Theatrical scrapbooks like the John Riley/Fred Hailes Scrapbook are a useful source for the theatre historian. Sometimes they contain items that cannot easily be found elsewhere. These can be photographs, cuttings from ephemeral magazines or old newspapers some of which still exist but otherwise would be difficult to find. Cuttings from old programmes, flyers and show business reports from newspapers, even theatre tickets are also of great help.

The Fred Hailes scrapbook came into Mimi Colligan’s hands in 2006 when the then owner offered it for sale after hearing her appealing for theatrical memorabilia during a radio interview. The then owner’s occupation was clearing deceased estates, in this case a former resident of the Old Colonists Homes in North Fitzroy, founded by George Coppin and others. After some negotiation the book was purchased by Mimi Colligan and Frank Van Straten.

It seems that several people contributed to the 309 page scrapbook. Pasted on the fly-leaf is a note written by Frederick Hailes about its provenance:

The contents of pages 1- 60 were originally in an old Scrap Book collected by Mr John Riley and given to me on the occasion of a visit I made to Mr Matthew Ryan at the Old Colonists Home in May 1910. Mr Ryan had witnessed most of the performances mentioned by “Autolycus” on pages 158-168. Pages 63-158 contain Melbourne and other items to the “Canterbury Times” NZ. “The Mummer Memoires” are from the pen of Mr J.M. Forde of Sydney.

On another page is a photograph of John Riley who died 17 December 1911 at the ‘Dramatic Homes’ (Old Colonists Homes) aged 92. Riley had been a variety and circus performer. On page 309 a cutting from J.M. Forde announces the death of Frederick Hailes aged 63 in May 1917. It is not known who pasted these last scraps into the book but it seems to have passed to other Old Colonist residents until 1970 when it was acquired by the former owner, a dealer who specialised in clearance of deceased estates. As well, many of the margins are filled with hand-written comments and elucidations (many probably by Fred Hailes).

Mrs Ellen Fitzwilliam as Mistress Page in The Merry Wives of WindsorThere are too many items in the three hundred odd yellowed and brittle pages to make a detailed record - yet. For example on one of the pages there is a large cutting of the Argus 21 October 1911 article ‘Opera Memories’ signed F.H. but overlayed with the name ‘Fred Hailes.’ Hailes had a prodigious interest in the theatre, particularly opera. Twenty-six tiny photographs of opera people, all identified, from Lyster to Beaumont through Cagli and Zelman, are pasted around the margins. The images seem to come from late nineteenth and early twentieth century ‘glossy’ magazines. They could be from journals such as The Theatre, or The Sphere. Whole pages of such magazines are sometimes stuck in with images of Sarah Bernhardt in various roles or a performance of School For Scandal at London’s His Majesty’s. A two page spread from the Town and Country Journal 5 July 1911, titled ‘Hamlets in Australia’ has several photos and engravings of Charles Kean, Barry Sullivan, Walter Montgomery and H.B. Irving. The quality of the paper is similar to the tiny photos pasted elsewhere in the book so perhaps this is a source of the opera and other photos. There are also valuable obituaries of old theatre stars together with handwritten comments, most likely by Hailes. Of course we can search digitised newspapers such as Trove to try and find the images or obituaries in the original issues but thumbing through this scrapbook there is a sense of reality and immediacy. For example Mimi Colligan is interested in Mrs (Ellen) Fitzwilliam of the London Haymarket who came to Melbourne for the G. B. W. Lewises in 1877. She specialised in ‘old woman’ parts. But Mimi found her in a tiny cutting on page 9 in one of her more youthful roles as Mistress Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The book also gives us some fine and colourful examples of old theatre tickets. Where else could one find a collection of tickets from all the major Melbourne theatres except the Princess’s pasted on one page – or a shilling ticket from Coppin’s Cremorne Gardens of the late 1850s and early 1860s?

The newspaper cuttings range from the Leamington Chronicle, 28 April 1836; Canterbury Times, ‘Our Melbourne Dramatic Letter’, 30 March 1884 - 15 December 1885 to ‘Mummer Memoirs’ by ‘Hayseed’ (J.M Forde) in Sydney Sportsman, 6 May 1908 – 5 July 1910. They discuss the various stars of the gold rush theatre and after. Most of these reminiscences are anecdotal and must be checked but they are invaluable ‘signposts’ for the biographer and historian.

Theatre Heritage Australia has digitized the complete Riley/Hailes Scrapbook. View the scrapbook online here»