Theatre Heritage Australia



Mr Coppin’s Tour of Civil War America

‘I have every expectation to anticipate a kindly reception in America’

That was George Coppin’s heartfelt hope in the Australian summer of 1864. But when the most industrious theatre impresario in the colonies reached America later that year, the reception was anything but kindly.

The United States was horribly dis-United. North and South were still at loggerheads over slavery with no sign of the war between them ending. Then, just when he was ready to present Shakespeare on Broadway with the eminent English actors Charles and Ellen Kean, calamitous events in Washington upended all his plans.

‘Mr Coppin’s Tour of Civil War America’ recounts these dramatic events using rarely seen carte de visite images of prominent 19th century Americans including Abraham Lincoln, PT Barnum and Edwin Booth. This presentation by Melbourne writer-researcher Simon Plant is based on a new book about the tour entitled ‘Entertaining Mr Coppin: An Australian Showman in Civil War America’.

Commissioned by Theatre Heritage Australia, ‘Entertaining Mr Coppin’ meticulously reconstructs the journey Coppin and the Keans undertook in 1864–65. Plant, a former Herald and Weekly Times features writer, draws on rich archival resources at State Library Victoria, the National Library in Canberra and theatre libraries in America and England. In doing so, he recovers a vanished world of gaslight and greasepaint and offers a marvellous account of America at a perilous time in its history.

A beloved performer as well as theatre owner, Coppin was best known in Melbourne for managing the Olympic Theatre (‘Iron Pot’) in Stephen Street (now Exhibition Street), and the Cremorne Gardens—an amusement resort on the Yarra at Richmond. Unusually for a showman, he also pursued a political career. In the late 1850s, Coppin was a leading light in Richmond’s municipal affairs and elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly. It is also Plant’s contention that Coppin might be the only eminent colonist to bequeath us an eyewitness account of events surrounding the assassination of President Lincoln.

‘Entertaining Mr Coppin’ is due to be published later this year by Theatre Heritage Australia. ‘Mr Coppin’s Tour of Civil War America’ is a preview of things to come and an absorbing presentation in its own right.

This is a rare opportunity to see behind the front door of one of Australia's oldest private members’ clubs. Formed in 1894, the Melbourne Savage Club took its name from the Savage Club of London, and like its British counterpart, its founding membership shared a passion for music, art, drama, literature and science, all of which were unified by a bohemian spirit. Situated in the heart of Melbourne’s central business district, the club purchased its present premises in Bank Place in 1923. Classified by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria), and built between 1884 and 1885, the magnificent boom-era Victorian residence was once the home of Sir Rupert Clarke.

Please note—No photography permitted inside the club.

All are welcome. Entry is by gold coin donation, however bookings are essential.



Theatre Heritage Australia presents

Mr Coppin’s Tour of Civil War America

Venue: Melbourne Savage Club | 12 Bank Pl, Melbourne VIC
Date/Time: Friday 3 May 2024. Arrive 6.00pm for 6.15pm start.
Duration: 1 hour
Bookings: Entry is by gold coin donation, however pre-booking is essential. Note – Tickets will NOT be available at the door.

Click here to book

This event is part of the 2024 Australian Heritage Festival: Connections
18 Apr – 18 May 2024