Mimi Colligan

Mimi Colligan

Dr Mimi Colligan

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

Marcus Clarke
MIMI COLLIGAN concludes her exploration of the life and legacy of Marcus Clarke, journalist, playwright and author, and his relationship with two actresses, the Dunn sisters, Marian and Rosa.

Marian’s stage career

Marcus Clarke married actress Marian Dunn at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Eastern Hill, Melbourne in July 1869.They were both 23. Some biographers imply that he had married beneath him, and that she could have been partly to blame for his early demise at 35. Certainly, Clarke’s contemporaries might have seen that he, as a gentleman, ought not to have married someone from the stage. Double-standards in Victorian society often allowed a gentleman to take an actress as a mistress but not as a wife.

Wives and lovers of nineteenth century ‘Great Men’ have tended to be largely ignored by biographers. After all, a wife of a successful man was expected to be respectable: an ‘angel in the house’ and a mother of his children. Her life was a largely hidden one. In middle and upper-class households, a wife was expected to run the servants; she might play the piano and sing a little in the confines of the home and she had her embroidery known as her ‘work’—but apart from her bearing children there were few notable events for the biographer to report. For the biographer of actresses there is a multitude of references, such as advertisements and reviews, and snippets of gossip to be found in newspapers, and diaries. In the later nineteenth century, there is the rise of ‘social journalism’ in such papers as Table Talk, Truth and the Bulletin.

From the seventeenth century in Europe when females took over roles formerly played by boys, actresses were seen as the antithesis of ‘angels in the house’. They were ‘public women’ often perceived as little more than prostitutes. Many actresses made great efforts to proclaim their ‘respectability’—this often meant that they left the stage altogether when marrying outside their profession.

Marian Dunn made her stage debut in the early 1860s. One of her early performances was at the age of sixteen in the Sheridan Knowles play William Tell as Tell’s son Albert, a breeches role, in October 1862 at the Melbourne Princess’s. According to the Argus (15 October 1862) critic:

Miss Marian Dunn … played very nicely as Albert … and who latterly has been making such good progress … that she may reasonably hope … to rival her elder sister [Rosa] in the affections of the public.

Marian performed at the Princess’s in George Fawcett’s company and toured with her father around the gold-rush towns of Ballarat, Castlemaine and Sandhurst (Bendigo). Having followed gold since 1851, first to California then to Australia with theatre, John Dunn realised that the discoveries in Otago, New Zealand would be profitable for actors so he joined other theatricals in Wellington in August 1861, later proceeding to Dunedin in the heart of the Otago gold fields. Marian followed him in November 1863 with her mother and younger brother Arthur. Here, under various managers such as Fawcett and Clarance Holt she played secondary soubrette roles in comedy, pantomime and burlesque to Julia Matthews, one of the most popular singers, dancers and actresses of the post-gold-rush era, now remembered for being courted obsessively by explorer Robert O’Hara Burke. Her father handled much of the ‘low’ comedy business while her elder brother John junior also tried his hand as an actor. Travelling around New Zealand at this time must have taken some courage, as the Maori Wars were raging, although mainly on the North Island. As well, the stage was not without its local dangers such as fire. On one occasion Marian was frightened when her dress nearly caught fire when she fell into the footlights.

By 1865 Marian seems, like her sister, to have tired of the stage and after returning to Melbourne disappears from the amusement pages of the newspapers. Although as often happens with sisters their relationship seems to have been strained. At this time Marian Dunn’s name appears in the Argus ‘Shipping Intelligence’ of February and March 1867 as travelling to Tasmania with her sister Rosa and husband Louis Lewis. Perhaps Marian and the Lewises were taken to Port Arthur, still occupied by convicts to view the sad place. There is a newspaper story, published in 1926, which tells of Marian’s sympathy for the privations of the prisoners and her possible influence on Clarke’s convict novel.

Marian did not perform in Melbourne again until late 1867 when she played the second lead of Barbara Hare in East Lynne at the Duke of Edinburgh Theatre (formerly the Haymarket). She received welcoming reviews for her acting and the critics noted her improvement since New Zealand. Then, for the next twelve months, she was much in demand, taking on different roles at the Theatre Royal Melbourne. These ranged from burlesques such as The Lady of Lyons, where she played the breeches role of Claude Melnotte (with her father as Pauline), The Siege of Troy (as Paris) and King Arthur in King Arthur (with her friend Docy Stewart elder half-sister of actress Nellie Stewart), Lady Anne in Richard III, Desdemona in Othello, and Ophelia in Hamlet. These latter Shakespearian roles were opposite the American/British tragedian Walter Montgomery. She got excellent notices for her singing and dancing in the burlesques and mixed critiques in her Shakespeare roles. The Argus critic thought she tended to speak her lines ‘by rote’ but the Australasian’s Dr J.E. Neild was full of praise, except that he thought her singing voice in the songs of Ophelia could have been stronger, he admired most of her performances.


The story of Marcus leaving Marian at church door of St. Peter’s Eastern Hill after their July 1869 wedding to find somewhere for them to live is re-told by most of his biographers. Changing addresses was to become characteristic of the twelve-year marriage. The Clarkes had no fewer than ten different addresses during their time together as traced by birth certificates and street directories: Gore Street, Fitzroy; Barry Street, Carlton; Bridport Street, Emerald Hill; High Street, Prahran; Greville Street, Prahran; Maroola, Middle Cresent, Brighton; Clarke’s cousin Andrew’s Cheltenham property; Robe Street, St Kilda; Chapel Street, St. Kilda; and finally, Inkerman Street, St. Kilda where he died. It seems that Clarke’s bohemian, perhaps irresponsible, attitude to life made it impossible for him earn enough money to cover his personal and household expenses.

For the next twelve years Marian retreated into private life. But it was not an easy one: in January 1870, when she was five months pregnant with their first child (William, born 29 April 1870), Marcus still thinking like a bachelor, chose to leave her, presumably with her parents, for a ten-day research visit to Port Arthur with Argus editor Frederick Haddon. This visit was to be crucial in the writing of both the serial and the book versions of His Natural Life plus three articles on convictism in Tasmania published in the Argus during 1873.

Then there was the problem of moving house frequently (perhaps they were doing ‘moonlight flits—ten addresses in twelve years). To his credit, the usually feckless Marcus had in mid-1870 secured good positions at the Melbourne Public Library as clerk to the trustees and later Sub-Librarian.

In 1871 Marian is described in the diary of Pentridge Prison governor Brian Castieau as, having:

settled down from the favourite actress into the domesticated wife & mother & is apparently very quiet. Clarke and I saw very little of her except at dinner & at the end of the evening.

Marian was seven months pregnant at the time.

At first the marriage seems to have been satisfactory. In the letters Clarke wrote Cyril Hopkins sometime in 1874:

My wife was an actress and had no fortune of her own except a good temper, and something of originality which pleases me better than money. We get on very well and have three children.

