Sunday, July 2, 2023

Daisy Jerome


In 1913, fashions and attitudes were changing quickly. Early that year women suffragettes had marched in the US and later that year the scandalous Argentine tango began to be danced in western society. The tango reached Australia in late 1913 and almost at the same time, a young music hall artist called Daisy Jerome arrived in Australia under contract to JC Williamson.

When Daisy Jerome landed in Adelaide in 1913 she was dripping with jewels and carried a scent of the scandalous. The American born, but English raised, comedienne was a small woman with a wiry frame topped with a carroty mop of red hair. She had a sparkling and wicked sense of humour and a vibrant manner. However, it was the fate of her dresses that worried Daisy when she arrived. She had forgotten a box in London and was afraid she would not be able to replace them when she reached Sydney.

Daisy Jerome was a product of music hall and J C Williamson had caught her act in London. He hired her for an Australian tour at the huge rate of 150 pounds a week, and Daisy had eagerly grabbed the opportunity .

In England Daisy was surrounded by a faint scent of impropriety. Her act was outrageous, she often made pointed political allusions in her songs, and some had suggestive lyrics which were often accompanied by a wicked wink which promised more than she delivered.

Daisy was a feisty product of a system which required toughness and charm. She had deserted her first husband, Mr Fowler, a year after their marriage and started to live with a Mr Allen. During the divorce proceedings, Mr Fowler had stated that Miss Jerome’s mother was a strain on their relationship and had threatened to kill Mr Allen if he didn’t marry Daisy after soiling her reputation. Mother Jerome accompanied Daisy to Australia, but Mr Allen was nowhere to be seen.

There was also the court case for libel that she had initiated against a journalist in 1910. The journalist wrote that Daisy had performed several encores, although the audience had not asked for them.  During the case, Daisy’s song,  ' a little pat of butter' a ditty with several dubious meanings and a verse about Chamberlain, was disparaged. She won the case and was awarded the grand sum of a farthing .

Daisy ‘s first appearance in Australia was in Sydney in December 1913. She was one of the stars of Australia’s first revue, ‘Come over here’. The show was panned by critics because of its length and many reviewers thought it would have been better with some judicious cuts. Sydney reviewers however, enjoyed Daisy's role. The contrast between her delicate ladylike frame and the raucous vulgarity of her comic songs shocked audiences and the reviewers firmly decided that Daisy was ‘an acquired taste.’ Daisy agreed with this assessment. She later  told journalists that audiences in Sydney were initially cold towards her. It may have been her bright red hair or the quick changes of costume or the famous wicked wink that shocked them. However, Daisy eventually won over the sceptics in Sydney and by the time the show arrived in Melbourne, she was warmly welcomed and christened with the nickname, ‘The electric spark.’

During the run of the show, fellow comedian, Jack Cannot played a joke on Daisy. Her red hair was a source of gossip and speculation. Daisy was at great pains to assure audiences and press that it was her natural colour, but few believed her. It was such a source of controversy that Cannot used it as the basis of a prank.

In Melbourne, Cannot informed Daisy, that there was a gentleman who had taken offence at her red hair. Daisy was indignant and insisted to Cannot that her hair was hardly her fault, but the Australian comedian insisted that the offended gentleman would visit Daisy that night.

Cannot then rang the local fire brigade and spoke to the superintendent. He told him that there was a grave risk of fire during Miss Daisy Jerome’s turn on stage that night. Superintendent Lee was worried and agreed to come to the theatre to assess the risk. Upon meeting Daisy Mr Lee immediately sensed the problem and said, ‘ I agree, there is a danger of fire . The scenery should be fireproofed at once.’

Red hair was a source of superstition and had long been associated with bad tempers and scandalous sexuality. This was particularly a problem for women in the early 20th Century when combined with a theatrical profession and a music hall background. Daisy’s stage persona capitalised on the evil reputation of red heads, but she also sought to maintain some respectability by insisting her carrot top was natural rather than dyed. The presence of her mother by her side maintained her respectability too.

Initial reports of Daisy’s arrival had emphasised her jewellery and sophisticated style. However, after the declaration of war in July, reports began to focus on her simplicity of dress and direct manner. Daisy assured reporters that she was not interested in clothes at all, and that she wanted to appear as simply dressed as possible so that the audience could focus on her singing ability.

