to an end. With the end of this engagement, the company was disbanded, with Max Maxwell and Allan Hamilton going their separate ways. Maxwell set off on a country tour, and readers will be happy to note that he was re-joined by Beatrice Holloway as his leading lady, fully recovered from her recent severe indisposition.

    The following night, 26 November, saw the return to the Sydney stage of Maggie Moore, accompanied by her husband H.R. Roberts. Their company included many old favourites, including A.E. Greenaway, C.R. Stanford and Ethel Bashford.

    Palace Shadows CartoonFrom The Bulletin (Sydney), 24 November 1910, p.8The company’s three-week season saw the production of three plays, playing for a week each. The first was Shadows of a Great City, written by Joseph Jefferson and Livingston Robert Sherwell and first performed in America in 1884, Australia in 1885, and the UK in 1887. Set amidst the urban underbelly of the New York docks and on Blackwell’s Island, the play introduced a myriad of gritty characters. As Biddy Roonan, Maggie Moore played a big-hearted Irish washerwoman, replete with songs. (Interestingly, when the play was revived in Australia in 1887, the role of Biddy was played by comic Grattan Riggs.)

    Six nights later, a change of bill saw a revival of A Gambler’s Sweetheart, originally performed by them eighteen months earlier, under the auspices of Clarke and Meynell. Written by Clay M. Greene (of Struck Oilfame), H.R. Roberts and Maggie Moore reprised their characters of Mason (the gambler) and Bessie Fairfax (his sweetheart). The Sydney Morning Herald observed of her performance, that she played Bessie ‘with a vivacity and archness reminiscent of her never-to-be-forgotten Lizzie Stofel [in Struck Oil].’7

    The following night, Saturday, 9 December 1910, they presented their final offering, a revival of The Prince Chap, previously seen at the Palace during 1908. H.R. Roberts and A.E. Greenaway revived their original roles of William Peyton and the Earl of Henningford, as did Little Vera Huggett and Beryl Yates who played the girl Claudia in Acts 1 and 2 respectively. Ethel Bashford played Claudia in Act 3. As Maggie Moore was not in the play, the evening concluded with the one act farce The Chinese Question, specially written for her by Clay M. Greene, in which she played Kitty McShane (alias San See Lo).

    Next the Mosman Musical Society took over the theatre for a week, from 17-23 December, presenting Auber’s comic opera Fra Diavolo.

    The year cycled back to where it began with the return of Hugh J. Ward’s company, bringing with them a new comedy, The Girl from Rector’s.


    To be continued



    1. Kalgoorlie Miner, 23 June 1909, p.8

    2. Referee, 2 March 1910, p.16

    3. Daily Telegraph, 7 March 1910, p.10

    4. Australian Town and Country Journal, 9 March 1910, p.51

    5. For more information on the career of Queenie Williams, see Nick Murphy’s, Queenie Williams (1896-1962) & the last Pollard’s tour of America – Forgotten Australian Actors (

    6. Sydney Morning Herald, 10 October 1910, p.5

    7. Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December 1910, p.4


    Allardyce Nicoll, English Drama 1900–1930: The beginnings of the modern period, Cambridge University Press, 1973

    L. Carson (editor), The Stage Year Book, Carson & Comerford Lrd, 1910

    Reginald Clarence, The Stage Cyclopaedia: A bibliography of play, Burt Franklin, 1970 (originally published in 1909)

    Nick Murphy, Queenie Williams (1896-1962) & the last Pollard’s tour of America, Forgotten Australian Actors (website)

    J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 19001909: A calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 2nd edition, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014


    Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney), The Bulletin (Sydney), The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Kalgoorlie Miner, The Mirror (Sydney), Punch (Melbourne), The Referee (Sydney), The Star (Sydney), The Sydney Morning Herald, Table Talk (Melbourne)



    National Library of Australia, Canberra

    State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

    State Library Victoria, Melbourne

    With thanks to

    Rob Morrison, Nick Murphy

  • Little Wunder: The story of the Palace Theatre, Sydney (Part 5)

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    In Part 5 of the Palace Theatre story exploring the lows and highs of the little theatre’s fortunes, ELISABETH KUMM finds 1903 to be a highly successful year, with the production of some of the biggest hits of Broadway and the West End.

    J.C. williamson took over the lease of the Palace Theatre in December 1902, but due to the success of his Royal Comic Opera Company in Melbourne he decided not to open in Sydney until Boxing Day night.

    In the meantime, on the afternoon of Monday, 22 December 1902, Williamson made the Palace available to Dolly Castles, a young Melbourne singer who was making her professional debut in Sydney ‘before a few professional musicians and connoisseurs’. Sixteen-year-old Dolly was a younger sister of the celebrated soprano Amy Castles. The previous week, on 16 December, the two sisters had participated in the Grand Festival of Sacred Music at St Mary’s Cathedral. In addition to singing principal roles in Graun’s Te Deum, Dolly also sang ‘Viae Sion lugent’ from Gounod’s Gallia. For her recital at the Palace Theatre, she chose the ‘Jerusalem’ aria from Galliaand Tosti’s ‘Good-bye’. Described as having ‘a resonant soprano of firm, pure quality’, Williamson championed the young singer and arranged for her to appear in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane prior to her departure for Paris to study under M. Bouhy.1

    On Friday, 26 December, the Royal Comic Opera Company opened at the Palace in a revival of Dorothy, first seen in Australia in 1887 with Leonora Braham in the title role. With this revival Florence Young was playing Dorothy for the first time in Sydney, with Celia Ghiloni as Lydia, and Maud Chetwynd as Phyllis. Two new leading men, Reginald Roberts and Harold Thorley, were Geoffrey Wilder and Harry Sherwood respectively, with George Lauri reprising his old role of Lurcher. The conductor was Leon Caron, with scenery by George Gordon. Dorothywas performed until 9 January 1903.

    The following evening Planquette’s comic opera Paul Jones was revived with Florence Young in the title role, supported by Reginald Roberts as Rufino de Martinez, Hugh Ward as Don Trocadero, George Lauri as Bouillabaisse, Maud Chetwynd as Chopinette, Celia Ghiloni as Malaguena, and Carrie Moore as Yvonne. As the Sydney Morning Heraldreminded audiences, ‘Paul Jones is probably one of the most successful of comic operas ever produced in this country, and the revival will bring pleasant memories to playgoers of 10 or 12 years ago’ when Marian Burton created the ‘trouser’ role of Paul Jones in Australia.2

    Overflowing audiences greeted the Royal Comic Opera Company at every performance during their all-too-short season. Paul Jones was withdrawn after only fourteen performances to make way for farewell productions of The Mikado (24–30 January), Robin Hood (2–6 February), and The Geisha(7–20 February).

    On 21 February 1903 the Palace Theatre erupted with laughter when George Broadhurst’s The Wrong Mr. Wrightwas produced in Sydney for the first time. It was presented by George Willoughby and Edwin Geach, who had just concluded a successful ten month tour of Australia and New Zealand. According to newspaper reports, Willioughby and Geach had taken over Charles Arnold’s company and had been so successful that their ‘receipts even exceeded those of Mr. Charles Arnold’s phenomenal tour with What Happened to Jones, a record that would make many managers envious’.3

    Like Broadhurst’s other farcical comedies, The Wrong Mr. Wright, as the title suggests revolves around mistaken identity, whereby a stingy businessman, after being frauded of $5000 by a trusted employee, engages detectives to capture the thief. He offers a reward, but when he hears that the culprit is at Old Point Comfort, he decides to go to the resort in disguise and capture the criminal himself, thereby saving the reward. He assumes the name of Mr. Wright, which also happens to be the alias of the thief. At the resort, completely out of character, he falls head over heels for a young lady, and starts spending money recklessly in an attempt to impress her. It so happens that the lady is a detective eager to earn the reward, and she assumes that he is the thief.

    Wrong Mr Wright Flashlight Act 3Scene from Act 3 of The Wrong Mr. Wright, 1902

    The Wrong Mr. Wrighthad first been performed in Boston in 1896, with Roland Reed and Isadore Rush in the leading roles. They played a month at the Bijou Theatre in New York from 6 September 1897, prior to taking it on tour throughout the USA along with other Broadhurst comedies. When it was first performed at the Strand Theatre in London in 1897 with Thomas A. Wise and Constance Collier in the leads, it ran for almost a year.

    At the Palace Theatre, The Wrong Mr. Wright played for a month. The lead roles were performed by George Willoughby as Singleton Sites, with Roxy Barton as Henrietta Oliver, closing on 20 March 1903.

    The following evening, On and Offwas performed for the first time in Sydney. This was a French farce adapted by an unnamed hand (possibly Catherine Riley) from Le contrôleur des wagon-lits by Alexandre Bisson. The story defies summary but it concerns an unhappy husband, George Godfray, who attempts to escape the clutches of his overbearing parents-in-law by pretending to be an inspector of railway sleeping cars.

    The play was considered a comedy hit in New York, running for three months at the Madison Square Theatre during 1898/1899, with E.M. Holland as Godfray, Amelia Bingham as Madeline (his wife), Maggie Holloway Fisher as Mme Brumaire (the mother-in-law), and Katharine Florence as Rose Martel (the other woman). The play was even more successful in London at the Vaudeville Theatre where it played for seven months from December 1898, with George Giddens, Elliott Page, Elsie Chester and Lucie Milner in the leads.

    In Sydney, it was performed three weeks, from 21 March to 9 April 1903, with George Willoughby as the down trodden husband, supported by Roxy Barton, Roland Watts-Phillips and Ethel Appleton.

    On Saturday, 28 March 1903, Willoughby and Geach hosted a Grand Combination Charity Matinee in aid of the Lord Mayor’s Drought Fund which saw The Players supported by Nellie Stewart and members of the Willoughby and Geach Company in The Ironmaster and The Grey Parrot.

    With the final performance of On and Offon 9 April 1903, the Willoughby and Geach season came to a close.

    Following the presentation of a Sacred Concert on 10 April for Easter, J.C. Williamson was once again lessee, opening a season of comedies with Are You a Mason?—for the first time in Australia. This comedy was adapted by Leo Ditrichstein from the German play Logen Bruderby Carl Laufs and Kurt Krantz.

    Williamson’s New Comedy Company was a top notch one, with West End comedian George Gidden as Amos Bloodgood, the role he created when the play was first performed in England.

    The fun begins when Frank Perry (played by Cecil Ward) promises his new wife (Ethel Knight Mollison) that while she is away on a visit he will become a Mason. However, during her absence, he goes out on the town and fails to fulfil his promise. On her return, rather than tell her the truth, he pretends that he has done what she has asked. When his in-laws arrive, he discovers that his father-in-law (Amos Bloodgood, played by George Giddens) is in exactly the same predicament. So when his wife’s unmarried sister starts courting a real Mason, the two pretend Masons are at risk of being exposed.

    Are You a Mason?was first performed in New York at Wallack’s Theatre on 1 April 1901, with Thomas A. Wise as Amos Bloodgood, May Robson as Caroline Bloodgood, John C. Rice as Frank Perry, Esther Tittell as Eva Perry, and Leo Ditrichstein as George Fisher. This production ran for 32 performances. It was subsequently revived at the Garrick Theatre in August 1901 with a similar cast, where it ran for an additional month.

    The London production, which opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 12 September 1901 (transferring to the Royalty Theatre on 31 March 1902), ran for a side-splitting seven months.

    Night OutHotel scene from the London production of A Night Out, 1896, performed in Australia as Oh! What a Night! George Giddens as Joseph Pinglet is sixth from the right. Photo by Dover Street Studios, London. From The Tatler, 28 August 1907, p.185.

    The Comedy Company’s next offering was Oh! What a Night!on 23 May 1903. Adapted from the French farce of Georges Feydeau and Maurice Desvallieres, it was described in the advertising as ‘one of the funniest, wittiest, cleverist, brightest, sauciest, quaintest comedies ever written’.4

    Originally performed as L’Hôtel du Libre échange in Paris in 1894, the play had many outings on the English speaking stage. It was seen in New York as The Gay Parisians(1895) and in London as A Night Out (1896), the same title given to the 1920’s musical comedy version adapted by George Grossmith and Arthur Miller, with music by Willie Redstone. More recently it formed the basis of Peter Glenville’s comedy Hotel Paradiso (1956) and John Mortimer’s A Little Hotel On the Side(1984).