As was usual in nineteenth century marriages there was a succession of three babies in as many years. Marian might have had the support of her parents and sister at this time. But in November 1871 after only two and a half years of marriage, Clarke records in his notebook ‘Marian said that she wished to God she had never married me’.

Finding the combination of writing, children and domesticity difficult to deal with Clarke seems to have sought the quiet of the Lewis household and developed an ‘intellectual’ friendship with his sister-in-law. The ‘Felix and Felicitas’ love letters make it clear that Clarke’s wife Marian, in Clarke’s estimation, was not the intellectual equal of her sister. She had no interest in the philosophical and literary pursuits that peppered Clarke’s journalism.

At the end of his affair with Rosa in January 1873, after a sojourn back at John Holt’s Wimmera station (where he worked as a jackaroo in 1864), Clarke writes:

… in my solitude in the hills I concluded this—I voluntarily married a young girl whom I made love me I must accept my fate and be strong and manly, honest and strong.

It is not clear whether Marian was aware of Clarke’s extra-marital affair at the time of its duration. She certainly was seen to be unhappy by the lovers.

In answer to Rosa’s observation that she and her sister were like ‘square pegs in round holes’ and that she, Rosa, had no interest in her husband’s amateur music activities, while her sister was not a scholar Clarke replied:

You touched me by the anecdote ‘Teach me to study’ Poor child I can fancy her saying that. Ah my dear she is better than either of us, for when did I ever ask to be taught some pursuit in which she might share or you endeavour to decipher the beauties of the double-bass.

Over the years there was to be a contrast in the quality of life of the two couples. One of the reasons for Rosa’s cooling ardour might have been the promise of travel back to Europe. From February 1873 to Louis Lewis’s death in 1910 the Lewises travelled to Europe nearly every year. Whereas the Clarkes never owned houses, the Lewis households improved in quality, from renting a large brick house, Wheatfield, requiring servants and a gardener (named Bloomfield) in Barkly Street, St. Kilda to the mansion Alta Vista on Punt Road hill in South Yarra, the latter was part of Lewis’s growing property portfolio. But while Clarke boasted to Hopkins about his income from his position at the Melbourne Public Library and that he employed servants including a nursemaid for his growing family, the Clarke’s most comfortable dwelling, seems to have been Maroola, their rented house in Outer Circle Brighton (now part of Firbank Girls’ Grammar School), during Clarke’s management (holding Power of Attorney) or ‘miss-management’ of his cousin’s Cheltenham farm property from 1874 to 1879 (which he claims to Hopkins he used as a shooting box). The last Clarke child, Percy Filmore, was born at Maroola in 1878. Most of the other houses reflect the downward spiral of Marcus’s inability to provide for his family. ‘Sunnyside’ in Chapel Street, St. Kilda is described by Marcus with bitter irony as ‘damp etc.’ Those at his August 1881 deathbed in the Inkerman Street dwelling describe the house as being bare and cold.

Marian’s life after Marcus

How was Marian going to manage? There were six children under eleven to provide for: William John, 11, Arthur, 10, Ernest, 9, Rose, 7, Ethel, 5, and Percy, 3. Yet she was not alone. Marcus had many friends including John Joseph Shillinglaw, George Arthur Walstab, Robert Percy Whitworth, George Cordon McCrae, James Maloney, and Hamilton Mackinnon, all of whom were shocked and saddened by his relatively sudden death at the young age of 35. Most were writers and journalists and fellow bohemians; they gathered around the poverty-stricken widow and her six young children. Surely they could help to promote Clarke’s writings and obtain money for his family. But it seems that the others being occupied with their own concerns only former editor of the Wagga Wagga Advertiser and publisher’s agent Hamilton Mackinnon seemed determined to do this. Or, did he ‘lock them out’ taking charge of the papers while preparing to edit them for a memorial volume?

Born in 1847 to a military family in India, Mackinnon was educated at Wellington College, Berkshire and arrived in Melbourne in 1866. He was an early member of the Yorick Club. In 1870 he married Henrietta Darcy in Melbourne, but by 1881 was separated from her and their four children.

Meanwhile not surprisingly, it was the theatrical fraternity which immediately came to Marian’s aid. In July 1880 she had returned to the stage at the invitation of the G.B.W. Lewises [See Mimi Colligan, Circus and Stage: The theatrical adventures of Rose Edouin and G.B.W. Lewis], a theatrical couple who managed the Bijou Theatre in Bourke Street. This return after twelve years was not a success. Marian could no longer perform as she had in the 1860s. The G.B.W. Lewises organised a benefit for her as did J.C. Williamson, now managing the Theatre Royal and the Princess’s. By the end of 1882 benefits and appeals netted about £1,000 the for Clarke family.

Although there appears to have been coolness in the sisters’ relationship sister Rosa Lewis would have been unable to help at this time. She and her husband were on a world tour that lasted from June 1881 to February of the following year. (That Marcus had borrowed money from L.L. Lewis appears in Clarke’s insolvency papers as one of Marcus’s creditors). On a practical level Rosa Lewis’s friends, the Bunny family, living in affluent circumstances at the other end of Inkerman Street, St. Kilda, offered to care for one of the Clarke children, and five-year-old Ethel stayed and played with the Bunny children for six months.

In her 1934 reminiscences Hilda Mackinnon (née Bunny) fondly remembered how Rosa and her husband had befriended herself and her brother Rupert (later to be an important Australian artist) when they lived near them in St. Kilda during the early 1870s. As Rosa’s marriage was childless, she was drawn to the company of children.

Dealing with Marcus’s erstwhile friend Hamilton Mackinnon (no relation to Hilda Bunny Mackinnon) who seems to have ‘locked out’ Marcus’s old friends such as Garnet Walch, Whitworth, Shillinglaw, George Gordon McCrae and George Walstab, Marian perhaps saw this rather shadowy character as her main hope of gaining enough income support to feed and educate her six children by editing and publishing the remainder of Marcus’s writings. Among the papers found by Mackinnon in his preparation for the Memorial Volume—were the ‘Felix and Felicitas’ manuscript and printed chapters that Marcus had been working on fitfully since 1876.

Soon after Marcus’s death there were moves in the Victorian Parliament to grant a Pension to the Clarke family. Members such as Alfred Deakin and others indicated the value placed by many in the talent of Marcus Clarke—he was regarded as ‘our first great novelist’. (Mark Twain described him as ‘Australia’s greatest genius’.) Yet, according to Hansard, there were other parliamentarians who did not see why the public purse should go to supporting the destitute family.

Meantime Marian, able to move out of the Inkerman Road slum, opened a bookshop at 49 Napier Street, Fitzroy selling paperback copies of Marcus’s writings. By 1886 she was also registrar local birth, deaths, and marriages at £60 per year—seemingly the only concession by Parliament to her request for a pension.

