Marcus Clarke

  • CLARKE, Marian Marcus (1876-1958)

    Australian actress. Née Ethel Marian Clarke; aka Marion Marcus Clarke; Marion Dunn. Daughter of Marcus Clarke (writer) and Marian Dunn (actress). Unmarried.

    Acted in Australia and USA from 1890s for William Anderson and Fred Niblo. Also in silent films including For the Term of His Natural Life (1927).

    Riley/Hailes Scrapbook, pages 239, 259.

  • DUNN, Marian (1846-1914)

    English-Australian actress. Née Marian O’Donoghue. Born March 1846, London, England. Daughter of John Dunn (actor). Sister of Rosa Dunn (actress). Married Marcus Clarke (writer), July 1869, Melbourne, VIC, Australia. Died December 1914, Sydney, NSW, Australia. Mother of Marian Marcus Clarke (actress).

    On stage in Australia from 1860s.

  • Marcus Clarke and the Theatre (Part 1)

    Much has been written about Marcus Clarke, journalist, playwright and author, best remembered from his novel His Natural Life. Most biographers focus on his literary pursuits and his bohemianism. But as MIMI COLLIGAN points out, the theatre was a huge part of his life, notably his relationship with two actresses, the Dunn sisters, Marian and Rosa.

    FL15973472Marcus Clarke at 20. State Library Victoria, Melbourne.

    When I beganresearching this study my focus was on the actress Marian Dunn, hoping to write a short ADB-like biography of the soubrette who married the writer Marcus Clarke. However, recently, after re-reading Brian Elliott’s 1958 biography of Marcus Clarke, I was curious about the lives of his family after his death in 1881.

    I have also observed that many of the writers on Marcus Clarke’s life have come from a background in English literature rather than history and are sometimes not as rigorous on ‘facts’ when drawing conclusions to support their theories on, for instance, his ‘bohemianism’. For example, one author relied on Maurice Brodsky, writing in 1904 about Clarke’s addresses after his marriage, to make a point about Clarke living in Brighton and ‘forsaking Bohemian Melbourne’. The same author later mentions the poverty of Clarke’s last three addresses as though the writer had been living in Brighton or Cheltenham for most of his marriage where in fact Clarke and his wife and rapidly growing family had as many as ten changes of address in their twelve-year marriage. A search of Melbourne street directories or his children’s birth certificates would have shown that the Clarkes, rather than living in the distant suburbs rented houses closer to the city in Carlton, St Kilda, Emerald Hill and Prahran. They did not move to Brighton until about 1876. This type of research might be seen as antiquarian but it gives a firmer basis on which to base critical theory.

    Since July 2008 historians have been able to access Australian digitised newspapers online. The proliferation of digitised newspapers in the early twenty-first century has made historical research much easier. Similarly, many Public Records are now available on line so that it is ‘almost’ possible to write from home. We can imagine how Brian Elliot, in order to write his pioneering scholarly biography of Marcus Clarke from his post in the University of Adelaide, had to write to various repositories in UK and USA for information. He also had to travel to Sydney and Melbourne to read manuscripts and check bound newspapers and microfilm. Earlier writing on Clarke, had to rely on available MSS, street directories, hard copy or microfilmed newspapers, and public records such as wills and probate, and births, marriages and deaths.

    Today, a biographer of nineteenth century Melbourne individuals can use the internet with its many search engines: aids such as searchable digitised street directories, newspapers and public records to be found in websites of the National Library of Australia’s TROVE and the Public Record Office of Victoria so that we can trace a subject’s movements and thus draw different conclusions.

    The O’Donoghue sisters and Marcus Clarke

    This article tries to correct some biographical assumptions and offer further details on the domestic life of nineteenth century Australian writer Marcus Clarke (1846–1881), most famous for the novel His Natural Life.

    As a theatre historian I also want to look at and elaborate on the part played by the stage in his family circle. For example, the romantic idea of Clarke as bohemian playwright writing comedies and pantomimes for his wife, Marian Dunn is misleading. She didn’t act in any of his plays until she returned to the stage in 1880 when they needed the money—earlier, she was pregnant most of the time.

    Rather than attempt a literary biographical study on Clarke, I am content to examine some hitherto little known aspects of his domestic and theatrical life and correcting some inaccuracies. I concentrate on the comic actor John Dunn who became his father-in-law, and, in particular, Dunn’s actress daughters Marian and Rosa. I also carry the story beyond Marcus’s death to how two of his six children became actors on stage and screen. I also suggest that the efforts of Marian Dunn, his widow, and several of their children played a part in the promotion and popularity of Clarke’s novel His Natural Life into the 20th century. These people (out of necessity and over many years) sold Clarke’s papers to various Australian repositories. These include his unfinished novel Felix and Felicitas (1876), where there is evidence that as a married twenty-six-year old Clarke had some kind of love affair with his thirty-year-old sister-in-law Rose Lewis.

    As well as the great biography Marcus Clarke by Brian Elliott, important to my study are three unpublished manuscripts. These are Marcus Clarke’s Felix and Felicitas; Some Stage Memories by John Dunn, comedian, Clarke’s father-in-law; and the late Wendy Abbott-Young’s 1989 MA thesis The ‘Felix and Felicitas’ papers of Marcus Clarke.

