Of the 1000s of Victorian vocalists that have come under the microscope of theatre historian Kurt Gänzl, English tenor Henry Hallam must surely be one of the widest travelled and most married. In Australia during the 1870s he is best remembered for marrying soubrette Hattie Shepparde who died tragically in child birth aged only 26. But as Kurt discovers, this was just one incident in an event-filled career that took Henry Hallam from the grand and comic opera on stages of Britain, Australia, India and America to the film stages of Hollywood.
HALLAM, Henry [MAYER, Henry Samuel Hallam] (b. Clerkenwell, London, 7 August 1850; d. Manhattan, New York, 9 November 1921)
I don’t know why the tenor Henry Hallam has never been biographized. Not even, would you believe it, by me. Oh, sure, I’ve written his name dozens of time in articles on other people but … well, I reckon the time has come to put his rather fascinating story on paper.
His career isn’t that difficult to follow, in spite of the fact that it was extremely, widely geographically, spread—Britain, Australia, New Zealand, China, India, both coasts of the United States of America—it just takes a bit of time and a lot of digging to gather all the fragments and jigsaw them together. Even the wives are pretty regular (only a short period of bigamy), but the family … oh. Not so regular. So let’s start with the family.
Henry was born Henry Samuel Hallam Mayer, in Clerkenwell, London on 7 August 1850. His mother was 28 (?) year-old Mrs Elizabeth Mayer, née Williams, the wife of furrier Martin Mayer of 8 Greystoke Place, Fetter Lane, and she had already borne to him three children, Martin Samuel (epileptic, suicidal, d. Fitzroy, Australia, 1913), Hector and Emma, seemingly dead in infancy, since their marriage on 11 June 1839. Strange, then, that 37 Upper Rosoman St, Clerkenwell, in the 1841 census houses Martin Mayer a foreign furrier, his son Martin 2, and his wife … Mary, 20. Strange, too, that in 1848 a Martin Mayer marries a Mary Donoven in Stepney, and that Elizabeth Mayer née Williams marries Henry Richard Hallam (b. London, 14 February 1820; d. Tilehurst, 26 April 1893), from Peartree Court, Clerkenwell, on Christmas Day 1854. Three years after the birth of what looks like their pre-marital son who was, nevertheless, christened as the son of Martin Mayer.
And Henry Richard was … guess what, a furrier and son of a furrier. Wife-swapping in Clerkenwell? Whatever the precise answer, there were, it seems, some furry question-marks around the birth of young Henry. Which may be why I can find none of the participants in the 1851 census. But, by 1861, the Hallams are there, still in the fur trade, with Henry (10) and Victoria (8, to be Mrs Hawes).
Over the next decade, I spy very little of young Henry. I have only one piece of ‘information’. His early singing teacher was J. Robinson. If true, that would tell us something else. He was in Liverpool, or else Dublin. There practised the two known Mr Joseph Robinsons of the 1850s vocal-coaching world. Joseph Bagot Robinson (d. Dublin, 1 August 1876), over a decade known as a singer in the midlands, operated from Hope Street, Liverpool, Joseph Robinson was vocal teacher in Dublin. I’m inclined to go for Liverpool. I wonder what Henry was doing as a teenage Liverpudlian.
He was back in London in 1870 (‘a tenor of some repute’ Australia urged in advance), however, giving a ‘farewell concert’ at the Barnsbury Institute. ‘Farewell’? Yes, Henry was following the latest rush to the diggings of Australia. He arrived in Melbourne 18 August 1870, and a fortnight later, aged 20, made his first appearance as a singer, at Prahran (3 September), alongside Florence Calzado, on a bill topped by ‘the Australian Tom Thumb’. In the next couple of years, he became a familiar name on Victorian bills (‘a young gentleman with a very pretty, very light tenor voice, extremely smooth and pleasing to the ear’), sharing bills with such established stars of the time and place as Sophia Cutter, Amelia Bailey, Mrs Fox, Alice May, Lucy Chambers, Armes Beaumont, a selection of Carandinis, Fanny Simonsen, David Miranda and wife, Mary Ann Christian, Amy Sherwin, ‘Juan de Haga’ et al. He made a first operatic foray at Charles Lascelles’ Benefit (October 1871) singing Tonio in an act of The Daughter of the Regiment, and performed The Messiah in Melbourne at Christmas of the year.
In 1872, he joined the Simonsen opera troupe, appearing as Fritz in The Grande-Duchesse and Manuel in The Rose of Castille, sang in ‘Operatic Concerts’ in Sydney with Agatha States, then switched genre and joined up with music-hall singer Harry Rickards, purveying tenor ballads through Australia and New Zealand (‘The Pilgrim of Love’, ‘The Irish Emigrant’, ‘The Death of Nelson’, ‘Come into the Garden Maud’, ‘Margharetta’, Thou art so near’, ‘Tell me Mary, how to woo thee’, ‘The Anchor’s Weighed’. ‘Molly Bawn’, ‘Happy be thy Dreams’, ‘My Guiding Star’, ‘You’ll remember me’, ‘The Nightingale’s Call’, ‘In this old chair’) between the comicalities. Rickards also popped the occasional short musical into his programme, so Henry got to play Pygmalion and Gala-Dear, Forty Winks, The Blind Beggars and suchlike.