    It is probable that Oh! What a Night!was actually A Night Out under a new title, with George Giddens reprising his original character of Joseph Pinglet. It played until the end of the Williamson comedy season on 5 June 1903.

    The following evening, Saturday, 6 June 1903, saw the reappearance of Maggie Moore, Williamson’s former acting partner and ex-wife. Her opening piece was Struck Oil, the well-known comedy vehicle that she and Williamson performed when they made their Australian debuts in 1874. Maggie revived her ‘original, inimitable, and altogether remarkable impersonation’ of Lizzie Stofel, while Williamson’s old role of John Stofel, the Dutch shoemaker, was now played by John F. Ford.5

    Struck Oil played for a fortnight. On Saturday, 20 June 1903, Maggie introduced a brand-new character to Sydney audiences: The Widow From Japan, a farcical comedy by Charles J. Campbell and Ralph M. Skinner. Audiences were promised:

    Those who desire to be convulsed with hearty laughter and to be charmed with interesting episodes should not miss seeing this great Comedy Drama, which is one of those productions wherein Miss MOORE’s versatile powers find their fullest scope. In the title role she has a character that could not be more original had it been created for her.6

    With these Australian performances, it seems that this play was being performed for the first time. Maggie had purchased the Australian rights for this and other new pieces while visiting America in 1902.

    The Widow From Japan played for one week. It was followed by Way Down South; or, A Negro Slave’s Devotion (27 June–3 July 1903) and Killarney(4–10 July 1903). In Way Down South, Maggie ‘blacked up’ to play a faithful servant, Aunt Miranda, ‘her Great Negro Impersonation’. Described as a domestic comedy drama in five acts by P.B. Carter, this piece was being performed in Sydney for the first time. ‘New songs’ were performed as well as ‘dances, glees, and Negro Specialties’, including the ‘cake walk’.7

    Maggie’s final offering was Killarney, a ‘romantic, and picturesque Irish drama in four acts’ by an unnamed author, in which she played the Irish colleen Kathleen O’Donnell, affording her the opportunity to sing several appropriate songs including ‘Ireland, I Love You’ and ‘Killarney’.8

    With the departure of Maggie Moore, J.C. Williamson once again took over the direction of the theatre, introducing Daniel Frawley and his company of American players. Frawley’s troupe comprised some 20 artists, including the ‘brilliant young actress’ Mary Van Buren. The company had been founded in 1899 and had been touring the USA, Asia, India and New Zealand, prior to making their Australia debut at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne on 30 May 1903. They brought with them a vast repertoire of plays, having acquired the touring rights to high profile Broadway and West End successes including Arizona(1899) by Augustus Thomas, Madame Sans Gene(1895) by Victorien Sardou, and Secret Service (1893) by William Gillette.

    Daniel Frawley and company commenced their six-week Sydney season on Saturday, 11 July 1903. Their opening gambit was the much anticipated Arizona, a play by Augustus Thomas. From its first performance in America, this play captured the popular imagination; a story teaming with ‘ranchmen, cowboys, Mexicans, Chinamen and other figures of life in the territory’.9 The hero of the play is the handsome Lieutenant Denton of the 11th Cavalry who woos one of the daughters of Henry Canby, the sun-weathered ranch-owner, and saves the reputation of the other. Theodore Roberts created the role of Henry Canby when the play premiered at the Grand Opera House in Chicago in June 1899. After an unprecedented season of three months, the play toured around America for a year. When it eventually reached New York in September 1900, it notched up a further 140 performances at the Herald Square Theatre. In February 1902, Roberts appeared in the first London production at the Adelphi Theatre (transferring to the Princess’s in April 1902), where it ran for 119 performances.

    This piece had received its Australian premiere at the Princess’s Theatre in Melbourne the previous month, with Daniel Frawley as Lieutenant Denton, Jeffrey Williams as Henry Canby, Mary Van Buren as Estrella, and Eva Dennison as Bonita.

    Due to the limited number of nights scheduled for the Sydney season, a weekly change program was introduced beginning with Madame Sans Gene (1–7 August 1903). Victorien Sardou’s play, first performed in Paris in 1894 with Madame Rejane in the title role, focuses on Napoleon’s relationship with a former laundress, Catherine Hubscher, aka Madame Sans Gene. This play first appeared on the English stage in a translation by J. Comyn’s Carr in 1895 with Ellen Terry and Henry Irving. The same year, in America, Henry Charles Meltzer adapted the play for Kathryn Kidder and Augustus Cook. In 1899 Frawley secured the Pacific Coast rights to the Meltzer version and on 3 September 1899 played Napoleon for the first time in at the Burbank Theatre, Los Angeles, supported by Mary Van Buren.

    The company’s next offering was In Paradise (8–14 August 1903), adapted by B.B. Valentine from Les Paradis, a farcical comedy by Messrs Billhaud, Henequin and Carré. On its first Australian presentation in Sydney, it featured Daniel Frawley as Raphael Delacroix, an artist, with Mary Van Buren as Claire Taupin, a Modiste, and Harrington Reynolds as Pico, a lion tamer. Enough said.

    The following week saw a return to form with the Australian premiere of Brother Officers(15–21 August 1903), a military comedy-drama by Leo Trevor. Charting the trials and tribulations of a successful army man from a low class family, this piece enjoyed considerable success at the Garrick Theatre in London in 1899 with Arthur Bourchier as Lieutenant John Hinds VC and Violet Vanbrugh as The Baroness Roydell. When the play was given its American premiere in San Francisco (7 August 1899) and New York (16 January 1900), the leads were played by Henry Miller (William Faversham in New York) and Margaret Anglin, the roles now played by Daniel Frawley and Mary Van Buren.

    Another Australian premiere followed with the 1893 drama The Girl I Left Behind Me(22–28 Aug 1903) by Franklin Fyles and David Belasco. Set on a small army base in Montana, against a backdrop of tension between the army and the local Indian tribe, the play focussed on the love story between Lieutenant Edgar Hawkesmore and Kate Kennion, the general’s daughter. Running for over 200 performances at the Empire Theatre, New York, in 1893, with Frank Mordaunt and Sidney Armstrong as the lovers, the play went on to achieve a similar success at London’s Adelphi Theatre in 1895 with William Terriss and Jessie Millward. For the Sydney production Daniel Frawley and Mary Van Buren played Edgar and Kate.

    The penultimate offering was a revival of the Civil War spy drama Secret Service (29 August–4 September 1903), with Daniel Frawley as Lewis Dumont (alias Captain Thorne), a Union spy who infiltrates the ranks of the Confederate army and falls in love with Edith Varney (Mary Van Buren), the  daughter of a Confederate general. This play created a sensation on its first production, making an instant celebrity of actor-playwright William Gillette, who created the role of Dumont when the play was first performed in New York in October 1896. The drama enjoyed huge success throughout the USA and England. The first Australia production in August 1899 had featured Thomas Kingston and Henrietta Watson in the principal roles.

    The final week of the Frawley season saw a revival of Augustus Thomas’ romantic American drama In Missoura (or In Missouri as it was titled here) (5–10 September 1903). This play had first been performed in Australia by Nat C. Goodwin and his company in 1896. Goodwin created the character of Jim Radburn, an unsophisticated but tender hearted Sherriff, when the play was first performed in America in 1893. As Radburn, Daniel Frawley played the role ‘with a quiet, convincing force that left little to be desired’, with Mary Van Buren as Kate Vernon, the object of his affections.11

    The season terminated on Friday, 11 September 1903 with a revival of Arizona, also by Augustus Thomas.


    To be continued



    1. Freeman’s Journal(Sydney), 27 December 1902, p.28;  Daily Telegraph(Sydney), 10 January 1903, p.6

    2. TheSydney Morning Herald, 10 January 1903, p.7

    3. The Australian Star(Sydney), 30 January 1903, p.8

    4. Advertisement, TheSydney Morning Herald, 23 May 1903, p.2

    5. Advertisement, TheSydney Morning Herald, 6 June 1903, p.2

    6. Advertisement, TheSydney Morning Herald, 20 June 1903, p.2

    7. Advertisement, TheSydney Morning Herald, 27 June 1903, p.2

    8. Advertisement, TheSydney Morning Herald, 4 July 1903, p.2

    9. The New York Clipper, 17 June 1899, p.304

    10. Amy Arbogast, p.30

    11. TheSydney Morning Herald, 7 September 1903, p.3


    Amy Arbogast, ‘Rural life with urban strife’, Performing the Progressive Era: immigration, urban life, and nationalism on stage, edited by Max Shulman & J. Chris Westgate, University of Iowa Press, 2019, pp.17-34

    Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A chronicle of comedy and drama, 1869–1914, Oxford University Press, 1994

    William W. Crawley (ed.). Australasian Stage Annual: an annual devoted to the interests of the theatrical and musical professions, J.J. Miller, Melbourne, 1902-1905

    J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1890–1899, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014

    J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1900-1909, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014


    The Australian Star (Sydney), Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Freeman’s Journal (Sydney), The New York Clipper, The New York Times, The New Zealand Mail, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Tatler (London)

    Papers Past,



    J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs, University of Washington Libraries,

    With thanks to

    John S. Clark, Judy Leech, Les Tod

  • Little Wunder: The story of the Palace Theatre, Sydney (Part 9)

    IMG 0768

    ELISABETH KUMM continues her forensic look at the history of Sydney’s Palace Theatre. Part 9 focusses on the year 1908, which sees a ‘mixed bag’ of entertainment occupying the theatre’s stage, from boxing matches to magicians, as well as the final Sydney appearances of J.F. Sheridan and Frank Thornton, and a world premiere—the sensational Australian drama The Miner’s Trust.

    Following the departure of Carter, the Great Magician on 6 December 1907, the Sydney Muffs returned for a brief season from 16 December to 20 December 1907, presenting three plays: Rob Roy, The New Boy and A Village Priest.

    Boxing Day saw the first appearance of Irish-American comedian J.F. Sheridan at the Palace. Playgoers were well-acquainted with Sheridan’s special brand of comedy. Since his first trip in 1884, he had been a regular visitor to these shores. Sheridan’s speciality was ‘travestie’ roles, which is to say he played female characters, typically buxom Irish widows!

    The attraction at the Palace was Cinderella, a Christmas pantomime devised by J.F. Sheridan and Fred W. Weierter, with topical allusions by journalist Pat Finn (son of Edmund Finn, who as ‘Garryowen’ wrote Chronicles of Early Melbourne). Presented in association with William Anderson, this work had already been seen in Perth, Fremantle and Adelaide during the Christmas/New Year period 1906/07, though it seems it had its first outing back in 1902.1

    Naturally, Sheridan played the Baroness. Other roles were performed by Heba Barlow (Cinderella), Stella Selbourne (Prince Charming), Marie Eaton (Dandini), along with Olive Sinclair as the Fairy Queen, Miss Roland Watts Phillips and Percy Denton as the Ugly Sisters, and Joseph Lamphier as the Baron. Sheridan was the undoubted star of the show, as noted in the Sydney Morning Herald, 27 December 1907:

    Probably, when the memory of this year’s Cinderella has become obliterated, or confused with other versions, there will still remain one outstanding feature of artistic distinction, and that will be John F. Sheridan’s inexpressibly quaint and ridiculous portrait of the Baroness Bounder. On his entrance the comedian presents the severe simplicity of some antique spinster of uncertain age and horribly certain ugliness, in the dress of the Early Victorian era, with crinoline, lace collar and cuffs, and a chastely discreet exhibition of fowl-like, sinewy neck. Probably an ugliness less insistent would make this character even more telling than it is because its whole value consists in the marvellous way in which the actor always keeps within the bounds of lifelike femininity. It is a real study; and the Baroness singing ‘Will he answer, Goo-Goo?’ in a prim little voice, and with a daintily dished style of old-maidenly dancing, is a thing to be remembered.2

    The song, ‘Will he answer, Goo-Goo’ was published by Allan & Co., and the sheet music cover featured a portrait of Sheridan in his costume as the Baroness.3

    The pantomime was a riot of colour and movement. As the Australian Star noted, ‘With limited stage accommodation Messrs. William Anderson and John F. Sheridan have succeeded in putting on some wonderfully good spectacles with more than 100 performers on stage.’ One of the highlights was the Porcelain March. Other attractions included a Snow and Robin ballet, Sappho and Rainbow ballets, and an amusing routine entitled ‘five minutes on ice’ by American champion roller-skater Fred Norris.4

    Cinderellaran until 30 January 1908, and the following night, for one performance only, the company presented Fun on the Bristol, in which Sheridan played his most enduring character, that of the Widow O’Brien.