    The first contains printed pages and manuscript including what seems to be transcripts by Clarke of love letters which shed light on the Clarke and Lewis family relationships. Some Stage Memoriesdescribes the East End origins of John Dunn’s son and daughters. This memoir holds interest for theatre and literary historians in Australia, UK, and the Americas. The first two texts have been ‘languishing’ in the Mitchell Library, Sydney since the late 1920s when Marcus Clarke’s actress daughter Marian (Ethel) Marcus Clarke sold them and other of her father’s papers to the library. Dated 1895, the Dunn manuscript was compiled by theatre critic, medico and sometime coroner, Dr J.E. Neild from conversations and notes supplied by Dunn. It was also claimed that Marcus Clarke, had a hand in its editing. However, perhaps this idea was added to increase the value of the papers after Clarke’s death. Most of Dunn’s stories can be verified in various works on the early Victorian theatre and in digitised newspapers.

    Wendy Abbott-Young’s thesis (now digitised by University of Adelaide) was, along with some insights to Clarke’s life, helpful in providing a readable transcript of the ‘Love Letters’ while the inclusion of the printed parts of the novel enhanced my understanding of the parallels between some of the fictional characters and Clarke’s in-laws.

    Marcus Clarke

    Marcus Hislop Clarke’s story is well known, born in April 1846, he was a scion of a well-to-do Anglo-Irish family involved with the colonial service and the legal profession. His mother, Amelia Elizabeth Mathews, (1826–1850) whose family was possibly connected with the Covent Garden theatre, had died of tuberculosis (phthisis) when he was not quite four. His father William Hislop Clarke (1806–1863) had been a wealthy barrister in London’s Lincoln’s Inn when in 1862 he suffered a mental, physical and financial breakdown and was placed in an asylum. It was then a case of ‘what shall we do with Marcus?’ His cousin Captain Andrew Clarke (later Sir Andrew) (1824–1902) had been Surveyor General and a member of Victoria’s Legislative Council in the 1850s before going on to greater things in the Colonial Service. It seems that Andrew Clarke, back in London with his experience of Melbourne, decided that the sixteen-year-old boy should emigrate to that city. Marcus’s only relative in Victoria was his uncle James Langton Clarke (1801–1896) then a county court judge in Ararat 198 km from Melbourne. His father was still alive when the lad of sixteen left Plymouth for Australia in the ship Wellesleyon 16 March 1863—William Hislop Clarke died at Stoke Newington asylum, near London in December 1863.

    Although having had, to the age of sixteen, only four year’s formal education at Cholmeley Grammar School, Highgate, near London, Marcus Clarke was to become a writer of great erudition and erratic brilliance. His one important novel, His Natural Life,hailed as great at the time, is less appreciated today but his journalism endures as a valuable record of Melbourne in the post-gold rush era. Journalism also displays his potential to be a great writer sadly curtailed by his early death.

    In June 1863 Marcus Clarke arrived in Melbourne with about £300 possibly from his cousin Andrew which somehow was soon spent. For the next few years there are glimpses of the young man presumably settling into the colony: the sprightly diarist Annie Baxter Dawbin sees Marcus at a performance of the opera  Le Prophète, at Melbourne’s Haymarket Theatre accompanied by his uncle Judge James Clarke down from Ararat in July 1864. In his later journalism Marcus perhaps gives a glimpse of himself as a ‘New Chum’ in his Australasianarticles where the New Chum, out of money, meets,

    … some burly squatter … down from his station and says, ‘Come Jack, lad; I knew thy father in the old country, and I won’t see thee in a mess. Come up with me and look around the country’ So young Hopeful goes, and is put upon a rough bush horse, and made to ride in stock … and that young men from England are not necessarily exempt from work.1

    His cousin Andrew Clarke rising in the Colonial Service probably used his influence in colonial Australia to secure a position for Marcus at a bank but when it was clear the young man had no head for figures his uncle James found him work as a station-hand pupil (later known as a jackeroo) on the pastoral properties Ledcourt and Swinton, managed by John Holt, in the Wimmera district (270 kilometre/160 miles) north-west of Melbourne.

    Writing to his school friend Cyril Hopkins, Clarke claimed to have survived near-disastrous expeditions into outback NSW. Clarke was of a delicate constitution, having suffered from a withered arm since childhood and surgery for ankylosis, possibly related to his mother’s tuberculosis. Nevertheless he was a fair horseman despite several falls—accidents which might have affected his brain.

    Back in the city by June 1867 he found employment as a journalist at the Argus newspaper and joined Melbourne’s bohemian community with its lively drinking and discursive culture. Very soon he was writing as a free-lance and tried his hand in December 1868 as a playwright by adapting the Charles Reade and Dion Boucicault novel Foul Play for the stage of the Duke of Edinburgh Theatre in Bourke Street. It ran for a week, no small feat in post-gold-rush Melbourne. Dramatisation of novels and adaptations of French plays was a commonplace in nineteenth century theatre. In Clarke’s case this proved to be a relatively easy source of income in later years when his irresponsible life-style was sending his family into poverty. The last Clarke dramas staged in his lifetime were adaptations of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins in 1879, and a burlesque, The Happy Land, (1880, from Gilbert A’Beckett’s adaptation of W.S. Gilbert’s The Wicked World (January 1880), followed by two slight comedies Forbidden Fruit and Daughter of Eve advertised as written for his wife’s return to the theatre at the Bijou Theatre in July 1880.