After her contract with Williamson lapsed, Daisy was offered another large contract by Fullers. This was for vaudeville performances and gave  Daisy the opportunity to showcase the naughty act that had caused furore in Europe.

In Brisbane in October 1914 she sang, ‘ When you go to the seaside’, and two of her signature tunes, ‘Row Row Row’ and the pro feminist ‘ The Press, the Pulpit and the Petticoat’. The last compared the powers of the media and the church to the power of women, with women being favoured of the three.

Daisy’s feisty singing, her independence and her slightly risqué act and comments about the role of women in society were typical of many women of her day. In an interview in Adelaide in 1914, she stated that the only influence on her decisions were her own wishes. She told the interviewer, ‘ I refuse to regulate my acts to accepted rules of conduct, that is why I suppose people say that I am mad.’

Independent minded Daisy was happy to pay for herself rather than rely on a man to pay for her. She thought the fact that she earned more than most men meant that she should pay her own way. Her statements to the press were unusual and shocking for the period, but her popularity with audiences did not fail and she had a successful tour of the major cities and New Zealand with Fullers.

Daisy also toured regional centres of Australia and visited mining towns in Queensland and New South Wales. In Brisbane she performed for visitors and of course she participated in various war related benefits such as auctions and benefit performances

Daisy remained in Australia until 1916 and left Ben Fuller with a court case. She sued a man for the return of a loan in 1917 after her departure. She lost the case, but had left Australia long before it was heard.

Daisy returned to Australia in 1922 and had another successful and dramatic tour of the country. There was a scandalous court case involving missing jewels and a new husband with an exotic French name. Daisy stayed shocking and individual but her style faded from popularity with the advent of the moving pictures and soon she disappeared into the shadows of history.

Alfred Tischbauer Scenic Designer

 Early Scenic designers were trained fine artists who for various reasons chose to display their talents on the stage. The influence of European trained artists who came to Australia to produce scenery was immense. They imported an aesthetic which influenced later scenic designers and painting in Australia one such imported artist was Alfred Louis Tischbauer.

Alfred, known as ‘Tish’ to his friends, was born in Paris in 1853-54 and was the son of Alexandre Tischbauer and his wife Marie Julie.  Tish trained as an artist in Paris and was involved in the Paris Commune of 1871, with other communards, he was apparently transported to New Caledonia.

In 1879, Alf arrived in Australia and by 1880 he was living and painting in Sydney. That year he exhibited at the Melbourne International Exhibition and in 1883 he showed an oil of George Street Sydney at the NSW Art Society exhibition.  During these years he also taught painting and drawing at the School of Design and the Working Man's College in Sydney.

Tischbauer’s paintings were mostly realistic portrayals of Sydney street scenes and he was particularly well known for his precise details and mastery of perspective. He taught the latter at several schools. Both of these qualities were useful skills for a successful scenic artist.

In 1881, Tisch was credited for creating the scenery for a play at the Standard Theatre in Sydney called the Colliery Girl. The Coal mine, a scene for the play was advertised as ‘the most exciting scene ever produced in Sydney.’

He mixed teaching, painting and scenic design in his early years in Australia in order to make a decent living. This mixture of occupations was common for scenic designers of the era as the profession was an unstable one which relied on the whims of  managers. Unless a designer was employed by the larger companies  such as J C Williamson or the Tivoli circuit, they had to rely on an uncertain income stream. Tischbauer obviously realized this and used his artistic skills in the service of  a variety of employers.

Socially, Alf mixed with fellow Frenchmen in the French Association of New South Wales. In 1885 he was involved in a tribute to Victor Hugo, a notable supporter of the Paris Commune , organized by the society.

He continued to stay in Sydney as a base until the late 1880s when he began working as a scenic designer for Alfred Dampier, an Australian producer of dramas. Tischbauer provided the scenes for Dampier’s 1887 season at the Royal Standard in Sydney and in 1888 he was working at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne, presumably for Dampier. The plays Dampier produced at this time were dramas and classical Shakespeare productions and Tischbauer was responsible for scenes both contemporary and historical.