    Thereafter, the company took Cinderella to Newcastle, and then on to New Zealand. In October 1908, Sheridan returned to Sydney and was seen in a matinee benefit at the Tivoli in aid of the NSW Vaudeville Club, in what would be his last appearance in the city. Two months later, in Newcastle, about to open his Christmas season, he died of heart failure. He was 65.

    Thereafter a ‘mixed bag’ of tenants occupied the Palace stage.

    Following the departure of the Sheridan company, Spencer’s Theatrescope Co. returned for a six-week season of novelties, from 2 February to 27 March.

    From 28 March to 2 April, the NSW Sports Club Ltd presented amateur boxing and wrestling tournaments.

    On 3 April, the Bank of NSW Musical and Dramatic Society staged the A.W. Pinero comedy The Parvenu.

    Magic returned from 4 April to 27 May with the Maskelyne and Devant’s Mysteries. Though neither John Nevil Maskelyne nor David Devant was in the company, the tricks that they perfected at the Egyptian Hall in London formed the basis of the show. Magician and illusionist Owen Clark was the principal performer, supported by Gintaro, a Japanese juggler, with comedian Barclay Gammon at the piano. Clark proved to be an able and popular performer, though on opening night he upset the gallery boys who not being able to see the stage clearly due to a piece of stage apparatus blocking their view, shouted to Clark to have it raised. But not understanding their calls, an altercation ensued, and the management had to bring the curtain down while the problem was rectified.5

    12aDecorative program for the 1908 Australian and New Zealand tour of Edward Branscombe’s Scarlet Troubadours. Reed Gallery, Dunedin Public Libraries, New Zealand.

    On 30 May and the following week, the Scarlet Troubadours made their first appearance in Sydney, having already achieved success in Perth, Adelaide, and Melbourne. Described as a ‘costume concert company’, this troupe was under the direction of the enterprising concert promoter Edward Branscombe. He had visited Australia several times before, notably with the Westminster Glee Party in 1903. Branscombe would go on to establish The Dandies, individual troupes of performers distinguished by the colour of their costumes—Red Dandies, Green Dandies, Pink Dandies, etc. During the summer months, these troupes performed throughout Branscombe’s network of open-air theatres.

    6894408208 8fec1510ff oThe Scarlet Troubadours, 1908. Maude Fane is second from the left in the middle row. HAT Archive.

    The line-up of the Scarlet Troubadours comprised eight performers. One of the ladies in particular, Maude Fane, would go on to enjoy a successful career in musical comedy with JCW. She was described as ‘a discovery of Mr. Branscombe … gifted with a soprano of unusual clearness and sparkle’.6

    Then on 6 June, West’s Pictures settled in, presenting the ‘latest novelties and surprises in cinematography’, accompanied by De Groen’s Vice-Regal Band.

    From 31 August, McMahon and Carroll commenced a four-week season of films.

    Finally on 5 September, comedy returned to the Palace when Frank Thornton commenced a four-week farewell season, presenting revivals of his two most popular plays: The Private Secretary (in which he played the hapless cleric the Reverend Spalding) and Charley’s Aunt (where he excelled as Lord Fancourt Babberley, aka Donna Lucia, the Aunt from Brazil—‘where the nuts come from’!). Thornton was supported by an ‘all new’ company that included Templer Powell, Charles Stone, Belle Donaldson, Clare Manifield and Harriet Trench.

    Like Sheridan, Thornton had been a regular visitor to Australia, making six tours between 1885 and 1909. Thornton made his final bow before a Sydney audience on 9 October, the Sydney Morning Herald, 10 October 1908, reporting:

    Laughter reigned supreme, however, until the very end, when, in a touching and dignified speech of farewell, Mr. Thornton revealed to a surprised and regretful audience his resolution to retire from the stage. In doing this he remarked that his heart was too full on that occasion of long leave-taking to do justice either to himself or them … He was now terminating his sixth return to the country he had learned to love so well.7

    Thornton concluded his tour with appearances in Brisbane and Melbourne, and on his return to England, true to his word, he settled into quiet retirement. He died in 1918, aged 73.

    Saturday, 10 October 1908 saw the return of Meynell and Gunn’s Dramatic Company. During the following five weeks they presented two plays: Two Little Sailor Boysand A Miner’s Trust.

    Two Little Sailor Boys, a drama by Walter Howard, the author of the highly successful The Midnight Wedding, was being presented for the first time in Sydney. The title characters were played by Louise Carbasse and Maisie Maxwell, though it seems they did not make an appearance until the last act. The real focus of the drama was the ‘handsome adventuress’ Lola (played by Lilian Meyers), described as an ‘utterly callous fortune hunter’. She is the mother of one of the sailor boys, Tom Yorke, who almost drowns when she pushes him into a swirling river, only to be saved by Cyril Grey, the other sailor boy of the title.

    Sydney-born Louise Carbasse, who played the role of Cyril, would go on to have a successful career as Louise Lovely appearing in some fifty Hollywood movies between 1915 and 1924.

    Other roles were played by Conway Wingfield, Maud Chetwynd and Lorna Forbes.

    Three weeks later, on 31 October, the same company presented A Miner’s Trust by Jo Smith, ‘for the first time on any stage’. A former Melbourne businessman, Smith would go on to have further success with The Bushwoman (1909) and The Girl of the Never-Never (1912). With respect to ‘home-grown’ talent, Anderson was one of the few managers who was prepared to back Australian plays. This new piece, which was having its ‘world premiere’, was set in part on the Australian goldfields in the early days. The melodramatic plot concerns two miners, Alan Trengrove (Conway Wingfield) and Jack Howard (Wentworth Watkins), who having amassed considerable fortunes are returning to England after ten years in Australia. The two men are similar in appearance—and when Howard is murdered en route for home, Trengarth takes his place; not for any sinister reason, but to save Howard’s blind sweetheart, Alice Medway (Lorna Forbes), from certain shock should she learn the truth about the death of her fiancé! But the hero faces numerous dilemmas, when among other things, he falls in love with Alice’s sister Ida (Lilian Meyers) and having changed his name learns that as himself he has been left a fortune following the death of his uncle. A Miner’s Trust played until 13 November.

    The Prince ChapAdvertising postcard for The Prince Chap, Criterion Theatre, London, 1906. Author's collection.

    The following evening, H.R. Roberts (under the management of Harold Ashton and Allan Hamilton) made his debut at the Palace. This New Zealand-born actor, well-known in Sydney, was making his reappearance in Australia after nine years abroad. Roberts’ opening play was The Prince Chap, a comedy-drama by Edward Peple, based on Peple’s 1904 novel of the same name. This was the first Sydney production; the play having already been seen in Christchurch on 1 June 1908 and in Melbourne on 15 August 1908.

    When The Prince Chap was premiered in New York at Madison Square Theatre in September 1905, the principal role of William Peyton was created by Cyril Scott. Roberts, however, played the role in London, when it received its British opening at the Criterion Theatre on 16 July 1906. Other players in the company included Hilda Trevelyan, Sam Sothern, Lilias Waldegrave, Janet Alexander and A.E. Greenaway.

    Peple was taken by H.R. Roberts portrayal of William Payton. Quoting a letter from Peple to Roberts, the Daily Telegraph recorded:

    It is rather a remarkable coincidence that, in writing both the play and the novel, I should have described the leading character as a man whose personality and temperament are so eminently in accord with your own; and indeed, had I called upon you originally as a model for the man himself, I could not have been more accurate in portraying the spirit and individuality of my hero.8

    Set in London, it tells the story of a young sculptor whose loses the affections of his sweetheart when, after seeing him with a young girl, mistakenly believes he is the father. The girl, Claudia, is the daughter of one of his models (who in the play’s prologue, asks William to look after her daughter, before dramatically dying in his arms)—and he raises her as his own. The play spans some thirteen years, and when the final curtain falls, Peyton, now a successful artist, realises that he is in love with Claudia, who is now a young woman. The play’s three acts are subtitled: The Child (Act 1), The Girl (Act 2) and The Little Woman (Act 3), and to represent Claudia at each of these times, she is played by three different actresses.

    In Australia, Claudia was played by Vera Huggett (Act 1), Beryl Yates (Act 2) and Justina Wayne (Act 3). Australian actor A.E. Greenaway reprised his London role of the Earl of Henningford, while other newcomers included Frank Lamb (Marcus Runion) and Mary Keogh (Phoebe Puckers), with Vera Remee as Alice Travers (Peyton’s former sweetheart).

    The play was enthusiastically received, but due to the short season it only played for a fortnight. On 28 November, the company produced A Message from Mars. This play had been seen at the Palace back in 1901 with the Hawtrey Comedy Company. In this current revival, Roberts played Horace Parker, with A.E. Greenaway as the Messenger from Mars, and Fanny Erris as Minnie Templar.

    Six nights later, Maggie Moore joined the company. She was reappearing after an absence of six years. Her last Sydney season had been at the Palace in June 1903. Maggie and Roberts, who had been performing together since the early 1890s, had ‘tied the knot’ in New York in April 1902. Maggie had first come to Australia in the mid-1870s with her then husband J.C. Williamson, but the two had separated by 1891, finally divorcing in 1899.9

    On Saturday, 5 December 1908, Maggie joined her husband in a revival of Struck Oil, a play they had performed in together on many occasions, though it was Maggie and Williamson who had first created the characters of Lizzie Stofel and her father John Stofel back in the 1870s. In this current revival, Maggie introduced two new songs: ‘Dixie and the Girl I Love’ and ‘I’ll Be Waiting, Dearie, When You Come Back Home’.

    Struck Oil held the stage until 24 December. On Boxing Day, Edwin Geach took over the theatre, presenting two shows daily: the Christmas pantomime Robinson Crusoeat 2pm and the drama The Woman Paysin the evening.

    Robinson Crusoe, with libretto and score by Fred W. Weierter, featured an ‘all-juvenile’ cast headed by Louie Crawshaw (Robinson Crusoe), Florrie Johnson (Polly Perkins) and Walter Cornock (Will Atkins). The piece had been seen in Sydney the previous Christmas when it was staged at William Anderson’s Wonderland City, transferring to the Oxford Theatre in George Street in mid-January.

    The pantomime was a hit: ‘the pretty little playhouse was packed with parents and their children, and a capital entertainment on a modest scale at popular prices was given by a great troupe of well-trained juveniles’.10

    The evening show was in compete contrast. Written by Frank M. Thorne, The Woman Payswas a sensation drama in which ‘Thrilling incidents follow one another in quick succession, and the action of the drama is worked out in melodramatic fashion’, including a spectacular waterfall scene and a shipwreck. ‘The old story of man’s inhumanity to woman, and of the woman’s revenge’, the central characters were played by Nellie Fergusson (Madge Threadgold), Kenneth Hunter (Sid. Armstrong), Jefferson Taite (Roger Marchant), and Ethel Buckley (Polly Stokes).11 Having had its UK premiere in Gateshead in 1907, the piece was being performed in Sydney for the first time, the company having given the Australian premiere at the Victoria Theatre, Newcastle, on 8 September 1908, and it had been produced in Melbourne the following month.

    At the Palace, The Woman Pays attracted crowded houses, but due to the brevity of the season, it was withdrawn on 8 January 1909 and replaced by the ‘the most popular drama of the century’, East Lynne, with Nellie Fergusson in the dual role of Lady Isabel and Madam Vine. It played for six nights—and on 15 January 1909, both it and Robinson Crusoe were performed for the last times. 

