The online magazine of Theatre Heritage Australia
Elisabeth Kumm

Elisabeth Kumm

Elisabeth is a founding member of the Victoria Theatres Trust. Her series Pets of the Public was a regular feature of On Stage from 1999 to 2005, looking at “forgotten” nineteenth century performers. She continues to contribute articles for the THA website, and from 2018 has been editor of the THA Newsletter. As a theatrical historian and biographer she assisted Viola Tait with her book on pantomime – Dames, Principal Boys…and All That (published by Macmillan in 2001) and also worked with her on her memoirs I Have a Song to Sing (published by THA in 2018). Elisabeth has also undertaken research for the Riley/Hailes Scrapbook and JCW Scene Books projects. Most recently she has been working on the Falk Studios album project including acting as editor of The Falk Studios book (published by THA in 2021). 

IMG 0761 palce theatre no 3

In Part 10 of her history of Sydney’s Palace Theatre, ELISABETH KUMM focusses on the year 1909, which saw the return of several favourite drama companies, numerous premieres, and a ‘mixed bag’ of melodramas, comedies, films, songs, sketches and concerts.

With the pantomime season over, Edwin Geach’s Premiere Dramatic Organisation continued their season at the Palace on Saturday, 16 January 1909 with the drama The Broken Home by Lingford Carson, for the first time in Australia. Though advertisements called it ‘the very latest London and American success’, this seems to be something of an exaggeration. The only noteworthy performance of the play was at the Pavilion Theatre in London’s East End in 1902 where it played under the title The Drama of Life and with different character names.1

With a somewhat conventional storyline, the plot sees the heroine, Myrtle Denton, tricked into believing that her former husband (a bad lot) is alive. As a result, she forsakes her husband and child. Though it all works out in the end, her son ends up in the hands of slavers and her second husband seeks solace in drink.

Over the past five months Edwin Geach had experienced a run of personal misfortune. In September 1908, his manager Adam Cowan died following a short illness, and in December 1908 his business partner J.F. Sheridan also died. Now it seems he had ‘lost’ his leading man. On opening night Jefferson Taite, who was to go on as the hero of the drama, was injured in a traffic accident. Although he was not badly hurt, he was not fit enough to perform. By chance, Geach met W.J. Montgomery in the street and persuaded him to go on in Taite’s place.

Mr. W.J. Montgomery had not seen it [the script] until half an hour before he came on the stage. And yet he managed to throw so much vigour into the parts that called for it—so much anger into the quarrels, so much fight into the struggles—that the piece hardly suffered. Once in the throes of some awkward passage, with his eyes on the book, he shook his wife’s hand politely when he left her for a minute. But the audience understood. It cheered him again and again during the piece; and called up the curtain for him and the heroine at the end. To read at sight a long part on a first night was a plucky thing to do; and it succeeded.2

Montgomery was on his way to Tasmania with Harry Robert’s company, so he was unable to remain in the role, and on the Monday night, the part of Harry Denton was assumed by Harry Diver ‘with much ability’. Other roles were played by Nellie Fergusson (Myrtle Denton), with Kenneth Hunter, Thomas Curren and J.P. O’Neill as the chief villains, and Helen Fergus as Mother Flanagan, the child-stealer. The Broken Home played to capacity audiences until the 29 January.

The final week of the season saw a revival, ‘by special request’, of A Modern Adventuress, for four nights, and East Lynne for the last two nights.

On Friday, 5 February, a Grand Complimentary Matinee was tendered to Harry Diver by Messrs Geach and Marlow, with principal artists from all the Sydney theatres participating. Harry Diver performed a ‘powerful dramatic sketch’ with his wife, Helen Burdette.

Saturday, 6 February saw a performance of Flotow’s opera Martha by the Mosman Musical Society, under the baton of A.H. Norman.

The Sydney Muffs returned on 11 and 12 February with Romeo and Juliet. Romeo was played by Mr. Cam Marina. Juliet was performed by Sara Collins on the first night and Elsie Prince on the second night. The cast included the special engagement of Clara Stephenson (Mrs. Henry Bracy) as the Nurse. The Muffs would return, on Friday, 12 March, with As You Like It, with Elsie Prince as Rosalind. As You Like It was repeated on the Saturday matinee, and Romeo and Juliet was performed in the evening with Sara Collins again as Juliet.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, 13 February, Clyde Meynell and John Gunn took over the lease of the theatre. They opened their season with the first Sydney production of The Old Folks at Home by J.A. Campbell, first performed in England in 1907. Campbell was also the author of The Little Breadwinner, performed by the M&G company in Perth and Melbourne during 1908, but yet to reach Sydney.

The cast for The Old Folks at Home was headed by Beatrice Holloway and Conway Wingfield. In a title suggestive of the 1851 Stephen Foster song, the play, a story of the ‘old South’, featured a special musical number performed by the children of the ‘Tin Can Band’ (originally featured in The Fatal Wedding), including Little Queenie Williams with a ‘coon melody’ and Maggie Dickinson with a ‘banjo song’. This play had first been performed by the Meynell and Gunn company during their New Zealand tour (September 1908) and had been given its Australian premiere in Hobart (November 1908).

The Old Folks at Home proved popular with Sydneysiders and held the stage until Tuesday, 9 March.

In the months that followed, Meynell and Gunn made final arrangements for what was publicised as ‘the most important theatrical event in the history of Australia’: the tour of Oscar Asche and Lily Brayton and their entire London company. Sadly, two and a half weeks into the opening season, on 20 October 1909, Oscar Asche announced from the stage of the Criterion Theatre, the cancellation of the performance due to the unexpected death of John Gunn. He was only 39 years of age. A nephew of the celebrated Dublin-based theatre manager Michael Gunn, he had first visited Australia with comedian J.L. Toole’s company in 1890. Returning to England, he worked for Richard D’Oyly Carte in London, and during 1894/95, managed the London and New York stagings of W.S. Gilbert’s His Excellency. Thereafter he worked as stage manager for George Edwardes, and in 1904 he returned to Australia as General Manager on behalf of Herbert Beerbohm Tree, with The Darling of the Gods and other plays starring Julius Knight and Maud Jeffries. In Australia, in 1905, he partnered with Clyde Meynell to produce The J.P. with J.J. Dallas and Florence Lloyd. The following year, they presented the highly successful drama The Fatal Wedding. Since March 1908, Sir Rupert Clarke and John Wren had joined Meynell and Gunn as joint directors.

The following week, on Wednesday, 17 March, for five nights only, Charles MacMahon and E.J. Carroll presented a short return season of their latest attraction, the film-version of For the Term of His Natural Life. This was the first of many motion pictures based on the Marcus Clarke novel. Filmed over four months in early 1908, it comprised a collection of highlights from the novel, beginning in England with the wrongful conviction of Rufus Dawe of murder, his transportation to Van Diemen’s Land, his escape, his reunion with his long-lost sweetheart, and their deaths when the boat they are in sinks during a storm. Following a private viewing at the Standard Theatre in Sydney on 18 June 1908, the film toured throughout the states, beginning at the Adelaide Town Hall on 4 July 1908 (under the direction of J. & N. Tait). It reached Sydney in August 1908 where it enjoyed an eight-week season at the Queen’s Hall. The bill at the Palace was augmented by the addition of other short films being screened for the first time.

nlnzimage 21908 tour program. National Library of New Zealand.

On Wednesday, 24 March, Leo, Jan and Mischel Cherniavski commenced a short farewell season as part of their British Empire Tour, under the direction of Edward Branscombe. Described as the ‘Russian Wonder-Children’, the brothers played violin, piano and ‘cello respectively. They performed works from the classical repertoire, including Bach, Liszt, Grieg and Schubert, with a complete change of program each evening. In addition, the contralto Madame Marie Hooton and the baritone Mr. Percival Driver, also appeared.

The theatre remained dark for a few nights pending the appearance of The Dudley Dramatic Club on 1 and 2 April. The company performed a new four act comedy-drama, A Secret Wedding by Joseph L. Goodman, for the first time on any stage. Joseph Goodman was a manager for Spencer at the Sydney Lyceum and brother of George L. Goodman, business manager at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney. The piece was well received, notably Harry Whaite’s fourth act set which depicted the Thames at Maidenhead. Reviewing the play, the Sydney Morning Herald (2 April 1909, p.8) noted:

The new piece, though evidently the work of a clever man, suffers from a want of homogeneity, the first half of it taking the form of a drawing-room melodrama, and the second half of sentimental comedy. The latter portion was the better written, containing more than one pretty love-scene.

Included among the cast of players were two interesting names: Nellie Wilson and Harald Bowden. The first performed with Pollard Juvenile company as a youngster, and the second would become a senior director of J.C. Williamson Ltd.

From Saturday, 3 April, Allan Hamilton took up the lease of the Palace launching his new dramatic company in a seven-week season. The leads included George Cross, G.P. Carey, Ada Guildford and Maud Chetwynd. George Cross and Ada Guildford, formerly with William Anderson’s company, were husband and wife. They married in 1905 following a sensational divorce, when Ada’s former husband, William Mount, sued her for ‘misconduct’ with Cross. Sensation on stage and off!

The company opened with the first Australian production of Queen of the Night. Described as a ‘Romantic Sensational Drama of Exceptional Power and Interest’ by F. Thorpe Tracy and Ivan Berlin, the play, first performed in England in 1897, told the story of a bigamous adventuress.

The cast included Ada Guildford as Pauline, the adventuress; George Cross as Ralph Featherstone, a man of ‘sterling qualities' who falls into the clutches of the ‘Queen of the Night’; and Wilton Power as the villainous first husband. During the second act, Maud Chetwynd sang a ‘couple of catchy songs’, including, for the first time in Australia, ‘Who’s for England’ composed by Frank Eugarde, with words by W.T. Goodge. The play featured elaborate scenery by Harry Whaite, and spectacular mechanical effects including a storm and a train at full speed.

Queen of the Night was performed until 23 April. It was replaced by a revival of In the Ranks. A stirring military drama by G.R. Sims and Henry Pettitt, first performed in the UK in 1883 (and in Australia in 1884), it was anticipated that it would ‘come out as almost a new work to the present generation of playgoers’. Presented by arrangement with George Rignold, who produced and starred in the first Australian production, the lead roles of Ned Drayton and Ruth Herrick were played by George Cross and Ada Guildford. Harry Whaite’s scenery was praised for its beauty, particularly his tableau of Dingley Wood by moonlight, and although the stage resources at the Palace ‘could not quite furnish one of the great productions which George Rignold used to provide in the palmy period of his rule at Her Majesty’s … the whole thing was surprisingly well done on the smaller stage’.3

In the Ranks was played until 11 May. A Message from Mars was revived for the final two nights, with George Cross as Horace Parker, Wilton Power as The Messenger from Mars, and Rosemary Rees as Minnie Templar.