In the early 1890s Tischbauer worked almost exclusively for Dampier under the name ALTA, and the two men became very close. Tish painted scenery for several plays including “For the Term of his natural Life’, and ‘Robbery Under Arms’. In the latter his scenes included, the diggings by night, and the terrible hollow. Robbery Under Arms was reviewed as romantic fare and ALTA’s scenery was atmospheric and haunting. By 1893 he was being listed as ‘Monsieur ALTA Tischbauer, celebrated artist.’

Tischbauer seemed happy with Dampier and was in constant and well paid work. Money was always a consideration with Tish, although he was very generous to his friends, so the financial security of a long running position with a prominent manager would have been very satisfying.

However, the stability of employment was marred by Alfred’s romantic adventures.

In 1891, Selina Palmer, a Dampier domestic servant, took her own life by swallowing poison. The cause of her despair was an ‘attachment’ to the celebrated French artist Alfred Tischbauer.

Selina had met Alf at the Dampier’s residence and the pair had spent some time together, but Tish stated publically at the inquest into her death, that they had not been intimate. However, Selina’s last letter to him implied otherwise. It said she was in ‘difficulty’, a common euphemism for pregnancy at the time, and stated that Alf had asked her to go to America with him. The letter pathetically stated, ‘ I cannot live without you, so I must die’. The tragedy was ruled a suicide due to unrequited love.

Dampier’s daughter and leading lady, Lily testified on Alf’s behalf at the inquest, and it was clear that the Dampier family supported their scenic artist. It was an indication of the closeness of the relationship that Alf was a frequent visitor to the manager’s home.

Tischbauer remained working with Dampier until 1893 when another scandal ruined the friendship forever.

Dampier was a victim of the economic depression of the 1890s and by 1893 owed several creditors a large sum of money. One of these creditors was Alfred Tischbauer.

Dampier owed a huge sum of over 6000 pounds to various people and companies. Tischbauer was owed back salary of 591 pounds, an enormous sum for the time. He never received the payment and he held a grudge against Dampier for the rest of his life.

Tisch’s livelihood was ruined and he was forced to take odd jobs in design and teaching until 1894 when he was appointed art director at the Sale school of Mines, Art and Technology. Tisch hated everything about the job and it was clear that his heart belonged to scenic design, however, his problems with Dampier had stopped other managers hiring him for work.

In 1895, Tish’s job at Sale was under threat because of the bad economic outlook. He was depressed and melancholy and wrote to a friend, that ‘ being born unlucky what can a man expect but d bad luck for ever and ever.’ Fortunately the school’s finances improved and Alf was asked to stay. The regular wage and his ill luck in the theatre world made him accept the continuation of his position

In 1896 he was still unhappy at Sale, saying, ‘I was not born for a country life, the people there are generally very narrow minded and one is always afraid of hurting their is very monotonous after all and it is a very poor substitute for an active man.’

He was still brooding about Dampier.

‘One manager is not more honest than the other, the worst is that we always suppose men better than they really are..while the rogues laugh in their sleeve.’

He added that Dampier, ‘must hate me like a vile serpent or poison, which sentiment I return cordially.’

Alf was planning to travel to the United States and stayed in Sale, ‘wretched place’, in order to save money. In 1897 aged 43, he returned to Melbourne and married Harriet Vincent Watson, a 21 year old teacher from Sale. They were married at St John’s Church in Footscray by Harriet’s father, George, a reverend in the Church of England.

Tisch was keen to leave Australia but he remained until 1903 when he and Harriet took ship to San Francisco. It was a terrible trip and Tisch was sick all the way due to the rough seas. The couple lived in O Farrell Street near several theatres including the Orpheum.

Alf maintained a precarious existence as a scenic designer in the United States for the rest of his life. In 1909 he wrote about working in the US, saying it was ‘good enough for those acquainted with managers’, but difficult for him because he was accustomed to being an independent contractor and ‘one feels the bossing’ when working for another.

He was still bitter about Dampier and when he heard of his old managers death he focused on debt rather than grief, saying ‘ now the chances to recover some of my poor earnings are gone forever.’

