With the new year, 1905, things got off to a rough start for the Palace Theatre. Following a meeting by the Sydney City Council on the 24 January 1905 concerning the state of Sydney’s theatres, it was determined that the Palace Theatre did not comply with current fire regulations. As a result its licence was suspended pending the implementation of necessary alterations of a ‘heavy character’.1 At first the theatre’s Trustees2 rejected the Council’s requests, but the authorities remained adamant and by April it was reported that the required changes costing in excess of £5000 (approx. $700,000 in today’s currency) had been carried out.3
Behind the scenes works included fireproofing of walls and gears and the installation of a fire sprinkler over the proscenium. Also, the boilers and engines had to be relocated to an adjacent building. The most obvious ‘improvements’, however, were the requested changes to Phil Goatcher’s auditorium, which had been declared a fire trap.
The Evening News (5 April 1905) reported:
Looking into the auditorium, … anyone who knew the Palace as a delight to the eye from its decorative beauties, is distressed to see what has had to be despoiled for fear of the fiend Fire.
The cupolas above the boxes have been demolished, and squab ornaments to take their place detract from the symmetrical ensemble of the past.
Elsewhere the steep rake of the gallery was curtailed for safety’s sake, and the number of seats reduced, notably the top most ones that were up against the roof. In addition a railing was introduced between each of the tiers in the gallery so that in case of emergency patrons would be prevented from jumping from one row to another.
Thus, with all these changes having been complete, the Palace’s licence was renewed in time for the Easter season 1905.
The theatre re-opened with a season of melodrama by William Anderson’s Dramatic Company, with Eugenie Duggan as the star attraction. Eugenie Duggan (1870–1936) was an Melbourne-born actress and sister of actor/playwright Edmund Duggan. After making her stage debut in 1890, she performed with the companies of Dan Barry and Charles Holloway. In 1898, she married William Anderson (1968–1940), who in 1896 became joint manager of the Holloway-Anderson company. By 1900, he was managing his own company, with Eugenie as his leading lady. His usual theatre in Sydney was the Lyceum, which he shared with his friend and rival in melodrama Bland Holt, but as that theatre had recently closed following its sale to the philanthropist Ebenezer Vickery (1827–1906), he moved his operations to the Palace.
Anderson’s season commenced with the first Sydney production of A Girl’s Cross Roads, a melodrama in four acts by Walter Melville, a melo-dramatist par excellence, who together with his brother Frederick was responsible for writing and staging some of the most popular melodramas of the late 1890s and 1900s. The titles of their plays were thrilling enough and their fertile imaginations, either singularly or in partnership, produced such plays as The Worst Woman in London (1899), Between Two Women (1902), Her Forbidden Marriage (1904), Married to the Wrong Man (1908) and The Bad Girl of the Family (1909), to name a few. Many of these plays were staged at their theatres in the East End, notably the Terriss (Rotherhithe) and the Standard (Hoxton).4 First performed at the Standard Theatre in October 1903, A Girl’s Cross Roads had its Australian premiere in Melbourne in February 1905. The cast was largely the same, but the role of the hero Jack Livingstone was now played by H.O. Willard rather than Vivian Edwards. A story of misery and despair, Eugenie Duggan was the heroine (or rather anti-heroine), Barbara Wade, the wife of Jack Livingstone, who on developing a liking for drink, loses the respect of her husband. When she leaves home and is believed to have perished in a shipping accident, Jack turns to a former sweetheart Constance Cornell (played by Ivy Gorrick) for comfort. On the day that Constance consents to marry him, Barbara is discovered to be alive, a slave to drink and drugs. Jack is determined to save his wife, but she is too far gone and soon dies in a fit of delirium tremens. The role of Barbara was a difficult one, but Eugenie Duggan, used to playing ‘wretched women’ delivered a realistic portrait of an unhappy soul whose life had been ruined by the demon drink.