On Saturday, 1 May 1909, at the matinee, a performance of Out on the Castlereagh was performed by J. Clarence Lee’s Australian Company. Written by Lee, this new play, ‘a story of Australian country life’ was well received, with the Sunday Times (2 May 1909, p.2) observing that ‘the varying types and scenes and incidents of the bush are well worked out, and were very creditably acted by the artists engaged’. The cast was made up of members of the Playgoers Dramatic Club, including Reginald Goode, Lilian Booth and Sidney Buckleton. An enthusiastic audience packed the theatre, and in response to demands, it was restaged at the Royal Standard Theatre for a further five performances from 31 May. It seems the Playgoers Club had been founded by Lee in 1908 and in an interesting aside, the secretary was Agnes Chambers, sister of the playwright Haddon Chambers, and she also conducted the orchestra. Lee would return on 18 September with his play The Marrying of Ma, which he also directed, first performed at the Palace back in 1906. The cast included Lilian Booth, Reginald Goode, and Elsie Prince of the Sydney Muffs.

From Saturday, 15 May 1909, West’s Pictures returned for the winter season, with new films screened every week.

After four months of films, melodrama returned to the stage of the Palace when George Marlow’s dramatic company commenced their season on 25 September 1909. They opened with the sensational Married to the Wrong Man by Frederick Melville.

Edwin Geach had recently sold his interests to Marlow, and as such the company now bore his name, making him, at 33 years of age, the youngest theatrical manager in Australia. He had re-launched the company in Adelaide during August/September 1909 when Married to the Wrong Man was given its Australian premiere.

The company included many old favourites and some new faces. Nellie Fergusson and Kenneth Hunter played the lead roles of Ruth and Captain Gladwin, while J.P. O’Neill appeared as Jasper Skinner, with Hilliard Vox, making his first appearance in Sydney, as Captain Deering. The plot revolves around Ruth, the heroine, who is forced to marry a man she does not love, is eventually sold to another man, and finally accused of murder. The play ends with a dramatic trial scene at the Old Bailey.

Married to the Wrong Man played proved a crowd-pleaser and played until 29 October. Notching up five weeks, it set a record for any one piece of melodrama at the Palace, auguring well for Marlow’s venture into management.

East Lynne was revived for the final week of the season, from 30 October to 5 November.

Marlow’s company then left for a short tour to Mugee and Newcastle. During their absence, Edward Branscombe’s Scarlet Troubadours began a two-week farewell season prior to their return to England. The ‘merry costume entertainers’ opened on 6 November 1909 with ‘new music scenas, travesties, and humorous sketches’. Since they last appeared at the Palace, the line-up had been reinforced by the addition of Gertrude Parker (soubrette) and Claude Leplastrier (art humourist), while Maude Fane and Edgar Warwick were warmly welcome back.

The 20 November saw George Marlow’s company back in residence, having returned from a brief tour of country NSW, bringing with them another new melodrama, The Heart of a Hero by Lingford Carson. Advertised as the ‘Story of a Woman’s Sorrow and a Man’s Devotion’, this piece contained the usual ingredients of melodrama: abduction, murder, arrest of an innocent girl, the self-accusation of the hero, and a dramatic prison escape. Edwin Geach’s company had been performing it throughout New Zealand and Australia since May 1908, and this was the first Sydney production. The principal roles were performed by Kenneth Hunter (Jem Resdale), Nellie Fergusson (Nell Resdale), Hilliard Vox (Wilfred Marle), and Ethel Buckley (Susie Slack).

The Heart of a Hero was performed until 3 December.

This was followed on 4 December, for the first time in Australia, The Wedding Ring, a ‘great military and domestic play’ by Ben Landeck, presented in sixteen tableaux painted by scenic artist Ray Phillips (brother of vaudevillian Nat Phillips). With a story of love, conspiracy and revenge, The Wedding Ring proved a crowd pleaser, particularly the railway smash ‘in which the collision is vividly shown, with the wreckage and subsequent sufferings’.4 The cast included Nellie Fergusson as the heroine, Kenneth Hunter as the hero, and Hilliard Vox as the chief villain. To promote the show, Marlow distributed ‘ten thousand gilt wedding rings (packed in little boxes)’. As indicated by a notice in the daily papers, the gold ring sent to him as a memento of the original London production was mistakenly given away among the souvenirs. A £5 reward was offered. A reward was still being offered when the play reached Adelaide in February 1910, but the finder’s fee had been reduced to £2.

Wedding Ring DT 4 Dec 1909

From The Daily Telegraph, 4 December 1909, p.2

The Wedding Ring played until 17 December. Married to the Wrong Man was revived, 18–21 December. And East Lynne saw out the season, being playing for two nights on 22 and 23 December.

Marlow’s first season as manager of a company was a huge success, with suggestions in the press that he would need ‘a specially armoured train’ to cart away all the gold away. And to ensure his continued success, Marlow had purchased new dramas from England, and ‘is building up a fine repertoire for his Sydney and Melbourne audiences’.5


The year ended with the first appearance of Hugh J. Ward’s company (under the auspices of Allan Hamilton), bringing with them the much-anticipated comedy A Bachelor’s Honeymoon. The piece had its Australian premiere in Perth in May 1909, the troupe having toured India and China with much success. Thereafter, the play had been seen in Melbourne and New Zealand, prior to reaching Sydney at Christmas time. It had first been performed in New York in 1897 at Hoyt’s Theatre, with Max Figman, M.A. Kennedy, W.J. Ferguson, Isabel Waldron, Berenice Wheeler and Eleanora Allen as the key mirth makers.

At the Palace, A Bachelor’s Honeymoon opened at the matinee on 27 December to a packed holiday audience. The story involved the misadventures of much married widower, Benjamin Bachelor, who wishes not only to keep his former marriage from his new wife, an actress, Juno Joyce, but also keep his family, including his two grown-up daughters, ignorant of his betrothal. The company boasted a ‘brilliant’ line-up, with Hugh J. Ward as Benjamin Bachelor, Grace Palotta as his new wife, Celia Ghiloni as his sister, Ruby Baxter and Florence Redfern as his twin daughters, and Rose Musgrove as Marianne, the maid. Other characters were filled by Robert Greig, Arthur Eldred, H.H. Wallace and Reginald Wykeham. A Bachelor’s Honeymoon played until 11 February 1910.


To be continued



1. According to Allardyce Nicoll, The Drama of Life by Lingford Carson was given a copyright performance at the Colosseum, Oldham on 21 March 1901; it was first performed at the Prince of Wales’s Theatre, Mexborough, 27 July 1901; and given its first London production at the Pavilion Theatre, 4 August 1902. It was later called Undamaged Goods. I have not been able to find reference to it being performed in the USA under any of these titles. Interestingly, when the Geach company performed the play in Adelaide in August 1909, it was under the title: The Drama of Life; or, The Broken Home.

2. Sydney Morning Herald, 18 January 1909, p.3

3. Sydney Morning Herald, 26 April 1909, p.3

4. Sunday Times, 12 December 1909, p. 2

5. Sydney Sportsman, 15 December 1909, pp.2 & 3


T.D.M. de Warre, Through the Opera Glasses: Chats with Australian stage favourites, Sydney, [1909]

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

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


The Bulletin (Sydney), The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), The Sunday Times, Sydney Mail, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney Sportsman



Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

National Library of Australia, Canberra

National Library of New Zealand, Wellington

State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

State Library Victoria, Melbourne

With thanks to

John S. Clark, Judy Leech, Rob Morrison, Les Tod


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

Cinderella ran 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 Boys and 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. The Miner’s Trust played until 13 November.

The Prince ChapAdvertising postcard for the 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 Crusoe at 2pm and the drama The Woman Pays in 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 Pays was 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

Wednesday, 17 May 2023

Private Lives

Coward LawrenceFrom Theatre Magazine, March 1931, p.21. Wikipedia.

2023 marks fifty years since the death of Noël Coward. Born in London in 1899, Coward went on to become one of the most celebrated actor-vocalist-composer-lyricists of his generation. His parents were both musical. His father sold pianos and his mother was an amateur vocalist. It was customary for the family to sit around the piano of an evening and enjoy a sing-along. Coward’s remarkable gift for music and acting was evident at an early age. Encouraged by his mother, he made his professional debut in 1911 playing Prince Mussel in the children’s play The Goldfish. Over the following years he received support from the likes of actor-manager Charles Hawtrey and noted children’s stage schoolteacher Italia Conti. It was in 1913 that he first met Gertrude Lawrence, performing in a touring production of Hauptmann’s Hannele. The two would go on to  develop an enduring friendship and stage partnership.

From 1917, in collaboration with his friend Esme Wynn, he wrote his first plays, Ida Collaborates and Women and Whiskey. In 1918, he penned his first solo effort, The Rat Trap, later staged at the Everyman Theatre in Hampstead.

He achieved his first success in 1920 with I’ll Leave It to You, ‘a light comedy in three acts’. Performed at the Gaiety Theatre in Manchester (3 May 1920, 24 performances) and in London at the New Theatre (21 July 1920, 37 performances), it starred Kate Cutler as Mrs. Dermott. This play was also performed in Boston in 1923. Reviews were mixed, but a notice in The Times (22 July 1920) declared: ‘It is a remarkable piece of work from so young a head—spontaneous, light, and always “brainy”.’

During 1921 Coward made his first trip to America. Although the trip was not a success—he only managed to sell a couple of short stories to Vanity Fair and Metropolitan—he made many new friends, including Tallulah Bankhead and Lynn Fontanne, who would be important in his later career.

Coward’s next play, The Young Idea, a ‘comedy of youth in three acts’, premiered at the Prince’s Theatre, Bristol, in September 1922, and following a six-week tour, opened at the Savoy Theatre in London, where it ran for 60 performances. Kate Cutler was once again in the lead, supported by Herbert Marshall and Ann Trevor. Coward appeared in this play, as he had in I’ll Leave It to You.

In 1923, at the invitation of noted London producer André Charlot, he was given the opportunity to work on his first revue: London Calling!, which he wrote in collaboration with Ronald Jeans and Philip Braham. Opening at the Duke of York’s on 4 September, the revue was a great success. With Tubby Edlin, Maisie Gay and Gertrude Lawrence in the leads, it ran for 316 performances. Coward also performed. Two of his songs, ‘You Were Meant for Me’ (sung by Coward and Gertie Lawrence) and ‘Parisian Pierrot’ (sung by Gertie) were big hits. The revue enjoyed several ‘editions’ over the course of its run, with new actors and songs introduced. In January 1924, Charlot opened the revue in New York, with Beatrice Lillie and Jack Buchanan in the leads. Though Coward’s six-month contract with Charlot was up, he still made the trip to America, using the money he had earned from the show to enjoy himself and renew old acquaintances.