    It is not known when the Dunn sisters first met Marcus Clarke. Elliott and Wilding speculate that it could have been at an 1866 amateur performance of Extremes, when ‘gentleman actors’ acted with professional actresses and where a ‘Mrs. Lewis’ acted with her sister. Here, however, Elliott has the wrong ‘Mrs. Lewis’ rather, this was Rose Edouin, aka Mrs. G.B.W. Lewis and her sister Julia and the year for this performance was 1859 long before Clarke’s arrival. Multiple stage names can be a problem for the biographer. More likely it was in September 1863 not long after Clarke’s arrival when the seventeen-year-old saw one of Rosa Dunn’s last performances before her marriage and retirement from the stage in the farce The Eton Boy.2 The female lead character was Fanny Curry who, to trick her suitors, cross-dressed, complete with trousers and cropped Eton jacket as an Eton Boy. (Seventeen-year-old Marian may have been waiting in the wings). Years later, after his love affair Clarke makes some bitter comments on an actress playing the Eton Boy whom he names ‘Hypatia’ a pagan female philosopher in the early Christian period in his 1873 sketch on the Theatre Royal’s Café de Paris, ‘Café Lutetia’. ‘Hypatia does not disdain to play the Eton Boy’.3 This can be taken as a reference to Rose’s ambition to be a serious scholar and writer. Mention of ‘Bullivan’ which is ‘Clarkese’ for actor-manager Barry Sullivan places the piece in 1863.

    Marian and Rosa Dunn—actresses

    Given their family background it is not surprising that the Dunn sisters Rosa (née Rosetta O’Donoghue, 1840–1920) and Marian (née O’Donoghue, 1846–1914), should go on the stage. It is likely that growing up in a theatrical family such as that of the Dunns, Rosa, Marian and their brother John would have absorbed theatre skills from backstage. Rosa’s and John junior’s first memories around the stage were most likely from their father’s City of London Theatre in the East End or one of the music-hall saloons where he was playing. While Marian’s early memories as a young child in America would have been of the various theatres in which her father was appearing in Manhattan, Philadelphia and Boston and further West to San Francisco when the family accompanied him on tour.

    Their father John Dunn (1813–1875, born John Benjamin O’Donoghue) was a popular broad or ‘low’ comedian while their maternal grandfather, Andrew Voullaire Campbell (1789–1870), was a comedian and playwright who had enjoyed a long career at Sadler’s Wells and other East End theatres. Rosa’s and Marian’s careers as actresses, however, were neither long nor very successful. One married Louis Lucas Lewis (1834–1910), a rising Melbourne wheat broker and talented amateur musician, while the other married journalist and aspiring bohemian Marcus Clarke. Both young women retired from the stage on their marriages and entry into the ‘respectable’ upper-middle-class.

    The early lives of the sisters should be seen in the context of a strong theatrical family. Their parents were both connected with the stage. Claiming to be London-born, comedian O’Donoghue chose Dunn for a stage-name and as John Dunn found some success in London and the provinces as a ‘Jump Jim Crow’ dancer and comic in the very popular mid-nineteenth century genre of ‘Nigger’ Minstrel shows where white singers and actors, their faces ‘blacked-up’ with burnt cork, cruelly parodied African American slaves. Dunn claimed to have performed the Jim Crow ‘jumping dance’ before the arrival in England of the American inventor of the minstrel show, Thomas ‘Daddy’ Rice (1808–1866). Though not a performer herself, Louisa was the daughter of comic actor-manager Andrew Leonard Voullaire-Campbell prominent on the London and provincial stage in Britain. In 1834 John Dunn married Louisa Voullaire Campbell in London. By the 1840s Dunn, had played in most of the minor theatres (as opposed to the major Royal Patent theatres such as Covent Garden, Drury Lane and the Haymarket) in London such as Sadler’s Wells, the Coburg (now the Old Vic) and other popular theatres, saloons and music halls in the East End.

    There is an element of ‘sleaze’ in his next venture. Dunn took on the management one of these East End venues, the City of London Theatre, Bishopsgate. This proved unsuccessful when there was a moral outcry against him when he hired a young ‘courtesan’ Alice Lowe, (just released from Newgate) to appear on stage in The Miser’s Daughter and The Intrigue. Alice had been the 19-year-old mistress of an Irish earl, Viscount Frankfort who had accused her of theft. The scandal helped crowd the theatre for more than a week. The Spectator railed against lower classes who delighted in the ‘humiliation’ of the gentry and nobility.4 In the course of the furore Dunn lost the theatre and, realising that he was losing money, in 1843 he resolved to ‘go to America!’5 Leaving his pregnant wife and children Louisa six, Rosetta, three, and John, twelve months in Shoreditch. He left Liverpool on the ship Atlantic arriving in New York after 45 days.

    There, followed success in Manhattan and on tours. Playing in farce and comedy with his most successful role as Jack in the farce, That Rascal Jack, written for the New Strand Theatre by T.L. Greenwood and played at Sadler’s Wells. It is loosely based on Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters (1746), localised to England. Soon however he got word that there was illness his family. On returning to London he found a tragic scene. Two of his children, six-year-old Louisa and Fanny, seven months, were dead, with Rosetta and John junior recovering from scarlet fever. In 1846 Dunn took his family including Rosa, John junior and infant Mary Ann (Marian) to New York.

    Dunn made extensive tours around the eastern seaboard of the USA during which time another son, Arthur, was born. In 1850 the Dunns were living in Spring Garden near the city centre of Philadelphia.6 With John playing his star role of Jack.