    To be continued



    1. See

    2. Sydney Morning Herald, 27 December 1907, p.6


    4. Australian Star, 19 December 1907, p.8

    5. Magical Nights at the Theatre, pp. 145-146

    6. Bulletin, 28 May 1908, p.9

    7. Sydney Morning Herald, 10 October 1908, p.16

    8. Daily Telegraph, 18 April 1908, p.17

    9. See Leann Richards, How Mrs J C Williamson Struck Oil | Stage Whispers

    10. Sydney Morning Herald, 28 December 1908, p.3

    11. Sydney Morning Herald, 28 December 1908, p.3


    Eric Irvin, Australian Melodrama: Eighty years of popular theatre, Hale & Iremonger, 1981

    Allardyce Nicoll, English Drama 1900–1930: The beginnings of the modern period, Cambridge University Press, 1973

    Peter Sumner, Australian Theatrical Posters 18251914, Josef Lebovic Gallery, 1988

    J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 19001909: A calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 2nd edition, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014


    The Australian Star (Sydney), The Bulletin (Sydney), The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), The Gadfly (Adelaide), The Referee (Sydney), The Sphere (London), Sydney Mail, The Sydney Morning Herald, Town and Country Journal (Sydney)



    Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

    HAT Archive

    National Library of Australia, Canberra

    Powerhouse Collection, Sydney

    Reed Gallery, Dunedin Public Libraries, New Zealand

    State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

    State Library Victoria, Melbourne

    With thanks to

    John S. Clark, Judy Leech, Rob Morrison

  • MOORE, Maggie (1851-1926)

    American actress & vocalist. Née Margaret Virginia Sullivan. Born 10 April 1851, San Francisco, California, USA. Daughter of James Edward Sullivan and Bridget Mary Whelan. Married JC Williamson (actor & manager), 2 February 1873, San Francisco, California, USA (div. 1899), (2) HR Roberts (actor), 12 April 1902, New York City, New York, USA. Died 15 March 1926, San Francisco, California, USA.

    On stage in Australia from 1874, performing in G&S, comedy, drama, pantomime. One of her early successes was in Struck Oil alongside JC Williamson.

    Riley/Hailes Scrapbook, page 93.

  • Said J.C. Williamson (Part 1)

    JCW banner

    After forty-five years of the stage, the veteran actor-manager J.C. WILLIAMSON tells Bookfellow the story of his professional career in  Part 1 of a two-part transcript of an article first published in 1907. 

    “AND NOW” (he said) “it is nearly time to take in sail. The burden of theatrical direction is heavy; the pressure is unceasing—and I am no longer young. After forty-five strenuous years in the service of the public, I feel that I owe a little to myself, a great deal to my wife and children. At sixty a man may fairly rest from active labour. It is not easy to give up when one feels so well and strong; but my desire is to relinquish management in the very near future.”

    I WAS BORN at Mercer, Pennsylvania, USA, on 26 August, 1845. Mercer is a county town where my father was a doctor. Both my father and mother were Americans. He was of Irish descent, she of Scottish. Of course I look upon America as my native country. Sometimes people have said to me, “Your fortune is bound up in Australia now; why don’t you get naturalised?” I don’t see that. Australia is my country too, and I expect to spend the rest of my days here, but I think a man should never deny his mother country.

    I had a good common school and high school education, and the American schools in those days were excellent. One thing they seemed to do was to make every boy wish to hit out for himself. That was the first idea of every American boy in my time, to get away from home as soon as possible and start and make his own way. The schools encouraged independence of character. I don't think they do so now —I don’t know, of course, because I haven't been in close touch with America for a long time—but it seems to me that the American boy of to-day is less ambitious than we used to be. He isn't so eager to go ahead and do something for himself at an early age.

    While I was a boy, our family shifted west to Milwaukee, the capital of Wisconsin, where my uncle was a merchant in a big way of business. There was a large family of us boys and girls, but I was the only one with a turn for the stage, and I don’t know that any of my father’s or mother’s people was ever inclined that way.

    “Jimmy” was the Bloodhound

    I used to act in amateur theatricals, and when I was sixteen I got an engagement with a company at the Milwaukee theatre. I was full of energy and enthusiasm, and did pretty well everything. My mornings were spent in learning fencing and dancing. In the afternoon I’d look after the box office, and at evening help the stage manager and take my part—sometimes three or four parts.

    I remember I even painted some of the scenery for a performance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I knew nothing about scene-painting, but I did the ice scene—with the blocks of ice made out of candle boxes—and when Eliza and her child were escaping across the ice I shouted and waved the red fire, and looked after the barking of the bloodhound. I was the bloodhound.

    Eliza crosses the ice George Cruikshank 1852‘Eliza Crosses the Ohio on the Floating Ice’ in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Drawing by George Cruikshank, 1852. The Victorian Web.

    Well, one of the company arranged to go to Canada, and asked me to come along. That was in 1862. I went to my uncle—who was my guardian, my father being dead—and told him about it. I suppose they saw there was no stopping me; but he said “Remember, if you go, you go for good: there must be no coming back unless you give up the stage altogether. You can't do a little of this and a little of something else.” He wanted me to go to Harvard or Yale and study for a profession. “All right!” I said, and off I went, and from that day to this I have been connected with the stage, and I can say truly that I have made my own way and never had help from anybody to the extent of a shilling that I didn’t earn.

    * * * * * * * * *

    We played in Canada one year, and when the company broke up I determined to come to New York. That was in 1863. New York, of course, was the centre of our theatrical world, and it seemed there wasn’t much chance there for a youth of seventeen. However, I came along, and met a Mr. English whom I had seen with the company in Canada. He was running a high-class vaudeville entertainment at the Olympic Theatre, and he told me that he was going to put on a farce to play before his entertainment, and offered me a small part. I was to be “Quicksilver” in The Artful Dodger. He offered me ten dollars a week, and I took it gladly. I was engaged in New York!

    Engaged in New York

    Well, when the rehearsals came on I saw there was likely to be trouble. The principal actor objected to me playing “Quicksilver,” the fact was he had a friend of his own whom he wished to put on, and he would not hear of me. So one day I went in and saw Mr. English, and he said: “Jimmy, I can’t give you that part.” “But,” I said, “you've engaged me.” “Well,” he said, “I’m sorry, but the fact is Mr. So-and-So objects. He says you're too young.” “But,” I said, “I'm engaged!” “I can’t help that,” he said; “you can't have the part.” The end of it was he offered me another and smaller part. “But,” he said, “I can only give you five dollars a week!” “Never mind; I'm engaged!” That was my idea to have an engagement. Five dollars is only £1 a week, but I didn’t care: I could live on that, and I went on and took the part. The result was that in a few nights the actor who was playing “Quicksilver” didn't turn up, and I played “Quicksilver” for the rest of the run of the piece.

    I had an idea I could do better, so one day I went and saw the elder Mr. Wallack. Wallack’s Theatre at that time was the leading theatre of America, and there never has been a better company on the English-speaking stage than Wallack’s company was then. There were no stars, but nearly every performer was an artist worthy of being starred: and if the same company could be brought together at the present time under the existing conditions of theatrical affairs there would not be a theatre in New York which would hold money enough at regular prices to pay the salaries they could command. That is because salaries were comparatively very low in those days. The most I ever drew at Wallack’s was fifty dollars a week. They used to stage the old comedies like Sheridan’s, and newer ones like Robertson’s. I remember Charles Mathews was the light comedian one season, and Charles Wyndham (now Sir Charles) was another.

    I called at the old gentleman’s house—he was over seventy at that time. I met him just as he was getting into his carriage, and he consented to see me the following day. The following day I called, and was shown into a waiting-room—and I’ll tell you a singular thing. Do you see that picture of John Kemble as Rolla hanging on the wall? That was offered to me some years ago as a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence. I made enquiries, and the history seemed to be all right, it being the original study for his great picture in the Peel gallery, so I bought it. Well, I couldn’t help thinking that I had seen it before; and one day, as I was looking at it, the memory came back to me. It had hung in old Mr. Wallack’s house, in the room where I sat waiting for him. I looked into the papers I had got with it, and sure enough I found that it had been owned by the elder Mr. Wallack. So it had travelled from England to America and from America to Australia, and had come to remind me of my first important engagement.

    Taken on at Wallack’s

    When I was shown into the old gentleman’s room I told him I wanted an engagement to fill a vacancy there would be in his company the next season. He put his hand on a pile of papers that seemed about two feet high, and he said “Do you see that, my boy? Two-thirds of those letters are from people who want the little engagement you are asking me for.” Then we talked, and he asked me to call again. I called, and found he had gone to the seaside. When he came back I called again, and he told me he was going to give me the part. So I came on at Wallack’s.

    * * * * * * * * *

    Just before I joined I had a joke with Mr. English. He was forming a company to go touring, and he met me one day and offered me a place in the company. I thanked him, and said “No,” I didn't think I'd be able to; I thought of taking an engagement at Wallack’s. That rather took him aback, for, of course, he didn’t believe the thing was possible, because Wallack’s was a close corporation in those days. To show you the strength of their company at that time, they played The Rivals in New York one night, complete to the smallest part. Every part was played by an actor, and by a good actor too. The same night the other half of the company played The School for Scandal at Brooklyn, also complete, with a good actor for every part. All the actors in both pieces belonged to the regular company, and either of those casts would be considered star casts nowadays.

    I made my first big New York success as Dick Swiveller in The Old Curiosity Shop with “Lotta”—America’s most popular star comedienne—during a summer season at Wallack’s.

    A Treble Recall and a Waiting “Star”

    Altogether I stayed with Wallack’s for seven years, playing all kinds of parts, and gradually improving my position. Generally I was cast for dialect parts. I took all dialects—French, Dutch, Irish, Chinese, Negro, Yorkshire, Somersetshire—anything that came along. Perhaps the greatest success of my young days was gained one night that I was playing “Sim” in O’Keefe's play of Wild Oats. I had a scene with Lester Wallack, who was a great actor. Now, Wallack’s Theatre in those days was a regular home of stage tradition, so far as the old comedies were concerned. The prompt books contained all the business that had been set down for the regular parts in all the plays, often going back many years and commencing with the business directed by the authors. The books were regarded as a kind of stage Bible, and any departure from them was simply not to be thought of.

    Well, in this scene with Lester Wallack, between Rover and Sim, I seemed to feel the part much better in my own way than in the way it was set down for me by the prompt-book. I told that to the stage manager—Mr. John Gilbert—and he was properly shocked. “My boy,” he said, “it’s not to be thought of!” But when I got on the stage I felt as if I must take the part my own way after all, and I did. When my scene was over I went back to the dressing-room, and after a bit (it seemed quite a good while) a call boy came along and said “Mr. Williamson, you’re wanted!” I came out wondering what was up, and thinking the old gentleman was going to take me to task for altering the business. To my surprise I was told to go on in front; the audience had called for me—a remarkable thing in the middle of a scene. I went on, and they applauded furiously. Then I went off and was called back for more applause. Then I went off again, but the public would not let Mr. Wallack go on with the scene and a third time I was called back, and we had to do the end of the scene over again before they would let us go.

    Well now, Mr. Wallack was a star, and I was only a youngster, and it was a very unusual thing that the star should be made to wait while the audience recalled the junior who had played with him. I always think that was one of the finest things that ever happened to me; and I was very proud of being specially complimented by Charles Fechter, who was in front.

    “Where’s Jimmy Williamson?”

    One night old Mr. Wallack came to me and said that, owing to the illness of John Brougham, I must play the part of Sir Lucius O'Trigger in The Rivals on the following night. It is a very long part, and there were only a few hours to get it up in. “Jimmy,” he said, “you've got to do it!” “Well,” I said, “I'll try.  So after the play that night I went home and wrote out the part, which took me till about two o'clock, and studied it. Then I went to bed for two or three hours, woke up, had some strong coffee, and at it again. At night I played the part letter perfect. That was my idea, always to be ready for anything, and never miss a chance of getting on. The consequence was that, in the last years of my time at Wallack’s, whenever there was anything out of the way to do, they said “Where's Jimmy Williamson?”

    After that I got an engagement at the Old Broadway Theatre as principal comedian; till in 1871 John McCullough, manager of the California Theatre, came to New York looking for a comedian. The California Theatre at San Francisco was a very big affair in those times, and prided itself upon its superiority. Their leading comedian, John Raymond, was leaving them, and after looking all round the manager offered me his place. That, of course, was a high testimonial, so I signed on at a very fine salary, and said good-bye to New York. In San Francisco I had great success at the California, with occasional trips starring round about. While I was in San Francisco, Dion Boucicault, senior, father of Dot Boucicault, came over to play a season, and I’ll tell you how he dished the ’Frisco reporters. They thought themselves smart men, as indeed they were, and when Boucicault’s season was announced they all sharpened their pencils, and it was hinted that Dion was going to have a warm time.