Meanwhile he began work on two more plays: Fallen Angels and The Vortex. Both these plays would go on to enjoy huge success, not only at the time of their first productions, but in revival. The Vortex (in which Coward performed opposite Lillian Braithwaite) represented something of a watershed for Coward. Tackling contemporary themes of sex and drugs, it showed that he was a talent to be reckoned with. Charles Castle in his 1972 book Noël says: ‘It is probably fair to say that this play changed the face of the British theatre in the twenties in the way that John Osborne changed it in the fifties with Look Back in Anger.’

In the years leading up to the production of Private Lives, Coward’s career continued an upward trajectory. The variety of his work displayed an aptitude for everything from intimate comedies to large scale operettas. His plays Hay Fever (1925), Easy Virtue (1925) and The Marquise (1927) enjoyed success on both sides of the Atlantic, as did his revue This Year of Grace (1928) and his operetta Bitter Sweet (1929). His one failure of the period was Sirocco (1927).

By 1929, Coward had become one of the highest earning playwrights in the world with his annual income estimated at £50,000 (the equivalent of more than £3 million in today’s money).

Private Lives

Noël Coward wrote Private Lives during 1929/1930 following the success of Bitter Sweet in New York. Returning to England from America, travelling via Japan, Korea and Shanghai, he conceived the idea for the play at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. ‘The moment I switched out the lights’, he later recalled, ‘Gertie appeared in a white Molyneux dress on a terrace in the South of France and refused to go again until 4 a.m., by which time Private Lives, title and all, had constructed itself.’ He finished the play in Singapore over four days, when confined to his bed in the Cathay Hotel recovering from flu.

Coward hoped to launch Private Lives in London in September 1930, but securing Gertie for the play took some negotiating as she was contracted to Charlot to appear in a new revue. By the time Coward had returned to England, she was free, and in July 1930 rehearsals began in London.

The plot of Private Lives revolves around a simple premise of two people, Amanda and Elyot, who can’t live together and can’t live apart. In his preface to Play Parade, Coward described the play as ‘a reasonably well-constructed duologue for two experienced performers, with a couple of extra puppets thrown in to assist the plot and to provide contrast’. The ‘extra puppets’ are Amanda and Elyot’s new spouses Victor and Sybil. ‘These poor things, are little better than ninepins, lightly wooded, and only there at all in order to be repeatedly knocked down and stood up again.’

The Plot

 Act 1: The Terrace of a Hotel in France. Summer evening.

In adjacent suites, two honeymoon couples have just arrived at a hotel. The first, Elyot Chase and his young bride Amanda, wander out onto their terrace. As they go to dress for dinner, the couple in the other suite, Victor Prynne and his new wife Amanda, emerge onto their terrace. Coversation between both couples focus on Elyot and Amanda’s former marriages. Elyot enters again with cocktails. Then Amanda appears on her balcony. Music is heard from an orchestra below and as Elyot hums the tune, Amanda spies Elyot through the plants separating the two balconies. Likewise, Elyot sees Amanda. Shocked at the discovery, Amanda and Elyot both express a desire to leave the hotel, much to the dismay of Victor and Sybil, who both storm off in protest against their honeymoons being ruined. Left alone, Amanda and Elyot strike up a conversation and before too long they realise that they have never stopped loving one another and that the only course of action is to runaway together. But unable to agree where to go, they start to bicker, and to prevent themselves falling into their old ways, one of them must say ‘Solomon Isaacs’ [the title of an 1877 novel by Benjamin Farjeon] with both remaining silent for two minutes. With their departure, Victor and Sybil meet and agree to join forces and track down their recalcitrant spouses.

This first act also introduced the play’s only original song, ‘Someday I’ll find you’.

The dialogue between to the two characters is among the most perfect ever penned by Coward—and subsequently the most parodied by satirists, including Coward himself.

AMANDA: What have you been doing lately? During these last years?

ELYOT: Travelling about. I went round the world you know after—

AMANDA (hurriedly): Yes, yes, I know. How was it?

ELYOT: The world?


ELYOT: Oh, highly enjoyable.

AMANDA: China must be very interesting.

ELYOT: Very big, China.

AMANDA: And Japan—

ELYOT: Very small.

AMANDA: Did you eat sharks’ fins, and take your shoes off, and use chopsticks and everything?

ELYOT: Practically everything.

AMANDA: And India, the burning Ghars, or, Ghats, or whatever they are, and the Taj Mahal. How was the Taj Mahal?

ELYOT (looking at her): Unbelievable, a sort of dream.


Act 2: Amanda’s flat in Paris. A few days later. Evening.

Amanda and Elyot, dressed respectively in pyjamas and dressing gown, having just finished dinner, ‘are dallying over coffee and liqueurs’. They are happy and are planning their future, but before too long they start arguing over the details, and by the end of the act are rolling about on the floor, Amanda having broken a gramophone record over Elyot’s head. The curtain falls as Victor and Amanda quietly enter the room and stare in horror at the bickering couple.


Act 3: The same. The next morning.

The room is still a mess. Victor and Sybil are asleep on the two sofas. Amanda and Elyot are in their rooms. Separately they both emerge dressed in travelling clothes and carrying suitcases. Arguments between the four commence, the two men almost get in a brawl. Eventually they all agree that divorce is the only solution. They all sit down to breakfast, but when Sybil and Victor, defensive about their respective spouses, start shouting at one another, Amanda and Elyot, silently pick up their suitcases and leave unnoticed.



Searching for any information on my ancestor Abraham Israel Resnick, aka Alex Resnick and/or Raymond Navarro [he used the name]. Born 1906 New York. Died 1932 New York. He went to Australia as a child with either the Australian or British battalions at about 12 years of age in 1918 and presumably stayed there until 1927.

We heard while he was in Australia he was an actor and singer in theatre. During that time he had a romance and a child with descendants in New Zealand. We would love to find out anything about that time of his life.

Thank You.

Taryn Merrick Blackwood

Alex in Color2

Tuesday, 14 March 2023

Looking for Mae Crean

63a459282b428Aimee Crean, who acted under the stage name Mae CreanIn 2005 I inherited (saved from being burnt on a bonfire) an old trunk full of photos and other memorabilia from a relative. A postcard caught my attention—on the front was the photo of a pretty young lady and on the back was written:

‘Your Cousin—Aimee Crean, with love’. And some wonderful person had added in biro ‘Nellie Dunn’s sister was an actress’.

I had never heard of either of these people and so began the task of finding out who they were, especially the lady on the front of the postcard. I entered ‘Aimee Crean’ on the TROVE Newspaper site but after many hours of searching had no luck. It was only by chance that upon researching my maternal Grandfather’s parents on the Ancestry site that I discovered his aunt had married a ‘Crean’. Upon further investigation into this branch of the family tree I was led to Eleanor Josephine Constance Crean (Nellie Dunn) and Aimee Florence Geraldine Crean. I still had nothing to tell me that Aimee was an actress. I conducted yet another search on TROVE using Aimee’s full name and I hit upon a legal advertisement for the will of a ‘John Alosius Crean’ (Aimee’s father) who died in Sydney in 1935. Incredibly, Aimee’s name appears as the sole beneficiary of the will but she is now known as Aimee Florence Geraldine ‘Daniels’!

So now I start looking at NSW BDM records for a marriage but nothing can be found. I enter ‘Aimee Florence Geraldine Daniels’ into TROVE and find Aimee as a beneficiary of her aunt’s and another uncle’s deceased estates, and now I have a name for her husband—Thomas Daniels. A search of Thomas Daniels leads me to a Thomas Henry Daniels who is filing for bankruptcy in Coogee (where Aimee was listed as living when a beneficiary for her father’s estate in 1935), Sydney in 1927—and he is listed as ‘Dan Thomas, a comedian’.

And so now with all these names I soon discover—Aimee Florence Geraldine Crean born 8 March 1897 in Margate Street Botany NSW, and who died 17 November 1973 in Bankstown Hospital and is buried in an unmarked grave in Field of Mars cemetery in Ryde, NSW was known as ‘Mae Crean’ a Vaudeville star known in Australia, South Africa and a few other countries where she performed. I wonder if those that were with her in her final hour knew of her past ? I was two years old when she left this place, and I never heard anything of her from my parents or my grandfather—her cousin!

This is a work in progress. I hope to find out more about her.

Stephen Saywell

IMG 0768

During the latter part of 1906 and for much of 1907 the Palace Theatre enjoyed a steady flow of high-class performers from Meynell, Gunn & Varna’s New English Comedy Company in the farce The Little Stranger to the first Australian performance of magician Carter the Great, by way of the Brough-Flemming Company in a season of comedies and Florence Baines, ‘the girl who set London laughing’ in her immensely popular musical play Miss Lancashire Ltd.  ELISABETH KUMM continues her history of the Pitt Street venue.

On the 17 november 1906 Meynell, Gunn & Varna’s New English Comedy Company commenced a short season at the Palace with the three-act farcical comedy The Little Stranger by Michael Morton. With the play’s withdrawal on 7 December, W. Arundel Orchard’s comic opera The Emperor was revived for a single night on Saturday, 8 December.

The theatre remained dark for a fortnight pending the ‘first appearance’ in Australia of comedian Harry Macdona in The New Boy on 22 December 1906.

Written by Arthur Law, this three-act farce had been seen in Australia during 1894 with Ralph Roberts as Archibald Rennick. Since its first production in London that same year, with Weedon Grossmith in the title role, it had enjoyed much success throughout the UK and America.

In addition to Macdona, who played the eponymous ‘new boy’, the second husband of Mrs. Bolder, who somewhat younger (and smaller in stature) than his wife, is mistakenly believed to be her son. For various reasons, he is prepared to go along with the assumption and is enrolled at a local school.  In reviewing the play, the Sydney Morning Herald reported:

A gentleman whose name was announced as Mr. Harry Macdona took the part of Archibald Rennick, the new boy, and Miss Vera Remee was Mrs. Rennick. Miss Remee may not have all the arts and graces of a highly finished actress, but she carried herself through her part with more than credit. She was natural, enunciation was clear, and distinct, and she was not in the least stagey. Mr. Macdona, on the other hand, was not a thorough success. He was boisterously rollicking throughout, and though he was expected to do a good deal of fooling, he did some of it too well.1

As the Herald alludes, the claim in the ads that Macdona was a ‘distinguished English comedian … known throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom as the Greatest Laughter Producer of the modern stage’, 2 seems to have little validity. The only acting Macdona on the UK stage during the early 1900s (as listed in theatrical journals/directories of the period) seems to be Charles Macdona, an Irishman, who would go on to establish the Macdona Players and become a champion of George Bernard Shaw. A small mention of the 1906/07 Palace season in the UK-theatre journal The Era, refers to Harry Macdona as a ‘Sydney comedian’.3 Indeed, closer investigation suggests he was none other than Tom Cosgrove, a local actor, whose brother John Cosgrove was also a member of the company. It is not clear why he changed his name as over the following few decades he can be spotted performing under both names.