    Hearing of the Californian gold rush Dunn again left his family, this time going to San Francisco via the Isthmus of Panama. He gives a vivid description of his voyage in a Caribbean steamer to Chagres, on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus and the trek through the jungle and being punted up the river, ‘by natives’ to Panama City on the Pacific side of the isthmus where he waited for a steamer for San Francisco. Railways did not arrive on the Isthmus until 1855.

    After some success in California by 1854 Dunn returned to New York in order to bring his family to San Francisco. This time a somewhat easier route was chosen: through the Caribbean to Nicaragua and thence by steamer via the San Juan river and Lake Nicaragua to San Juan where they picked up a Pacific steamer.

    By 1855 Dunn had established himself as a popular performer in California playing in San Francisco at Maguire’s Theatre and the Metropolitan theatre as Jack in the farce That Rascal Jack and other plays as well as occasional return performances in New York.

    Hearing about the Australian gold-rush the family decided to try their luck and sailed for Sydney in April 1856 on the Dutch ship Horizont.

    Soon after they arrived, John Dunn became a hit in his old part of Jack at the Royal Victoria Theatre in That Rascal Jack with daughter Rosa, now sixteen playing Lucy, Jack’s fellow servant and beloved. Finding that the true centre of theatre (and gold-rush wealth) at this time was in Victoria, the Dunns travelled by coastal steamer to Melbourne where for nearly twenty years (including an 1870 visit to UK and America), he was a prominent performer in Victoria, Tasmania and New Zealand. In Melbourne Dunn was one of the city’s most successful comedians. The family continued touring around the gold-fields and to New Zealand.

    Rosa’s Career

    Rosa’s talent developed a more serious direction than that of her comedian father and by the early 1860s she was playing leading roles in Shakespeare and other ‘serious’ dramas and melodramas of the period such as The Hunchback, Virginias, and Louis IX. Rosa toured with a company directed by William Hoskins around the goldfield towns of Castlemaine, Sandhurst (Bendigo) and Ballarat.

    However, at the age of 23 Rosa was being courted by a potentially wealthy wheat broker and talented amateur musician. Louis Lucas Lewis, born at Kingston, Jamaica in 1834 among the Ashkenazi Jewish mercantile diaspora. He had arrived in Melbourne in 1854. Various critics seem to have been disappointed by Rosa’s leaving the stage so early but some also suggested that she saw Lewis’s proposal of marriage as a chance to break her contract with Barry Sullivan, actor-manager of the Theatre Royal.

    Louis and Rosa married in October 1863 at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Eastern Hill. Their witnesses were the leading Theatre Royal theatrical couple Mr. and Mrs. Robert Heir (Fanny Cathcart).

    Lewis seems not to have practised his Jewish faith—he married in the Anglican Church and at the time was organist at Christ Church, South Yarra. It is not known whether Louis Lewis, like other gentlemen marrying actresses, insisted on his wife leaving the stage but, as we have seen, Rosa herself had tired of an actor’s life and was happy to settle down to the life of a gentlewoman. Great sadness must have entered the marriage when Rosa gave birth to a still-born son in September 1864—there were to be no more children.

    Sometime in 1872 in the midst of writing the serial version of His Natural Life it is likely (if we can believe 26 year-old Marcus’s passionately overwrought love letters and 32-year-old Rosa’s more sensible replies in the ‘Felix and Felicitas’ MSS) that the two, both unhappy in their respective marriages, had an affair.

    Clarke’s commenced writing the novel Felix and Felicitas in 1876—three years after the affair ended. The unfinished text can be seen to have disguised, but parallel elements of the lives of the L.L. Lewises and two of the protagonists in Felix and Felicitas. A planned, but unwritten chapter was to be devoted to correspondence between the main characters, Felix and Felicitas. It is possible that Clarke might have wanted to use the correspondence between himself and his sister-in-law as a kind of guide or template to letters between the characters in his novel. Brian Elliott believed that it was Clarke himself who substituted the name ‘Felicitas’ for the name ‘Rose’ in the manuscript. However, in her 1989 MA thesis, Wendy Abbott-Young suggested a more likely possibility: that the alteration was done by Hamilton Mackinnon, Clark’s erstwhile friend during his editing the MSS for inclusion in the 1884 Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume. A close reading of the MS letters suggests to me that they are genuine and hold valuable biographical information. There are some passages that are evocative of and specific to events in the lives of Rose Lewis and Marcus Clarke. For example, Rose writes of attending his Cantata Proi in December1872 (music by Paolo Giorza). In another passage describes her feelings for Marcus when he helped her with her cloak after a family gathering at his house:

    Propinquity is a mistake with people situated as we are. I sat near you, last night you hand lingered lovingly for a moment as you put my cloak on me, and in consequence my heart today is flooded with tenderness whenever I think of you. But no, no, no! I must be strong …


    To be continued



    1. L.T. Hergenhan (ed.), p. 42

    2. Argus, 13 September 1859

    3. Weekly Times, 28 February 1874

    4. Spectator, 12 November 1842

    5. John Dunn, ‘Some Stage Memories’

    6. Philadelphia County Census, 8 August 1850


    Wendy Abbott-Young, ‘The “Felix and Felicitas” papers of Marcus Clarke’, University of Adelaide, 1989

    W.A. Carne, A Century of Harmony, Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Society, 1854

    Marcus Hislop Clarke, Papers of Marcus Clarke, MS 8222, State Library Victoria, Melbourne

    Mimi Colligan, Circus and Stage: The theatrical adventures of Rose Edouin and G.B.W. Lewis, Monash University Publishing, Clayton, Vic., 2013

