A Quest for Respectability, On and Off the Stage: Dolores Drummond aka Dolly Green

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MIMI COLLIGAN delves into the life of actress Dolores Drummond, a London-born actress who, as Dolly Green, performed in Australia from 1856 to 1874 ... and discovers more than she bargained for.

In 1909, now a little ‘old lady’ and just retired from the stage, Dolly (Dolores), playing herself as a revered actress, speaks with a journalist:

Yes, I can truly say I love the stage … It is like that—the stage. It gets into the blood: and even when one can talk of G.V. Brooke, Charles Kean, Barry Sullivan and Joseph Jefferson as [vanished friends] … It is always inviting one to come back and look out once more, if only for a brief time, across the radiance of the footlights. [1]

Theatre historian Tracy Davis and others have shown that respectability was of prime importance to nineteenth century actresses. [2] Any irregularities in sexual relationships had to be hidden, ignored or lied about in later reminiscences. Because, given the customs of her time, Dolores Drummond was far from respectable. [3]

The professional lives of actors are fairly easy to track with newspaper advertisements and theatre reviews. Public records provide more personal details. London-born, Dolly also lived in Australia and New Zealand, so snippets of her life enabled me to pry into her family secrets. [4] This led to discovering Dolores’ sensational, but unpublished, divorce proceedings in NSW. [5] The divorce affidavits contain information ranging from the sordid to how one immigrant family dealt with colonial experience. This included a goldfield’s grocer, a hotel-keeper, a confectionary wholesaler and a ‘caddish’ actor.

Dolly was not a star celebrity—in England her chief successes in the theatre were to be supporting and character roles, such as the villainous French maid Hortense in Jo (a play based on Dickens’ Bleak House) the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, and ‘old women’ in both the minor and major theatres and West End comedies and melodramas. Her career spanned Australia, New Zealand, UK and America taking diverse roles: from pantomime where she could play both ‘principal boy’ or fairy-tale heroine: to Shakespearian parts ranging from Desdemona, Juliet and Ophelia to donning doublet-and-hose for the male role of Henry Percy in Richard II. She was also described as a ‘charming comedienne’.

Throughout her long career Dolores gave many interviews about her life on and off the stage. All are interesting, and, after researching her career using 21st century biographical tools, fairly accurate. However, the picture she paints is of a girl brought up in an artistic family, [6] as a toddler speaking Russian in St Petersburg, [7] being suddenly brought to Sydney as an emigrant by her artist mother to open a school teaching and making miniature portraits. For example, ‘I came to Australia as a child with my mother in 1853’. WRONG: she arrived with her husband and mother in 1854 aged twenty. She claimed that her only theatrical training was reading Shakespeare to her mother while she worked at her miniatures in Melbourne. It was while so occupied that Dolores decided to go on the stage. In most of her interviews and ‘press releases’ Dolores makes no mention of her marriage or children.

Dolores was born in London in 1834 to Eliza Ann Drummond, a portrait painter exhibiting at the Royal Academy of Art, and Charles Green in the British diplomatic service. Her parents took Dolly to Russia where a son, Charles Bannister Green, was born c.1836. [8] By 1841 Eliza and the children were back in London, without, it appears, Dolly’s father. Eliza Ann Green was listed as Head in the 1851 UK census.

Dolores was raised in her mother’s middle-class artistic family of aunts and grand-parents and probably educated at home learning the female accomplishments of singing, dancing and painting (miniatures). Her grandfather was portrait and marine painter Samuel Drummond ARA, three times married and father of many daughters, most of whom were artists. Dolly’s mother, Eliza Ann (1799-1868), exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts between 1820 and 1837. [9] Portraits of actors featured in all the family’s oeuvre. While living near many West End theatres, Dolly and her mother became keen theatre-goers. [10]

In August 1854 when still under-age Dolores married another minor, John Musgrove Allwright, cheesemonger. [11] In the 1851 British census, Allwright is listed as aged seventeen, a ‘shopman’ working for his uncle, a Soho cheesemonger, while Dolores’ father was in the diplomatic service. Soon after their wedding in Saint Marylebone Church the young couple emigrated to Sydney accompanying Dolly’s mother who hoped to set up an artist’s studio to paint portraits. [There could have been some scandal, possibly caused by their youth, or class differences. Why, for example didn’t they marry in their own parish, St Anne’s Soho?] Also, on board the emigrant ship Marchioness of Londonderry was William Alonzo Spragg (1827-1878), would-be law writer and son of a licenced victualler. In a strangely inverted ‘shipboard romance’, apparently unnoticed by her young husband, Spragg became Dolly’s lover. [12] They were soon to form an enduring de-facto relationship.