Tragic drama entered the Clarke family saga in 1897. Marian was living with daughter Rose at 5 St. Vincent’s Place, Albert Park, with Hamilton Mackinnon as a lodger. (What was the nature of Marian’s relationship with Mackinnon? They were the same age and by taking over the management of the Clarke papers he had helped her almost exclusively since Marcus’s death.) In May, Mackinnon, who had an upstairs room with a balcony was entertaining his agent friend, Aitken. The two men were drinking whisky and playing the fool with Mackinnon’s gun, which went off. Mackinnon was fatally wounded and died the following day.

From 1899 to 1901, Marian was in London. Long wishing to promote Marcus’s writings in that city, she met with Cyril Hopkins. She was accompanied by her children Rose and William.

Back in Australia, Marian remained well established as Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. In the early 1900s, she inherited a small sum of money from Marcus’s Uncle Judge James Clarke’s estate. By 1910, her heath began to deteriorate, and she went to live with her son Ernest. She died in 1914 and was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery with her husband.

What of Marian’s children? They were mostly likely educated at the Model School in Spring Street (now the site of the Royal College of Surgeons)—an important place in the history of education in Melbourne. Her the youngest child, Percy (1868–1960) was certainly a pupil.

Two of her children, Ethel (as Marian Marcus Clarke) and Arthur (as Arthur Elton) had some success on the stage. By the early years of the twentieth century, they were both acting in America, Ethel with the Fred Niblo Company and Arthur with various stock companies. Meanwhile daughter Rose (b.1874) was giving cooking demonstrations for the Melbourne Metropolitan Gas Company.

After Marian’s death, Ethel became a major advocate of her father’s work, notably through the promotion of a film version of For the Term of His Natural Life (1927), in which she played the character of Lady Devine, Rufus Dawes’ mother.

Both Ethel and Ernest (1873–1925) were instrumental in the sale of the Clarke papers to the Melbourne Public Library and the Mitchell Library in Sydney.

During the 1930, Ethel was still giving readings from His Natural Life on radio. She was to die in the Ballarat Mental Asylum in 1958, aged 82, probably suffering from dementia.

Rosa’s life after Marcus

After ending her affair with Marcus, Rosa appeared to be happy with her wealthy husband, perhaps recognising his artistic worth as a musician and his social interests in charity. The couple travelled frequently to Europe ostensibly to escape the Melbourne winter for Rosa’s health. Rosa and Louis became accepted in upper-class Melbourne society. Her wealthy wheat-broker husband was much in demand amateur musician and philanthropist, Rosa was also accepted as an amateur actress, ‘lady novelist’ and society-hostess.

In the lead-up to and during the 1880s boom, was this ready acceptance by society in part due to Louis’s wealth? By now his wealth extended to a large property portfolio in the expensive suburb of South Yarra. The couple moved into the mansion Alta Vista, on the fashionable Punt Road hill, in South Yarra after their return from Europe in 1877. In 1884 they played host to Vicary Gibbs, a wealthy London businessman, who recorded his visit to the Lewises in his diaries, later published as From Guano to God, edited and researched by Shirley Hickley (2014).

Eventually Rosa as Mrs. L.L. Lewis fulfilled her an ambition to become a published writer fiction. In 1885, during one of the Lewises’ now annual trips to Europe Rosa’s novel Fatal Shadows was published in Bristol. She also contributed two serials to Australian journals. Her attempts at fiction were competently written but no match for her contemporary Australian ‘lady novelists’ such as Ada Cambridge and Tasma.

During the 1890s, Louis Lewis lost his money in the Bank Crash, but soon recovered his fortune.

Later Rosa served on quasi-feminist committees such as the first annual congress of the National Council of Women in 1903 where she gave a talk on ‘Women and the Drama’, noting the ‘honoured position they took nowadays’ and the general improvements many of them had attained in the profession. She also took part in the ‘Women’s Work Exhibition’ of 1907.

Rosa died in Bournemouth, England, in 1920, aged 80.



Wendy Abbott-Young, ‘The “Felix and Felicitas” papers of Marcus Clarke’, University of Adelaide, 1989

W.A. Carne, A Century of Harmony, Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Society, 1854

Mark Finnane (ed.), The Difficulties of My Position: The diaries of Prison Governor John Buckley Castieau, 1855–1884, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2004

Marcus Hislop Clarke, Papers of Marcus Clarke, MS 8222, State Library Victoria, Melbourne

Mimi Colligan, Circus and Stage: The theatrical adventures of Rose Edouin and G.B.W. Lewis, Monash University Publishing, Clayton, Vic., 2013

John Dunn, ‘Some Stage Memories of John Dunn Comedian’, unpublished MS compiled by J.E. Nield & Marcus Clarke, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Brian Elliott, Marcus Clarke, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1958

Lucy Frost (ed.), Journal of Annie Baxter Dawbin: July 1858–May 1868, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Qld., in association with the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, 1997

Rosamond Gilder, Enter the Actress, George Harrap & Co. Ltd., London, 1931

Cyril Hopkins’ Marcus Clarke, edited from a manuscript at the Mitchell Library by Laurie Hergenhan, Ken Stewart and Michael Wilding, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2009

L.T. Hergenhan (ed.), A Colonial City: Selected journalism of Marcus Clarke, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Qld., 1972

Andrew McCann, Marcus Clarke's Bohemia, Melbourne University Publishing, Melbourne, 2004

Tony Moore, Dancing With Empty Pockets: Australia’s bohemians since 1860, Pier9, Millers Point, NSW, 2012

George C.D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage, Vol. 5, 1843–1850, Columbia University Press, New York, 1931

John Russell Stephens, The Profession of the Playwright: British Theatre, 1800–1900, Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 1992

Robert C. Toll, Blacking-Up: The minstrel show in nineteenth century America, Oxford University Press, New York, 1974

Colonel R.H. Vetch, General Sir Andrew Clarke, John Murray, London, 1905

Michael Wilding, Wild Bleak Bohemia, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2014

Banner images

Rosa Dunn, c.1859. State Library Victoria, Melbourne.

Sheet music cover for ‘Those Vanished Years’, written by Marcus Clarke; composed by Alfred Plumpton; sung by Maggie Stirling; published by Marian Clarke, 1898. National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Marian Dunn, 1865. Photo by Davies & Co., Melbourne. State Library Victoria, Melbourne.

Thursday, 01 December 2022

Marcus Clarke and the Theatre (Part 1)

Much has been written about Marcus Clarke, journalist, playwright and author, best remembered from his novel His Natural Life. Most biographers focus on his literary pursuits and his bohemianism. But as MIMI COLLIGAN points out, the theatre was a huge part of his life, notably his relationship with two actresses, the Dunn sisters, Marian and Rosa.