Tischbauer died in the United States around 1922 and his wife Harriet returned to Australia that year. She died in Australia in 1925. Many of Tish’s paintings are still extant and his painting of George Street is kept by the NSW State Library, the Art Gallery of NSW also has some of his work. Tischbauer remains a little known but talented contributor to theatrical entertainment in Australia in the late 19th Century.

Maesmore Morris


Maesmore Morris

The beautiful dramatic actress, Gertrude Maesmore Morris, overcame violent domestic abuse to become a successful international star.

Gertrude was born in England in March 1872, to Hannah Elliot and Dr John Willmot. In 1882, aged 10, she came to Australia with her father and they settled in Melbourne Victoria.

Ten years later, Gertrude had grown into a beautiful young woman and at 20 made a very good match. She married a prosperous gentleman some years her senior, Mr Maesmore Morris, an accountant and son of a wealthy iron merchant, John Morris.

The marriage was quite successful for about two years, and Gertrude had a son, Colin. However, after his birth, Maesmore started to drink and with drunkenness  came violence. This increased after he suffered a major professional setback . In 1896 he was publically accused of misusing the funds of an estate of which he was the trustee. The case came to court and was reported in the papers, for such a prominent man it was a shameful scandal, it accelerated his abuse of alcohol, and his lost his job.

The family had no means of support, and Gertrude suggested that she take to the stage. Maesmore interviewed theatrical manager J C Williamson and gave his approval when Gertrude signed a contract with the famous entrepreneur.

Gertrude took the professional name, ‘Mrs Maesmore Morris’ a name she maintained throughout her career. She first appeared on stage at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne in 1897 taking a small part in a company lead by Julius Knight. Her husband waited for her after every performance for a few weeks and escorted her home.

However, he soon stopped meeting her and his alcoholism began to take a violent turn. One night when Gertrude was at her father’s house, a man called Richardson offered to escort her home. Believing that her husband was at the house Gertrude asked Richardson if he wanted refreshment. Maesmore was furious when he realized another man was present. He screamed at Gertrude, accusing her of infidelity and struck her viciously across the face, drawing blood.

The violence escalated quickly. One night Maesmore came home whilst Gertrude was sleeping, he flung her from the bed so violently that she struck her head against the baby’s cot. Her brother was summoned and took Gertrude from the house.

Soon afterwards, Maesmore sent Gertrude a letter, forbidding her return to the family home.

As these incidents occurred, Gertrude was performing and rehearsing for J C Williamson. She was appearing in plays such as the Two Little Vagabonds and the Prisoner of Zenda, which starred internationally famous actors Julius Knight and Mr Majeroni, divas, Miss Elliot Page and Miss Stella Esdaile were also in the cast.

One night during a performance of Two Little Vagabonds, Maesmore appeared in the stalls. When Gertrude entered the stage, he began screaming obscenities over the footlights. He created a major disturbance and was forcefully removed from the theatre.

The harassment continued whilst she continued to play, and she must have been terrified, particularly when he began waiting for her outside the stage door. One night the stage door manager told Gertrude that Maesmore had threatened to shoot her, and she had to find an alternative exit .

Divorce in 1897 was a complicated business which  favored the husband. Gertrude had to prove that her husband had been a drunkard for 3 years and left her without means of support. The scandal attached to such a petition and the problems it would cause her son in terms of his inheritance stopped Gertrude from divorce.

1897 was a horror year for Gertrude, and it was compounded when her father Dr Willmot died late in the year. However, showing strength of character and determination Gertrude continued her acting career.

Gertrude stayed with the Julius Knight Company for two years and appeared in plays such as a Royal Divorce, The Cough Drop and the Working Girl. She toured many states including New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland, and Western Australia and received good notices in all of the capital cities. She was highly praised for her beauty, which was always mentioned in reviews, but she had good dramatic skills which were more than adequate for the supporting roles she played.

In August 1899, Gertrude was offered a role as understudy in George Alexander’s London Company. Later that year she travelled to England to take up the role, using her stage name, Mrs Maesmore Morris.

