Stage by Stage

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During 1910 the Palace Theatre enjoyed much prosperity, from the polished performances of the Hugh J. Ward company to the mighty melodramas of Bland Holt performed by the Hamilton-Maxwell Dramatic Company. ELISABETH KUMM continues her history of the Pitt Street playhouse.

With the arrival of Hugh J. Ward’s company, Ward was heralded as ‘A New Australian Manager’. Since his first appearance in Australia in 1899, as a member of the Hoyt-McKee company, American-born Ward had proved a popular actor and dancer, and his shift to management was a welcome move. In 1906, in association with George Willoughby, his English company had undertaken an eighteen-month tour of Australasia with the comedy The Man from Mexico. Having returned to London in 1908, he organised his own company, touring India, Burma, China, and the Straits Settlements. An article in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph (1 January 1910, p.6) noted:

In the tour in the East, just concluded, he was his own financier and manager; his knowledge of stage craft and long experience of the theatre enabled him to direct the production of his plays; and in the ultimate result, the box office receipts showed that the venture was, in a pecuniary sense, thoroughly successful. So far as the artistic merits of the productions are concerned, Sydney audiences who are enjoying the brisk acting of a talented, all-round company in “A Bachelor’s Honeymoon” will have but one opinion.

The Company’s first offering, A Bachelor’s Honeymoon, kicked off the 1909 Christmas season at the Palace, playing for a jolly six weeks. It was followed on 11 February 1910 by VIvian’s Papas, a farcical comedy by Leo Ditrichstein, that was described as a twin to A Bachelor’s Honeymoon on account of its ‘mirth-provoking qualities’. Vivian’s Papas had received its Australian debut during Hugh J. Ward’s initial Perth season, where it played several nights at the Theatre Royal from 12 June 1909.

Palace Ward CoMembers of the Hugh J. Ward company on tour in the East. Hugh Ward is in the centre, with Grace Palotta to the left. From The Mirror, 21 May 1909, p.15.

Ditrichstein’s farce had premiered in New York in August 1903. The principal roles were played by Hattie Williams as Vivian Rogers, an actress who attracts the attention of two admirers or ‘papas’—Chester D. Farnham and Frederick W. Walker—played by comedians John C. Rice and Thomas A. Wise. In this production, the role of Alice Farnham, Chester’s wife, was played by Esther Tittell, a sister of actress Tittell Brune. Mixing comedy, drama and song, the play’s big attraction was a Wagnerian/grand opera spoof set against a realistic fire scene.

At the Palace, Grace Palotta had the titular role, renamed Vivian Gay, with Arthur Eldred and Hugh J. Ward as the two papas. As the piece contained several songs, tenor Walter Whyte was specially engaged to play one of the singing firemen; W.B. Beattie, another singer formerly with Williamson’s Royal Comic Opera Company, played the role of Edouard Pollak, a singing teacher. Ward’s wife, Grace Miller Ward (who would go on to establish herself as a noted Sydney-based singing teacher) paired with Whyte for the operatic fire scene. Maud Chetwynd (previously seen at the Palace with Allan Hamilton’s Dramatic Company in 1909) played the small role of Carrie the housemaid.

The fire scene provided an exciting climax to the play’s first act, with the Sydney Morning Herald (13 February 1910) observing: ‘Machinery recently imported from the United States provides a remarkable illusion, and it is hard to believe that the stage is not a mass of flames.’

Palace Musgrove GhiloniFrom Table Talk (Melbourne), 1 July 1909, p.21. Author’s collection.

Vivian’s Papas played for just a week, closing on 18 February 1910. With the end of the season fast approaching, The Fencing Master (for the first time in Sydney) and The Man from Mexico (first introduced during the 1906 Willoughby-Ward tour), were performed for a week each. The first named play was a far cry from the antics of the two former plays. It was a serious drama, which provided Ward with the opportunity to show his versatility as an actor. A comedy-drama in three acts by Herbert Hall Winslow, the play was described by Ward as ‘one of the most beautiful and interesting plays I have ever had or seen’.1 Ward played the title character, Angelo Rossi, an Italian nobleman who has emigrated to New York after killing a man in a duel. When his son seeks to marry a young lady (Grace Palotta) of an upright family, the father of another man (W.B. Beattie) also after her affections, recognises Rossi as the man in the duel, thereby jeopardising the son’s chances of a good marriage. 