The group arrived in Sydney on 10 December 1854. According to a later advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1874 Dolly and her mother Eliza Ann had opened an art school teaching miniature portraiture in Glebe. [13] If we can believe a claim in the 1874 Allwright v. Allwright divorce case, in the early days of the Australian Matrimonial Causes Act, it is likely that most of their work was devoted to hand-colouring photographs. [14] An earlier advertisement, 25 February 1855, indicated that Dolores had deserted Allwright to set up an art school in Melbourne with her mother. However, given the increasing popularity of photography, e.g. daguerreotypes, their business as miniaturists failed. By August 1856 claiming to have read aloud most of Shakespeare’s plays to her artist mother while she painted, Dolores decided to take up acting and commenced her career under the name of ‘Dolly Green’.

Her first role was as a non-speaking ‘beautiful slave’ (she called it a ‘thinking part) in an 1856 production of the 1856 spectacle, Timour the Tartar at George Coppin’s prefabricated cast iron theatre the Olympic (now site of the Comedy Theatre). She is not listed in any other productions until 1862.

Meanwhile Dolly was living in Fitzroy with her mother and William Alonzo Spragg. A writer in the Bulletin recalled William:

We knew him variously as Sprague and Drummond—a very retiring quiet man who almost nightly occupied a seat in the stalls awaiting the fall of the curtain, when he escorted Dolly to their home in Fitzroy. [15]

During the next five years Dolly gave birth to three daughters by Spragg (a variant of the more euphonious surname Sprague) in Melbourne: Rose, born 1857, Laura (or Lillian), born 1859 and Dolores Alice, born 1861. According to evidence in the 1874 divorce case [16] Spragg assumed the name of Drummond. Calling himself William Drummond, he (as informant) claimed on their birth certificates that he was the father and had married Dolly in Sydney in either 1854 or 1856. [17] In fact there had been no marriage as she was still legally married to John Musgrove Allwright. Nevertheless, Dolly’s common-law relationship with William was to be an enduring one.

While in Australia Dolly took many Shakespearian roles, notably playing Ophelia (at a moment’s notice), with British actor Neil Henry Warner. She recalled, referring to her filial readings for her mother, ‘There was I, with all of Shakespeare at my fingertips’. [18] She also played Desdemona to G.V. Brooke’s Othello. During the visit of the young American comedian Joseph Jefferson she played Titania in his production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. [19] When Coppin organised a tour of the famous British actors Charles and Ellen Kean in late 1863 Dolly was part of their supporting stock company, playing among other roles, a satisfactory Regan to Kean’s King Lear. [20] Kean gave her a bracelet and promised her a place with his London company but when she returned to London Kean was dead. [21]

From 1864 Dolly and William divided their time between Australia and New Zealand, spending nearly eight years in Otago. For part of this time Dolly performed in Dunedin’s Princess Theatre where she became ‘Directress’ in 1866. She told Melbourne medico and theatre critic Dr. J.E. Neild that she took on management in NZ so she could choose her own parts. [22]

In 1869 William (son of a pub keeper), became licensee of Dunedin’s Octagon Hotel (potentially more lucrative than law-writing) while Dolly performed at, and managed, Dunedin’s Princess Theatre. [23] However, unlike his partner, William was not a good manager. He allowed illegal gambling and after-hours-drinking and was bankrupted in 1871. [24] By 1868 William was, perhaps, alcoholic and already consumptive. [Dolly’s brother Charles and his wife Theresa were living at the hotel and Charles and took over the licence.]