After a year with Rickards, Hallam decided to branch out as a sharebroker. He lost all in weeks, and hurried back to singing teaching and then performing, in concert with Arabella Goddard and then as a member of the Alice May Opera Company. He also got married (8 November 1873). His bride was Miss Mary Harriet Langmaid or Langmead[e], known to the stage as ‘Hattie Shepparde’, a much-liked soubrette on the Sydney stage.
The Alice May company, visited Wagga Wagga, and the Royal Victoria in Sydney with its repertoire of The Bohemian Girl, La Sonnambula, The Grande-Duchesse, The Daughter of the Regiment, Maritana and turned Geneviève de Brabant into a pantomime for Christmas before continuing with The Blind Beggars, The Lily of Killarney … each with Henry in the lead tenor role, before, in February 1874, the company (and Hattie) sailed for New Zealand. New Zealand had allegedly only once before had a whole opera company and, although much of Alice’s company was fairly average, they were welcomed for an initial five weeks in Dunedin and then around the country. Satanella, Fra Diavolo (a Hallam speciality). Der Freischütz, Cinderella, Martha, La Fille de Madame Angot, The Rose of Auvergne, The Crimson Scarf and Cox and Box (without Henry) swelled the repertoire.
Hattie had left the tour and returned home to give birth to her daughter, Hattie Cynisca Bella Shepparde Hallam in September. The mother died in childbirth and the child as an infant.
The May troupe retuned to Adelaide 6 April 1875, moved to Melbourne and on 10 August sailed for Bombay on the Almora. A fortnight out, a member of the company, gave birth to a daughter, Almora Howell Hallam (14 April 1876). Apparently the mother's real name was Margaret Hogan, but she was known on the stage as Maggie Christie, and she had been for several years a minor principal with the company. Anyway they got married 13 January 1877 in Calcutta, while the company was playing the Corinthian Theatre. It was later said the troupe had managed to get to Shanghai, Madras and Allahabad before they crumbled. Some went back to Australia, as best they could, but the Hallams didn’t. They carried on, to Britain.
Henry was swiftly into work, touring with Charles Durand’s opera company, before joining Kate Santley, who was purveying a butchered version of Orphée aux enfers in which Henry was Pluto, and briefly, a little piece entitled Happy Hampstead which is remembered 140 years later simply because it had a scorelet by one R. D’Oyly Carte. When Kate went on tour, she added Princess Toto, La Fille de Madame Angot and Trial by Jury to her repertoire. Next, Henry joined Hariel Becker’s touring company, with Rose Bell as star (John of Paris, Fra Diavolo, La Fille de Madame Angot), then visited the Park Theatre to play in Pom, during which time Maggie was delivered of a son, Henry Richard (b. Islington, 27 April 1878; d. Chicago, 3 October 1942).
He toured as Alain in Babiole, in October 1879 created the lead role in Stanislaus’s The Lancashire Witches, played in a production of Le Voyage en Chine, went on the road with Adelaide Newton and George Mudie (La Fille de Madame Angot, The Blind Beggars, As You Like It) and spent his time, in between, ladding it at the Urban Club. He returned to the West End in 1882, in an amateurish flop named Melita, rose to a leading role in the much happier The Merry Duchess and then to his best London role as Jan in the Alhambra’s Beggar Student. The leading man was played by Fannie Leslie in pants. He played de Lansac in François les bas-bleus, toured in Olivette with Emily Soldene, took a turn with Henry Wardroper in his variety show The Fancy Ball and then made an error. American composer Richard Stahl took the Standard Theatre to present his wife, Bertie Crawford, as a soubrette star of the Lotta species in an American-style ‘musical comedy’, Capers. They were shrieked off the stage, and the reviews were simply deadly; Stahl and wife tempested off to America … and Henry went too. His West End career was over.
He arrived in America on the Aurania on 8 December 1885, thirty-five years old, and began the third slice of his career playing Sylvio to The Enchantress of Alfa Norman (wife of the editor of the New York Dramatic Mirror). She wasn’t admired and the Clipper labelled Henry ‘weak and unsatisfactory’. They switched to The Mikado and The Bohemian Girl and by the time the company collapsed, Henry was off giving his Thaddeus in Baltimore summer season, with an almost entirely English cast. But much better was coming. Henry was picked up by the Casino Theater, to succeed to the juvenile lead, Eugene Marcel, in the musical-theatre hit of the era, Erminie. He was to stay with the Casino, America’s top comic opera management for over three years appearing as Count de Rosen in Nadgy, Fairfax in The Yeomen of the Guard, the Duke of Mantua in The Brigands, Fritz to the Grande-Duchesse of Lillian Russell, Goncalves in The Brazilian, Ange Pitou in La Fille de Madame Angot et al. The ‘golden’ period ended, however, and he went back on the road in more Erminie and Giroflé-Giroflà, to San Francisco, where he indulged an unfortunate effort in management at the Orpheum, turned up in New York once more, as Risotto in The Mountebanks, and got married again.