    How Boucicault Dished the Reporters

    Well, of course, he heard all about it, and this is what he did. On his first night he introduced a sketch called Boucicault in California. In this he appeared at home in the Occidental Hotel, just arriving. I was Murphy, his servant, with remarks on all and sundry; Barton Hill came to tell him about the pieces he was going to play; then came in an actress to play the part of a debutante with a San Jose reputation (which is as if a debutante with a Parramatta reputation came to play at Sydney)—and so on. Then came in the reporters, especially W.A. Mestayer, as Bogus Push, of The Weekly Pill—and Boucicault talked to the reporters. He told them his opinion of everything, especially California—and left the genuine reporters without a leg to stand on. He simply said on the stage everything they had to say in the papers, and left them nothing at all to write. That always struck me as a particularly happy instance of turning the tables.

    * * * * * * * * *

    After three years of San Francisco I determined to try a trip to Australia. Horace Greeley’s advice, “Go West, young man! Go West!” was a popular saying in America about that time, and we determined to go still further West. Well, we came to Australia and landed in Melbourne in 1874, and opened at the Theatre Royal with Struck Oil. I suppose there’s no better known piece in this country. I’ve met hundreds of people who date their acquaintance with the theatre back to that piece. Men meet me and say “Look here, Mr. Williamson, I know you well! I remember when I was a boy my father took me to see Struck Oil.”

    The History of “Struck Oil”

    The history of the piece is rather interesting. While I was at the California I was told that an old miner named Sam Smith had written some plays and was anxious to sell them. I was looking round for some things to take to Australia, so when a friend asked me if I would go and hear him read one I said “Certainly.” The piece the old man wanted to show me was called The Blue and the Grey, but I saw there was not much in that. “Well,” he said, “I have another piece if you’ll let me read it. It’s called The Deed, or Five Years Away.” So he read that, and it contained the basis of Struck Oil. I saw there was a good deal in it, and a great deal that would have to be cut out and altered. So I bought it right out, giving the old fellow a hundred dollars more than he asked for it; and got a friend of mine—Clay Greene—to re-write it. A little later, I went starring to Salt Lake City, and I thought I'd try this piece. We rehearsed it, and I saw the last act wouldn’t do.  So one Sunday morning I started upon it and wrote and re-wrote until I had made it suit my own notion, giving out the parts to the company as I went along. We played it the next night, and it went very well, so we took it back to San Francisco and played it there, and I brought it along to Australia.

    One of my friends, Mr. William Hoskins (so well known in Australia), said to me in San Francisco, “What have you got to take out there?” “Well,” I said, “I've got so and so, and so and so,”—and I mentioned Struck Oil. He said, “Don’t give them that in Australia on any account, it will be an utter failure. There are no Germans out there, and they won’t understand it.” Then, coming over in the ship, I used to have a look at it now and again, and read a bit here and there. The captain stopped one day to hear me, and he said, “Now, if you'll take my advice, you’ll keep that in your box. A thing like that won't go down in Australia.”

    Well, I suppose I ought to have been discouraged, but I wasn’t, and I’ll tell you how I came to play it on our opening night in Melbourne. The night before we opened, I had gone to the Opera House, and Richard Stewart was there playing Prince Cassimir in the Princess of Trebizond. About the only German he used was “Mein Gott in Himmel!” and that seemed to go down so well with the audience that I said, “We'll have Struck Oil.” And of course you know how it caught on.

    A Nightmare Adventure

    In 1875 I went to India. It was at the time that the Prince of Wales was visiting there—the present King—and India was en fête. I suppose there has never been such a time there since. I had the honour of meeting the Prince of Wales in Charles Mathews’ dressing-room (for he was in India too), and I can tell you a story in connection with Mathews. One night after the play a lot of English officers came to supper with him, and I was there, and we had a very jolly time, and sat up till three in the morning. Their talk was all military, and they told us the awful tales of the Mutiny, of the well at Cawnpore, the massacre at Delhi, and so on— a very gruesome set of stories.

    With all these things ringing in my head I went to bed and dreamed of throat-cutting and smothering, and all kinds of horrible things, and suddenly I woke to consciousness and realised that I couldn’t breathe. I opened my eyes, and saw what seemed to me (scarcely half-awake) a horrid black figure holding my nose with one hand, while he brandished a razor in the other. I gave a fearful yell and caught up the pillow and dashed it at him—sent him flying into one corner of the room, and his razor into the other. Next moment I was out of bed ready to defend myself, and I saw this darkey crouching at the other side of the room, and chattering pitifully. He didn’t understand what had happened to him, and for a moment I didn’t understand either. Then it came to me that it was the native barber who was accustomed to come in early in the morning and shave me while I lay in bed, and he had just been starting operations when he got mixed up with my dreams of the Mutiny.

    THE BOOKFELLOW, 10 January 1907, pp. 11-12

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    WELL, to continue. After India a few months were devoted to a jaunt through Egypt, Italy, France and Germany. Then, on Easter Monday, 1876,I opened at the Adelphi under the management of F.B. Chatterton, who had also the Drury Lane Theatre. Chatterton was the author of the much-quoted remark, “Shakespeare spells ruin.” We commenced our season with Struck Oil, the engagement being to star for three months with the option on the part of the manager to extend. This option was almost immediately exercised, extending the season from Easter to Easter—twelve months in all. We played Struck Oil 100 nights, which was a good run in those times, thirty years ago.

    AdelphiSilk theatre program for the Adelphi Theatre, 1876

    We then went into Irish drama, doing a revival of Arrah-na-Pogue with a big cast, including such London favourites as William Terriss, Sam Emery, Mrs. Alfred Melon and Shiel Barry — the great Michael Feeney. We played Arrah-na-Pogue for four months, with such success that the manager wished to continue us in Irish drama, and insisted upon putting up The Shaughraun. I wouldn’t agree to this, because I knew the piece was Dion Boucicault’s. It was copyrighted in America, but the copyright did not extend to England, and legally we were free to play it. But Boucicault would not give his consent, though the manager offered him every inducement—and I held out that I would not play till Boucicault did give his consent. The manager went so far as to cast the piece and call rehearsals, and when he found I was determined he commenced an action at law against me for breach of engagement, but the case fell through. In fact, he had no chance, for I had Charles Mathews, Joe Jefferson, and others ready to back me up, and prove that he had no business to make the cast without the star’s consent. But the dispute ended our Adelphi season, and after touring two years in America, starring in Struck Oil, I decided to make another trip around the world, and came back to Australia. That was in 1879, and I've been here ever since; except for trips every two or three years to get new plays, new people, and new ideas. I believe in keeping myself right up to date.

    I had always said I would never go in for permanent management, because you see a manager’s life is never his own: he has to be at work all the time. I was doing well enough as an actor, and when a star actor wants a rest he can simply knock off and take a holiday for six months, or as long as he likes and then begin again. But a manager has no rest. Once he starts he has to keep going all the time. So I had always said “No management for me!”

    At the Head of the Australian Profession

    But when I came to Australia the second time, I brought out among other new pieces Pinafore, and the first thing I had to do when I landed was to take out injunctions against the people who were playing it without authority. Pinafore went very well, and then I got The Pirates of Penzance. George Musgrove was running an opera company at the time with Tambour Major, and Arthur Garner was running his English comedy company, and they came to me and said “We had better go into partnership!” Well, I held out for a bit, but eventually agreed, and that started what people called “The Triumvirate,” which lasted for nine years. Then Musgrove went out, and Garner and I were together for two years. Then I bought Garner out for a time until Musgrove rejoined me. We were together for seven years, and I was alone for four years until I joined forces with my present partners, Mr. George Tallis and Mr. Gustave Ramaciotti—both friends long associated with my affairs—Mr. Tallis as my Melbourne manager and Mr. Ramaciotti as legal adviser.

    So now you’ve got a very fair outline of my professional career. A good deal of it has been spent in playing, but there’s a good deal that has not been play by any means. The stage has given me a lot of pleasure, a fair share of success, and a great deal of very hard work. I think it is capacity for hard persistent work that the Australian-born actor sometimes lacks. Sometimes he wants perseverance: he doesn’t keep plugging away, and he doesn’t think enough of the stage when he’s off the stage. If a man wants to be a good actor, he has to give his mind to the profession all the time. It’s not enough to gain applause at night, if you think so much about the applause next morning that you forget to look out for the next chance. An actor should be always studying to improve himself, always studying to fit himself for better parts, always studying to make himself such a trustworthy man all round that when there's an opening ahead, he'll be chosen to fill it.

    Australian Actors

    In our profession it is difficult to know enough, and you can never know too much. As a young man, when I was not engaged in a piece, I used to go round to the other theatres, wherever I happened to be: picking up an idea here, a wrinkle there, or storing away a little bit of business for future use: watching the other fellows take a part and deciding how I would take it if I got the chance, and so on: and, what is most important, studying what to avoid in order to correct my faults. Australian actors have great talent, naturally—and, mind you, I'm not making any sweeping condemnation, but I do think that it may fairly be said that some are deficient in application, deficient in painstaking ambition, too apt to forget that stage laurels will fade if they are not continually refreshed by new achievements. It seems to be the fault of the country. Things ripen too quickly. The fruit ripens quickly, the crops mature quickly—but the harvests are irregular.

    THE BOOKFELLOW, 24 January 1907, p.8


    Additional Source

    Ian G. Dicker, J.C.W.—A Short Biography of James Cassius Williamson [The Elizabeth Tudor Press, NSW: 1974]

    Original Sources of Photos and Illustrations

    The Harvard Theatre Collection: Wallack’s Theatre, c.1865; J.W. Wallack, Sr.; JCW c.1868; Maggie Moore (1873); Poster for Struck Oil

    California Historical Society, San Francisco: John McCullough; The California Theatre c.1871; JCW c.1871

    The New York Public Library Theatre Collection: Playbill for Wallack’s Theatre

    J.C. Willamson’s Life-Story in His Own Words [N.S.W. Bookstall Co. Ltd., 1913]: JCW and family

    J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd., Sydney: Script page of Struck Oil

    (The original 1874 orchestra parts for the incidental music for Struck Oil remain extant in the “J.C. Williamson collection of performance materials” archived at the National Library of Australia in Canberra—see


  • Said J.C. Williamson (Part 2)

    The Australian Stage.

    What it Demands of the Actor, the Author, and the Manager

    An Interview with J. C. WILLIAMSON

    1 H.M. Theatre Syd 1903Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney, 1903

    IN what I have said of Australian actors I allow for exceptions, of course. But I’m speaking to you frankly, as you asked me; and speaking with all kindness, because a manager in his own interest always wishes to help people on if they’ll give him a chance—and some Australian actors don’t give the manager chance enough. They don’t exhibit the qualities that make a manager say “This fellow is ambitious: he works hard, he takes his present part well—he is taking trouble to fit himself for better parts. That’s the man I want.” Managers in Australia never get enough of that class of Australian actor.

    The women are better in that way. They work harder, and they work more persistently. Then they seem quicker and more adaptable. If you think of all the good Australian actresses we’ve had though I needn’t mention any names—you will see my point. They have talent as well as the men, and they stick more closely to their profession. There’s any amount of talent, but often it is not talent that perseveres. And as I’ve said that, I ought to say, too, what good colleagues I’ve found in Australian actors, actresses and singers; what fine support. When they are interested, they don’t spare themselves in their efforts to help, and their natural aptitude is so great that they learn very quickly. What I would like them to do is to maintain their interest and their effort all the time, because my experience teaches me that’s essential. As soon as you let go in our profession, you lose ground.

    Advice to Players

    Let me show you in one of my old scrapbooks a notice which I have always treasured and many times referred to with pride when thinking over old times. It was written by Augustin Daly over 41 years ago, when he was one of the leading dramatic critics on the New York press. He afterwards became, as you know, America’s leading manager, and succeeded to the position formerly occupied by the Wallacks.

    [This is portion of the article referred to by Mr. Williamson.]