    John Dunn, ‘Some Stage Memories of John Dunn Comedian’, unpublished MS compiled by J.E. Nield & Marcus Clarke, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

    Brian Elliott, Marcus Clarke, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1958

    Lucy Frost (ed.), Journal of Annie Baxter Dawbin: July 1858–May 1868, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Qld., in association with the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, 1997

    Cyril Hopkins’ Marcus Clarke, edited from a manuscript at the Mitchell Library by Laurie Hergenhan, Ken Stewart and Michael Wilding, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2009

    L.T. Hergenhan (ed.), A Colonial City: Selected journalism of Marcus Clarke, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Qld., 1972

    Andrew McCann, Marcus Clarke's Bohemia,Melbourne University Publishing, Melbourne, 2004

    Tony Moore, Dancing With Empty Pockets: Australia’s bohemians since 1860, Pier9, Millers Point, NSW, 2012

    George C.D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage, Vol. 5, 1843-1850, Columbia University Press, New York, 1931

    John Russell Stephens, The Profession of the Playwright: British Theatre, 1800-1900, Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 1992

    Robert C. Toll, Blacking-Up: The minstrel show in nineteenth century America, Oxford University Press, New York, 1974

    Colonel R.H. Vetch, General Sir Andrew Clarke, John Murray, London, 1905

    Michael Wilding, Wild Bleak Bohemia, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2014

  • Marcus Clarke and the Theatre (Part 2)

    Marcus Clarke
    MIMI COLLIGAN concludes her exploration of the life and legacy of Marcus Clarke, journalist, playwright and author, and his relationship with two actresses, the Dunn sisters, Marian and Rosa.

    Marian’s stage career

    Marcus Clarke married actress Marian Dunn at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Eastern Hill, Melbourne in July 1869.They were both 23. Some biographers imply that he had married beneath him, and that she could have been partly to blame for his early demise at 35. Certainly, Clarke’s contemporaries might have seen that he, as a gentleman, ought not to have married someone from the stage. Double-standards in Victorian society often allowed a gentleman to take an actress as a mistress but not as a wife.

    Wives and lovers of nineteenth century ‘Great Men’ have tended to be largely ignored by biographers. After all, a wife of a successful man was expected to be respectable: an ‘angel in the house’ and a mother of his children. Her life was a largely hidden one. In middle and upper-class households, a wife was expected to run the servants; she might play the piano and sing a little in the confines of the home and she had her embroidery known as her ‘work’—but apart from her bearing children there were few notable events for the biographer to report. For the biographer of actresses there is a multitude of references, such as advertisements and reviews, and snippets of gossip to be found in newspapers, and diaries. In the later nineteenth century, there is the rise of ‘social journalism’ in such papers as Table Talk, Truth and the Bulletin.

    From the seventeenth century in Europe when females took over roles formerly played by boys, actresses were seen as the antithesis of ‘angels in the house’. They were ‘public women’ often perceived as little more than prostitutes. Many actresses made great efforts to proclaim their ‘respectability’—this often meant that they left the stage altogether when marrying outside their profession.

    Marian Dunn made her stage debut in the early 1860s. One of her early performances was at the age of sixteen in the Sheridan Knowles play William Tell as Tell’s son Albert, a breeches role, in October 1862 at the Melbourne Princess’s. According to the Argus (15 October 1862) critic:

    Miss Marian Dunn … played very nicely as Albert … and who latterly has been making such good progress … that she may reasonably hope … to rival her elder sister [Rosa] in the affections of the public.

    Marian performed at the Princess’s in George Fawcett’s company and toured with her father around the gold-rush towns of Ballarat, Castlemaine and Sandhurst (Bendigo). Having followed gold since 1851, first to California then to Australia with theatre, John Dunn realised that the discoveries in Otago, New Zealand would be profitable for actors so he joined other theatricals in Wellington in August 1861, later proceeding to Dunedin in the heart of the Otago gold fields. Marian followed him in November 1863 with her mother and younger brother Arthur. Here, under various managers such as Fawcett and Clarance Holt she played secondary soubrette roles in comedy, pantomime and burlesque to Julia Matthews, one of the most popular singers, dancers and actresses of the post-gold-rush era, now remembered for being courted obsessively by explorer Robert O’Hara Burke. Her father handled much of the ‘low’ comedy business while her elder brother John junior also tried his hand as an actor. Travelling around New Zealand at this time must have taken some courage, as the Maori Wars were raging, although mainly on the North Island. As well, the stage was not without its local dangers such as fire. On one occasion Marian was frightened when her dress nearly caught fire when she fell into the footlights.

    By 1865 Marian seems, like her sister, to have tired of the stage and after returning to Melbourne disappears from the amusement pages of the newspapers. Although as often happens with sisters their relationship seems to have been strained. At this time Marian Dunn’s name appears in the Argus ‘Shipping Intelligence’ of February and March 1867 as travelling to Tasmania with her sister Rosa and husband Louis Lewis. Perhaps Marian and the Lewises were taken to Port Arthur, still occupied by convicts to view the sad place. There is a newspaper story, published in 1926, which tells of Marian’s sympathy for the privations of the prisoners and her possible influence on Clarke’s convict novel.