Unless I have got it wrong, he married Dutch-Canadian soprano Miss Josie Schoff (recte: Josephine Davidson Schoff) (b. McGillivray, Ontario, 1867), known for the stage as Josephine Stanton, in Illinois, 27 September 1893. Maggie got a divorce 26 July 1895.
The happy couple went on tour with Alfa Norman, still at it, played summer season at Milwaukee, and more Angot with David Henderson. Henry got mixed up with a flop piece called The Isle of Gold, trouped with A Stranger in New York, with Mathilde Cotrelly and with Milton Aborn and a group called ‘the Boston Lyric Company’ with which he played Pietro in Boccaccio, Pippo in La Mascotte, and featured opposite Josie in Fra Diavolo, The Fencing Master, Said Pasha … when their San Francisco season closed in one night, it was time for a change. Slice four was about to begin. On 10 March 1900, the Hallams left America for New Zealand, at the head of a rather motley ‘Josephine Stanton Opera Company’. The only well-known name amongst them was Carl Formes but, alas, it wasn’t the great German bass, only his comprimario son.
They opened in Auckland 28 May with a repertoire of Said Pasha, Fra Diavolo, The Fencing Master, Wang and Dorcas. It appears that they were rather approximate versions. Henry sang ‘Funiculi Funicula’ and his best song from The Lancashire Witches and Said Pasha. They traipsed round smalltown New Zealand—Feilding, Wanganui, Hawera, Napier, Timaru, Oamaru—and, having exhausted their prospects there, they proceeded to Australia and opened at the Sydney Criterion. By May, the splintering company had expired in Adelaide. However, Henry and Josie were employable, even if their company were not, and they were promptly snapped up by George Musgrove. Over the next eighteen months Henry featured as the Emperor Hang Chow in A Chinese Honeymoon, The Lord Mayor in The Thirty Thieves, General Korboy in The Fortune Teller, Tonio in The Daughter of the Regiment, and his regular role of Fra Diavolo, until the company's tour closed. On June 13 1904, they sailed for England.
The English stop-over lasted only a couple of years, during which the couple played sketches in the music-halls, before they sailed for Canada. On the shipping list, they admitted to 57 and 30. However, Henry, who was still looking fine, if a little beefy, would soon start chopping many years off his age.
For the next five years, I lose them. Retired? Oh no! In 1912, slice number five would begin. Henry Hallam, aged 62, but passing for a decade or more younger, made his first (silent) film short . I leave the complete list of his credits to the film historians, but over the next decade I have spotted him in seniorish roles as Uncle Tom in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1913), in Home Run Bakers Double, The Brand, The Mystery of the Yellow Sunbonnet, The Scorpion’s Sting, Audrey, as Count Wolfenstein in a celluloid contraction of The Black Crook, The War Bride’s Secret, The Ill Thereof, A Girl Without a Soul, Bonnie Annie Lauri, as Colonel Henry Clay Riesener in Blue Jeans, Carolyn of the Corners, My Little Sister, The Lion and the Mouse, Help Help Police, Phil for Short and Tom Terriss’s 6-reel version of The Heart of Maryland.
Some months after the release of this last, Henry died. Some of the film websites still say that he was fifty-four years old at the time. He wasn’t, of course, he was 71. And he’d been more than half a century in show business.
I haven’t discovered yet what became of Josie. Or Maggie. But I’ve winkled out the children. Almora went on the stage, beginning, with her father, in A Stranger in New York. She toured America in farce-comedy, in comic opera and in vaudeville, and died in December 1918 aged 36. Henry Richard shows up in the census as a switchman on the railroads. It seems that Henry jr married Marjory Prudence O’Connor (Kankakee, 29 November 1910) and they had a daughter named Marjory Louise (b. 27 July 1913; d. 3 September 1996, Mrs Andrefsky dite Andry). Just before his death, he re-wed his landlady, Mabel Belle Pappas. She shows up still in 1954 in Kankakee, Illinois … I wonder if the line of Henry Mayer dit Hallam still continues.
This article first appeared on Kurt Gänzl’s blog page, 9 February 2019, https://kurtofgerolstein.blogspot.com/2019/02/one-tenor-fifty-years-four-continents.html
SIGN UP for our newsletter and get more great content like this delivered to your inbox. It's FREE!