    Room for the Little People of the Stage! Make way there! and let us bow in the third and fourth rate actors, who, as “lords,” “gentlemen,” “Marcellus and Bernardo” or “Catesby” and the “Lieutenant of the Tower” have so often in their turn bowed in the Star of the evening.

    The first-rate actors have their chroniclers; the second-rate actresses have their flatterers; who shall be the historians of the neglected ones of the lower grade? Shall we not lift them from the small notoriety of their favourite porter-house, and make them proud of something more than the awful admiration of little dirty boys along the street?

    Is not the “utility man” worthy of honourable mention beside his distinguished co-labourers on the stage.

    Let us see.

    In the first place, the position of the fourth-rate actor demands of him the following qualities: Great versatility—for he must be one night a comedian of the old school, then a gay fellow of the genteeler comedy, then a noble patriot of the ante-Christian era, then a respectable tragedian of the modern period, then a howling bandit in a cavern, then an innocent rustic in a smock, then a belaced courtier of the Shakspearian drama, and then a red-shirted creature of the sensational.

    Great application—for he must study hundreds of new parts in the course of the year;

    Great patience—for he must wait and wait and bide his time for advancement through many weary seasons;

    Great hopefulness—for he must never despair;

    Great amiability—for he must endure the insults of stars and the jeers of his equals.

    In fact—it requires more real ability to be a fourth-rate actor with his ceaseless and unnoticed labours, than to be a distinguished star who has half-a dozen stage pieces which he enacts all the year round, and who sees his name constantly mentioned in the papers.

    It is a matter of congratulation that we are now having a better class of people in the humbler roles. If every stage only had a competent manager, to assist in developing the young talents, many famous actors might be made of the staff at present under command.

    As it is, Mr. Williamson, of Wallack’s company, Mr. Burrows, of the Winter Garden, and Mr. Rockwell, of the Olympic, promise (if their modesty continues) to be actors of no mean order five years hence. But Mr. Williamson will be better than them all—not because he is more ambitious—but because he is more attentive and less vain!

    Will the little people of the drama take some brief advice?

    Give as much time to your dressing as a great actor gives to his. When Florence, the comedian, was a utility man, he used to make his own dresses and wigs for every little part he played—in order to look the character he was cast for. Florence was only a poor boy too, and had to stint himself to do it.

    Never be ashamed, when on the stage in the presence of a “star,” to speak your lines with the emphasis you shall have studied in your own chamber.

    Do not spend your leisure in idleness with those on whose level you now are, but retire early to your homes and study for a higher position.

    Do not criticise the actor above you in the discontented circles of the green room, but try and learn from him how to be as good or as great as he. Fleury, the greatest of French comedians, when in his glory under the Empire, one night consented to play a part of but one scene, and in which he had but five words to speak. It was that of an insignificant old seigneur, to whom an appeal is made by a poor woman whose husband upon their wedding day is under arrest. Fleury seemed to listen to her at first, with the indifference with which a nobIeman usually receives the applications of such rude and ignorant peasants as she pretended to be; then all at once struck with the dignity of her manner and sentiments he fixed his eyes upon her, and while continuing to listen, as if by instinctive, almost involuntary movement, his hand was raised by degrees to his hat, which he finally raised from his head and lowered before her as if mechanically. When the wife was done speaking the old man was in the attitude of most respectful obeisance. The pantomime was so true, so delicate—it expressed so naturally the feeling of respect and surprise at finding the woman so superior to what she seemed, that the effect was electrical, and Fleury, who had not spoken a single word, was greeted with the most tumultuous applause.

    A poor devil of an actor, who usually took the part, could not understand this at all: “Only see,” said he, “what prejudice does. Fleury got three rounds of applause just for taking off his hat; and I never got any applause in the part—and yet I never move my hat at all.”

    But this is one thing the Little People must learn, above all, and remember—that if actors deserve it the public will reward them whether they are “stars” or not.

    Always ask yourself what such or such a character would be apt to do in real life and govern yourself accordingly—never forgetting that in real life the simple message of a servant conveying important news is always as impressive as the circumstances justify. 

    When a servant says: “Sir, your carriage is waiting”—he will, of course, do so in a business-like way. But should he have to announce: “Sir, your son is dead”—in real life, he would undoubtedly exhibit as much real concern in face and voice as the person whom he informs would be likely to feel. This simple illustration presents the case. Know the object of what you have to say, and ordinary discretion will suggest the mode of saying it.

    Since we have no school of acting whence professionals may graduate, every humble performer must make his closet his college and tutor himself. With his looking-glass, his book, and a good deal of diligent observation and thought, every actor may be an artist, but it is equally certain that with foolish company, and discontented mind and disordered life—every drudge will remain such to his dying day.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    I think those remarks are well worth a young actor’s study.

    Australian children are wonderfully gifted. There are no brighter children on the stage to he found anywhere. Go and see the children dancing in the Pantomime now: it’s a pleasure to watch how well and heartily they do it.

    Australian Drama

    About Australian drama? Room for it? Of course there is room for it. Hundreds, I might almost say thousands, of plays have been submitted to me, but the authors are either too literary, or they forget the prime requisites of a play. What are those? Well, a good play must have heart interest. It must hit the audience below the collar button. And it must have head: it must have a good plot, and not be intellectually below contempt. And in the third place it must admit of an appeal to the eye. Perhaps I should have put these qualities in the reverse order. The audience has first to be pleased through the eye; then it must have the appeal to the heart; and then there should be sufficient plot, sufficient intelligence, to leave a pleasant after-taste in memory.

    If you look over all the plays that have been great successes, right from the very beginning, you will find they all have these qualities. There must be the love interest, there must be the plot, and the language must not be above the heads of the average playgoer. People go to the theatre as a distraction, as an amusement, as a relaxation after the toil of the day, so that they can drop their burdens and forget their troubles for a little while. They do not go to be instructed, or to be puzzled, or to be bored—and being human beings, the same human qualities appeal to them generation after generation. Take any play that has been a striking success—take The Silver King. That shows you what I mean. We can revive that play time after time, and always to good audiences. It has the love interest, it has the plot, and it is not a stupid play—though it does not profess to deal in problems. There is the child interest in it which always appeals to an audience, and it admits of being well staged so that it attracts the eye.

    Where Local Drama Fails

    So far Australian drama has failed to give us these things, or to put them in the right way. Certainly an Australian play could be made like In Mizzoura, but not so well,  because in Australia the types have not crystallised yet. America has been longer settled, and the Dutchman, the Negro, the Yankee, the Irishman, have all become well-known types of national life. In Australia it is not so. There is a bushman, of course, but he is not so definite a type as those I have mentioned, and he is not comparatively so interesting to a city audience.

    Struck Oil is another play of the kind I mean. There is the old father—simple, honest, shrewd and kindly, and his happy laughing daughter. You see them together—father and child. The man goes away to the war, and Deacon Skinner comes in—the villain of the piece—the same old villain that you find in a hundred pieces. There seems to be nothing extraordinary in the story, yet that play always holds the audience, because it is sincere, because it is human, because it is true. Those are the keynotes of the play that lasts—humanity, sincerity, truth.

    Of course there have been some fair Australian plays. Alfred Dampier did well with His Natural Life and Robbery Under Arms; and those are typical Australian plays. Very good in their way, no doubt, and in a sense representative. The fault I find with them is that they always bring in the revolver. That is always introduced when the dramatist gets in a difficulty. There is the bushranger, the heroine, and the villain, and they get along all right up to a certain point—then somebody must be shot in order to clear the air and let the play proceed. That seems to me to show a certain poverty of invention. A play should go easily and naturally, and nothing outrageous should occur in it. I suppose in convict and bushranging days the revolver episode was the natural thing; but it isn’t the natural thing now, and I don’t see why it should be so characteristic of the Australian drama we have. The Sunny South was another very good play of George Darrell’s—his best, I think. That was Australian; and there again—he had to use the revolver.

    6 Robbery Under ArmsA scene from the Alfred Dampier and Garnet Walch play Robbery Under Arms at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney (1890). National Library of Australia, Canberra.

    The Way to Write a Play

    Well, your authors have got to write better before they will make a really successful play. The way seems obvious, and yet they don’t manage it. Authors bring plays to me: I have taken lots of trouble with some of them; and I’ve pointed out this thing and that which my experience tells me must be altered. They always profess themselves quite ready to alter and improve—always glad of suggestions, and so on—but somehow they don’t carry out the suggestions. They take the play away and bring it back, revised, but the faults are there just as before. It almost seems as if it wanted two men to write an Australian play, one to create it, and another to put it into shape for the stage. In the case of The Silver King the two authors had the valuable assistance of the technical knowledge and stagecraft of Wilson Barrett.

    Perhaps that is why so many journalists fail. Their ideas are good enough, their language is good enough—sometimes a little bit too good—but it isn’t the kind that tells on the stage, and they don’t get the situations right. Then, they don’t seem to me to take enough trouble at the beginning. Now, I have had good authors under contract to me to write plays—Dion Boucicault and W.S. Gilbert, for example—and I know something of the way they set about it. I was particularly impressed with the trouble Gilbert took with his scenario: it was almost as long as the play. He wrote the scenario first to get his general effect, his main points, and his leading situations; and he spared no pains to put everything in the exact place where it was wanted for stage representation. It was only after he had made a scenario that would act that he set to work and wrote the play, filling in the language, creating the characters, and polishing every line until, in any play of Gilbert’s, you will find there is very little that can be dispensed with—very little indeed that can be cut with advantage. The reason is, as I say, that he has his careful scenario behind his language: his play is built before it  is decorated.

    Words and Plot

    A drama may be literature, but the words are not the essential thing about it. The essential thing is that it should live and move like a piece of real life—and that depends on the construction. Words are only the clothes, the dress of the drama itself. Struck Oil, for example, was in a great measure written upon the stage, as you might say. My part wasn’t even committed to paper until we had taken it all round Australia. We used what we call a skeleton manuscript, with only the cues given, and one night a good phrase would occur, another night we would invent a little bit of business, and so on, until the whole thing was different from the play as conceived by the original writer. But, mind you, behind the whole there was always the living interest—the heart-interest that I have spoken of. That must be the basis of a really successful play: that is what gives it vitality. Then the play must be built so that this interest can be effectively displayed, and last of all you drape it with words to interpret the interest and construction to the audience.

    Australian authors usually seem to go the other way about. They write the words, and as long as the thing makes a continuous story, and the language is good, they seem to think the play looks right. But all they do in most cases is to dress a lay figure. You have to start from the other end—start from human emotions, human instincts, and base your plot on them, and only when you’re sure you have the play, and the interest of the play, and the construction of the play, go on to the language. In real living drama the language is the last thing to think about.

    The First Act

    Another thing about a play is that when you get a good one it goes of itself, it unfolds itself. I agree that the last act should always be the strongest: too much strength in the first act is a mistake—because you can't live up to it. I remember a very interesting example of that in a New York theatre. There was a play of Dion Boucicault’s—I think it was The Shenandoah. The first act simply amazed the audience—they couldn’t contain themselves. They applauded and applauded. The stage manager came round to Boucicault in a great state of excitement. “We've got them this time, Mr. Boucicault.” “No,” says Boucicault, “no.” “What?” said the other fellow. “What? Don’t you hear that applause?” “No,” says Boucicault, “we’re done. The play’s a failure. That first act is too strong.” And it turned out exactly as he said. The play could not live up to the first act, and it never succeeded. That shows you how stage experience and stage insight come in. Of course the elder Boucicault was a very clever man, one of the very cleverest men that have been connected with the modern stage. He was a great author, he was a great actor, and he was a great stage manager—a man with great ideas.

    It is always difficult to foretell the success or failure of a play from the first act, and when I am telegraphing to my partners after the first act of a first performance I am always very careful to add some qualifying words. Sometimes the first act appears to go very well indeed, but you can’t trust it. In order to be quite sure, you have to wait. There is something in the attitude of an audience that tells you things are going right, or they are not going right—some magnetism, quite apart from the obvious signs. I mean by obvious signs, for example, an audience coughing, or things like that. When you hear a few little coughs, that clearing of the throat, you have to pay attention: something’s going wrong.

    The play’s not holding the attention of the audience. The man in the chair has lost interest, and as soon as he ceases to be absorbed with the stage he turns his head away and gives that little cough—the manager’s danger-signal.