    Marian did not perform in Melbourne again until late 1867 when she played the second lead of Barbara Hare in East Lynne at the Duke of Edinburgh Theatre (formerly the Haymarket). She received welcoming reviews for her acting and the critics noted her improvement since New Zealand. Then, for the next twelve months, she was much in demand, taking on different roles at the Theatre Royal Melbourne. These ranged from burlesques such as The Lady of Lyons,where she played the breeches role of Claude Melnotte (with her father as Pauline), The Siege of Troy (as Paris) and King Arthur in King Arthur (with her friend Docy Stewart elder half-sister of actress Nellie Stewart), Lady Anne in Richard III, Desdemona in Othello,and Ophelia in Hamlet. These latter Shakespearian roles were opposite the American/British tragedian Walter Montgomery. She got excellent notices for her singing and dancing in the burlesques and mixed critiques in her Shakespeare roles. The Argus critic thought she tended to speak her lines ‘by rote’ but the Australasian’s Dr J.E. Neild was full of praise, except that he thought her singing voice in the songs of Ophelia could have been stronger, he admired most of her performances.


    The story of Marcus leaving Marian at church door of St. Peter’s Eastern Hill after their July 1869 wedding to find somewhere for them to live is re-told by most of his biographers. Changing addresses was to become characteristic of the twelve-year marriage. The Clarkes had no fewer than ten different addresses during their time together as traced by birth certificates and street directories: Gore Street, Fitzroy; Barry Street, Carlton; Bridport Street, Emerald Hill; High Street, Prahran; Greville Street, Prahran; Maroola, Middle Cresent, Brighton; Clarke’s cousin Andrew’s Cheltenham property; Robe Street, St Kilda; Chapel Street, St. Kilda; and finally, Inkerman Street, St. Kilda where he died. It seems that Clarke’s bohemian, perhaps irresponsible, attitude to life made it impossible for him earn enough money to cover his personal and household expenses.

    For the next twelve years Marian retreated into private life. But it was not an easy one: in January 1870, when she was five months pregnant with their first child (William, born 29 April 1870), Marcus still thinking like a bachelor, chose to leave her, presumably with her parents, for a ten-day research visit to Port Arthur with Argus editor Frederick Haddon. This visit was to be crucial in the writing of both the serial and the book versions of His Natural Life plus three articles on convictism in Tasmania published in the Argus during 1873.

    Then there was the problem of moving house frequently (perhaps they were doing ‘moonlight flits—ten addresses in twelve years). To his credit, the usually feckless Marcus had in mid-1870 secured good positions at the Melbourne Public Library as clerk to the trustees and later Sub-Librarian.

    In 1871 Marian is described in the diary of Pentridge Prison governor Brian Castieau as, having:

    settled down from the favourite actress into the domesticated wife & mother & is apparently very quiet. Clarke and I saw very little of her except at dinner & at the end of the evening.

    Marian was seven months pregnant at the time.

    At first the marriage seems to have been satisfactory. In the letters Clarke wrote Cyril Hopkins sometime in 1874:

    My wife was an actress and had no fortune of her own except a good temper, and something of originality which pleases me better than money. We get on very well and have three children.

    As was usual in nineteenth century marriages there was a succession of three babies in as many years. Marian might have had the support of her parents and sister at this time. But in November 1871 after only two and a half years of marriage, Clarke records in his notebook ‘Marian said that she wished to God she had never married me’.

    Finding the combination of writing, children and domesticity difficult to deal with Clarke seems to have sought the quiet of the Lewis household and developed an ‘intellectual’ friendship with his sister-in-law. The ‘Felix and Felicitas’ love letters make it clear that Clarke’s wife Marian, in Clarke’s estimation, was not the intellectual equal of her sister. She had no interest in the philosophical and literary pursuits that peppered Clarke’s journalism.

    At the end of his affair with Rosa in January 1873, after a sojourn back at John Holt’s Wimmera station (where he worked as a jackaroo in 1864), Clarke writes:

    … in my solitude in the hills I concluded this—I voluntarily married a young girl whom I made love me I must accept my fate and be strong and manly, honest and strong.

    It is not clear whether Marian was aware of Clarke’s extra-marital affair at the time of its duration. She certainly was seen to be unhappy by the lovers.

    In answer to Rosa’s observation that she and her sister were like ‘square pegs in round holes’ and that she, Rosa, had no interest in her husband’s amateur music activities, while her sister was not a scholar Clarke replied:

    You touched me by the anecdote ‘Teach me to study’ Poor child I can fancy her saying that. Ah my dear she is better than either of us, for when did I ever ask to be taught some pursuit in which she might share or you endeavour to decipher the beauties of the double-bass.

    Over the years there was to be a contrast in the quality of life of the two couples. One of the reasons for Rosa’s cooling ardour might have been the promise of travel back to Europe. From February 1873 to Louis Lewis’s death in 1910 the Lewises travelled to Europe nearly every year. Whereas the Clarkes never owned houses, the Lewis households improved in quality, from renting a large brick house, Wheatfield, requiring servants and a gardener (named Bloomfield) in Barkly Street, St. Kilda to the mansion Alta Vista on Punt Road hill in South Yarra, the latter was part of Lewis’s growing property portfolio. But while Clarke boasted to Hopkins about his income from his position at the Melbourne Public Library and that he employed servants including a nursemaid for his growing family, the Clarke’s most comfortable dwelling, seems to have been Maroola, their rented house in Outer Circle Brighton (now part of Firbank Girls’ Grammar School), during Clarke’s management (holding Power of Attorney) or ‘miss-management’ of his cousin’s Cheltenham farm property from 1874 to 1879 (which he claims to Hopkins he used as a shooting box). The last Clarke child, Percy Filmore, was born at Maroola in 1878. Most of the other houses reflect the downward spiral of Marcus’s inability to provide for his family. ‘Sunnyside’ in Chapel Street, St. Kilda is described by Marcus with bitter irony as ‘damp etc.’ Those at his August 1881 deathbed in the Inkerman Street dwelling describe the house as being bare and cold.