Three weeks later, 13 May, A Girl’s Cross Roads was replaced by another new Walter Melville sensation drama, The Female Swindler. Anderson’s company had introduced this play in Melbourne in September 1904 and now it was Sydney’s turn. First performed at the Terriss Theatre on 12 October 1903 and subsequently at the Standard Theatre, with Violet Ellicott and Ashley Page in the leads, this play also spawned a series of lured advertising postcards.
As Lu Valroy (otherwise Miss Darwe), Eugenie Duggan had another unsavoury heroine to portray. In this play the title character is working as a maid in a rich household. When some valuable items go missing, a detective, Jack Coulson (played by H.O. Willard), is employed to track down the culprit. Against a backdrop of murder, theft and kidnapping, the detective pursues Lu Valroy and her sinister offsider, Geoffrey Warden (alias Captain Stanton) (played by Laurence Dunbar). In a struggle, Warden is killed, but just as Lu is about to stab the detective she is overcome by a new emotion—love—and instead of killing him the two fall into a passionate embrace. As the ‘fascinating adventuress’ Eugenie Duggan once again excelled.
The third play of the season, opening on 3 June, was Two Little Drummer Boys, an 1899 military drama by Walter Howard. With this play Eugenie Duggan was reprising her role of Margaret Rivers (aka Drunken Meg), a wretched woman filled with vengeance for the man who had ruined her life. An expansive story of jealousy, treason and murder set in a military barracks, and rival cousins, both drummer boys, who clash as their fathers did. Supported by H.O. Willard, this time playing the villain, Eugenie Duggan thrilled audiences with her portrayal of another desperately unhappy female.
The final offering, commencing on 17 June, was the oft performed East Lynne with Eugenie in the dual role of Lady Isabel and Madame Vine. The season closed on 1 July 1905.
With the departure of Anderson’s company the Palace entered a period of uncertainty. It is not clear why this was the case, but for the next twelve months the only tenants were amateur companies and short run entertainments. Why did the big companies and touring stars stay away? Perhaps the Palace was too small, seating only 1000 patrons, compared with the 1500 of the Theatre Royal or the 2000-odd that could be crammed into Her Majesty’s. When Anderson return to Sydney in July 1905, rather than return to the Palace, he opened at the Theatre Royal.
So instead of welcoming the likes of George Stephenson’s English Musical Comedy Company, J.F. Sheridan, or the Brough-Flemming Comedy Company (who were the big names of the current season), the Palace played host to one night stands by the Sydney Comedy Club (A Snug Little Kingdom, 3 July 1905); The Players (Dr Bill, 4 and 5 July 1905, 21 September 1905; The Weaker Sex, 16 November 1905; Lady Windermere’s Fan, 17 November 1905; A Gaiety Girl, 20–22 December 1905; Little Lord Fauntleroy, 6 July 1905; In Town, 9–20 September 1905); the Bank of New South Wales Musical and Dramatic Company (The Magistrate, 7 July 1905; Dandy Dick, 11 December 1905); the Academy of Dramatic Art (Under Two Flags, 25 August 1905); Sydney Liedertafel (the premiere of W. Arundel Orchard’s comic operetta The Coquette, 28 August to 2 September 1905); the Sydney University Dramatic Society (The School for Scandal, 28 September 1905); the Lands Department Musical and Dramatic Society (The Sleeping Queen, 29 September 1905); and the Sydney Muffs (Caste and Op o’ Me Thumb, 14 December 1905, with assistance from Nellie Stewart); as well as performances by Minnie Hooper’s dance students (18 December 1905) and the Students’ Operatic and Dramatic Society (19 December 1905). Although the commercial prospects of the theatre were not great, the Palace was providing the opportunity for students and amateurs to hone their craft in a professional theatre.
In addition to the performances listed above, the Palace also hosted the Great Thurston’s farewell to Sydney when the magician presented a four week season from 22 July 1905 to 26 August 1905. He did however return for a second ‘final’ season from 23 December 1905 to 12 January 1906.
In mid-October, comedians J.J. Dallas and Florence Lloyd presented The J.P., the play having transferred to the Palace from Her Majesty’s Theatre for a week’s season.