    The Verdict of the Audience

    A very curious thing is the way in which intelligence about a play is communicated. You produce a play on Saturday night. Everything appears to go well, and yet you’re not convinced. The audience separate and go away, and then—the fate of the play is settled between Saturday night and Monday night. Perhaps you get flourishing notices in the papers on Monday morning, after a first-rate house on Saturday night, and yet Monday morning’s booking falls off, and Monday night’s house drops to half, and the play does not run. It has failed to hit them, somehow.  The people settle it going home in the trams, or when they meet on Sunday: I don't know how. Time and again that has happened. A successful Saturday night; first-rate press notices on Monday; and on Monday night—the audience missing! They’ve given their verdict going home in the trams, and the air has carried it like microbes.

    Captain Swift was a case like that. We opened in Captain Swift at the Theatre Royal in Sydney. It seemed a good play, with popular Charles Warner in the title role; it had a splendid reception, got splendid notices in the papers; and yet there was a poor house on Monday night, and it only ran a fortnight. In England a manager has time to recast and re-model his plays, and so he can convert a failure into a success. Several of George Edwardes’ musical comedies have been first-night failures. The audience simply wouldn’t stand them—but he has improved them night by night, and turned them into successes. In Australia we can’t do that, because the average run of a piece doesn’t give us time. In London people keep on going to the house, and there is population enough to give the manager a chance at mending. 

    English and Australian Audiences

    Perhaps English audiences are creatures of habit to a greater extent than Australian. They get used to an actor; they get used to a theatre; and as long as that actor and that theatre are above ground they will never leave them if they can help it. The Australian audience wants the actor and the theatre to justify themselves every time. If an actor fails in a new part, it doesn’t matter how often he’s succeeded before; if a new piece fails, it doesn’t matter how many other pieces have succeeded before: the audience stay away until the actor or the theatre offers them something better. Australian audiences are hard to please in that way. They’ve been used to the best things, and they want the best things all the time.

    You may be sure that sooner or later an Australian author will make a good play on the lines I’ve suggested, and if it is good the Australian audience will soon let him know. You can trust their judgment, you can trust their appreciation. I have mentioned two or three Australian plays; we have had one or two good musical dramas like Tapu, with bright, original music; and I think that our pantomimes, such as Djin-Djin and Matsa, will bear comparison with anything of the kind done anywhere. And in Parsifal, just now, you have a successful play that’s made right on the Australian premises—our own scenery, our own scenic artists, our own costumes, as well as our own play. The whole thing is done here. In London it is quite different.  A theatrical manager sends for his costumes to one place, for his scenery to another, and so on. I don’t suppose there is a London theatre that employs a permanent staff of scenic artists. Here we have to do everything, as I say, on the premises.

    Australian audiences are in many ways the best in the world. They are most difficult to please, for the reason that they have been accustomed to nothing but the best. Almost every play is tried in London or New York before it is staged here, and you never see the failures. You get scenery and costumes as good as London’s, and you get the most attractive plays. So audiences have naturally a high standard, and when a manager falls below that standard they are apt to complain. On the other hand, when they are pleased they support you well. They are very intelligent, very responsive, and very ready to excuse accidental shortcomings. When they do not like a play they do not hiss or make a row, they simply stay away—and they stay away with very great unanimity.

    An Actor and His Part

    When the Australian audience likes you their applause is very genuine. It’s a great thing to feel that you have an audience in your hands, and that their emotions respond directly to those you are portraying. The part I myself like best is the part which gives you an opportunity to make an audience cry one minute and laugh the next. “John Stofel” is such a part, and “Rip Van Winkle.” The scene where the old man is trying to recall himself to his daughter’s memory, I have always considered a test of the strength of my acting. I’ve never failed in that part to make the actress who was taking the daughter’s part cry—really cry. Never but once—the exception was a woman who paid no attention at all: she might just as well have been eating lollies. She wasn’t really concentrating her attention on the business of the piece. So I said to her one day, “Why don’t you wake up and listen to what is going on? Surely you have feelings: surely you understand the scene?” After that she did pay a little more attention, and she did feel the pathos. Before she had been letting the mind wander, with the result that I could not touch her at all.

    An actor, I think, must keep control of himself, he must not let himself, as people say, be “carried away by the part,” for the result is that he ceases to play the part. He is merely himself. But you can feel a part intensely, and still remain in full possession of your faculties. You can realise the way the thing is going, and watch it, and decide how it shall go. To lose control so far that you forget you are on the stage at all—well, I doubt if it ever happens; and if it did happen, I should think the actor had made a mistake. He is there to act the part and if he forgets that he forgets the reason of his presence on the stage.

    Stage Aspirants and “Twang”

    One thing I do not like to notice, and it is a thing I have remarked about before: that is the twang that so many Australian children are growing up with. To my mind it is the result of simple carelessness. The children are not taught at school or at home to speak with the proper intonation. At the school, of course, the teachers may be as bad as the scholars. I think parents are at fault for not correcting their children in the home; I think teachers are at fault for not correcting the children in the school; and I think the Government is at fault for not correcting the teachers—for not saying that the first qualification of the teacher should be that he can speak correctly the language he is using. Government should insist that teachers are properly trained before they become teachers at all.

    I hear this twang, of course, very frequently in the girls that come to me and offer to sing or act. So many of them have charming voices and excellent qualifications otherwise, if they would only speak correctly. Many, I am sorry to say, have no qualifications at all; and I think that girls who are aiming at a stage career should at the very outset of their training see somebody who would tell them this—somebody who would be able to say decisively that their voice, or their age, or their appearance disqualifies them for the stage. That would save many of them from wasting years at work which they ought never to have undertaken.

    Some Old Parts

    My favourite part—well, I can’t tell you that—I've succeeded in many. “John Stofel” in Struck Oil was a very good part, of course; and that part of “Sim” in Wild Oats was very popular in its day. Then I loved to play “Dick Swiveller,” “Kerry,” “Rip Van Winkle,” and lots of other parts which blended pathos and comedy. I can remember the first big round of applause I ever got—it was when as a boy of sixteen I took the part of “Ross” in Macbeth, and was applauded for the lines of Ross’s reply to Macduff: “Stands Scotland where it did?”

              Alas! poor country;
    Almost afraid to know itself. It cannot
    Be call’d our mother, but our grave; where nothing,
    But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile;
    Where sighs and groans and shrieks that rent the air
    Are made, not mark’d; where violent sorrow seems
    A modern ecstasy; the dead men’s knell
    Is there scarce ask’d for who; and good men’s lives
    Expire before the flowers in their caps,
    Dying or ere they sicken.

    That seems a very long time ago now, and indeed it is a long time since I thought about these things at all. Theatrical management keeps you too busy for personal recollections. It’s not alone keeping the companies going—though that is no light task in itself—but sometimes I have to take part in stage management. In Parsifal, for example, I staged the play and invented things as I went along. Then there is the continual labour of keeping in touch in order to be up to date. Weekly letters come from our agents in London and New York telling us what is going on there, and these have to be carefully considered. You have to keep an eye open for new men—for rising talent both in the field of authors and in the acting field. You have to see not only that the whole machine works, but that every part of it works so well that there is the least possible friction.

    13 Parsifal Act 1Act 1 scene 1 from Parsifal—Summit of the Grail Mount (scenery by W.R. Coleman). The old King of the Holy Grail, Titurel, blesses his son Amfortas as he sets out, armed with the Sacred Spear to attack the castle of the sorcerer Klingsor. State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.

    A Manager’s Responsibility

    And then you keep a general lookout on what’s going on around you. Often I come home from my office and bring my work with me, and my secretary to deal with a heap of correspondence that can’t be crammed into the day; and then, maybe, it’s necessary to sit up till two or three in the morning reading plays, or looking over the English and American dramatic papers, so as to miss nothing that will be of service. It requires constant watchfulness to keep you from falling behind and I think I can say that I am well abreast of everything that is doing in the theatrical world. But the labour it involves!—in addition to the responsibility and worry. That is what has made me ask myself frequently of late what am I getting out of it all.

    Here I am at 61, still straining at the collar. Well, I haven’t many more years to play with, and I ask myself should I not try and get a little leisure. There is no such thing as leisure in management; the responsibility is always with you. And I think not only of myself, but of my wife and children. I would like to give my children the chances which I have often regretted missing for myself. My little girl Marjorie, for example, whose picture by Longstaff you see over yonder—will soon be of an age to travel, and I should like her to see the best pictures, hear the best music, read the best books, attend the best theatres, and meet bright, clever people. That, I think, is the best education a girl can have, and she should have it in her youth when her mind is receptive.

    And while my children are growing up, I want to be with them. To me it is the greatest pleasure in life to be in the company of children. My other little girl had a birthday party in Melbourne the other day; she was four years old: so all her little friends came to luncheon, and afterwards they went along to the theatre to see Mother Goose—there happened to be a matinee performance; and I tell you the day I spent with them, watching them enjoy themselves so heartily, was one of the pleasantest I can remember. There happened to be a lot of little girls from the Orphan Asylum up in the gallery; and it was good to watch them too.

    Personal Plans

    So I should like to take my family and go away for a long trip, entirely free from care and worry. But the time is not yet come: for my business engagements have still some years to run. I am going to try and slacken the strain gradually. Next week, for example, I am going to New Zealand. I took a company through New Zealand twenty-five years ago; but since then I have not been back except on hurried visits, so I am going to renew my acquaintance with the country under its changed and improved conditions, and I shall spend some time in visiting all the leading towns. The New Zealand public always treat my companies splendidly. I shall keep in touch, of course, with my partners, who already relieve me of a great deal of the strain of management, but I shall try to make my visit as much of a holiday as possible. Perhaps later on I shall take a long trip to Europe, giving myself more leisure than I have previously had, and devoting my attention rather to securing new material, new plays and new actors, than to the direct business of management. So possibly I shall be able to slacken off work by degrees.

    I’m not complaining; I’m explaining. In many ways I’m a fortunate man. I am deeply and sincerely grateful to the friends, and partners, and actors and actresses, and other assistants, who have made my success possible; and I am especially grateful to the Australian people, who have given me so warm a welcome and have made me one of themselves. As I told you, I’m still an American, for I don’t think a man should disown the country he was born in. But I’m Australian too, and when I have had the long holiday that I feel is necessary to my family and myself, this is the country I’m coming back to; this is the country where I want to live and die.

    THE BOOKFELLOW, 31 January 1907, pp.14–17

    * * * * * * * * * * * * *


    Compiled by Robert Morrison

    Plays mentioned in the article:

    In Mizzoura—4 act comedy-drama by Augustus Thomas premiered at Hooley’s Theatre, Chicago on 7 August 1893; written as a star vehicle for American comedian, Nat Goodwin who played in its Australian premiere at the Princess’s Theatre, Melbourne on 1 August 1896 for a 1 week season and subsequently on tour amongst his repertoire of plays.

    For the Term of His Natural Life—Drama in 6 tableaux and a prologue by Thomas Somers (pseud. of Thomas Walker) and Alfred Dampier, based on Marcus Clarke’s novel His Natural Life (1874) premiered at the Royal Standard Theatre in Sydney on 5 June 1886 and played for an initial 42 performances. The play was subsequently revised by Walker and Dampier and produced at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 30 November 1895 for an initial 19 performances.

    Robbery Under Arms—5 act drama by Alfred Dampier and Garnet Walch, founded on Rolf Boldrewood’s novel (of 1888) premiered at the Alexandra Theatre, Melbourne on 1 March 1890 and ran for an initial 42 performances.

    The Sunny South—5 act drama by George Darrell premiered at the Opera House, Melbourne on 31 March 1883 for an initial season of 36 performances.