    Marian’s life after Marcus

    How was Marian going to manage? There were six children under eleven to provide for: William John, 11, Arthur, 10, Ernest, 9, Rose, 7, Ethel, 5, and Percy, 3. Yet she was not alone. Marcus had many friends including John Joseph Shillinglaw, George Arthur Walstab, Robert Percy Whitworth, George Cordon McCrae, James Maloney, and Hamilton Mackinnon, all of whom were shocked and saddened by his relatively sudden death at the young age of 35. Most were writers and journalists and fellow bohemians; they gathered around the poverty-stricken widow and her six young children. Surely they could help to promote Clarke’s writings and obtain money for his family. But it seems that the others being occupied with their own concerns only former editor of the Wagga Wagga Advertiser and publisher’s agent Hamilton Mackinnon seemed determined to do this. Or, did he ‘lock them out’ taking charge of the papers while preparing to edit them for a memorial volume?

    Born in 1847 to a military family in India, Mackinnon was educated at Wellington College, Berkshire and arrived in Melbourne in 1866. He was an early member of the Yorick Club. In 1870 he married Henrietta Darcy in Melbourne, but by 1881 was separated from her and their four children.

    Meanwhile not surprisingly, it was the theatrical fraternity which immediately came to Marian’s aid. In July 1880 she had returned to the stage at the invitation of the G.B.W. Lewises [See Mimi Colligan, Circus and Stage: The theatrical adventures of Rose Edouin and G.B.W. Lewis], a theatrical couple who managed the Bijou Theatre in Bourke Street. This return after twelve years was not a success. Marian could no longer perform as she had in the 1860s. The G.B.W. Lewises organised a benefit for her as did J.C. Williamson, now managing the Theatre Royal and the Princess’s. By the end of 1882 benefits and appeals netted about £1,000 the for Clarke family.

    Although there appears to have been coolness in the sisters’ relationship sister Rosa Lewis would have been unable to help at this time. She and her husband were on a world tour that lasted from June 1881 to February of the following year. (That Marcus had borrowed money from L.L. Lewis appears in Clarke’s insolvency papers as one of Marcus’s creditors). On a practical level Rosa Lewis’s friends, the Bunny family, living in affluent circumstances at the other end of Inkerman Street, St. Kilda, offered to care for one of the Clarke children, and five-year-old Ethel stayed and played with the Bunny children for six months.

    In her 1934 reminiscences Hilda Mackinnon (née Bunny) fondly remembered how Rosa and her husband had befriended herself and her brother Rupert (later to be an important Australian artist) when they lived near them in St. Kilda during the early 1870s. As Rosa’s marriage was childless, she was drawn to the company of children.

    Dealing with Marcus’s erstwhile friend Hamilton Mackinnon (no relation to Hilda Bunny Mackinnon) who seems to have ‘locked out’ Marcus’s old friends such as Garnet Walch, Whitworth, Shillinglaw, George Gordon McCrae and George Walstab, Marian perhaps saw this rather shadowy character as her main hope of gaining enough income support to feed and educate her six children by editing and publishing the remainder of Marcus’s writings. Among the papers found by Mackinnon in his preparation for the Memorial Volume—were the ‘Felix and Felicitas’ manuscript and printed chapters that Marcus had been working on fitfully since 1876.

    Soon after Marcus’s death there were moves in the Victorian Parliament to grant a Pension to the Clarke family. Members such as Alfred Deakin and others indicated the value placed by many in the talent of Marcus Clarke—he was regarded as ‘our first great novelist’. (Mark Twain described him as ‘Australia’s greatest genius’.) Yet, according to Hansard, there were other parliamentarians who did not see why the public purse should go to supporting the destitute family.

    Meantime Marian, able to move out of the Inkerman Road slum, opened a bookshop at 49 Napier Street, Fitzroy selling paperback copies of Marcus’s writings. By 1886 she was also registrar local birth, deaths, and marriages at £60 per year—seemingly the only concession by Parliament to her request for a pension.

    Tragic drama entered the Clarke family saga in 1897. Marian was living with daughter Rose at 5 St. Vincent’s Place, Albert Park, with Hamilton Mackinnon as a lodger. (What was the nature of Marian’s relationship with Mackinnon? They were the same age and by taking over the management of the Clarke papers he had helped her almost exclusively since Marcus’s death.) In May, Mackinnon, who had an upstairs room with a balcony was entertaining his agent friend, Aitken. The two men were drinking whisky and playing the fool with Mackinnon’s gun, which went off. Mackinnon was fatally wounded and died the following day.

    From 1899 to 1901, Marian was in London. Long wishing to promote Marcus’s writings in that city, she met with Cyril Hopkins. She was accompanied by her children Rose and William.

    Back in Australia, Marian remained well established as Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. In the early 1900s, she inherited a small sum of money from Marcus’s Uncle Judge James Clarke’s estate. By 1910, her heath began to deteriorate, and she went to live with her son Ernest. She died in 1914 and was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery with her husband.