The Fencing Master had received its premiere by Ward’s company in Calcutta in April 1909. According to Variety (May 1909), it ‘established a record for an opening of an American piece in point of distance from Broadway’. The same article noted that the play had been handed over to Ward without a title and ‘The Fencing Master’ had been selected by the players. It is not clear if the play was ever produced in America as the title had already been assigned to another work—Reginald de Koven’s 1892 opera—and would have been given another name. The piece received its first Australian outings in Perth in June 1909 and in Melbourne in August 1909.

The Man from Mexico, the comedy by George Broadhurst, that was the hit of the 1906 Willoughby-Ward season, brought the company’s Palace season to a close. Hugh Ward repeated his success as the ‘picturesque liar who talks about his adventures in Mexico so as to account for his absence from home while he has been serving a sentence in gaol’.2 The audience demanded repeated encores of his song ‘Nobody’ (written by Alex Rogers, with music by Bert A. Williams, and first published in 1905). Grace Palotta and Reginald Wykeham reprised their roles, along with Celia Ghiloni and Maud Chetwynd.

Palace Roaring CampNellie Fergusson (Jovita de Sutro), Harry Diver (Tom Barnes), Ethel Buckley (Nell), Kenneth Hunter (Dick Gordon) in The Luck of Roaring Camp. Photos by Talma. From Punch (Melbourne), 10 February 1910, p.185.

With the departure of Hugh J. Ward, George Marlow’s company made a welcome return. They began their season on 5 March 1910 with the first Sydney production of The Luck of Roaring Camp, a melodrama in four acts by Benjamin Landeck, set on the Californian goldfields. It was apparently adapted from a story by American novelist Bret Harte (‘America’s Charles Dickins’), however, reviews soon revealed that the title was the only similarity. The Daily Telegraph, for example, noted, Landeck’s play ‘bears not the faintest resemblance to Bret Harte’s well-known story of the that name … It relates not to the doings of Oakhurst, the gambler; Stumpy, the good-natured Kentuck, and the rest of them, but the schemes of one Tom Barnes to obtain undisputed possession of a certain hidden mine, and to destroy the happiness of Will Gordon and Nell Curtis—persons who are conspicuously absent from the pages of Bret Harte’.3

Landeck’s play had first been performed in London at the Fulham Theatre in March 1909, and in Australia in January 1910 during George Marlow’s Adelaide season.

Ethel Buckley played the heroine, Nell (she was to repeat the role in a 1911 film-version of the play), with Nellie Fergusson as the Spanish adventuress, Jovita de Sutro, who along with Tom Barnes, played by Harry Diver, is one of the villains of the piece. Kenneth Hunter proved popular with audiences as Will Gordon, the hero, and J.P. O’Neill provided ‘a good deal of merriment’ as Mary Flynn, ‘a buxom dame’ who has buried two husbands.4

Palace audiences did not mind that the play had little to do with Bret Harte’s original story. It attracted packed houses, with Marlow reportedly turning people away each night. It played for the full three weeks of the season, after which the company departed for Western Australia.

On Easter Saturday, the Allan Hamilton-Max Maxwell Dramatic Company opened their season at the Palace. Following the retirement of Bland Holt, the sole rights to some of his greatest successes were secured by the new partnership of Hamilton and Maxwell. Allan Hamilton was a well-known and respected theatre manager, whose dramatic company had played at the Palace in 1909. Max Maxwell, a Tasmanian-born actor, had been with the Bland Holt company for 14 years, starting off in bit parts and graduating to leading man.

The company’s repertoire of plays included Woman and Wine, In London Town, Revenge, The Lights o’ London and Woman’s Hate. They also acquired the original scenery for these plays, painted by John Brunton, who had only recently died, in July 1909, aged 60. English-born Brunton had been in Australia since 1886, having been engaged by Willliamson, Garner and Musgrove at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne, painting backdrops for everything from Gilbert & Sullivan to pantomime and drama. By the early 1890s, he was also working on cloths for other managements, and in 1896 he had replaced W.B. Spong as scenic artist with Bland Holt. During his fifteen years with Holt, he painted the scenes for a raft of melodramas. In addition to the five selected for revival, they included The Cotton King, The Union Jack, The Prodigal Daughter, A Life of Pleasure, Straight from the Heart, Sporting Life, The Breaking of the Drought, The White Heather, The Great Millionaire and The Great Rescue. He was working on The Sins of Society at the time of his death.

Actors were drawn principally from the Bland Holt company, including Harrie Ireland, Jennie Pollock, Arthur Styan, Godfrey Cass and Charles Brown, while Beatrice Holloway was from the Hamiliton company.