Also, in late 1905, Lily Dampier (daughter of actor-manager Alfred Dampier) was seen in East Lynne and The Postmistress of the Czar. In the former, which was staged from 11–15 and 18–21 November, she played the double role of Lady Isabel and Madame Vine and in the latter, from 22 November to 2 December 1905, she appeared as Princess Olga.
The new year, 1906, got off to a reasonable start with a short return season by J.J. Dallas and Florence Lloyd beginning with a revival of The J.P. (27 January 1906 to 2 February 1906). This was followed by the first Australian production of There and Back, a three act farce by George Arliss (the British actor best remembered for playing Disraeli). Given a copyright performance in Bath in 1895 and produced in Bolton in 1900, this play received positive notices when it was staged at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London in May 1902 (transferring to the Shaftesbury in July 1902) with Charles Hawtrey as William Waring and Arthur Williams as Henry Lewson, two husbands whose wives go on holiday to Scotland, but pretend they are visiting a sick friend. The following year, it was performed at the Princess Theatre in New York with Charles E. Evans and Charles H. Hopper as the deceived husbands. In Australia, J.J. Dallas played the role of Lewson, a role he had performed when the farce toured the British provinces during 1902–03. He was supported by Aubrey Mallalieu as Waring and Florence Young as Marie Antoinette Smith. There and Back played for only a week at the Palace from 3–9 February 1906. On the same bill was a musical skit, The Bazaar Girl with J.J. Dallas and Florence Lloyd as Mr. and Mrs. Honeywood.
The comedy season was followed by Canadian-American music hall artist R.G. Knowles (under the auspices of J.C. Williamson) with ‘songs and stories of the stage’ from 10–23 February 1906. This was a return visit to the Palace by Knowles, having been one of the headlining acts when Harry Rickards was in residence back in 1896-97. As on the previous occasion he was assisted by his wife, Mrs. R.G. Knowles (Winifred Johnson), the ‘delightful and brilliant banjo exponent’.
From 24 February 1906, the popular matinee idol Julius Knight, supported by Maud Jeffries, played a brief season under the auspices of J.C. Williamson. Knight was making his reappearance in Australia following a lengthy tour of New Zealand. His three week season at the Palace saw revivals of some of his most popular plays: David Garrick, Comedy and Tragedy, The Sign of the Cross, Monsieur Beaucaire, Pygmalion and Galatea, The Silver King and The Lady of Lyons.
On Saturday, 17 March 1906, Edwin Geach presented West’s Pictures and The Brescians, pairing the latest cinematic offering from T.J. West with a group of concert party singers. The two acts had been touring the UK since the 1890s and from April 1905 had been causing a sensation in New Zealand. Having made a quick trip to England to obtain new attractions, West landed in Sydney just in time for the start of the Palace season. His newest film was the ‘mighty, throbbing, wondrous’ Living London. Filmed in 1904 by Charles Urban and edited by playwright G.R. Sims, this epic depiction of London streets and its people created a sensation—for two reasons. Not only was the film a splendid depiction of London life, but the Palace season saw the release of the film one week ahead of J.&N. Tait’s presentation of the same film at the Lyceum Hall. A fierce advertising war followed with each of the exhibitors extolling the virtues of their version of the film. ‘West shows in 20 minutes what other take nearly 2 HOURS to do.’5
Living London was screened at the Palace for the last time on 6 April 1906 (moving to the Sydney Town Hall as a special Easter event). During the last three weeks of the season West’s introduced several new attractions, including, from 21 April, Living Sydney, ‘showing animated Photographs of Hundreds of Sydney Citizens’. ‘COME AND SEE YOURSELF AS OTHERS SEE YOU’6 The season ended on the 27 April and the following day West’s transferred their operations to the Sydney Town Hall.
A rather special event took place on Saturday, 28 April 1906, when a new romantic comic opera called A Moorish Maid; or, Queen of the Riffs by Alfred Hill (with libretto by NZ music and drama critic J. Youlin Birch) was given its Australian premiere. Mounted by George Stephenson’s English Musical Comedy Company, the title role was performed by the twenty-five year old Rosina Buckman. Still at the outset of her career, the New Zealand born soprano was yet to make her name on the international stage, having returned home following her graduation from the Birmingham School of Music in 1903 on account of illness. Advertised on the bills as ‘the famous English Dramatic Soprano’, this was her first appearance in Sydney.