FL15973472Marcus Clarke at 20. State Library Victoria, Melbourne.

When I began researching this study my focus was on the actress Marian Dunn, hoping to write a short ADB-like biography of the soubrette who married the writer Marcus Clarke. However, recently, after re-reading Brian Elliott’s 1958 biography of Marcus Clarke, I was curious about the lives of his family after his death in 1881.

I have also observed that many of the writers on Marcus Clarke’s life have come from a background in English literature rather than history and are sometimes not as rigorous on ‘facts’ when drawing conclusions to support their theories on, for instance, his ‘bohemianism’. For example, one author relied on Maurice Brodsky, writing in 1904 about Clarke’s addresses after his marriage, to make a point about Clarke living in Brighton and ‘forsaking Bohemian Melbourne’. The same author later mentions the poverty of Clarke’s last three addresses as though the writer had been living in Brighton or Cheltenham for most of his marriage where in fact Clarke and his wife and rapidly growing family had as many as ten changes of address in their twelve-year marriage. A search of Melbourne street directories or his children’s birth certificates would have shown that the Clarkes, rather than living in the distant suburbs rented houses closer to the city in Carlton, St Kilda, Emerald Hill and Prahran. They did not move to Brighton until about 1876. This type of research might be seen as antiquarian but it gives a firmer basis on which to base critical theory.

Since July 2008 historians have been able to access Australian digitised newspapers online. The proliferation of digitised newspapers in the early twenty-first century has made historical research much easier. Similarly, many Public Records are now available on line so that it is ‘almost’ possible to write from home. We can imagine how Brian Elliot, in order to write his pioneering scholarly biography of Marcus Clarke from his post in the University of Adelaide, had to write to various repositories in UK and USA for information. He also had to travel to Sydney and Melbourne to read manuscripts and check bound newspapers and microfilm. Earlier writing on Clarke, had to rely on available MSS, street directories, hard copy or microfilmed newspapers, and public records such as wills and probate, and births, marriages and deaths.

Today, a biographer of nineteenth century Melbourne individuals can use the internet with its many search engines: aids such as searchable digitised street directories, newspapers and public records to be found in websites of the National Library of Australia’s TROVE and the Public Record Office of Victoria so that we can trace a subject’s movements and thus draw different conclusions.

The O’Donoghue sisters and Marcus Clarke

This article tries to correct some biographical assumptions and offer further details on the domestic life of nineteenth century Australian writer Marcus Clarke (1846–1881), most famous for the novel His Natural Life.

As a theatre historian I also want to look at and elaborate on the part played by the stage in his family circle. For example, the romantic idea of Clarke as bohemian playwright writing comedies and pantomimes for his wife, Marian Dunn is misleading. She didn’t act in any of his plays until she returned to the stage in 1880 when they needed the money—earlier, she was pregnant most of the time.

Rather than attempt a literary biographical study on Clarke, I am content to examine some hitherto little known aspects of his domestic and theatrical life and correcting some inaccuracies. I concentrate on the comic actor John Dunn who became his father-in-law, and, in particular, Dunn’s actress daughters Marian and Rosa. I also carry the story beyond Marcus’s death to how two of his six children became actors on stage and screen. I also suggest that the efforts of Marian Dunn, his widow, and several of their children played a part in the promotion and popularity of Clarke’s novel His Natural Life into the 20th century. These people (out of necessity and over many years) sold Clarke’s papers to various Australian repositories. These include his unfinished novel Felix and Felicitas (1876), where there is evidence that as a married twenty-six-year old Clarke had some kind of love affair with his thirty-year-old sister-in-law Rose Lewis.

As well as the great biography Marcus Clarke by Brian Elliott, important to my study are three unpublished manuscripts. These are Marcus Clarke’s Felix and Felicitas; Some Stage Memories by John Dunn, comedian, Clarke’s father-in-law; and the late Wendy Abbott-Young’s 1989 MA thesis The ‘Felix and Felicitas’ papers of Marcus Clarke.

The first contains printed pages and manuscript including what seems to be transcripts by Clarke of love letters which shed light on the Clarke and Lewis family relationships. Some Stage Memories describes the East End origins of John Dunn’s son and daughters. This memoir holds interest for theatre and literary historians in Australia, UK, and the Americas. The first two texts have been ‘languishing’ in the Mitchell Library, Sydney since the late 1920s when Marcus Clarke’s actress daughter Marian (Ethel) Marcus Clarke sold them and other of her father’s papers to the library. Dated 1895, the Dunn manuscript was compiled by theatre critic, medico and sometime coroner, Dr J.E. Neild from conversations and notes supplied by Dunn. It was also claimed that Marcus Clarke, had a hand in its editing. However, perhaps this idea was added to increase the value of the papers after Clarke’s death. Most of Dunn’s stories can be verified in various works on the early Victorian theatre and in digitised newspapers.

Wendy Abbott-Young’s thesis (now digitised by University of Adelaide) was, along with some insights to Clarke’s life, helpful in providing a readable transcript of the ‘Love Letters’ while the inclusion of the printed parts of the novel enhanced my understanding of the parallels between some of the fictional characters and Clarke’s in-laws.

Marcus Clarke

Marcus Hislop Clarke’s story is well known, born in April 1846, he was a scion of a well-to-do Anglo-Irish family involved with the colonial service and the legal profession. His mother, Amelia Elizabeth Mathews, (1826–1850) whose family was possibly connected with the Covent Garden theatre, had died of tuberculosis (phthisis) when he was not quite four. His father William Hislop Clarke (1806–1863) had been a wealthy barrister in London’s Lincoln’s Inn when in 1862 he suffered a mental, physical and financial breakdown and was placed in an asylum. It was then a case of ‘what shall we do with Marcus?’ His cousin Captain Andrew Clarke (later Sir Andrew) (1824–1902) had been Surveyor General and a member of Victoria’s Legislative Council in the 1850s before going on to greater things in the Colonial Service. It seems that Andrew Clarke, back in London with his experience of Melbourne, decided that the sixteen-year-old boy should emigrate to that city. Marcus’s only relative in Victoria was his uncle James Langton Clarke (1801–1896) then a county court judge in Ararat 198 km from Melbourne. His father was still alive when the lad of sixteen left Plymouth for Australia in the ship Wellesley on 16 March 1863—William Hislop Clarke died at Stoke Newington asylum, near London in December 1863.

Although having had, to the age of sixteen, only four year’s formal education at Cholmeley Grammar School, Highgate, near London, Marcus Clarke was to become a writer of great erudition and erratic brilliance. His one important novel, His Natural Life, hailed as great at the time, is less appreciated today but his journalism endures as a valuable record of Melbourne in the post-gold rush era. Journalism also displays his potential to be a great writer sadly curtailed by his early death.