Nevertheless, despite some lukewarm reviews of opening night, The New Boy was not a complete failure. The Bulletin noted for example: ‘At Sydney Palace Harry Cosgrove Macdona continues to give sparkle to the comedy of The New Boy. The Boy is having quite a run, and the people who a few weeks ago were merely good amateurs are now getting a professional touch in the quality of their performances.’ 4

On the 12 January, the company produced Jane, and on the 28 January, Dr. Bill, both farcical comedies that had been performed back in 1890 by the Brough-Boucicault Comedy Company.

With the departure of Macdona and co., concert and film promoters J. & N. Tait returned with the film The Story of the Kelly Gang which screened from 9–23 February 1907. The film, described by the promoters as ‘one of the most realistic types of cinematography yet placed before the public’5 had created a sensation in Melbourne where is ran for seven weeks. It had also just completed a two-and-a-half-week season in Adelaide. Now it was Sydney’s turn. Running for just over an hour (film historians continue to debate claims that it was the world’s first feature film6), it occupied the second half of a two-part entertainment, with the crowded house displaying ‘considerable impatience’ during the first part.7 Indeed, audiences were not disappointed in the main event, cheering and clapping at its conclusion. Yet despite the crowds who flocked to the Palace, the season was limited to only a fortnight, closing on 23 February.

On the 20 and 21 March, the Bank of New South Wales Dramatic Society presented The Brixton Burglary (another comedy made popular in Australia by the Brough Comedy Company in the 1890s).

On Saturday, 23 March 1907, Herbert Flemming’s company commenced a six-week season. In partnership with Robert Brough, Flemming had been joint manager of the Brough-Flemming Company, and in early 1906 following Robert Brough’s death, had taken over the reins of the organisation. Still operating as the Brough-Flemming Company they opened their season at the Palace with the first Sydney production of Mrs Gorringe’s Necklace, a four-act comedy by Henry Hubert Davies, which the company had premiered in Adelaide in September 1906. With this piece they were making their reappearance in Sydney after a twelve-month absence. The company had just returned from a tour of New Zealand with Florence Brough (née Trevelyan) (Mrs. Robert Brough) as leading lady. The tour had been a huge undertaking emotionally and mentally for Mrs. Brough and as her health was still fragile following her husband’s death, she withdrew from the Sydney season. Her absence necessitated a complete change of personnel among the female cast. Newcomer Madeline Meredith stepped into the role of Mrs. Gorringe, while Beatrice Day (the original Mrs. Gorringe), now played Isabel, one of Mrs. Jardine’s daughters (previously played by Kate Gair). Miss Gordon Lee continued as Vicky Jardine, her other daughter. Robert Brough’s sister Bessie Major made a welcome return, taking on the role of Mrs. Jardine, originally performed by Mrs. Brough.

When Mrs. Gorringe’s Necklace was first performed at Wyndham’s Theatre in London in 1903, the title character was considered the lead role, with Mary Moore as Mrs. Gorringe and Charles Wyndham as Captain Mowbray (played in Australia by Herbert Flemming). Under Flemming’s direction, Mrs. Jardine was considered the principal female role as the personality of Mrs. Gorringe (whose necklace is stolen at Mrs. Jardine’s house-party) is considered a silly and flighty character, whereas Mrs. Jardine is more grounded and sensible—and admirably better suited to the persona of Florence Brough.

An interesting aside concerning Madeline Meredith who played Mrs. Gorringe in Sydney. Born Madeline Constance Tudway in 1873, she was the only daughter of Charles Clement Tudway and Lady Edith Nelson (daughter of Lord Horatio Nelson)—and consequently a member of the British peerage. But rather than follow family tradition, she decided to pursue a career on the stage, making her debut in 1892. She came to Australia in 1906 as a member of the Julius Knight-Maud Jeffries company (and was with them during their 1906 Palace season) and since that time had been playing second leads with the Meynell-Gunn company at the Criterion Theatre.

Miss Meredith’s performance in the Brough-Flemming Company’s next piece, a revival of Dr. Wake’s Patient on 6 April 1907, was much anticipated. Would she be as good as Mrs. Brough in the role of the Countess of St. Olbyn? Perhaps breeding would help. As noted by The Australian Star: ‘Her conception of the part was excellent, and she was equal to every emergency called for in the representation of the haughty and altogether selfish countess.’8 Other roles were filled by Herbert Flemming as Farmer Wake (his original role), with Carter Pickford as Dr. Wake, Beatrice Day as Lady Geronia, Bessie Major as Mrs. Wake, and Mary Milward as Mrs. Murdoch.

The following Saturday, 13 April 1907, Peter’s Mother was presented for the first time in Australia. Mrs. Henry de la Pasteur’s three-act comedy had just closed in London after 149 performances, with Marion Terry (sister of Ellen Terry) as Lady Mary Crewys. Sydneysiders hoped that Mrs. Brough would make her reappearance, but she did not, and the role was played by Beatrice Day. Carter Pickford played her son, Peter, with Bessie Major as Lady Belstone, Herbert Flemming as John Crewys QC, and Miss Gordon Lee as Sarah Hewell.

Peter’s Mother was performed for a fortnight, and on the 27 April, another new play was given its Sydney premiere: What Would a Gentleman Do?

What Would A Gentleman DoCartoon by an unknown artist. This was published in The New Zealand Mail, 13 February 1907, during the Brough-Flemming Comedy Company’s recent tour.

A comedy by Gilbert Dayle, this play had brief run at the Apollo Theatre in London during September 1902. Prior this, under the title The Man from Australia, it had been seen at the Princess Theatre in Llandudno (Wales) the previous April. As What Would a Gentleman Do?, it had its first Australian outing in Perth in August 1906 with Herbert Flemming as Dickie Hook—the man from Australia—a wealthy but unsophisticated young Australian in England, who with the aid of The Complete Gentleman attempts to understand the manners and customs of polished society. Other roles were played by Florence Brough (Agatha Kederby), Beatrice Day (Madge Kederby) and Emma Temple (Dolly Banter).

For the first Sydney performance Gregan McMahon now played the young would-be gentleman. Audiences sympathised with poor Dickie as his attempts at assimilation failed and he grappled with the problem of ‘What would a gentleman do?’. A complete change to the female roles saw Beatrice Day as Dolly Banter, Bessie Major as Agatha Kederby and Miss Gordon Lee as Madge Kederby. The curtain-raiser In Honour Bound by Sydney Grundy was also performed with Beatrice Day and Herbert Flemming as Sir George and Lady Carlyon.

Two revivals followed, The Walls of Jericho (11–14 May) and Quality Street (15–17 May) with Beatrice Day as the heroine in each of these plays. The season closed with the first Australian production of Olivia, a play by W.G. Wills, based on The Vicar of Wakefield, and first performed in London in March 1878 with Hermann Vezin as Dr. Primrose and Ellen Terry as Olivia. A 1885 revival saw Henry Irving as the vicar with Ellen Terry again as Olivia. In Sydney, the play was directed by H.W. Varna (previously associated with the Meynell, Gunn and Varna company), who was said to be using a copy of Irving’s original script containing his marginal notes and directions.9 As Olivia, Beatrice Day was commended for her finished performance as the pretty muslin-clad heroine, supported by Herbert Flemming as Dr. Primrose.

With the close of the season on 31 May, Herbert Flemming re-badged the company as the Herbert Flemming Comedy Company and headed north for a tour of Queensland. Although his company would play one more season in Sydney during 1908, Herbert Flemming sadly died in October 1908, aged just 52.

The following evening, Saturday, 1 June, saw a change of pace with Charles Holloway’s company. Their opening piece was the melodrama The Coal King by Ernest Martin and Fewlass Llewellyn for the first time in Sydney. This play had first been performed at the Elephant and Castle in London in October 1904 and had enjoyed a successful provincial career. The first Australian production had been given at the Theatre Royal in Hobart by Holloway’s company in November 1906.

Two Little VagabondsBeatrice Holloway and Mabel Russell as Dick and Wally, the title characters in the melodrama of Two Little Vagabonds. From The Theatre (Sydney), September 1906. Theatre Heritage Australia.

Charles Holloway’s company excelled at melodrama, and The Coal King was true to form. Tom Roberts, the son and heir of a mining magnate is brought up in humble circumstances, having been swapped at birth with his foster mother’s real son. Working in the colliery Tom has risen to the position of mine-manager. He is love with the village schoolmistress, Grace Shirley, which earns the enmity of Walter Harford, the fake heir, who is cruel and vindictive. Tom manages to avoid being accused of a crime he didn’t commit and a mine collapse to win the hand of Grace and his rightful position as the real son of the mine owner. Beatrice Holloway played Grace, with Robert Inman as the hero and Godfrey Cass as the villain.

The 1860 Irish drama The Colleen Bawn by Dion Boucicault followed on 15 June for six nights only, with John P. O’Neill as Myles-Na-Coppaleen (with songs) and Beatrice Holloway as Eily O’Connor.

The final seven nights of the season saw a revival of Two Little Vagabonds with Beatrice Holloway reprising her original role as Dick, one of ‘little vagabonds’. The other, Wally, was played by Mabel Russell.

On Monday, 1 July 1907 the Empire Pictures Co., under the direction of Edwin Geach, commenced a season of films presenting for the first time in Sydney scenes of ‘Bonnie Scotland’ and ‘Dear Ould Ireland’. On 15 July, they were supplanted by ‘Canada As It Is’ and ‘Magnificent Naval Display’ (depicting a torpedo-destroyer and submarine flotilla attack).

On Saturday, 3 August 1907, music hall artiste Florence Baines made her first appearance in Australia. Accompanied by a company of fifteen English artists, she opened in an original musical play entitled Miss Lancashire Limited. This was performed with success throughout the English provinces during 1905 with Baines as Mary Ellen Thompson, a Lancashire parlourmaid who changes places with an heiress. The farce, written by Sydney Sydney, (yes! this was his name) was liberally interspersed with songs and ditties to demonstrate Florence Baines’ talent as an entertainer, including her popular ‘Laughing Song’. A lady of generous proportions, she was a larger-than-life figure, and her magnetic performance style earned her the title ‘the girl who set London laughing’. She proved one of the most popular attractions at the Palace in recent years.

Miss Lancashire Ltd. played to capacity audiences at the Palace until 1 October 1907—an extraordinary 59 performances!10 Florence Baines and her ‘Laughing Song’ continued to keep Australia and New Zealand in stitches until July 1909 when she returned to England.