When Dolly cut off all ties with Allwright in 1855 she told Eliza Ann, to write to son Charles telling him that Dolores was dead. Charles duly relayed the news to Allwright, now known as Wright, who felt free to remarry, first to Margaret Rae in 1857 and on Rae’s death, to Margaret Anstead in 1860. [25] When Eliza went to live with her son Charles, a grocer in the NSW gold-town of Majors Creek near Braidwood, she told her son the truth but Charles did not inform Allwright until after his mother’s death. [26]

While in New Zealand Dolly had two more children with Spragg, a son, William George Robert Spragg born 1865, later to become the renowned London theatre architect W.G.R. Sprague, [27] and Grace born 1869.

It appears that she lost the management of the Princess theatre in 1870 and in something of a ‘come-down’ tried her luck in Christchurch performing at the Masonic Hall rather than the main theatre and toured coastal towns like Oamaru. Dolly ‘tried-out’ various roles in popular farces and her own ‘polymonologue’, based on Emma Stanley’s show, The Seven Ages of Woman. [28] Dolly was to have successes in Australia at smaller halls such as Melbourne’s Polytechnic in Bourke Street in this more intimate type of entertainment.

Dolly and her family returned to Australia in February 1872 where she toured the eastern colonies with William as her agent. By now eldest daughter Rose was taking small roles in some productions while also caring for the younger children. Back in Melbourne Dolly was engaged as main supporting actress to the Irish-American tragedienne Mary Gladstane at the opening season of Melbourne’s Prince of Wales Theatre (Opera House) in August 1872.

[A note about colonial theatres in the 1860s and 1870s: Apart from Melbourne’s Theatre Royal, Princess, and Haymarket and Sydney’s Royal Victoria, most of the venues where Dolly performed were small, often flat floored, buildings attached to hotels.] [29]

As we have seen, during their time in NZ, Dolly and William Alonzo’s relationship was troubled. Her life was to be further complicated by meeting Irish-American tragedian James Carden (1837-c.1917). Carden had opened at Coppin’s Theatre Royal on 1 March 1872 in the tragic role of Enoch Arden in a dramatized version Tennyson’s poem, ‘Enoch Arden’. His next part was the comic role of Badger in The Streets of New York but this was cut short when the Royal burnt down on 22 March 1872. Ironically, the play’s last scene contained a sensational ‘stage fire’. However, the destruction of the building occurred early the next morning.

Later that year Carden was engaged as leading man for the tragedienne Mary Gladstane’s company. In Elizabeth, Queen of England by Italian playwright Paolo Giacometti Elizabeth, Queen of England, he played a dashing Essex while Dolly’s secondary role, Lady Howard, ‘had a pleasantly domesticated look’. [30] [It’s likely that the attraction between Carden and Dolly began during this season] After this Carden formed his own touring company around NSW and Queensland with Dolly as leading lady and William Drummond as Carden’s business manager. [31]

Dolly, no doubt ‘fed-up’ with her partner, embarked on an unbridled affair with Carden. Dolly’s seventeen-year old daughter Rose was quoted in subsequent divorce proceedings as having been made aware of the affair when Dolly and Carden started having sexual encounters near her children’s bedroom. Rose told her aunt Theresa how she pleaded with her mother to end her immoral behaviour. [32] However, it was a case of the cuckolder cuckolded.

When Carden and Dolly left Brisbane for a tour to NSW, Spragg, left alone, obtained a licence for Brisbane’s Victoria Hotel. This pub had interconnecting doors with the theatre. So, he was  again in trouble for after-hours-trading and allowing prostitutes to frequent his bar. [33]

In June 1874 Dolly, now calling herself ‘Dolores Drummond’, appears in newspaper law-lists as suing Allwright, now John Musgrove Wright, for divorce citing desertion and adultery. [34] Indeed, this was true, as he had a brief marriage to Margaret Rae in 1857 and on her death married Sydney widow Margaret Anstead in 1860—according to his affidavit, believing Dolores dead. [35]

However, he was also trying to divorce Dolly—but she got in first. Allwright would become a millionaire Sydney confectioner and land-developer dying in London [from measles] in 1898. [36] As respondent Allwright (Wright) cited her desertion followed by adultery with Spragg and later, with actor James Carden. While Dolly’s petition is somewhat vague, Allwright’s response indicates that he has gathered evidence against her more efficiently. [37]