In June 1863 Marcus Clarke arrived in Melbourne with about £300 possibly from his cousin Andrew which somehow was soon spent. For the next few years there are glimpses of the young man presumably settling into the colony: the sprightly diarist Annie Baxter Dawbin sees Marcus at a performance of the opera  Le Prophète, at Melbourne’s Haymarket Theatre accompanied by his uncle Judge James Clarke down from Ararat in July 1864. In his later journalism Marcus perhaps gives a glimpse of himself as a ‘New Chum’ in his Australasian articles where the New Chum, out of money, meets,

… some burly squatter … down from his station and says, ‘Come Jack, lad; I knew thy father in the old country, and I won’t see thee in a mess. Come up with me and look around the country’ So young Hopeful goes, and is put upon a rough bush horse, and made to ride in stock … and that young men from England are not necessarily exempt from work.1

His cousin Andrew Clarke rising in the Colonial Service probably used his influence in colonial Australia to secure a position for Marcus at a bank but when it was clear the young man had no head for figures his uncle James found him work as a station-hand pupil (later known as a jackeroo) on the pastoral properties Ledcourt and Swinton, managed by John Holt, in the Wimmera district (270 kilometre/160 miles) north-west of Melbourne.

Writing to his school friend Cyril Hopkins, Clarke claimed to have survived near-disastrous expeditions into outback NSW. Clarke was of a delicate constitution, having suffered from a withered arm since childhood and surgery for ankylosis, possibly related to his mother’s tuberculosis. Nevertheless he was a fair horseman despite several falls—accidents which might have affected his brain.

Back in the city by June 1867 he found employment as a journalist at the Argus newspaper and joined Melbourne’s bohemian community with its lively drinking and discursive culture. Very soon he was writing as a free-lance and tried his hand in December 1868 as a playwright by adapting the Charles Reade and Dion Boucicault novel Foul Play for the stage of the Duke of Edinburgh Theatre in Bourke Street. It ran for a week, no small feat in post-gold-rush Melbourne. Dramatisation of novels and adaptations of French plays was a commonplace in nineteenth century theatre. In Clarke’s case this proved to be a relatively easy source of income in later years when his irresponsible life-style was sending his family into poverty. The last Clarke dramas staged in his lifetime were adaptations of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins in 1879, and a burlesque, The Happy Land, (1880, from Gilbert A’Beckett’s adaptation of W.S. Gilbert’s The Wicked World (January 1880), followed by two slight comedies Forbidden Fruit and Daughter of Eve advertised as written for his wife’s return to the theatre at the Bijou Theatre in July 1880.

It is not known when the Dunn sisters first met Marcus Clarke. Elliott and Wilding speculate that it could have been at an 1866 amateur performance of Extremes, when ‘gentleman actors’ acted with professional actresses and where a ‘Mrs. Lewis’ acted with her sister. Here, however, Elliott has the wrong ‘Mrs. Lewis’ rather, this was Rose Edouin, aka Mrs. G.B.W. Lewis and her sister Julia and the year for this performance was 1859 long before Clarke’s arrival. Multiple stage names can be a problem for the biographer. More likely it was in September 1863 not long after Clarke’s arrival when the seventeen-year-old saw one of Rosa Dunn’s last performances before her marriage and retirement from the stage in the farce The Eton Boy.2 The female lead character was Fanny Curry who, to trick her suitors, cross-dressed, complete with trousers and cropped Eton jacket as an Eton Boy. (Seventeen-year-old Marian may have been waiting in the wings). Years later, after his love affair Clarke makes some bitter comments on an actress playing the Eton Boy whom he names ‘Hypatia’ a pagan female philosopher in the early Christian period in his 1873 sketch on the Theatre Royal’s Café de Paris, ‘Café Lutetia’. ‘Hypatia does not disdain to play the Eton Boy’.3 This can be taken as a reference to Rose’s ambition to be a serious scholar and writer. Mention of ‘Bullivan’ which is ‘Clarkese’ for actor-manager Barry Sullivan places the piece in 1863.

Marian and Rosa Dunn—actresses

Given their family background it is not surprising that the Dunn sisters Rosa (née Rosetta O’Donoghue, 1840–1920) and Marian (née O’Donoghue, 1846–1914), should go on the stage. It is likely that growing up in a theatrical family such as that of the Dunns, Rosa, Marian and their brother John would have absorbed theatre skills from backstage. Rosa’s and John junior’s first memories around the stage were most likely from their father’s City of London Theatre in the East End or one of the music-hall saloons where he was playing. While Marian’s early memories as a young child in America would have been of the various theatres in which her father was appearing in Manhattan, Philadelphia and Boston and further West to San Francisco when the family accompanied him on tour.

Their father John Dunn (1813–1875, born John Benjamin O’Donoghue) was a popular broad or ‘low’ comedian while their maternal grandfather, Andrew Voullaire Campbell (1789–1870), was a comedian and playwright who had enjoyed a long career at Sadler’s Wells and other East End theatres. Rosa’s and Marian’s careers as actresses, however, were neither long nor very successful. One married Louis Lucas Lewis (1834–1910), a rising Melbourne wheat broker and talented amateur musician, while the other married journalist and aspiring bohemian Marcus Clarke. Both young women retired from the stage on their marriages and entry into the ‘respectable’ upper-middle-class.

The early lives of the sisters should be seen in the context of a strong theatrical family. Their parents were both connected with the stage. Claiming to be London-born, comedian O’Donoghue chose Dunn for a stage-name and as John Dunn found some success in London and the provinces as a ‘Jump Jim Crow’ dancer and comic in the very popular mid-nineteenth century genre of ‘Nigger’ Minstrel shows where white singers and actors, their faces ‘blacked-up’ with burnt cork, cruelly parodied African American slaves. Dunn claimed to have performed the Jim Crow ‘jumping dance’ before the arrival in England of the American inventor of the minstrel show, Thomas ‘Daddy’ Rice (1808–1866). Though not a performer herself, Louisa was the daughter of comic actor-manager Andrew Leonard Voullaire-Campbell prominent on the London and provincial stage in Britain. In 1834 John Dunn married Louisa Voullaire Campbell in London. By the 1840s Dunn, had played in most of the minor theatres (as opposed to the major Royal Patent theatres such as Covent Garden, Drury Lane and the Haymarket) in London such as Sadler’s Wells, the Coburg (now the Old Vic) and other popular theatres, saloons and music halls in the East End.