The following Saturday, 5 October 1907, saw the production of a new drama in four acts called The Yellow Peril by Alfred Newcomb. Being presented for the first time by Charles W. Taylor’s New English and Australian Dramatic Organisation, the play was described as the ‘only DRAMA on a CHINESE SUBJECT ever written for the ENGLISH STAGE’, replete with magnificent Chinese costumes and scenic effects.11 According to news reports, the play’s author was a New Zealander who had spent ’22 active years in the Far East’ and was therefore an authority on the ‘Chinese question’ and the perils of inter-marriage, the theme of the play.12 Laura Roberts played the heroine Vera Montgomery, who becomes the unhappy wife of a Chinese potentate, the Marquis Lo-Feng-Sao (Harry Diver).

Unfortunately for Taylor and his company, The Yellow Peril did not ‘catch on’ in Sydney and it was abruptly withdrawn on 15 October. As a result, the theatre was plunged into darkness.

It was re-opened for a special ‘Irish Night’ organised by Dr. Charles W. MacCarthy on Saturday, 2 November 1907. The evening was dedicated to a certain Mrs. Kevin Izod O’Doherty, an Irish woman whose story of hardship and survival earned her the sobriquet ‘Eva of The Nation’. Andrew Mack who had just concluded a successful season at the Criterion Theatre gave his services as did ‘The Australian Queen of Irish Song’ Marie Narelle who contributed to a largely amateur program of songs and monologues.

On Saturday, 9 November 1907, Carter, the Great Magician, assisted by Miss Abigail Price, made his first appearance in Australia, presenting a program of Magic, Mirth and Mystery.

To be continued


1. Sydney Morning Herald, 24 December 1906, p.3

2. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 December 1906, p.2

3. The Era, 2 February 1907, p.13

4. The Bulletin, 10 January 1907, p.8

5. Advertisement, The Daily Telegraph, 9 February 1907, p.2

6. See Graham Shirley & Sally Jackson, ‘The Story of the Kelly Gang: Restoring the world’s first feature’, n.d.; Ina Bertrand & William D. Routt, The Picture That Will Live Forever: The Story of the Kelly Gang, 2007.

7. The Australian Star, 11 February 1907, p.2. Henry William Varna (1865–1935) was an American-born, British educated theatre producer. In 1897 he joined Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s company at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London as stage manager. In this capacity he travelled to Australia to oversee the staging of Tree’s production of The Darling of the Gods with Julius Knight and Maud Jeffries. He next teamed with Meynell and Gunn and oversaw the production of The Little Stranger. During 1908, with Herbert Flemming’s Company he produced The Mummy and the Humming Bird. Settling in Australia he was subsequently associated with actor-manager Allan Wilkie and in later years ran his own dramatic school in Sydney and was a prominent member of the Actors’ Association.

8. The Australian Star, 8 April 1907, p.2

9. The Daily Telegraph, 4 May 1907, p.19

10. Advertisement, The Daily Telegraph, 1 October 1907, p.2

11. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 30 September 1907, p.2

12. The West Coast Times, 19 March 1907, p.3


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

Ina Bertrand & William D. Routt, The Picture That Will Live Forever: The Story of the Kelly Gang, ATOM, 2007,

Graham Shirley & Sally Jackson, ‘The Story of the Kelly Gang: Restoring the world’s first feature’, National Film & Sound Archive, n.d.,

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 Era (London), The New Zealand Mail (Wellington), The Sydney Morning Herald, The West Coat Times (Hokitika)

Papers Past,



Bathurst City Library, Bathurst, NSW


National Library of Australia, Canberra

National Portrait Gallery, London

State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

State Library Victoria, Melbourne

Victoria & Albert Museum, London

With thanks to

John S. Clark, Judy Leech, Rob Morrison, Les Tod


IMG 0768

During 1905 the Palace Theatre was required to undertake significant building works to ensure compliance with new fire regulations, resulting in the destruction of some of Phil Goatcher’s Indian-style interior. And, as ELISABETH KUMM discovers, over the following two years the little theatre struggled to attract the big names.

With the new year, 1905, things got off to a rough start for the Palace Theatre. Following a meeting by the Sydney City Council on the 24 January 1905 concerning the state of Sydney’s theatres, it was determined that the Palace Theatre did not comply with current fire regulations. As a result its licence was suspended pending the implementation of necessary alterations of a ‘heavy character’.1 At first the theatre’s Trustees2 rejected the Council’s requests, but the authorities remained adamant and by April it was reported that the required changes costing in excess of £5000 (approx. $700,000 in today’s currency) had been carried out.3

Behind the scenes works included fireproofing of walls and gears and the installation of a fire sprinkler over the proscenium. Also, the boilers and engines had to be relocated to an adjacent building. The most obvious ‘improvements’, however, were the requested changes to Phil Goatcher’s auditorium, which had been declared a fire trap.

The Evening News (5 April 1905) reported:

Looking into the auditorium, … anyone who knew the Palace as a delight to the eye from its decorative beauties, is distressed to see what has had to be despoiled for fear of the fiend Fire.

The cupolas above the boxes have been demolished, and squab ornaments to take their place detract from the symmetrical ensemble of the past.

Elsewhere the steep rake of the gallery was curtailed for safety’s sake, and the number of seats reduced, notably the top most ones that were up against the roof. In addition a railing was introduced between each of the tiers in the gallery so that in case of emergency patrons would be prevented from jumping from one row to another.

Thus, with all these changes having been complete, the Palace’s licence was renewed in time for the Easter season 1905.

The theatre re-opened with a season of melodrama by William Anderson’s Dramatic Company, with Eugenie Duggan as the star attraction. Eugenie Duggan (1870–1936) was an Melbourne-born actress and sister of actor/playwright Edmund Duggan. After making her stage debut in 1890, she performed with the companies of Dan Barry and Charles Holloway. In 1898, she married William Anderson (1968–1940), who in 1896 became joint manager of the Holloway-Anderson company. By 1900, he was managing his own company, with Eugenie as his leading lady. His usual theatre in Sydney was the Lyceum, which he shared with his friend and rival in melodrama Bland Holt, but as that theatre had recently closed following its sale to the philanthropist Ebenezer Vickery (1827–1906), he moved his operations to the Palace.

Anderson’s season commenced with the first Sydney production of A Girl’s Cross Roads, a melodrama in four acts by Walter Melville, a melo-dramatist par excellence, who together with his brother Frederick was responsible for writing and staging some of the most popular melodramas of the late 1890s and 1900s. The titles of their plays were thrilling enough and their fertile imaginations, either singularly or in partnership, produced such plays as The Worst Woman in London (1899), Between Two Women (1902), Her Forbidden Marriage (1904), Married to the Wrong Man (1908) and The Bad Girl of the Family (1909), to name a few. Many of these plays were staged at their theatres in the East End, notably the Terriss (Rotherhithe) and the Standard (Hoxton).4 First performed at the Standard Theatre in October 1903, A Girl’s Cross Roads had its Australian premiere in Melbourne in February 1905. The cast was largely the same, but the role of the hero Jack Livingstone was now played by H.O. Willard rather than Vivian Edwards. A story of misery and despair, Eugenie Duggan was the heroine (or rather anti-heroine), Barbara Wade, the wife of Jack Livingstone, who on developing a liking for drink, loses the respect of her husband. When she leaves home and is believed to have perished in a shipping accident, Jack turns to a former sweetheart Constance Cornell (played by Ivy Gorrick) for comfort. On the day that Constance consents to marry him, Barbara is discovered to be alive, a slave to drink and drugs. Jack is determined to save his wife, but she is too far gone and soon dies in a fit of delirium tremens. The role of Barbara was a difficult one, but Eugenie Duggan, used to playing ‘wretched women’ delivered a realistic portrait of an unhappy soul whose life had been ruined by the demon drink.

Three weeks later, 13 May, A Girl’s Cross Roads was replaced by another new Walter Melville sensation drama, The Female Swindler. Anderson’s company had introduced this play in Melbourne in September 1904 and now it was Sydney’s turn. First performed at the Terriss Theatre on 12 October 1903 and subsequently at the Standard Theatre, with Violet Ellicott and Ashley Page in the leads, this play also spawned a series of lured advertising postcards.

As Lu Valroy (otherwise Miss Darwe), Eugenie Duggan had another unsavoury heroine to portray. In this play the title character is working as a maid in a rich household. When some valuable items go missing, a detective, Jack Coulson (played by H.O. Willard), is employed to track down the culprit. Against a backdrop of murder, theft and kidnapping, the detective pursues Lu Valroy and her sinister offsider, Geoffrey Warden (alias Captain Stanton) (played by Laurence Dunbar). In a struggle, Warden is killed, but just as Lu is about to stab the detective she is overcome by a new emotion—love—and instead of killing him the two fall into a passionate embrace. As the ‘fascinating adventuress’ Eugenie Duggan once again excelled.

The third play of the season, opening on 3 June, was Two Little Drummer Boys, an 1899 military drama by Walter Howard. With this play Eugenie Duggan was reprising her role of Margaret Rivers (aka Drunken Meg), a wretched woman filled with vengeance for the man who had ruined her life. An expansive story of jealousy, treason and murder set in a military barracks, and rival cousins, both drummer boys, who clash as their fathers did. Supported by H.O. Willard, this time playing the villain, Eugenie Duggan thrilled audiences with her portrayal of another desperately unhappy female.

The final offering, commencing on 17 June, was the oft performed East Lynne with Eugenie in the dual role of Lady Isabel and Madame Vine. The season closed on 1 July 1905.

With the departure of Anderson’s company the Palace entered a period of uncertainty. It is not clear why this was the case, but for the next twelve months the only tenants were amateur companies and short run entertainments. Why did the big companies and touring stars stay away? Perhaps the Palace was too small, seating only 1000 patrons, compared with the 1500 of the Theatre Royal or the 2000-odd that could be crammed into Her Majesty’s. When Anderson return to Sydney in July 1905, rather than return to the Palace, he opened at the Theatre Royal.

So instead of welcoming the likes of George Stephenson’s English Musical Comedy Company, J.F. Sheridan, or the Brough-Flemming Comedy Company (who were the big names of the current season), the Palace played host to one night stands by the Sydney Comedy Club (A Snug Little Kingdom, 3 July 1905); The Players (Dr Bill, 4 and 5 July 1905, 21 September 1905; The Weaker Sex, 16 November 1905; Lady Windermere’s Fan, 17 November 1905; A Gaiety Girl, 20–22 December 1905; Little Lord Fauntleroy, 6 July 1905; In Town, 9–20 September 1905); the Bank of New South Wales Musical and Dramatic Company (The Magistrate, 7 July 1905; Dandy Dick, 11 December 1905); the Academy of Dramatic Art (Under Two Flags, 25 August 1905); Sydney Liedertafel (the premiere of W. Arundel Orchard’s comic operetta The Coquette, 28 August to 2 September 1905); the Sydney University Dramatic Society (The School for Scandal, 28 September 1905); the Lands Department Musical and Dramatic Society (The Sleeping Queen, 29 September 1905); and the Sydney Muffs (Caste and ’Op o’ Me Thumb, 14 December 1905, with assistance from Nellie Stewart); as well as performances by Minnie Hooper’s dance students (18 December 1905) and the Students’ Operatic and Dramatic Society (19 December 1905). Although the commercial prospects of the theatre were not great, the Palace was providing the opportunity for students and amateurs to hone their craft in a professional theatre.