There follows a collection of affidavits by Dolly, her legal husband Allwright, her brother Charles and his wife Theresa. These reveal Dolly’s raffish behaviour on arrival in Sydney and the drunkenness of Eliza Ann, and how, as an intoxicated chaperone, she and Dolly frequented low dancing saloons in Woolloomooloo and encouraged Dolly’s liaison with Spragg at the saloon, the Argyle Rooms where ‘W. Spragg Hon Sec’ was running Masked Balls in aid of Crimean War Patriotic Fund. [38]

This behaviour was cited as the cause of Allwright leaving Dolly and her mother in 1855 in order to acquire another dwelling for himself and Dolly only. Dolly, however, refused his demands and his offer to pay maintenance of £78 per annum. She left for Melbourne with William Spragg, soon to be followed by her mother.

Allright’s affidavit reveals a letter from Dolly dated 7 August 1873 showing her begging for money. It was, perhaps Dolly’s own melodrama, played out on paper—the penitent wife begging for £250 to escape Australia and scandal and take up a career in London:

Sir,

You told me when I saw you in 1868 at the time of my mother’s death that if ever I should need help and a friend I might apply to you, and I am so friendless and desolate now, that if you cannot or will not grant the request I now make I do not know what will become of me—I cannot let my children starve and I cannot honestly earn what will keep us … [39]

However, in drama terms, it was like a case of a deceitful wife. We have evidence that between August 1873 and May 1874 she was living and cohabiting with James Carden. [40] And when Allwright/Wright ignored her request in April 1874, she instituted divorce proceedings to be followed by a counter suit by Wright.

According to the Divorce papers, Mr Justice Hargrave presided at the hearing of the case in July 1874. He scribbled ‘adultery of husband insufficient for divorce’ on the affidavit. [41] In other words, there was no result.

After these proceedings, Dolores left for London on the Somersetshire in late July with her five children including nine-year-old William. [42] Her quiet ‘husband’ Spragg probably left for England earlier. Her lover James Carden had also returned to London where he married another actress, named Lucy Marston Leigh. [43]

A death certificate from 1878 shows that William Alonzo Drummond Spragg, law writer, aged 48, died from phthisis (TB) at Dolly’s house 43 Barrington Road, Lambeth [44] indicating that she still had some regard for the father of her children. Dolly, and her daughter Grace nursed the dying man with Dolly as informant calling herself Dolores Drummond Spragg.

Dolores Drummond’s first London ‘gig’ was in a Shakespeare season at the Standard Theatre in the East End where among other Shakespearian parts she played Hermione in The Winter’s Tale.

For the next 34 years, from the age of 40. Dolores was a stalwart on the London and provincial stages playing second leads and general character roles. Always versatile, in the 1880s and 1890s, now an older woman, Dolly played characters from house-keepers such as that of Mrs. Sampson in the London adaptation of Fergus Hume’s novel The Mystery of a Hansom Cab set in Melbourne, or the buxom innkeeper in Robert Louis Stevenson’s posthumous pirate drama Admiral Guinea, or the mad old hag La Frochard, in The Two Orphans starring Marion Terry, sister of the great Ellen. [45]

Perhaps her most notable performance came at the Globe in February 1876 in the play Jo, based on Dickens’ Bleak House. Dolly played Hortense, Lady Deadlock’s French maid and nemesis. Dolores had rave reviews supporting Jennie Lee who played the title role. One reviewer thought her accent so good that she must be French. [46] In 1883 she played another French character in Pinero’s farce, The Rocket. A stagehand spoke of Dolly’s fierceness in this part: ‘Well, if the she-sarpint talked to me like that I’d have given her a black eye long afore this’. [47] Yet she was also praised for her ‘tasteful’ and ‘ladylike’ approach in milder roles.

Another highlight of Dolores’ career included Johnston Forbes Robertson’s 1895 production of Romeo and Juliet, when, as Nurse, in the opinion of one critic, she outshone an unsatisfactory performance of Juliet by Mrs Patrick Campbell. Nevertheless, the irascible George Bernard Shaw, albeit a partisan of Mrs Campbell, singled out Dolly’s performance of Nurse as one of the worst he had seen. [48]

After this engagement Dolly toured America with actor-manager John Hare’s company but this was curtailed by the latter’s illness. She regretted not playing in New York. [49] Back in England she continued in supporting parts in London and the provinces. By 1900, was also passing some of her thespian skills to young aspirants, including her own daughters. It must have been gratifying to perform in 1907 at Wyndham’s Theatre designed by her son. She portrayed an ‘old woman’ Mrs Belstone, in Peter’s Mother supporting Marion Terry.