There is an element of ‘sleaze’ in his next venture. Dunn took on the management one of these East End venues, the City of London Theatre, Bishopsgate. This proved unsuccessful when there was a moral outcry against him when he hired a young ‘courtesan’ Alice Lowe, (just released from Newgate) to appear on stage in The Miser’s Daughter and The Intrigue. Alice had been the 19-year-old mistress of an Irish earl, Viscount Frankfort who had accused her of theft. The scandal helped crowd the theatre for more than a week. The Spectator railed against lower classes who delighted in the ‘humiliation’ of the gentry and nobility.4 In the course of the furore Dunn lost the theatre and, realising that he was losing money, in 1843 he resolved to ‘go to America!’5 Leaving his pregnant wife and children Louisa six, Rosetta, three, and John, twelve months in Shoreditch. He left Liverpool on the ship Atlantic arriving in New York after 45 days.

There, followed success in Manhattan and on tours. Playing in farce and comedy with his most successful role as Jack in the farce, That Rascal Jack, written for the New Strand Theatre by T.L. Greenwood and played at Sadler’s Wells. It is loosely based on Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters (1746), localised to England. Soon however he got word that there was illness his family. On returning to London he found a tragic scene. Two of his children, six-year-old Louisa and Fanny, seven months, were dead, with Rosetta and John junior recovering from scarlet fever. In 1846 Dunn took his family including Rosa, John junior and infant Mary Ann (Marian) to New York.

Dunn made extensive tours around the eastern seaboard of the USA during which time another son, Arthur, was born. In 1850 the Dunns were living in Spring Garden near the city centre of Philadelphia.6 With John playing his star role of Jack.

Hearing of the Californian gold rush Dunn again left his family, this time going to San Francisco via the Isthmus of Panama. He gives a vivid description of his voyage in a Caribbean steamer to Chagres, on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus and the trek through the jungle and being punted up the river, ‘by natives’ to Panama City on the Pacific side of the isthmus where he waited for a steamer for San Francisco. Railways did not arrive on the Isthmus until 1855.

After some success in California by 1854 Dunn returned to New York in order to bring his family to San Francisco. This time a somewhat easier route was chosen: through the Caribbean to Nicaragua and thence by steamer via the San Juan river and Lake Nicaragua to San Juan where they picked up a Pacific steamer.

By 1855 Dunn had established himself as a popular performer in California playing in San Francisco at Maguire’s Theatre and the Metropolitan theatre as Jack in the farce That Rascal Jack and other plays as well as occasional return performances in New York.

Hearing about the Australian gold-rush the family decided to try their luck and sailed for Sydney in April 1856 on the Dutch ship Horizont.

Soon after they arrived, John Dunn became a hit in his old part of Jack at the Royal Victoria Theatre in That Rascal Jack with daughter Rosa, now sixteen playing Lucy, Jack’s fellow servant and beloved. Finding that the true centre of theatre (and gold-rush wealth) at this time was in Victoria, the Dunns travelled by coastal steamer to Melbourne where for nearly twenty years (including an 1870 visit to UK and America), he was a prominent performer in Victoria, Tasmania and New Zealand. In Melbourne Dunn was one of the city’s most successful comedians. The family continued touring around the gold-fields and to New Zealand.

Rosa’s Career

Rosa’s talent developed a more serious direction than that of her comedian father and by the early 1860s she was playing leading roles in Shakespeare and other ‘serious’ dramas and melodramas of the period such as The Hunchback, Virginias, and Louis IX. Rosa toured with a company directed by William Hoskins around the goldfield towns of Castlemaine, Sandhurst (Bendigo) and Ballarat.

However, at the age of 23 Rosa was being courted by a potentially wealthy wheat broker and talented amateur musician. Louis Lucas Lewis, born at Kingston, Jamaica in 1834 among the Ashkenazi Jewish mercantile diaspora. He had arrived in Melbourne in 1854. Various critics seem to have been disappointed by Rosa’s leaving the stage so early but some also suggested that she saw Lewis’s proposal of marriage as a chance to break her contract with Barry Sullivan, actor-manager of the Theatre Royal.

Louis and Rosa married in October 1863 at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Eastern Hill. Their witnesses were the leading Theatre Royal theatrical couple Mr. and Mrs. Robert Heir (Fanny Cathcart).

Lewis seems not to have practised his Jewish faith—he married in the Anglican Church and at the time was organist at Christ Church, South Yarra. It is not known whether Louis Lewis, like other gentlemen marrying actresses, insisted on his wife leaving the stage but, as we have seen, Rosa herself had tired of an actor’s life and was happy to settle down to the life of a gentlewoman. Great sadness must have entered the marriage when Rosa gave birth to a still-born son in September 1864—there were to be no more children.

Sometime in 1872 in the midst of writing the serial version of His Natural Life it is likely (if we can believe 26 year-old Marcus’s passionately overwrought love letters and 32-year-old Rosa’s more sensible replies in the ‘Felix and Felicitas’ MSS) that the two, both unhappy in their respective marriages, had an affair.

Clarke’s commenced writing the novel Felix and Felicitas in 1876—three years after the affair ended. The unfinished text can be seen to have disguised, but parallel elements of the lives of the L.L. Lewises and two of the protagonists in Felix and Felicitas. A planned, but unwritten chapter was to be devoted to correspondence between the main characters, Felix and Felicitas. It is possible that Clarke might have wanted to use the correspondence between himself and his sister-in-law as a kind of guide or template to letters between the characters in his novel. Brian Elliott believed that it was Clarke himself who substituted the name ‘Felicitas’ for the name ‘Rose’ in the manuscript. However, in her 1989 MA thesis, Wendy Abbott-Young suggested a more likely possibility: that the alteration was done by Hamilton Mackinnon, Clark’s erstwhile friend during his editing the MSS for inclusion in the 1884 Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume. A close reading of the MS letters suggests to me that they are genuine and hold valuable biographical information. There are some passages that are evocative of and specific to events in the lives of Rose Lewis and Marcus Clarke. For example, Rose writes of attending his Cantata Proi in December1872 (music by Paolo Giorza). In another passage describes her feelings for Marcus when he helped her with her cloak after a family gathering at his house:

Propinquity is a mistake with people situated as we are. I sat near you, last night you hand lingered lovingly for a moment as you put my cloak on me, and in consequence my heart today is flooded with tenderness whenever I think of you. But no, no, no! I must be strong …


To be continued



1. L.T. Hergenhan (ed.), p. 42

2. Argus, 13 September 1859

3. Weekly Times, 28 February 1874

4. Spectator, 12 November 1842

5. John Dunn, ‘Some Stage Memories’

6. Philadelphia County Census, 8 August 1850


Wendy Abbott-Young, ‘The “Felix and Felicitas” papers of Marcus Clarke’, University of Adelaide, 1989

W.A. Carne, A Century of Harmony, Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Society, 1854

Marcus Hislop Clarke, Papers of Marcus Clarke, MS 8222, State Library Victoria, Melbourne

Mimi Colligan, Circus and Stage: The theatrical adventures of Rose Edouin and G.B.W. Lewis, Monash University Publishing, Clayton, Vic., 2013