She took letters of introduction from J C Williamson with her and they ensured continued work. She began with Alexander in small parts and as an understudy. One day the leading lady missed the train and Gertrude was introduced as the new American actress by the manager. The mistake was corrected the next day by Alexander contacting the newspapers to ensure they correctly described her as Australian.

She continued working steadily and gained notice for her beauty. She worked for famous managers such as Anthony Hope, Arthur Bouchier and Charles Wyndham and toured the provinces in supporting roles. She was so successful that she stayed for five years.

In 1904 she returned to Australia in a company headed by Nellie Stewart. In October, in Melbourne, she appeared with Nellie and Harcourt Beatty in “”Pretty Peggy” As she took the stage she was applauded warmly by the audience and the critics commented on her improved acting skills and her ever luminous beauty.

Gertrude continued to tour with the Nellie Stewart Company and in 1905 finally petitioned for divorce from Maesmore Morris. All the sordid details of her abuse was publicised in the newspapers and she was granted a divorce, not on the grounds of abuse, but on the grounds of desertion. Maesmore had moved to South Africa to pursue the family occupation of mining. She was also able to divorce because her  11 year old son’s inheritance was secure, his grandfather had died in 1902 and left him a substantial sum.

Gertrude had need of the divorce because she was planning to remarry. The lucky man was Lieutenant R M Suttor of the Naval Reserve and officer on the RMS Ophir. The pair was married in September 1906 and Gertrude gave up her career and stage name, Mrs Maesmore Morris, to retire to private life.

Her son Colin became a tea planter in Ceylon, and in the late 1920s he and his wife made a long visit to Australia which thrilled social circles.

Gertrude died in 1951 in London.

Florence Young


Florence Young- The Queen of Australian Comic Opera

Born Victoria Australia 1871 Died Australia November 11 1920

Florence Maud Young was the daughter of Henry Henrard Young and Elizabeth, (nee Tonkin). She was born in 1871 on the corner of Exhibition and Collins Streets Melbourne, and her father was a jeweller. She had several brothers and sisters including Gladys and Fred who followed her into the theatrical profession.

Florence was a solidly built young woman with deep brown eyes and dark hair. She grew up in the city as a respectable middle class girl. However, Florence had ambitions that did not fit with her father’s idea of respectability.

One day in 1890 whilst her father was away, Florence approached Mr Plumpton the conductor of the George Musgrove-Nellie Stewart company. She had seen the company’s production of ‘Paul Jones’ at least fourteen times and asked to try out.

She sang a song from the musical at the conductor’s home and Mr Plumpton recommended that she perform for Nellie Stewart at the theatre. Being an audacious young woman, the nineteen year old sang one of Nellie’s favorite songs to her. Miss Stewart was magnanimous and Florence was hired. Paul Jones was to remain one of her favorite pieces.

Florence’s first appearance was in July 1890 as ‘Beatrice’ in Boccaccio. She appeared for three weeks. Then the company moved to Sydney leaving Florence behind.

Florence was a direct and forthright woman and she was determined to be a singer. In November 1890 she approached Mr Bracey of the famous J C Williamson Comic Opera Company. The company was performing at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne.

One day whilst Florence was passing the theatre, she walked in and asked if there was any work. Luckily, Mr Garner, a JC Williamson manager, was inside and after hearing her sing, gave her the role of Casilda in the Gondeliers.

Thus began the career of one of Australia’s most beloved comic opera singers. From that November 1890, Florence, known at this stage of her career as ‘Florrie’ became a regular performer with the Royal Comic Opera Company.

The company was the cream of Australian musical comedy. It included well known actresses such as Flora Graupner, and featured the finest singing talent in the country. They were the JC Williamson elite. The company constantly toured the colony in various guises for at least twenty years. It launched the careers of George Lauri, Carrie Moore and many others who became household names in Australia and overseas.

The life of a member of the company was strenuous and hectic. It involved constant travelling in addition to continual rehearsal and study of new parts.

By 1892, Florence was being noticed for her roles with the company. In July, The Referee newspaper noted that “Miss Florence Young has a prepossessing appearance and improves upon acquaintance”. By September it was calling her “a charming Casilda” and noting that her duet with Mr Sydney Deane had to be repeated.