In June 1905, A Moorish Maid was given its initial performance in Auckland, with Lillian Tree and Frederick Graham in the lead roles. The piece proved a critical and financial success, and a subsequent season was planned for Wellington the following September. When Lillian Tree fell ill, Rosina Buckman took her place. This performance ‘marked the beginning of an operatic career which was to take her to Drury Lane and Covent Garden, and earn special praise from the doyenne of Australian singers, Nellie Melba’.
Alas, despite the rave reviews of Rosina Buckman—‘Miss Buckman was most brilliant and altogether made a most remarkable first appearance in opera’—the Sydney season was not a success. The libretto had been reshaped by Bulletin writer David Souter. A new second act was devised and the tenor role was eliminated. The work had been transformed from a comic opera to an extravaganza. At the end of the short season Alfred Hill was left with the scenery and costumes.7
A Moorish Maid was played until 5 May 1906, a total of seven performances. The final nights of the short season saw George Stephenson’s company in The Skirt Dancer and Bill Adams. On the 12, 14 and 15 May 1906 they presented The Dandy Doctor for the first time in Sydney.
The 16 May 1906 saw the return of the Sydney University Dramatic Society for one night only with Pinero’s The Cabinet Minister. The Sydney Muffs appeared the following night, 17 May, in The Private Secretary.
From the 19–25 May 1906, The Players under the direction of Phillip Lytton revived Planquette’s comic opera Nell Gwynne, the otherwise amateur company augmented by the engagement of W.B. Beattie in the role of Lord Buckingham.
From 26 May 1906 to 13 June 1906, having already performed seasons in Melbourne and Adelaide, Leslie Harris and Madame Lydia Yeamans-Titus opened at the Palace. Performing as the Society Entertainers, they presented monologues, songs and sketches. With this engagement, Leslie Harris was performing in Australia for the first time, while Madame Yeamans-Titus was making her reappearance having toured in 1902 and 1904. Harris was a performer in the Mel B. Spurr style, a polished monologist and raconteur. Madame Yeamans-Titus was a seasoned vaudevillian, accompanied on the piano by her husband Frederick J. Titus. Often referred to as the ‘queen of the child mimics’, several of her ‘baby’ songs were included on the program. Towards the close of the season Madame Yeamans-Titus was indisposed and her place was taken by Rosina Buckman.
Following a performance of Maritana on 20 June 1906 by the Railway and Tramway Musical Society,
Spencer’s American Theatrescope Company enjoyed a month-long season from 25 June 1906 to 20 July 1906.
From 21–28 July, a series of charity performances in aid of the King Edward VII Seamen’s Hospital were given under the patronage of the Lady Mayoress (Mrs. Allen Taylor). These were given the title ‘Enchanted Palace’ Carnival.
On the 3 August 1906 and 1 September 1906, the Bank of New South Wales Musical and Dramatic Society revived The Pickpocket.
And on 25 August 1906, a single copyright performance was given of Three Little Waifs, an original five-act musical drama by Phillip Lytton and J.C. Lee. A short season to follow from 15–26 September, with Mark Williamson, a new English actor specially engaged to play the wicked uncle. In the role of Mona, one of the waifs, was Louise Carabasse (‘may be commended for a very pathetic picture’, wrote the Herald8), who as Louise Lovely would go on to become a film star in Hollywood.
On 8 September 1906, Annie Mayor (an Australian actress popular in the 1880s and 1890s) returned to the Sydney stage in Drama in Camera, comprising scenes from The Silver King, London Assurance and other plays including Shakespeare, which ran until 14 September.
Edison’s Popular Pictures made an appearance on 1 October.
On 4 and 5 October a Grand Complimentary Performance was given by Sydney elocutionist Hilda Bevege when the short plays In Honour Bound and Milky White were presented.