In addition to the performances listed above, the Palace also hosted the Great Thurston’s farewell to Sydney when the magician presented a four week season from 22 July 1905 to 26 August 1905. He did however return for a second ‘final’ season from 23 December 1905 to 12 January 1906.

In mid-October, comedians J.J. Dallas and Florence Lloyd (under the management of Clyde Meynell and John Gunn) were seen in The J.P., the play having transferred to the Palace from Her Majesty’s Theatre for a week’s season.

Also, in late 1905, Lily Dampier (daughter of actor-manager Alfred Dampier) was seen in East Lynne and The Postmistress of the Czar. In the former, which was staged from 11–15 and 18–21 November, she played the double role of Lady Isabel and Madame Vine and in the latter, from 22 November to 2 December 1905, she appeared as Princess Olga.

The new year, 1906, got off to a reasonable start with a short return season by J.J. Dallas and Florence Lloyd beginning with a revival of The J.P. (27 January 1906 to 2 February 1906). This was followed by the first Australian production of There and Back, a three act farce by George Arliss (the British actor best remembered for playing Disraeli). Given a copyright performance in Bath in 1895 and produced in Bolton in 1900, this play received positive notices when it was staged at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London in May 1902 (transferring to the Shaftesbury in July 1902) with Charles Hawtrey as William Waring and Arthur Williams as Henry Lewson, two husbands whose wives go on holiday to Scotland, but pretend they are visiting a sick friend. The following year, it was performed at the Princess Theatre in New York with Charles E. Evans and Charles H. Hopper as the deceived husbands. In Australia, J.J. Dallas played the role of Lewson, a role he had performed when the farce toured the British provinces during 1902–03. He was supported by Aubrey Mallalieu as Waring and Florence Young as Marie Antoinette Smith. There and Back played for only a week at the Palace from 3–9 February 1906. On the same bill was a musical skit, The Bazaar Girl with J.J. Dallas and Florence Lloyd as Mr. and Mrs. Honeywood.

The comedy season was followed by Canadian-American music hall artist R.G. Knowles (under the auspices of J.C. Williamson) with ‘songs and stories of the stage’ from 10–23 February 1906. This was a return visit to the Palace by Knowles, having been one of the headlining acts when Harry Rickards was in residence back in 1896-97. As on the previous occasion he was assisted by his wife, Mrs. R.G. Knowles (Winifred Johnson), the ‘delightful and brilliant banjo exponent’.

From 24 February 1906, the popular matinee idol Julius Knight, supported by Maud Jeffries, played a brief season under the auspices of J.C. Williamson. Knight was making his reappearance in Australia following a lengthy tour of New Zealand. His three week season at the Palace saw revivals of some of his most popular plays: David Garrick, Comedy and Tragedy, The Sign of the Cross, Monsieur Beaucaire, Pygmalion and Galatea, The Silver King and The Lady of Lyons.

On Saturday, 17 March 1906, Edwin Geach presented West’s Pictures and The Brescians, pairing the latest cinematic offering from T.J. West with a group of concert party singers. The two acts had been touring the UK since the 1890s and from April 1905 had been causing a sensation in New Zealand. Having made a quick trip to England to obtain new attractions, West landed in Sydney just in time for the start of the Palace season. His newest film was the ‘mighty, throbbing, wondrous’ Living London. Filmed in 1904 by Charles Urban and edited by playwright G.R. Sims, this epic depiction of London streets and its people created a sensation—for two reasons. Not only was the film a splendid depiction of London life, but the Palace season saw the release of the film one week ahead of J.&N. Tait’s presentation of the same film at the Lyceum Hall. A fierce advertising war followed with each of the exhibitors extolling the virtues of their version of the film. ‘West shows in 20 minutes what other take nearly 2 HOURS to do.’5

Living London was screened at the Palace for the last time on 6 April 1906 (moving to the Sydney Town Hall as a special Easter event). During the last three weeks of the season West’s introduced several new attractions, including, from 21 April, Living Sydney, ‘showing animated Photographs of Hundreds of Sydney Citizens’. ‘COME AND SEE YOURSELF AS OTHERS SEE YOU’6 The season ended on the 27 April and the following day West’s transferred their operations to the Sydney Town Hall.

A rather special event took place on Saturday, 28 April 1906, when a new romantic comic opera called A Moorish Maid; or, Queen of the Riffs by Alfred Hill (with libretto by NZ music and drama critic J. Youlin Birch) was given its Australian premiere. Mounted by George Stephenson’s English Musical Comedy Company, the title role was performed by the twenty-five year old Rosina Buckman. Still at the outset of her career, the New Zealand born soprano was yet to make her name on the international stage, having returned home following her graduation from the Birmingham School of Music in 1903 on account of illness. Advertised on the bills as ‘the famous English Dramatic Soprano’, this was her first appearance in Sydney.

In June 1905, A Moorish Maid was given its initial performance in Auckland, with Lillian Tree and Frederick Graham in the lead roles. The piece proved a critical and financial success, and a subsequent season was planned for Wellington the following September. When Lillian Tree fell ill, Rosina Buckman took her place. This performance ‘marked the beginning of an operatic career which was to take her to Drury Lane and Covent Garden, and earn special praise from the doyenne of Australian singers, Nellie Melba’.

Alas, despite the rave reviews of Rosina Buckman—‘Miss Buckman was most brilliant and altogether made a most remarkable first appearance in opera’—the Sydney season was not a success. The libretto had been reshaped by Bulletin writer David Souter. A new second act was devised and the tenor role was eliminated. The work had been transformed from a comic opera to an extravaganza. At the end of the short season Alfred Hill was left with the scenery and costumes.7

A Moorish Maid was played until 5 May 1906, a total of seven performances. The final nights of the short season saw George Stephenson’s company in The Skirt Dancer and Bill Adams. On the 12, 14 and 15 May 1906 they presented The Dandy Doctor for the first time in Sydney.

The 16 May 1906 saw the return of the Sydney University Dramatic Society for one night only with Pinero’s The Cabinet Minister. The Sydney Muffs appeared the following night, 17 May, in The Private Secretary.

From the 19–25 May 1906, The Players under the direction of Phillip Lytton revived Planquette’s comic opera Nell Gwynne, the otherwise amateur company augmented by the engagement of W.B. Beattie in the role of Lord Buckingham.

From 26 May 1906 to 13 June 1906, having already performed seasons in Melbourne and Adelaide, Leslie Harris and Madame Lydia Yeamans-Titus opened at the Palace. Performing as the Society Entertainers, they presented monologues, songs and sketches. With this engagement, Leslie Harris was performing in Australia for the first time, while Madame Yeamans-Titus was making her reappearance having toured in 1902 and 1904. Harris was a performer in the Mel B. Spurr style, a polished monologist and raconteur. Madame Yeamans-Titus was a seasoned vaudevillian, accompanied on the piano by her husband Frederick J. Titus. Often referred to as the ‘queen of the child mimics’, several of her ‘baby’ songs were included on the program. Towards the close of the season Madame Yeamans-Titus was indisposed and her place was taken by Rosina Buckman.

Following a performance of Maritana on 20 June 1906 by the Railway and Tramway Musical Society,

Spencer’s American Theatrescope Company enjoyed a month-long season from 25 June 1906 to 20 July 1906.

From 21–28 July, a series of charity performances in aid of the King Edward VII Seamen’s Hospital were given under the patronage of the Lady Mayoress (Mrs. Allen Taylor). These were given the title ‘Enchanted Palace’ Carnival.

On the 3 August 1906 and 1 September 1906, the Bank of New South Wales Musical and Dramatic Society revived The Pickpocket.

And on 25 August 1906, a single copyright performance was given of Three Little Waifs, an original five-act musical drama by Phillip Lytton and J.C. Lee. A short season to follow from 15–26 September, with Mark Williamson, a new English actor specially engaged to play the wicked uncle. In the role of Mona, one of the waifs, was Louise Carabasse (‘may be commended for a very pathetic picture’, wrote the Herald8), who as Louise Lovely would go on to become a film star in Hollywood.

On 8 September 1906, Annie Mayor (an Australian actress popular in the 1880s and 1890s) returned to the Sydney stage in Drama in Camera, comprising scenes from The Silver King, London Assurance and other plays including Shakespeare, which ran until 14 September.

Edison’s Popular Pictures made an appearance on 1 October.

On 4 and 5 October a Grand Complimentary Performance was given by Sydney elocutionist Hilda Bevege when the short plays In Honour Bound and Milky White were presented.

The 20 October 1906, to commemorate Trafalgar Day (27 October), a Grand Historical Pageant, comprising ‘TABLEAUX VIVANTS and LIVING SCENES’ was staged.

The first Australian production of the farcical comedy The ‘Dear’ Doctor by Kim Brament followed from 27 October to 2 November 1906 under the direction of Blandford Wright. Despite being advertised as ‘the World’s Greatest Rib-tickler, in Three Acts’, nothing is discoverable about the history of this play or its author. The performances were given in aid of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales and St. Margaret’s Hospital for Women.

On the 3 and 5 November 1906, the Elocutionary Society performed Our Boys and My Friend Jarlet.

The week commencing 7 November 1906, saw the production of The Emperor, a comic opera by W.J. Curtis, with music by W. Arundel Orchard. Set in Ancient Rome, the piece included a ‘graceful statue ballet’ in the first act. Orchard had composed the score for The Coquette which had been performed at the Place during 1905.

The year ended on a high note with the appearance of Meynell, Gunn and Varna’s New English Comedy Company. They opened on 17 November 1906 with the three-act farcical comedy The Little Stranger by Michael Morton. This piece had enjoyed some success in London earlier in the year, with Master Edward Garratt as the sixteen year old boy who is substituted for a baby. The play had its first Australian production at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne on 20 October 1906 with Master Willie Parke as Tom Pennyman, the ‘Little Stranger’ of the title. Billed as ‘the Child Wonder … direct from the Criterion Theatre, London’. Although Parke seems to have excelled as the wise-cracking, cigarette smoking youngster, he had not performed the role at the Criterion in London. Other principal roles were played by Violet Dene (Mrs. Dick Allenby), John W. Deverell (General Allenby), Pultney Murray (Captain Dick Allenby), Florence Leigh (Mrs. Allenby) and Harry Hill (Paul Veronsky). In London, Audrey Ford, John Beauchamp, Athole Stewart, Mrs. Kemmis and W. Graham Browne played the same characters.