Hamilton and Maxwell launched their Sydney season with Woman and Wine, a melodrama by Arthur Shirley and Benjamin Landeck. Bland Holt’s staging was carefully observed, and the play was presented in true ‘Blandholtian’ style. Set pieces included the Longchamps Steeplechase, the Japanese Ball, and the spectacular revolving set to the Paris Flower Market, which featured a duel with knives between two women!

Palace Woman Wine From The Star (Sydney), 11 April 1910, p.8Woman and Wine was initially produced in 1897 at the Pavilion Theatre in London, and in March 1899 at the Princess’s Theatre.

When Bland Holt first staged the play in Melbourne in April 1899 and Sydney in June 1900, the principal characters were played by Elizabeth Watson/Harrie Ireland (Marcel Rigadout), Frances Ross (Mary Andrews), Fitzmaurice Gill (La Colombe), Walter Baker (Dick Seymour) and Arthur Styan (Pierre Crucru). For this current revival, Arthur Styan was the only actor from the original cast. Other roles were now played by Jennie Pollock (Marcel Rigadout), Beatrice Holloway (Mary Andrews), Vera Remee (La Colombe) and Max Maxwell (Dick Seymour).

Woman and Wine played for a fortnight, and on 16 April 1910, the company presented In London Town, a rag to riches melodrama by George R. Sims and Arthur Shirley. First produced in London at the Crown Theatre in Peckham in August 1899, the play entered Bland Holt’s repertoire the following year when it played three nights at the Opera House in Brisbane in April 1900. It was subsequently seen in Melbourne in June 1901 and Sydney in May 1902.

Once again, the only original cast member in the current revival was Arthur Styan who reprised his role of the blind tramp, Richard Norrison. Other parts were played by Max Maxwell (John Hargreaves), Godfrey Cass (Frank Dalton), Beatrice Holloway (Alice Dalton), Charles Brown (Jack Parker), Muriel Dale (Liddy Blist) and Jennie Pollock (Rosa Norrison).

Two weeks later, on 30 April 1910, the company presented their final revival of the season: Revenge, a romantic military drama by E. Hill Mitchelson. This was the most recent of the Bland Holt melodramas, receiving its first Australian outing at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne in January 1907. Woven around the Austrian revolution, this tale of daring-do was set in a royal palace, providing John Brunton with the opportunity to design some elaborate sets, ranging from a throne room to a prison. Max Maxwell played the dashing hero, Captain Loris Vanessa, with Godfrey Cass and Beatrice Holloway as the King and Queen. Richard Bellairs and Jennie Pollock added ‘weight and emphasis’ as the two baddies, Prince Orloff and Braga Vanessa.

Revenge proved a money-maker for Hamilton and Maxwell, but with West Pictures driven from the Glaciarium by the winter skaters and due to commence their season at the Palace Theatre on 7 May 1910, the melodrama company was required to call it quits. Thus, the company, comprising some 32 people and 130 tons of scenery, departed on a protracted tour of New Zealand and Tasmania.

West Pictures held court until the first week of September, and on 10 September 1910, the Hamilton-Maxwell company made a welcome return. Their opening production was Women’s Revenge by Henry Pettitt, one of the most popular dramas in the Bland Holt repertoire. First produced at the Adelphi Theatre in London in 1893, with Charles Warner (Frank Drummond), Elizabeth Robins (Mary Lonsdale), Gertrude Kingston (Mabel Wentworth), and Charles Cartwright (Jephtha Grimshaw) as the leads. The following year, it was performed in Australia for the first time by the Bland Holt company, with Edward Sass, Henrietta Watson, Edith Blande and Walter Baker. The scenery was designed by George and John Gordon. Holt mounted an elaborate revival in 1897 with new scenery by John Brunton. The leads, on this occasion, were Walter Baker, Elizabeth Watson, Frances Ross and John Cosgrove.

The line-up of the Hamilton-Maxwell company was largely the same as it had been the previous March, with Beatrice Holloway, Max Maxwell and Richard Bellairs as the leads. However, two newcomers, Nellie Strong and Ronald W. Riley, now filled the roles vacated by Jennie Pollock and Arthur Styan, who had joined the Clarke and Meynell organisation.

Alas, one day into the season Beatrice Holloway fell ill with enteric fever (typhoid), with Vera Remee taking over the part of the heroine Mary Lonsdale.