In 1922, during her retirement, Dolly’s worth as a performer was acknowledged. She was granted a pension by the King George Pension Fund for Actors and Actresses. [50] During her career her weekly stage earnings rarely exceeded £6-0-0. [51]

Remarkably, her ‘adulterous behaviour’ with William Drummond and James Carden as evidenced in the Divorce Papers seems to have escaped notice by the gutter-press in both Australia and UK which could have made much of it. Dolly’s next participation in divorce proceedings was as witness in her son suing his wife of nine years for adultery with his best friend. Even here a somewhat scurrilous publication, The Illustrated Police Budget, 17 June 1899, made no mention of Dolly’s own abortive attempt at divorce in colonial New South Wales. [52] Nor was this mentioned in London Truth.

While her son W. G.R. Sprague soon gained widespread recognition as a theatre architect, Dolly’s daughters, Rose, Laura (aka Lillian Dudley), Alice (born Dolores Alice) and Grace Sprague, performed successfully on the provincial stage, sometimes acting with Dolly in matinees she organised. [53] In 1906 she described them as ‘comfortably married’. Rose (aka Rose Dudley) who married provincial actor-manager John Isaac Wheatman in 1882, seems to have had the greatest success. [54]

Dolly’s life has elements of mystery, multiple surnames, melodrama, farce, family betrayals, and her own deceit (I wonder what she made of her cheesemonger husband becoming a wealthy confectionary manufacturer and Sydney land-owner?). Did she display a wry humour when she described herself at 77, in the UK 1911 census, as an ‘actress out of work’?

We can imagine Dolly in the 1910s and 1920s, a ‘little old lady’ in her Twickenham cottage garden near Strawberry Hill, cared-for by her daughter Grace, at last content with retirement before her death at 92 in 1926. Grace registered her mother’s death under the name Dolores D. Spragg. [55]

 

Image credits

Clippings sourced from Trove (National Library of Australia), Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand) or State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, except Melbourne Punch cartoon which is from Emigrant in Motley: the journey of Charles and Ellen Kean in quest of a theatrical fortune in Australia and America, as told in their hitherto unpublished letters, edited by J.M.D. Hardwick, Rockliff, London, 1954, p.85.

Endnotes

1. Sydney Sportsman 17 February 1909

2. Tracy Davis, Actresses as Working Women, London, Routledge, 1991, pp. 69-97

3. I refer to her as ‘Dolly’ throughout this article.

4. Using NLA Trove, NZ Papers past, British Library 19th Century Newspapers plus State archives in Victoria and New South Wales. I am also grateful for Elisabeth Kumm’s interest and research, and for the assistance of Graeme Haigh of Grajohn Genealogical Services, NSW.

5. NSW State Archives: Supreme Court of NSW; NRS 13495, Divorce and matrimonial causes case papers, 1873-1987. Allwright v. Allwright [13/14266]-13/1874

6. Website on the Drummond family of artists https://photohistory-sussex.co.uk/BTNPointerMyra.htm suggests that Eliza and Charles were not married

7. The Era, 6 June 1896 ‘A Chat with Dolores Drummond’: ‘Russian … the only language she knew when she was five years old.’

8. In later interviews Dolly says she spoke Russian as a toddler in St Petersburg—perhaps the shadowy Green was in a post in that city. By the time of her marriage her father was secretary to the Mexican Consul in London. The name Charles Green crops up in several references to British consulates, a Charles Green was acting consul at Samsun, Otterman Empire in 1857.