To be continued



1. Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January 1905, p.6

2. In September 1903, George Adams, the owner of the Palace Theatre died aged 65. For the last decade he had been resident in Tasmania, having moved there in 1895 ‘for tax reasons’. With his passing, his estate was managed by a Trust made up of his nephew William James Adams, solicitor W.A. Finlay, manager D.H. Harvey, and solicitor G.J. Barry. Harrie Skinner continued as manager, a position he would hold for the next twenty years.

3. Evening News (Sydney), 5 April 1905

4. Elaine Aston & Ian Clarke, pp.30-42

5. Daily Telegraph, 20 March 1906, p.2. For a full analysis of the Australian screenings of Living London, see ‘The Living London Boom’ by Sally Jackson, Senses of Cinema, 2009.

6. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 1906, p.2

7. John Mansfield Thomson, A Distant Music, pp.83-89

8. Sydney Morning Herald, 17 September 1906, p.6


Elaine Aston & Ian Clarke, ‘The dangerous woman of Melvillean melodrama’, New Theatre Quarterly, vol. 12, issue.45, February 1996, pp.30–42

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

Sally Jackson, ‘The Living London Boom’, Senses of Cinema, issue 49, March 2009,

John Mansfield Thomson, A Distant Music: The life & times of Alfred Hill 18701960, Oxford University Press, 1980, pp.83–89

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


The Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Evening News (Sydney)



Digital Commonwealth,


HAT Archive,


National Library of Australia, Canberra

National Library of New Zealand

National Portrait Gallery, London

New York Public Library, New York

State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

State Library Victoria, Melbourne

Wellcome Collection, London

With thanks to

John S. Clark, Sally Jackson, Judy Leech, Rob Morrison, Les Tod

IMG 0761 palce theatre no 3
Having enjoyed great prosperity throughout much of 1903, the Palace entered a period of mixed success, including long periods of darkness, as ELISABETH KUMM discovers in Part 6 of the Palace Theatre story.

Following the departure of Daniel Frawley’s company on Friday, 11 September 1903, The Players commenced a six night season from 12 September, performing the A.W. Pinero comedy Dandy Dick for their first three nights and concluding with Sydney Grundy’s drama Sowing the Wind for their final three nights.

On Thursday, 17 September, the Musical and Dramatic Profession tendered a Testimonial Matinee Performance to Mr. W.J. Wilson (1833–1909). The seventy year old scenic artist, who was recovering from a long illness, had experienced a long career in Australia, having arrived in Melbourne from England in 1855. A mixed program was presented with members of the various Williamson, Anderson, Holloway, and Rickards’ companies participating.

Saturday, 19 September saw the return of George Willoughby and Edwin Geach’s company with a new farce Mistakes Will Happen by Grant Stewart. Presented by special arrangement with Charles Arnold, the farce had first seen the light of day in June 1898 when it was given a trial run by the stock company at the Grand Opera House, St Paul, Minneapolis. By August it had been taken up by producer Jacob Litt and toured successfully for several years with Charles Dickson in the lead. It finally reached New York on 3 March 1902 where it was performed by the stock company of Proctor’s Fifth Avenue Theatre. Jacob Litt’s production didn’t reach New York until 14 May 1906 when it played a week’s season at the Garrick Theatre with Charles Dickson as Tom Genowin.

The play concerns an impoverished actor (Tom Genowin) who is seeking a backer for a play he has written; Dorothy Mayland, an actress, whom Tom has secretly married; Mr. And Mrs. Hunter-Chase who both have their own reasons for wanting to see the play produced—the former is in love with Dorothy and the latter is an aspiring actress. A key scene in the play is one where two rooms—a carriage-house (below) and a hayloft (above)—are both represented on the stage so the audience can see the action in the two rooms simultaneously; with Tom meeting Mrs. Hunter Chase in the hayloft for acting lessons, and the Dorothy meeting with Mr. Hunter Chase in the carriage-house for a play reading; at the same time the Chase’s coachman has a rendezvous with the maid.

This piece had its Australian premiere at the Melbourne Bijou at Easter 1903 with seasons in Adelaide and Brisbane to follow. The play proved something of a riot, especially the shenanigans of the carriage-house scene. The cast for the first Sydney production included George Willoughby as Tom Genowin, Roxy Barton as Dorothy Mayland, Tom Cannam as Mr. Hunter-Chase, Miss Roland Watts-Phillips as Mrs. Hunter-Chase, Edwin Lester as William Hawley (the coachman) and Mabel Hardinge-Maltby as Linda Kurtz (the maid). In their review, the Sydney Morning Herald echoed the newspapers in the other capitals when it said: ‘Mistakes Will Happen proved to be marked success. [The] authors have certainly introduced almost the maximum of hilarity into the play, and have furnished a strong tonic for elevating depressed spirits and overcoming the most pronounced fit of the blues. The dialogue is racy, the incidents developed in the course of the plot are beyond even the suspicion of coarseness, and the funny situations follow so rapidly that the audience presents a fine illustration of “laughter holding both its sides”.’1 It played util the end of Willoughby and Geach’s all-too-short season on 9 October.

The theatre remained dark for the next few nights pending Mary Fitzmaurice Gill’s season. A young Australian actress who had played leading roles with the companies of Bland Holt and William Anderson was returning to Sydney following an extended New Zealand tour to perform with her own company. Her initial offering, Man to Man on 17 October, was being presented by arrangement with George Rignold. A drama of convict life, the play included numerous sensational scenic effects including a railway collision, the Portland Prison, and an escape during a fog. Miss Fitzmaurice Gill’s leading man was Albert Gran, who had made his Australian debut as Lord Jeffreys in Nellie Stewart’s production of Sweet Nell of Old Drury the previous year.

Plays that followed included The French Spy (24 October), The Bank of England (7 November), The Prodigal Parson (21 November), finishing with East Lynne, for one night only on 27 November.

The next attraction, which opened on 28 November, was Miss Cleopatra, a farce in three acts, adapted from the French by Arthur Shirley, with Australian-born actress-vocalist Maud Lita, in the title role. This play had first been performed in London in 1891 under the title Cleopatra, when a single performance was given at the Shaftesbury Theatre at a benefit matinee for W.H. Griffiths, with Maud Milton as Cleopatra. As the leading character is a prima donna, Maud Lita (an operatic contralto) introduced a number of songs which were performed with great verve, but unfortunately, despite her many accomplishments, houses were poor, and the season ended on 11 December.

Another period of closure followed.

At Christmas, Albert Gran returned, this time supported by members of The Conservatoire. Two double bills were presented: Pygmalion and Galatea and Comedy and Tragedy (23 December) and The Moth and the Candle and Comedy and Tragedy (24 December). Pygmalion and Galatea and Comedy and Tragedy were both early non-musical plays by W.S. Gilbert, while The Moth and the Candle was Gran’s own adaptation of Ouida’s novel Moths.

New Zealand theatrical manager George Stephenson’s American Musical Comedy Company opened on Boxing Night, Saturday, 26 December 1903, with American vaudevillians Charles J. Stine and Olive Evans making their first appearances in Sydney.

The opening gambit, Mama’s New Husband, a three-act farce by Edwin Barber, revolved around the newly re-married Mrs. Pearly Brood (Margaret Marshall), who has concealed from her much younger husband, Henry Brood (Charles J. Stine), that she has a 17-year-old daughter—and when that daughter Maimie Dimler (Olive Evans) arrives home unexpectedly from boarding school, her mother persuades her to dress as a young girl in spite of numerous suitors hovering about—a premise reminiscent of Pinero’s 1886 farce The Magistrate, but the similarity ended there. During the action of the play twenty musical numbers were introduced, along with ballets and dancing. This piece had its first performance in America in September 1901 and shortly after Stine and Evans acquired the rights to the play and took it on tour. Having commenced their current tour in New Zealand and Tasmania, this piece had been given its Australasian premiere at His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland, on 6 August 1903.

A month later, Saturday, 30 January 1904, the same company performed Brown’s in Town, a three-act comedy by Mark E. Swan. Resembling a Broadhurst farce (What Happened to Jones, etc.), this play dealt with a mismanaged elopement whereby a young couple lead their parents on a merry chase—and like The Wrong Mr. Wright, the title character does not exist. Similar to Mama’s New Husband, songs and dances were dotted throughout, including a burlesque on the Florodora Sextette (‘Tell Me, Dusky Maiden’)—and what the play lacked in plot, it made up for in movement. According to the publicity it was toured by ten companies in America during 1902—and one run by Frank Hennessy, cleared over £30,000.2 It seems this play was first performed in December 1898 in Minnesota, with Edward S. Abeles as Dick Preston, Kathryn Osterman as Letty, and James O. Barrows as the father-in-law Abel Preston. It reached New York in February 1899 and played at the Bijou Theatre for a fortnight with the same cast. According to the reviews J.J. Rosenthal, the manager of the Bijou, didn’t think much of the play and pulled the plug after a fortnight.3 It fared much better in the provinces.

Brown’s in Town had it Australasian premiere at His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland, 12 August 1903, with Charles Stine as Abel Preston and Olive Evans as Letty Leonard, the same roles they played in the Sydney production. The farce seemed to please Sydneysiders and held the stage at the Palace for four weeks. The season closed with a short revival of Mama’s New Husband from 24 to 26 February 1904.

On 27 and 29 February, The Players presented Captain Swift by Charles Haddon Chambers; returning on 30 and 31 March with Tom, Dick and Harry. And on 28 March, for one night only, Albert Gran, supported by Linda Raymond, presented Mary Queen of Scots.

Pending the re-appearance of the Willoughby and Geach combination for the Easter season, the Palace was given a lick of paint and refreshed. The company’s latest offering was the American farce A Stranger in a Strange Land by Sydney Wilmer and Walter Vincent. According to the publicity this piece had enjoyed huge success in London, New York and on the Continent. It had its Australian premiere on 5 March at the Melbourne Princess where it played to packed houses for three weeks. With George Willoughby as Jack Thorndyke, the fun of the piece lay in the hero’s claims to his sweetheart that he is an adventurous backwoodsman. During the play’s two week run, hundreds of people were reportedly turned from the doors. Postcards featuring scenes from the play were available for purchase. The final few nights of the season saw a revival of What Happened to Jones.

On Saturday, 23 April 1904, the Perman troupe arrived with the pantomime Little Red Riding Hood. Written by W.J. Lincoln, with original music by C.G. McIntosh, it was an entirely Australian creation, with an Australian setting and a finale featuring a patriotic tableau with each of the Australian states attired in glittering costumes. First performed in Melbourne at Christmas 1903, it had toured to Adelaide, Ballarat, Geelong and Brisbane prior to its Sydney opening. The principal characters were played by Harry Shine (Dame Trot), Bella Perman (Red Riding Hood), Maud B. Perman (Boy Blue) and Edith Maitland (Marjorie Daw). Two editions of the pantomime were given prior to its closing three weeks later on 13 May.