The 20 October 1906, to commemorate Trafalgar Day (27 October), a Grand Historical Pageant, comprising ‘TABLEAUX VIVANTS and LIVING SCENES’ was staged.
The first Australian production of the farcical comedy The ‘Dear’ Doctor by Kim Brament followed from 27 October to 2 November 1906 under the direction of Blandford Wright. Despite being advertised as ‘the World’s Greatest Rib-tickler, in Three Acts’, nothing is discoverable about the history of this play or its author. The performances were given in aid of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales and St. Margaret’s Hospital for Women.
On the 3 and 5 November 1906, the Elocutionary Society performed Our Boys and My Friend Jarlet.
The week commencing 7 November 1906, saw the production of The Emperor, a comic opera by W.J. Curtis, with music by W. Arundel Orchard. Set in Ancient Rome, the piece included a ‘graceful statue ballet’ in the first act. Orchard had composed the score for The Coquette which had been performed at the Place during 1905.
The year ended on a high note with the appearance of Meynell, Gunn and Varna’s New English Comedy Company. They opened on 17 November 1906 with the three-act farcical comedy The Little Stranger by Michael Morton. This piece had enjoyed some success in London earlier in the year, with Master Edward Garratt as the sixteen year old boy who is substituted for a baby. The play had its first Australian production at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne on 20 October 1906 with Master Willie Parke as Tom Pennyman, the ‘Little Stranger’ of the title. Billed as ‘the Child Wonder … direct from the Criterion Theatre, London’. Although Parke seems to have excelled as the wise-cracking, cigarette smoking youngster, he had not performed the role at the Criterion in London. Other principal roles were played by Violet Dene (Mrs. Dick Allenby), John W. Deverell (General Allenby), Pultney Murray (Captain Dick Allenby), Florence Leigh (Mrs. Allenby) and Harry Hill (Paul Veronsky). In London, Audrey Ford, John Beauchamp, Athole Stewart, Mrs. Kemmis and W. Graham Browne played the same characters.
To be continued
1. Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January 1905, p.6
2. In September 1903, George Adams, the owner of the Palace Theatre died aged 65. For the last decade he had been resident in Tasmania, having moved there in 1895 ‘for tax reasons’. With his passing, his estate was managed by a Trust made up of his nephew William James Adams, solicitor W.A. Finlay, manager D.H. Harvey, and solicitor G.J. Barry. Harrie Skinner continued as manager, a position he would hold for the next twenty years.
3. Evening News (Sydney), 5 April 1905
4. Elaine Aston & Ian Clarke, pp.30-42
5. Daily Telegraph, 20 March 1906, p.2. For a full analysis of the Australian screenings of Living London, see ‘The Living London Boom’ by Sally Jackson, Senses of Cinema, 2009.
6. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 1906, p.2
7. John Mansfield Thomson, A Distant Music, pp.83-89
8. Sydney Morning Herald, 17 September 1906, p.6
Elaine Aston & Ian Clarke, ‘The dangerous woman of Melvillean melodrama’, New Theatre Quarterly, vol. 12, issue.45, February 1996, pp.30–42
Allardyce Nicoll, English Drama 1900–1930: The beginnings of the modern period, Cambridge University Press, 1973
Sally Jackson, ‘The Living London Boom’, Senses of Cinema, issue 49, March 2009, https://www.sensesofcinema.com/2009/feature-articles/living-london-sally-jackson/#44
John Mansfield Thomson, A Distant Music: The life & times of Alfred Hill 1870–1960, Oxford University Press, 1980, pp.83–89
J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1900–1909: A calendar of prodctions, performers, and personnel, 2nd edition, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014
The Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Evening News (Sydney)
Digital Commonwealth, www.digitalcommonwealth.org
HAT Archive, www.flickr.com/photos/hat-archive
National Library of Australia, Canberra
National Library of New Zealand
National Portrait Gallery, London
New York Public Library, New York
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Wellcome Collection, London
With thanks to
John S. Clark, Sally Jackson, Judy Leech, Rob Morrison, Les Tod