9. ‘The Royal Academy Exhibitors’ in Royal Academy of Art: a complete dictionary of contributors and their work, from its foundation in 1769 to 1904. SR publishers Ltd, London 1905, pp.370-373

10. Ibid.

11. Marriage Certificate 7 August 1854 Allwright’s father, a cheesemaker was a witness.

12. NSWSA: NRS 13495, [13/14266]-13/1874

13. Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 1874

14. See affidavit of Respondent, NSWSA: NRS 13495, [13/14266]-13, p.5

15. Bulletin, 14 November 1912, ‘Poverty Point: “Haresfoot”’ No image of Spragg has yet been found

16. Affidavit of Charles Bannister Green, NSWSA: NRS 13495, [13/14266]-13/1874, p.5

17. Vic. Birth Certificates for, Rose, Laura, and Dolores Alice Drummond

18. Sydney Sportsman,17 February 1909—Jefferson played Bottom

19. Herald, 30 August 1862

20. Age, 11 March 1864

21. The Era, 6 June 1896, op.cit

22. Australasian, 14 March 1868, ‘Entertainments’

23. They stayed in NZ, with breaks in Australia from 1864 until 1872

24. Otago Daily Times, 24 November 1869; 18 June 1870

25. NSW Marriage Certificate Can’t find!!!

26. Divorce Papers, Theresa Green’s affidavit NSWSA: NRS 13495, [13/14266]-13/1874

27. NZ birth Certificate 1865, under the name of Spragg. Not, as RIBA files show, Ballarat, Victoria.

28. Emma Stanley visited Melbourne in 1858 with her entertainment. There were many such ‘one-woman shows’ where the actress played multiple roles showing her versatility.

29. Ross Thorne, Theatre Buildings in Australia to 1905: from the time of the first settlement to the arrival of the cinema, Sydney: Architectural Research Foundation, University of Sydney 1971

30. Age, September 1872

31. Brisbane Courier, 30 June 1873

32. Divorce, Theresa Green’s affidavit NSWSA: NRS 13495, [13/14266]-13/1874

33. Brisbane Courier, 22 October 1873. I am yet to discover the result of these charges.

34. The Australian colonies’ first Matrimonial Causes Act had been enacted in NSW a few years earlier.

35. NSW Marriage Certificate 1868

36. Allwright left £19,000, in UK and £4,000 in Australia, NSWSA, Wills and Probate papers

37. See Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 1874, where Alwright’s agent ‘OT’ wants information on Dolly who has been seen in Sydney

38. Empire, 5 July 1855

39. John Musgrove Wright’s Respondent’s affidavit, NSWSA: NRS 13495, [13/14266]-13/1874, p.14

40. NSWSA: NRS 13495, [13/14266]-13/1874

41. Dolores Allwright’s Petition, NSWSA: NRS 13495, [13/14266]-13/1874

42. In 1899 successful architect William George Robert Sprague divorced his wife for adultery, with Dolly giving evidence against her daughter-in-law

43. Free BDMs, at Poplar in London’s East End. Marston Leigh died c.1890. Carden never achieved great success, ending his career as an elocution teacher in San Francisco, dying c.1917.

44. Death Certificate, Lambeth

45. Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic Times, 26 May 1894

46. The Era, 27 February 1876

47. Argus, 6 August 1884. It was not Dolly’s fault that Forces Robertson had deleted most of the bawdy language.

48. Saturday Review, 28 September 1895, p.19.

49. The Era, 6 June 1896, op. cit., ‘A chat with Dolores Drummond’

50. Argus, 12 August 1922

51. The Era, op. cit.

52. See also Family History website The Sprague Project, https://www.sprague-database.org/

53. Isle of Wight Observer, 6 September 1884; The Era, ‘Miss Dolores Drummond’s Matinee’, no date

54. Marriage Certificate; Isle of Wight 1882. Wheatman had been Dolly’s agent.

55. Death Certificate, Lambeth, 1926

 

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Dr Mimi Colligan

Mimi writes on 19th century popular culture and biography. Part of her Ph.D thesis was published by MUP as Canvas Documentaries in 2002. Mimi is a Fellow of the RHSV, an Honorary Research Associate with the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University and a member of the Victorian Working Party of the Australian Dictionary of Biography. She has curated exhibitions including Richmond's Cremorne Gardens and recently curated a RHSV exhibition on Melbourne Theatres in transition 1840-1940 . Her book Circus and Stage, on the lives of Mr and Mrs G.B.W. Lewis, was published last year by Monash University Publishing.