    What of Marian’s children? They were mostly likely educated at the Model School in Spring Street (now the site of the Royal College of Surgeons)—an important place in the history of education in Melbourne. Her the youngest child, Percy (1868–1960) was certainly a pupil.

    Two of her children, Ethel (as Marian Marcus Clarke) and Arthur (as Arthur Elton) had some success on the stage. By the early years of the twentieth century, they were both acting in America, Ethel with the Fred Niblo Company and Arthur with various stock companies. Meanwhile daughter Rose (b.1874) was giving cooking demonstrations for the Melbourne Metropolitan Gas Company.

    After Marian’s death, Ethel became a major advocate of her father’s work, notably through the promotion of a film version of For the Term of His Natural Life (1927), in which she played the character of Lady Devine, Rufus Dawes’ mother.

    Both Ethel and Ernest (1873–1925) were instrumental in the sale of the Clarke papers to the Melbourne Public Library and the Mitchell Library in Sydney.

    During the 1930, Ethel was still giving readings from His Natural Life on radio. She was to die in the Ballarat Mental Asylum in 1958, aged 82, probably suffering from dementia.

    Rosa’s life after Marcus

    After ending her affair with Marcus, Rosa appeared to be happy with her wealthy husband, perhaps recognising his artistic worth as a musician and his social interests in charity. The couple travelled frequently to Europe ostensibly to escape the Melbourne winter for Rosa’s health. Rosa and Louis became accepted in upper-class Melbourne society. Her wealthy wheat-broker husband was much in demand amateur musician and philanthropist, Rosa was also accepted as an amateur actress, ‘lady novelist’ and society-hostess.

    In the lead-up to and during the 1880s boom, was this ready acceptance by society in part due to Louis’s wealth? By now his wealth extended to a large property portfolio in the expensive suburb of South Yarra. The couple moved into the mansion Alta Vista, on the fashionable Punt Road hill, in South Yarra after their return from Europe in 1877. In 1884 they played host to Vicary Gibbs, a wealthy London businessman, who recorded his visit to the Lewises in his diaries, later published as From Guano to God, edited and researched by Shirley Hickley (2014).

    Eventually Rosa as Mrs. L.L. Lewis fulfilled her an ambition to become a published writer fiction. In 1885, during one of the Lewises’ now annual trips to Europe Rosa’s novel Fatal Shadows was published in Bristol. She also contributed two serials to Australian journals. Her attempts at fiction were competently written but no match for her contemporary Australian ‘lady novelists’ such as Ada Cambridge and Tasma.

    During the 1890s, Louis Lewis lost his money in the Bank Crash, but soon recovered his fortune.

    Later Rosa served on quasi-feminist committees such as the first annual congress of the National Council of Women in 1903 where she gave a talk on ‘Women and the Drama’, noting the ‘honoured position they took nowadays’ and the general improvements many of them had attained in the profession. She also took part in the ‘Women’s Work Exhibition’ of 1907.

    Rosa died in Bournemouth, England, in 1920, aged 80.



    Wendy Abbott-Young, ‘The “Felix and Felicitas” papers of Marcus Clarke’, University of Adelaide, 1989

    W.A. Carne, A Century of Harmony, Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Society, 1854

    Mark Finnane (ed.), The Difficulties of My Position: The diaries of Prison Governor John Buckley Castieau, 1855–1884, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2004

    Marcus Hislop Clarke, Papers of Marcus Clarke, MS 8222, State Library Victoria, Melbourne

    Mimi Colligan, Circus and Stage: The theatrical adventures of Rose Edouin and G.B.W. Lewis, Monash University Publishing, Clayton, Vic., 2013

    John Dunn, ‘Some Stage Memories of John Dunn Comedian’, unpublished MS compiled by J.E. Nield & Marcus Clarke, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

    Brian Elliott, Marcus Clarke, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1958

    Lucy Frost (ed.), Journal of Annie Baxter Dawbin: July 1858–May 1868, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Qld., in association with the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, 1997

    Rosamond Gilder, Enter the Actress, George Harrap & Co. Ltd., London, 1931

    Cyril Hopkins’ Marcus Clarke, edited from a manuscript at the Mitchell Library by Laurie Hergenhan, Ken Stewart and Michael Wilding, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2009

    L.T. Hergenhan (ed.), A Colonial City: Selected journalism of Marcus Clarke, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Qld., 1972

    Andrew McCann, Marcus Clarke's Bohemia, Melbourne University Publishing, Melbourne, 2004

    Tony Moore, Dancing With Empty Pockets: Australia’s bohemians since 1860, Pier9, Millers Point, NSW, 2012

    George C.D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage, Vol. 5, 1843–1850, Columbia University Press, New York, 1931

    John Russell Stephens, The Profession of the Playwright: British Theatre, 1800–1900, Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 1992

    Robert C. Toll, Blacking-Up: The minstrel show in nineteenth century America, Oxford University Press, New York, 1974

    Colonel R.H. Vetch, General Sir Andrew Clarke, John Murray, London, 1905

    Michael Wilding, Wild Bleak Bohemia, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2014

    Banner images

    Rosa Dunn, c.1859. State Library Victoria, Melbourne.

    Sheet music cover for ‘Those Vanished Years’, written by Marcus Clarke; composed by Alfred Plumpton; sung by Maggie Stirling; published by Marian Clarke, 1898. National Library of Australia, Canberra.

    Marian Dunn, 1865. Photo by Davies & Co., Melbourne. State Library Victoria, Melbourne.