Tom Nawn’s Polite Vaudeville Company made their first appearance in Australia on 14 May 1904 under the direction of J.G. Rial (previously associated with the World’s Entertainers). This was Tom Nawn’s second visit to Australia. In 1902 he and his wife, Hettie Nawn, had been on the bill at Rickards’ Tivoli, when their playlet One Touch of Nature was performed in Australia for the first time. This same piece was included on the bill at the Palace, along with a line-up of American vaudeville acts including Pete Baker (America’s premier monologue entertainer and German dialect comedian), The Musical Johnstons (for years the Xylophone novelty with Sousa’s band), Dorothy Drew (singing comedienne in a repertoire of Negro melodies), The Tossing Austens (comedy juggling and eccentric pantomime specialty), Katherine Dahl (the brilliant lyric artiste in a repertoire of ballads), Hiawatha Troubadours (introducing original American Indians songs and legends) and Mirrored Melody (producing effects which greatly enhance the enjoyment of descriptive songs). Also on the program was Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope showing one of his most recent films, the $12,000 The American Train Robbery. Running 11 minutes, this film was directed by Edwin S. Porter and starred Justus D. Barnes as the head bandit. Today it is considered one of the earliest American narrative films, introducing many new cinematic techniques including double exposure, cross cutting, tracking shots and location shooting.4

During the season the bill changed to include some new performers and sketches. On 28 May, for example, the sketch Shipmates was performed for the first time; on 6 June Pat and the Genii, a comedietta seen during Tom Nawn’s 1902 visit was revived; and on 18 June, the new three-act feature play The Mishaps of Mr. Dooley, written by American journalist Finley Peter Dunne and based on his ‘Mr Dooley’ newspaper columns was performed for the first time. Dooley was a fictional Irish bartender whose voice Dunne used to comment on national affairs.5

Sadly for Nawn, audience numbers at the Palace declined due to the ‘plethora of entertainment’ elsewhere, and the season came to an abrupt end on 30 June. By the following Monday, Tom Nawn was ‘ploughing his way to the land of Stars and Stripes’.6 Fortunately for many members of his company, they were offered positions at Harry Rickards’ Tivoli Theatre.

The Palace was once again dark, but only for a short time. Another company of Americans was on its way.

Meanwhile, The Players returned with the double bill of My Little Girl and Charley’s Aunt on the 7 and 8 July; and on the 13 and 14th of the month Frau Elsa Buhlow presented A.W. Pinero’s The Ironmaster in aid of the Kindergarten Union & German Benevolent Society.

The next big attraction was the American Travesty Stars, a company of 38 performers, with Harry James as musical director and W.S. Combs as general manager. This company was modelled on the Weber and Fields company in New York. Joseph M. Weber and Lew M. Fields were a highly successful pair of ‘Dutch comics’, so successful that in 1896 they opened their own theatre on Broadway, the Weber and Fields Music Hall. There they produced a series of vaudeville burlesques: The Geezer (1896), Pousse Café (1897), Hurley Burley (1898), Whirl-I-Gig (1901), Fiddle-Dee-Dee (1900), Hoity Toity (1901), Twirly Whirly (1902) and Whoop-Dee-Doo (1903); each show crafted to showcase their particular brand of knock-about comedy.

The company in Australia, headed by Clarence Kolb and Max Dill, had been granted permission to present the Weber and Fields’ repertoire, and had been doing so on the West Coast of America since 1901. The other principals in the company were Barney Bernard, a Jewish dialect comedian, who played the roles created by David Warfield on Broadway; Maude Amber and Winfield Blake, the leading lady and leading man, who doubled for Lillian Russell and DeWolf Hopper; and Lillie Sutherland, the soubrette, who performed Fay Templeton’s roles.

The company’s first offering in Australia was Fiddle-Dee-Dee which opened on Saturday, 16 July 1904. Written by Edgar Smith, with music by John Stromberg, it had originally been performed on Broadway in September 1900, with Joe Weber as Michael Krautknuckle, Lew Fields as Rudolf Bungstarter, DeWolf Hopper as Hoffman Barr, David Warfield as Shadrach Leschinski, and Lillian Russell as Mrs. Walford Meadowbrook.

Described as ‘A Potpourri of Dramatic “fol de roll” in Three Exhibits’, Fiddle-Dee-Dee was greeted by an overflowing house. With no plot to speak of, audiences were promised an entertainment abounding with original musical numbers, a large chorus of shapely girls, witty dialogue delivered with kaleidoscopic rapidity, all presented with the dash and vim of a first-rate American company ‘The scenery, costumes and the paraphernalia have never been excelled for originality, and such a large company of superb comedians who tear the English language into shreds and reconstruct it in a manner that is extremely funny. They keep their audiences in a continual paroxysm of laughter during the time given up to their quaint sayings, happy repartee and dialogue work.’7

The piece lived up to the hype and audiences were not disappointed. It even included a travesty of the Florodora Sextette.

Fiddle-Dee-Dee played until 12 August. The next offering was Hoity Toity, described on the bills as ‘A Giddy Little Skit on Things Dramatic and Otherwise in Two Selections’, it was another mirth-filled burlesque extravaganza by Smith and Stromberg. First performed in New York in September 1901, this piece had a slight plot to tie together its ‘olio portion’. It involved a man who takes his daughters to Monte Carlo to find rich husbands for them. Instead they meet ‘sauerkraut’ millionaires and decide to start a bank, swapping the delicatessen counter for a teller’s bench. ‘Raising the money’ became one of Weber and Fields’ most famous sketches. When a customer arrives at the bank, Weber (Kolb) asks ‘Put in or take out?’ Of course everyone takes out until the bank is hopelessly broke.

The company’s final offering was the double-bill of Whirl-I-Gig and Pousse Café which opened on 17 September 1904. Described respectively as a ‘dramatic impossibility’ and a ‘conundrum’. In the first piece Dill played the inventor of a machine for ‘throwing living pictures on the naked air’, while Kolb was an  architect who had designed a gaol ‘with all the comforts of home’. In the second piece, Barney Bernard is the inventor of a mechanical doll, La Pooh Pooh (an obvious parody of La Poupee, the comic opera by Audran), with Kolb and Dill as his two backers. These two short works provided a fitting end to a highly popular season which closed on 6 October 1904.

With the departure of the Travesty Company, things quietened down a bit. The Players returned for two nights with J.M. Barrie’s The Professor’s Love Story on 7 and 8 October. On the 11th and 12th of the month, Frau Elsa Buhrow made her re-appearance in Cyprienne (a translation of Sardou’s Divorcons) in aid of the Ashfield Infants’ Home. (Frau Buhrow had presented the same piece at the Palace back in September 1901.) And on 13th and 14th, The Players presented Haddon Chambers’ The Idler. Another long period of darkness descended on the theatre, punctuated by a production of the comic opera Giroffle-Giroffla on 14 November, performed by the Railway and Tramway Musical Society.

Finally, on Saturday, 10 December 1904, the American Travesty Company made a welcome return, bringing with them a weekly change program. The line-up remained the same with the exception of the Maude Amber and Winfield James who had been replaced by Celia Mavis and Edwin Lester. Hoity Toity was the first of the revivals, followed by Fiddle-Dee-Dee on 17 December, and Whirl-I-Gig and Pousse Café on 24 December.

The season ended on 30 December—and the little theatre fell dark once more—pending the arrival of William Anderson’s Dramatic Company on 22 April 1905.

In a curious footnote, it seems that despite the full house and patrons being turned away from the door, the tour was not a financial success for the American Travesty Company. In February 1905, an article appeared in Sydney’s Sunday Sun headed: AMERICAN TRAVESTY STARS: Back in ’Frisco. “THICK-HEADED AUDITORS IN THE ANTIPODES!”. According to the report members of the company felt that much of their material was lost on Australian audiences who didn’t understand American humour and syntax. And as for any financial reward, it seems the manager, Henry James, was the only one who profited from the tour. He was said to have returned to the US sporting a diamond pin. The article also mentioned the conspicuous absence of Maude Amber and Winfield Blake during the return season at the Palace. She had a falling out with James and he was suing her for breach of contract.8 Another article that appeared in The Critic around the same time confirmed that the company had been asked to play the final three weeks at the Palace without pay—and that Miss Amber and Mr. Blake had refused to act and had sued James for damages.9


To be continued



1. Sydney Morning Herald, 21 September 1903, p.4

2. Auckland Star, 11 August 1903, p.3

3. New York Times, 28 February 1899, p.7

4. See

5. See

6. Truth, 3 July 1904, p.1

7. Sydney Star, 13 July 1904, p.7

8. Sunday Sun, 26 February 1905, p.5

9. The Critic, 22 February 1905, p.23


Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A chronicle of comedy and drama, 18691914, Oxford University Press, 1994

Felix Isman, Weber and Fields, their tribulations, triumphs and their associates, Boni and Liveright, 1924

Anthony Slide, The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, University of Mississippi, 2012


Auckland Star, The Australian Star (Sydney), The Critic (Adelaide), The New York Clipper, The New York Times, The New Zealand Mail, Punch (Melbourne), The Sydney Morning Herald, Truth (Sydney)

Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection,

Papers Past,



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

Library of Congress, Washington, DC.,

New York Public Library, New York,

With thanks to

John S. Clark, Judy Leech, Rob Morrison, Les Tod

Wednesday, 05 October 2022

Edwin Ride

After reading Peter Pinne's two-part article on the Australian musical The Sentimental Bloke, Lisa Ride, the daughter of Edwin Ride (who created the lead role of Bill) sent us the following comments and pictures.

Just read a great account of The Sentimental Bloke that my father Edwin Ride appeared in the early 1960s. I am the daughter of the Canberra marriage.

image0 1Above Josie Lester, my mother who met my father Edwin Ride in Canberra where they were married in 1957

Ride 4a

From the Australian Woman’s Weekly - I am the baby bump! 

Josie divorced Edwin due to the shocking publicity of the affair between my father and the leading lady. My mother refused to allow me to have any contact with him. I met him for the first time when I was 19 years old!

I went on to be a member of the Australian Federal police; the Australian Army Reserve and raised five children. 

I’m in the process of looking for a publisher to help me publish a book.

Lisa Ride

Ride 6

Palace banner

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 Gallia and 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. Dorothy was 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 Herald reminded 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. Wright was 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. Wright had 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 Off was 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 Off on 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 Bruder by 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. Sydney Morning Herald, 10 January 1903, p.7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Amy Arbogast, p.30

11. Sydney 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, 18691914, 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, 18901899, 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

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