Women’s Revenge played until 23 September. By way of farewelling the play—and in anticipation of the one to follow—‘J.B.’ contributed a little poem to the Bulletin.

Palace Womans Revenge PoemFrom The Bulletin (Sydney), 22 September 1910, p.8

With the end of the season looming, Allan Hamilton announced two new dramas, The Little Breadwinner and Why Men Love Women. These were being presented by arrangement with Messrs Clarke and Meynell.

The first of these plays, The Little Breadwinner, had already been performed throughout Western Australia, Victoria, and Queensland by the Clarke and Meynell company. It had been given its Australian premiere at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth in February 1908, with G.P. Carey, Fred Coape, Beatrice Holloway, C.R. Stanford, Ida Gresham and Queenie Williams in the principal roles. The last named was a child star who had been seen to good effect in the Meynell and Gunn hit show The Fatal Wedding, performing with the ‘Tin Can Band’.

Described as a Domestic Drama in five acts, the play by J.A. Campbell, had first been performed in Birmingham in December 1905 (by J.A. Campbell’s own company), prior to opening in London, at the Standard Theatre, on 19 March 1906. The London cast included J.C. Aubrey (Lord William), C. King (Richard), Kathleen Russell (Margaret) and Little Maud Harris (Meg).

The play tells the story of Dick Lawrence, the adopted son of Lord William Dorrington, who wrongly convicted of stealing, is banished from the household. Moving to London with his betrothed, Margaret, the couple live in poverty, and with his wife now blind, they rely on their little daughter Meg to keep ‘the wolf from the door by singing in the street’. Eventually the true perpetrator of the theft is found, and the whole family is reunited.

The first Sydney production of The Little Breadwinner opened on 24 September 1910. Apart from Queenie Williams, who played Meg, the ‘little breadwinner’ of the title, the line up of the company was completely new, with Charles Brown (Lord William), Max Maxwell (Dick Lawrence), Vera Remee (Margaret), with Richard Bellairs as Joseph Prior, the chief villain.

The Little Breadwinner proved a little winner, especially the performance of Queenie Williams.5

The final play of the season was Why Men Love Women by Walter Howard, the author of the highly popular melodrama The Midnight Wedding. This play had been announced for performance by the Harcourt Beatty-Madge McIntosh company in 1908 but was not performed. And in early 1910, it was slated for performance in Melbourne by the Clarke-Meynell company. It finally received its first Australian production at Maitland (NSW) on 12 March 1910 by the Edwin Geach company. The principal characters were played by Walter Vincent (Gerald Fielding), Lottie Lyell (Violet Livingstone), Raymond Longford (Captain Serge Staniloff), Ida Gresham (Mariel Toloski), and C.R. Stanford (Maharajah of Balore).

Described as an ‘Anglo-Indian drama, with many stirring and sensational interests’, the play had first been performed in Manchester (UK) in 1901. It did very well in the British provinces, but never reached the West End.

When the play opened In Sydney on 8 October 1910, it was incorrectly advertised as being the ‘first production in Australia’. It received a warm reception, being ‘joyously acclaimed by a crowded house at the Palace Theatre’.6 The principal characters were performed by Vera Remee (Violet Livingstone), Max Maxwell (Gerald Fielding), Richard Bellairs (Captain Staniloff), Ronald W. Riley (Maharajah) and Nellie Strong (Muriel Zoluski). Interestingly, all the reviews make it clear that the title of the play is never really explained. There was a scene in which the hero gave a poetic speech, the ‘Allegory of Love, the Maiden, and the Rose’, which gave promise of a solution, but apparently left the most attentive listeners still without a firm answer!

Why Men Love Women played to packed houses, but was withdrawn at the height of it success on 28 October 1910 to make way for The Spider and the Fly. Described as a ‘sensational drama of modern times’, this new play, being performed in Australia for the first time, was written by two stalwarts of the genre, Sutton Vane and Arthur Shirley.

It had first been performed at the Grand Theatre, Brighton, in April 1906, and at the Kennington Theatre, London, the following August. The story of two half-brothers, one good, and one bad. The good brother, Cyril Girdlestone, is happily married with a wife and infant. Cyril had previously been tricked into a marriage with an adventuress, Lola Grey, but following her death was free to marry his true sweetheart, Edith McAllister. When Cyril’s half-brother, Welby, learns that Cyril has become the sole heir of their father’s fortune, he plots with Lola (who isn’t really dead, and who had married Cyril bigamously), to kill the young family. She sets a trap, whereby Cyril and Edith are locked in a room in which the ceiling can be mechanically lowered, thereby squashing any inhabitants! Ultimately the villainous Lola is caught in her own snare. The cast included Max Maxwell and Vera Remee as the hero and heroine, with Richard Bellairs as the scheming half-brother, and Nellie Strong as the adventuress.