    Struck Oil; or, The Pennsylvania Dutchman—3 act comedy-drama, based on the unproduced play The German Recruit by Sam W. Smith, adapted and expanded by Clay Greene as The Deed, or Five Years Away; subsequently retitled with further revisions by J.C. Williamson, premiered at Salt Lake City, Utah on 23 February 1874 and received its Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne on 1 August 1874 for an initial 43 performances. This was followed by a return season of a further 13 performances commencing on Derby Day, 31 October and “every night during the Great Cup Week” concluding on 14 November. The play was then given a “Farewell Performance” as a Complimentary Benefit for the Williamsons on the final night of their Melbourne season on 21 December 1874, resulting in a record tally of 57 performances. (The original 1874 orchestra parts for the incidental music for Struck Oil remain extant in the “J.C. Williamson collection of performance materials” archived at the National Library of Australia in Canberra—see

    The Shenandoah—no play of that title is listed amongst the works of Dion Boucicault, however JCW may have been referring to Boucicault’s Belle Lamar, a play based on an episode of the American Civil War set in the Shenandoah Valley in the Spring of 1862, which opened at Booth’s Theatre, New York on 10 August 1874, and, failing to live up to audience expectations, closed on 13 September after a limited run of 34 performances. Although JCW was performing in Melbourne at the time and did not witness the play at first hand, he would have subsequently heard the anecdote about its failure at a later date, possibly from Boucicault himself.

    The Silver King—5 act drama by Henry Arthur Jones and Henry Herman premiered at the Princess’s Theatre, London on 16 November 1882 and received its Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne on 27 October 1883 for an initial run of 49 performances. (The biographical Life and Letters of Henry Arthur Jones by his daughter, Doris Arthur Jones [Victor Gollancz, London: 1930] quoted Jones with regard to the play’s authorship: “Herman gave me the end of the second act, but he never wrote a line of it.”) Its popularity was such that it was regularly revived in Australia up to the late 1920s.

    Captain Swift—4 act comedy-drama by Australian playwright, Charles Haddon Chambers premiered at the Haymarket Theatre, London on 20 June 1888 and received its Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal, Sydney on 16 February 1889 for a run of 12 performances. (In the original published text of his article JCW erroneously stated that the play had opened at the Princess’s in Melbourne, but this has been amended in the present transcription. The play was not included amongst Charles Warner’s repertoire during his prior Melbourne season at the Princess's Theatre from 31 March to 14 June 1888 and was only added during his later Sydney season at the Theatre Royal, after it had achieved success in London in Beerbohm Tree’s production.)  (See also “The Idiosyncrasies of the Australian Play-goer” by Gerald Marr Thompson in The Centennial Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 10; May 1889, p.699—

    Tapu; or, A Tale of a Maori Pah—2 act comic opera with a book by Arthur H. Adams and music by Alfred Hill premiered at the Opera House in Wellington, New Zealand on 16 February 1903 for a season of 6 performances and received its Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 9 July 1904 for an initial run of 19 performances. (The original orchestra parts for Tapu remain extant in the “J.C. Williamson collection of performance materials” archived at the National Library of Australia in Canberra—see

    Djin-Djin: The Japanese Bogie Man—pantomime by Bert Royle and J.C. Williamson, with music by Leon Caron and additional numbers by H.J. Pack, premiered at the Princess’s Theatre, Melbourne on 26 December 1895 for a seven-week season. (The original orchestra parts for Djin-Djinremain extant in the “J.C. Williamson collection of performance materials” archived at the National Library of Australia in Canberra—see ; the published script is also available to read on-line from State Library Victoria at

    Matsa: Queen of Fire—pantomime by Bert Royle and J.C. Williamson, with music by Leon Caron and George Pack, premiered at the Princess’s Theatre, Melbourne on 26 December 1896 for a seven week season. (The published script is available to read on-line from State Library Victoria at

    Parsifal; or, The Redemption of Kundry—4 act drama by Rev. Thomas Hilhouse Taylor premiered at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 22 December 1906 for an initial season of 51 performances. (Incidental music selected, arranged and composed by Christian Hellemann, and included the Prelude to Wagner’s opera.)

    J.C. Williamson’s favourite parts included:

    “John Stofel” in Struck Oil (see play details above).

    “Sim” in Wild Oats—a comedy in 5 acts by John O’Keefe (which premiered in London at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden on 16 April 1791), was first played by JCW for a season at Wallack’s Theatre, New York which commenced on 20 December 1869.

    “Dick Swiveller” in Little Nell and the Marchioness—a 4 act drama by John Brougham (“Partly adapted from the principal incidents of Charles Dicken’s The Old Curiosity Shop”), was first played by JCW for a season at Wallack’s Theatre, New York from 15 August 1867 opposite Lotta Crabtree in the dual title roles. He subsequently reprised the role for a two week season at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, which commenced on 17 October 1874, in which JCW’s first wife, Maggie Moore played the dual roles of “Little Nell” and “The Marchioness”, and her brother, James Moore made his Australian debut.

    “Kerry” in Kerry; or Night and Morning—a one-act play by Dion Boucicault, in which the title role was apparently first played by JCW at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne during a four week season, firstly as a curtain-raiser to Uncle Tom’s Cabin— “an emotional drama in 3 acts founded upon incidents connected with the world-read novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe” (in which JCW played the title role and Maggie played “Topsy”) from 21 September 1874 and again as a curtain-raiser to The Fairy Circle; or O’Carolan’s Dream— “a romantic and legendary drama” in 3 acts by H.P. Grattan (in which JCW played “Con O’Carolan” and Maggie played his wife “Molshee”) which commenced on 3 October 1874.

    “Rip Van Winkle” in Rip Van Winkle—a 3 act drama by Joseph Jefferson (based on the story by Washington Irving) first performed by Jefferson at Washington D.C. in the U.S. in 1859 and in Australia at the Royal Victoria Theatre, Sydney on 3 February 1862, and subsequently revised by Dion Boucicault for a production at the Haymarket Theatre, London, starring Jefferson, which premiered on 4 September 1865. JCW first played the title role in the Australian premiere of Boucicault’s revised version for a two-week season at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, which commenced on 30 November 1874. Maggie Moore was suffering from a severe cold at the time, so in order to give her a rest from performing, he hurriedly learned the role in three days and played it for the first time the following Monday. He subsequently wrote in a letter (dated 12 December 1874) to his actor friend, Henry Edwards in San Francisco: “I achieved a complete success the first night, and greatly improved upon it afterward, the press were unanimous in their praise. We played it two weeks.”    


    Additional Sources

    Eric Irvin, Dictionary of the Australian Theatre 1788–1914 (Hale & Iremonger, Sydney:1985)

    Ian G. Dicker, J.C.W.A Short Biography of James Cassius Williamson[The Elizabeth Tudor Press, NSW: 1974]

    Lynn Earl Orr, Dion Boucicault and the Nineteenth Century Theatre: A Biography [Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College: 1953]

    The New York Times

    The Argus (Melbourne)


    An insight into the financial aspects of The Firm and the scale of its operations in Australia and New Zealand in the era in which J.C. Williamson was interviewed is provided by the following newspaper article published in 1906.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * *



    SALARY LIST OVER £100,000.

    The relation of the stage to literature, to public morals, to the church are subjects of frequent discussion and controversy. Its relation to the industrial life of the community is never considered. The economist and the statist who delve fearlessly into almost all sorts and conditions of life and occupation, hang back from the stage door, as nervous as the youth with his first billet doux. All the same, the stage is a considerable factor in industry, and even in a population relatively small, like that of Australia, the magnitude and extent of its operations are unguessed by most of those who are excellently acquainted with it from the front of the house.

    The various companies now controlled by the firm of Messrs. Williamson, Tallis and Ramaciotti include no fewer than 650 persons on the permanent staff. Of these 187 are actors or actresses, 83 musicians, and 52 mechanists and stage hands; while what might be termed the “headquarters staff” —to which falls the task of supervising the whole of this vast enterprise through the managers of the various departments—numbers 12. In addition to these persons, there is a large “floating” staff, consisting of the supers and assistants picked up at the cities as they are reached by the different theatrical companies. Although, of course, only casually employed, those who draw salary in the course of a year in this way must number nearly as many as the regular members of companies.  Indirectly there are a host of persons who derive work and wages from the enterprises. In fact it is only necessary to consider the immense figures supplied yesterday by Mr. J.C. Williamson to realise how much of the shilling which the playgoer pays for his amphitheatre seat is distributed again in wages to a multitude of trades. When the money has reached the treasury of the theatre the cue has come for “Enter Omnes.”

    In salaries and wages, Mr Williamson paid away during the year 1905 no less than £110,183 [approx. equivalent to $17,435,832 in today’s currency], the greater part going to Australians. The printing and advertising cost £22,469 [$3,555,591]. The columns of advertisements published throughout Australia and New Zealand, placed end to end, would reach over two miles [approx. 3.2 km]; while the posters and bills exhibited on hoardings or walls, covered an area just under three acres [approx.1.2 hectares].

    The rent bill amounted to £19,428 [$3,074,370], and the cost of lighting was £9,783 [$1,548,104]. Scenery cost no less than £10,593 [$1,676,282], 14 square miles [approx. 22.5 square km] of new canvas and 9½ miles [approx.15.3 km] of new timber having been used.  Even these immense figures do not represent all the raw material which was transmuted into landscapes and architecture, for nearly as much old canvas and timber again was repainted, and made available for stage presentation. Nearly the whole of the money spent under this head is distributed in Australia. There is a complete staff of scenic artists and assistants at both Melbourne and Sydney. The same system is followed in respect to the properties, which, inclusive of furniture and furnishings, absorbed £6,627 [$1,048,685]; and the costumes, in which the year’s expenditure was £5,390 [$852,937]. The employees in the costume department and wardrobe stores work without cessation all the year round.  Whether a big production is approaching makes but little difference to them. There is always something to do, and in the storerooms the strenuous life is discovered. In Sydney the whole of a building, formerly used as a skating rink, is used to store surplus wardrobe. The floor space is covered with hundreds of huge baskets, and day after day the contents of these are taken out and sorted, brushed, exposed to air and sunlight, and repacked with a fresh supply of preventives against the ravages of moths. In this store the costumes are the accumulation of 25 years of management, dating back to the time when the firm of Williamson, Garner, and Musgrove dominated the Australian stage. Added to the costumes purchased by this firm are those obtained during the periods when Mr. Williamson and Garner were in partnership, when Mr. Williamson controlled the enterprise alone, when Mr. Musgrove joined him, and when, subsequently, after another period of sole proprietorship, he became the senior partner of the present firm.

    “These costumes would be worth a fortune for anybody who could find a use for them,” said Mr. Williamson. “In England and America managers are able to dispose of their surplus stocks for the provincial tours. Here there are no such means of recovering a portion of the initial expense. We cannot sell the costumes. All we can do is keep them in order, on the off chance of making use of the parts as opportunity arises.”

    In 1905 over £5,000 [$791,222] was paid away in royalties to authors and others holding the copyrights of plays produced. In addition to such plays, however, Mr. Williamson holds the full Australasian rights of 105 musical operas and musical plays, 40 comedies, and 91 dramas which he has at different times bought outright. Such purchases have been spread over many years, and include the most successful musical and dramatic works produced in London for the last 20 years, as well as many American successes.

    One of the largest items in expenditure is transportation. Last year £12,858 [$2,034,705] was expended in fares and freight. The Gilbert and Sullivan Company, which finished its Sydney season last Friday, started immediately for Adelaide, there to take the steamer for Perth, where it opens on October 1. For this season of three weeks only over 80 persons were despatched, and the fares alone amounted to over £1,000 [$158,244]. Companies now travel in a manner never dreamed of 10 years ago, the most striking instance of all being provided by the record of one week in 1905.  Within seven days the Repertoire Company started from Perth to Sydney; the Royal Comic Opera Company travelled by special train from Sydney to Port Adelaide to catch the steamer for Perth; the Nance O’Neill Company arrived in Sydney from San Francisco, and took train immediately for Melbourne; the Andrew Mack Company travelled to Sydney; the Gilbert and Sullivan Company from Melbourne to Sydney; the Tittell Brune Company from Melbourne to Wellington via Sydney; and the Knight-Jefferies Company from Sydney to Brisbane. During last year the various companies covered 76,674 miles [approx.123,395 km].

    The Argus (Melbourne), Tuesday, 25 September 1906, p.5,

    * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    N.B. Ticket prices for JCW productions in 1905 amounted to 5/ (shillings) (for seats in the Dress Circle & Orchestra Stalls), 3/ (Stalls), 2/ (Back of the Stalls) and 1/ (Ampitheatre or Gallery) =  $39.56, $23.74, $15.82 and $7.91 respectively in today’s currency.

    20 PrincessTheatre Melbourne 1893Princess’ Theatre, Melbourne, 1893. Photo by Charles Rudd. State Library Victoria, Melbourne.