John Dunn, ‘Some Stage Memories of John Dunn Comedian’, unpublished MS compiled by J.E. Nield & Marcus Clarke, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Brian Elliott, Marcus Clarke, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1958

Lucy Frost (ed.), Journal of Annie Baxter Dawbin: July 1858–May 1868, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Qld., in association with the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, 1997

Cyril Hopkins’ Marcus Clarke, edited from a manuscript at the Mitchell Library by Laurie Hergenhan, Ken Stewart and Michael Wilding, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2009

L.T. Hergenhan (ed.), A Colonial City: Selected journalism of Marcus Clarke, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Qld., 1972

Andrew McCann, Marcus Clarke's Bohemia, Melbourne University Publishing, Melbourne, 2004

Tony Moore, Dancing With Empty Pockets: Australia’s bohemians since 1860, Pier9, Millers Point, NSW, 2012

George C.D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage, Vol. 5, 1843-1850, Columbia University Press, New York, 1931

John Russell Stephens, The Profession of the Playwright: British Theatre, 1800-1900, Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 1992

Robert C. Toll, Blacking-Up: The minstrel show in nineteenth century America, Oxford University Press, New York, 1974

Colonel R.H. Vetch, General Sir Andrew Clarke, John Murray, London, 1905

Michael Wilding, Wild Bleak Bohemia, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Image credits

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


1. Sydney Sportsman 17 February 1909

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

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

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

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

6. Website on the Drummond family of artists suggests that Eliza and Charles were not married

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

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

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

10. Ibid.

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

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

13. Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 1874

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

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

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

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

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

19. Herald, 30 August 1862

20. Age, 11 March 1864

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

22. Australasian, 14 March 1868, ‘Entertainments’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30. Age, September 1872

31. Brisbane Courier, 30 June 1873

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

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

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

35. NSW Marriage Certificate 1868

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

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

38. Empire, 5 July 1855

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

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

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

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

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

44. Death Certificate, Lambeth

45. Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic Times, 26 May 1894

46. The Era, 27 February 1876

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

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

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

50. Argus, 12 August 1922

51. The Era, op. cit.

52. See also Family History website The Sprague Project,

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

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

55. Death Certificate, Lambeth, 1926


Saturday, 07 March 2020

Where Was This Photograph Taken?

Crystal BarMitchell Library, State Library of NSW, SPF/2280,


There has been disagreement about the location and title of this image by library cataloguers and picture historians for some time. Copies are held by the picture collections of the National Library of Australia (NLA), State Library of NSW (SLNSW), Royal Historical Society of Victoria (RHSV) and Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne. All except the RHSV image (which is a hand-tinted glass lantern slide) describe the image as being located in the bar at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne. It shows a brightly lit mirrored saloon-bar with the focus on actor and entrepreneur George Coppin (in dark coat and top-hat). This copy, a ‘Paris Panel’, is held by the State Library of NSW and until recently, was catalogued as ‘The bar of the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, ca.1865 / photographer Talma’. In January 2020, the catalogue record was amended to read the ‘Crystal Bar, Cremorne Gardens, Richmond, Victoria, ca.1860’.

Another copy (without the hand printed names) is held at the National Library of Australia with the title ‘George Coppin (in tall hat) in the Marble Bar in the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, 1861 [picture] / Talma’.

Both are copies by Talma of an as yet unfound original likely to have been photographed in the late 1850s. Both copies appear to be identical except the SLNSW copy dated 1865 has a mark near Coppin’s eye while the NLA copy dated 1861 is clear. It is likely that Miss Coppin owned them both, giving them to biographer Alec Bagot to use in his book on her father. [1]

Helpfully, someone has identified a few of the eleven people pictured. (Left to right: third and fourth from left W.J. Wilson and W. Pitt, both in the employ of Coppin as scenic artists at his Cremorne Gardens in the late 1850s and early 1860s (both for the gardens’ Pantheon Theatre, and modelled panorama and fireworks shows). More important in trying to locate and date the photo, one of the men behind the bar, sixth from left (in a dark shirt) is named as ‘Peachman’. Henry Peachman is listed as manager of the ‘Crystal Bar’ in advertisements for the shows at Cremorne Gardens in 1858 and 1859. [2] Eighth from left, George Coppin (proprietor of Cremorne Gardens), tenth from left, medical entrepreneur and showman, L.L. Smith. Eleventh from left Tupper, a barman.

However, I believe that the photograph was taken at the ‘Crystal Bar’ at Coppin’s Cremorne Gardens in the late 1850s, most likely to commemorate the opening of the Crystal Bar in November 1858 as all the people in the image have direct association with that event. As noted in an advertisement in The Argus of 15 November 1858:





The Panoramic Picture

By Messrs. Wm. Pitt, W. J. Wilson, Herr Habbe,

And Assistants,

Is taken from authenticated views of



The Crystal Bar is unequalled in the World;

Conducted by Mr. Peachman

The 1865 date on the SLNSW photograph is clearly incorrect as in 1865 Coppin was in the USA with the Keans. (See Simon Plant’s Show Time: George Coppin turns 200,

During the gold-rushes of the 1850s there was a demand for the entertainments of ‘Home’ such as the ‘pleasure gardens’ of London, including Surrey and Vauxhall Gardens. Cremorne Gardens, Richmond, Victoria was originated by caterer James Ellis, the insolvent founder of the London Cremorne Gardens at Chelsea. Unfortunately, after much expenditure and only three years, Ellis again became a bankrupt and George Coppin actor-manager and G.V. Brooke tragedian purchased the property.

During its ten-year life (usually open each summer from November to April), Cremorne Gardens, an early kind of amusement park, featured an out-door dancing Rotunda, firework shows over the lake and panoramic models (constructed of timber, plaster and painted canvas) usually about 122 metres wide by 15 metres high (like a film set). These changed every summer e.g. The lakeside siege of Sebastopol might become the Fall of Delhi or Vesuvius and Naples!) There was also the Pantheon Theatre showing dramas and pantomimes with audiences encouraged to view the fireworks display from the theatre’s outside balcony at 9.30.p.m. There was also a circus showing equestrian ‘hippo dramas’ as well as tight-rope walking on display across the lake. A menagerie held camels, lions and an elephant. Throughout the gardens plaster copies of famous statues perhaps ‘improved’ the visitor’s mind and an on-site gas-works helped illuminate the pathways. Eventually a railway line to the pleasure gardens was added to the little river steamers known as gondolas. [3]

Alcohol and popular entertainments often go together. In the nineteenth century—male theatre goers had access to several bars within the theatre and adjacent hotels. For example the Theatre Royal in Bourke Street Melbourne, as described in the 1861 pamphlet, ‘Opinions of the press on Messrs. Spiers & Pond's management of the Café de Paris’, had the Royal Hotel and several ‘American bars’. [4] Could the photo have been taken at the Theatre Royal?