The Spider and the Fly was played until 11 November 1910, and on the following night the company reprised the melodrama Revenge, which they had first presented earlier in the year—and which had been the hit of that season. Max Maxwell and Richard Bellairs once again played Captain Loris Vanessa and Prince Orloff respectively, while Ronald W. Riley and Vera Remee now played the King and Queen, with Nellie Strong as Braga Vanessa.

Revenge played for twelve nights, closing on 25 November, thus bringing the highly successful Hamilton-Maxwell season to an end. With the end of this engagement, the company was disbanded, with Max Maxwell and Allan Hamilton going their separate ways. Maxwell set off on a country tour, and readers will be happy to note that he was re-joined by Beatrice Holloway as his leading lady, fully recovered from her recent severe indisposition.

The following night, 26 November, saw the return to the Sydney stage of Maggie Moore, accompanied by her husband H.R. Roberts. Their company included many old favourites, including A.E. Greenaway, C.R. Stanford and Ethel Bashford.

Palace Shadows CartoonFrom The Bulletin (Sydney), 24 November 1910, p.8The company’s three-week season saw the production of three plays, playing for a week each. The first was Shadows of a Great City, written by Joseph Jefferson and Livingston Robert Sherwell and first performed in America in 1884, Australia in 1885, and the UK in 1887. Set amidst the urban underbelly of the New York docks and on Blackwell’s Island, the play introduced a myriad of gritty characters. As Biddy Roonan, Maggie Moore played a big-hearted Irish washerwoman, replete with songs. (Interestingly, when the play was revived in Australia in 1887, the role of Biddy was played by comic Grattan Riggs.)

Six nights later, a change of bill saw a revival of A Gambler’s Sweetheart, originally performed by them eighteen months earlier, under the auspices of Clarke and Meynell. Written by Clay M. Greene (of Struck Oil fame), H.R. Roberts and Maggie Moore reprised their characters of Mason (the gambler) and Bessie Fairfax (his sweetheart). The Sydney Morning Herald observed of her performance, that she played Bessie ‘with a vivacity and archness reminiscent of her never-to-be-forgotten Lizzie Stofel [in Struck Oil].’7

The following night, Saturday, 9 December 1910, they presented their final offering, a revival of The Prince Chap, previously seen at the Palace during 1908. H.R. Roberts and A.E. Greenaway revived their original roles of William Peyton and the Earl of Henningford, as did Little Vera Huggett and Beryl Yates who played the girl Claudia in Acts 1 and 2 respectively. Ethel Bashford played Claudia in Act 3. As Maggie Moore was not in the play, the evening concluded with the one act farce The Chinese Question, specially written for her by Clay M. Greene, in which she played Kitty McShane (alias San See Lo).

Next the Mosman Musical Society took over the theatre for a week, from 17-23 December, presenting Auber’s comic opera Fra Diavolo.

The year cycled back to where it began with the return of Hugh J. Ward’s company, bringing with them a new comedy, The Girl from Rector’s.


To be continued



1. Kalgoorlie Miner, 23 June 1909, p.8

2. Referee, 2 March 1910, p.16

3. Daily Telegraph, 7 March 1910, p.10

4. Australian Town and Country Journal, 9 March 1910, p.51

5. For more information on the career of Queenie Williams, see Nick Murphy’s, Queenie Williams (1896-1962) & the last Pollard’s tour of America – Forgotten Australian Actors (

6. Sydney Morning Herald, 10 October 1910, p.5

7. Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December 1910, p.4


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

L. Carson (editor), The Stage Year Book, Carson & Comerford Lrd, 1910

Reginald Clarence, The Stage Cyclopaedia: A bibliography of play, Burt Franklin, 1970 (originally published in 1909)

Nick Murphy, Queenie Williams (1896-1962) & the last Pollard’s tour of America, Forgotten Australian Actors (website)

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


Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney), The Bulletin (Sydney), The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Kalgoorlie Miner, The Mirror (Sydney), Punch (Melbourne), The Referee (Sydney), The Star (Sydney), The Sydney Morning Herald, Table Talk (Melbourne)



National Library of Australia, Canberra

State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

State Library Victoria, Melbourne

With thanks to

Rob Morrison, Nick Murphy