After conferring with Melbourne image and architectural historians Terry Sawyer, Peter Johnson, Miles Lewis, Rohan Storey and Allister Hardiman, I contend that the photo has been wrongly titled—there was no ‘Marble Bar’ among the various bars at the Melbourne Theatre Royal! [5] Therefore it should be located at Coppin’s Cremorne Gardens, Richmond, rather than in the Bourke Street theatre.

We can get an idea of where the Crystal might have been with the help of a block plan of Cremorne Gardens prepared for its subsequent use as a psychiatric asylum.

Architectural historian Peter Johnson concluded that the photograph in question must have been taken at the Crystal Bar in the refreshment rooms (otherwise known as the Hotel) near the Pantheon Theatre for the following reasons:

Note the curved corrugated iron ceiling (u/s of the roof) and the metal rods bracing the roof structure in the image. This would indicate a metal portable building or similar structure. Highly unlikely to be part of the Theatre Royal building in Bourke Street notice the windows reflected in the bar mirrors, indicating a wall of windows opposite the bar along the long axis of the space and also at the end of the room. In addition, the dappled light in those windows would indicate that there was planting outside. In the attached illustrations of the Cremorne Gardens, the refreshment building opposite the Pantheon Theatre has a curved roof and conforms perfectly with the characteristics described above.

Peter Johnson’s further hypothesis based on the architects’ plan and clipping from the Talma photograph:

A verandah, probably runs along the back wall of the bar, across a sunlit yard to a building opposite with a panelled door. The blue dotted line is the view that I am talking about leading to the cook’s bedroom door. The bathroom in the way is a later fill-in in the bar's verandah.

Image researcher and architectural illustrator Allister Hardiman has, together with an isometric study of the Theatre Royal, made a metric analysis of the Talma photograph and found that there would have been no room in the Theatre Royal building for the Bar. (Click here to download)

The mistake was probably made by Coppin’s daughter Lucy (1873-1960) when she appeared in the documentary Theatre in Australia and identified the photograph as showing her father in the ‘Marble Bar’. [6] However, it is clear that Miss Coppin, confused the Crystal Bar, opened c.1858, with the Marble Bar in Tattersall’s Hotel in George Street Sydney, and from a very different era, opened in 1892.

Several factors might have led to this confusion: a) Miss Coppin was born ten years after Cremorne Gardens had closed, b) so she had to rely on family hearsay, possibly from her father and brothers mentioning a Marble Bar out of context—as a lady she would not have been admitted to any bar (she was a lively 78 years old when she appeared in the film with the image in question in her hand). [7]

Of her statement that it was the ‘Marble Bar’ with her father at the Bar in his Top Hat, exhaustive research in Melbourne newspapers for mention of a marble bar in the Theatre Royal proved unsuccessful. Indeed, the only reference to marble in relation to the Theatre Royal building was to tables in Spiers and Pond’s Café de Paris coffee room near the Dress Circle entrance of the theatre. [8]

There is evidence that the abundance of plate-glass and crystal in the photo was from Coppin’s rushed visit to London in 1857 where he said that he had purchased 20 tons of glass for his Cremorne [9] and boasted how he had imported plate glass mirrors and crystal chandeliers from Defries of London allowing them to advertise their presence in his ‘Cremorne Melbourne, Australia’ venture.

Amid the nineteenth century puffery and publicity of an Argus ‘penny a line’ review we have perhaps the best description of Coppin’s crystal bar:

We are almost sorry to be compelled to speak of the bar in terms of higher praise than those we have used regarding any other part of the gardens, but certes it is one of the handsomest places of the kind we have ever witnessed. An air of coolness and increased spaciousness has been given it by the erection of a wall of plate-glass in the rear of the counter. At the top of the mirrors at the back of pendant crystals are the jets of light which illuminate the place. Statues and flowers vases and pictures, are deposited wherever there is a chance of heightening the general effect. Altogether, as an exhibition of taste devoted to a special purpose, we imagine the bar may challenge competition with anything of the kind in either hemisphere. In our own country this style of drinking is rarely attempted. It is in America where they are found in the greatest perfection, and we therefore must leave it to our trans-Atlantic brethren to decide upon the comparative merits of this Bacchanalian resort. [10]

As if to assure later enquirers of the location of the Coppin’s Crystal Bar the local newspaper, Richmond Australian, 30 April 1864 (a year after the Gardens closed) published an article describing the state of the Gardens since becoming a private Lunatic Asylum. Among the nostalgic memories is the sentence:

The main building is that formerly known as the crystal bar, and this is divided into six sleeping compartments, and a large dining room, for gentlemen.

Many years later a Marble Bar did open, but not in Melbourne. Rather than a mid-Victorian saloon, with glittering mirrors and crystal chandeliers of an amusement park it was the Marble Bar in George Adams’ Tattersalls Hotel Pitt Street Sydney c.1892. A High Victorian ‘other world’ complete with Julian Ashton nudes. (The bar was dismantled in the late 1960s when the hotel was demolished and reassembled in 1973 in the new Hilton Hotel.)


1. Alec Bagot, Coppin the Great, Melbourne, MUP, 1965

2. The Argus (Melbourne), 13 November 1858

3. Mimi Colligan, ‘Cremorne Gardens, Richmond and the modelled Panoramas 1853-1863’, VHJ, vol. 66, No. 2 October 1995

4. Opinions of the press on Messrs. Spiers & Pond’s management of the Café de Paris, Melbourne: and of many of the principal enterprises with which they have been connected’, p. 5.

5. It is likely the photographs of the bar itself were part of Miss Coppin’s own collection.

6. Doc K. Sternberg, Theatre in Australia, Department for the Interior, National Film Board, 1952,

7. She went on to assist Alec Bagot in the publication of his biography of her father, Coppin the Great (1965) giving him access to Coppin memorabilia in her will and sometimes misleading him with incorrect memories.

8. Opinions of the Press, on Messrs Spiers and Pond’s management of the Café de Paris, Melbourne 1861, p. 6

9. The Era (London), 27 September 1857

10. The Argus (Melbourne), 16 November 1858


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»

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Eilene Hannan AM


Opera Singer 24.7.1946 - 11.7.2014

Friday, 27 June 2014

Gailene Stock CBE AM



Dancer, Royal Ballet School Director, 28.01.1946 - 29.04.2014

Sunday, 08 June 2014

Alan Hope Kirk

Dancer, choreographer, teacher 16.10.1930 - 3.4.2014. 

See article written by Blazenka Brysha.

Sunday, 08 June 2014

Loti Smorgon AO

Arts philanthropist 1919 - 20.8.2013

Sunday, 08 June 2014

Martin Sharp


Designer 21.1.1942 - 1.12.2013

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