The 1895 Royal Comic Opera season in Sydney was typical of the company’s busy schedule. In the last sixteen nights of their stay in the city, they played four different musicals. These included ‘Mam’zelle Nitouche’, ‘An Arcadian Eve’, ‘Dorothy’ and’ Paul Jones’. Florence played a part in each production. It was a routine designed to produce artists of stamina and versatility.

Florence showed both traits when her performances in musicals were complemented by performances in pantomime. In 1896 she appeared in tights as the prince in ‘Djin Djin’.Flora Graupner was the diva of the Royal Comic Opera Company, but Florence Young was quickly catching up to her in popularity.

By 1897 Florrie was well known in the Australian theatrical world. She was a popular and critical success in both Melbourne and Sydney and was also recognised as one of Australia’s pre-eminent singers. In March that year she played in ‘Matsa’ the JC Williamson pantomime in Sydney. Joined by George Lauri, Florrie was a hit.

She was travelling to London after the close of the show and it was a measure of her popularity with audience and cast that a benefit night was arranged for her.

Before ‘Matsa’s’ run in Sydney, Florrie had taken another major step in her life, she had married. The groom was Mr Robert Rivington, a man of independent means. The two married in Melbourne early in 1897.

After her marriage Florrie intended to settle into private life and she travelled to England. However her old friends, George Musgrove and Nellie Stewart lured her back to the stage to appear in the JC Williamson London venture, The Scarlet Feather. The show was produced at the Shaftesbury Theatre in December 1897. It was enthusiastically received on the first night and Florrie gained good reviews from the critics.

Unfortunately, The Scarlet Feather did not enjoy a long run. Yet Florence Young had regained her theatrical ambition and continued to perform overseas. In 1898 she travelled to South Africa with Lockwood and Levelley and appeared in Capetown, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. One of her major roles in South Africa was as the doll in the musical La Poupee.

Florence then returned to England, where she played in pantomime and musical comedy. She played the principal boy in Dick Whittington and had success as the gypsy in Falka.

George Edwardes, the famous English theatrical producer, told Florence that she had arrived in England at the wrong time. There were no good roles for her type of voice. However, he urged her to persist, as these roles would eventually return to favour.

Yet Florence, at the urging of Sydney impresario, Mark Foy, made her way to Paris. There she began voice training with Melba’s teacher, Madame Marchesi. According to Florence , Marchesi thought that her voice was suitable for grand opera. Florence studied in Paris for almost a year. Her studies were paid by an allowance of three pounds one shilling a month from her father in law, Mr Rivington.

Florence’s voice was characterised by strong and clear enunciation. Florence maintained it by incessant practice and a great deal of care and every morning she sang scales. That way she knew the state of her voice for the whole day. In her early career she was often reckless with her ‘instrument’ and sang despite ill health.

After ten months with Marchesi, Florence, running out of funds, returned to Australia. She was immediately welcomed back by JC Williamson and the Royal Comic Opera Company. Florrie Young did not reappear in print. Instead she was replaced by Miss Florence Young, Australia’s queen of the comic opera stage.

The Florence Young that returned to Australia in 1901 was a lady of vitality and charisma. Her openness and honesty were much admired traits. Newspaper reports described Florence’s ‘unaffected cheeriness’, ‘good nature’ and optimistic outlook. They described her as ‘incapable of pettiness of mind’ and as having a direct, manner. She was a bustling, blunt, good-natured woman who was popular with press and public.

The gallery boys and girls called her ‘Flo’ and she was one of their favorites. The ‘gallery girl first nighters’ were big fans of Flo and she regretted that ‘the demands of my time do not permit of me talking to them as much as I would like.’ Perhaps it was her ability to reach the gallery with her clear voice that made her popular with the gods. Regardless she had a big following and she appreciated the kindness of her fans.

Florence was not a social woman because she was devoted heart and soul to the theatre. In her mind it was impossible to balance an active social life with an active theatrical career. She needed to save her voice for the theatre rather than waste it in idle chit chat.

Unlike many of her contemporaries she was not superstitious. Green was often thought to be an unlucky colour amongst theatrical types. Florence often wore green on stage as if daring the fates. She declared openly, that’ I have no superstitions.’

This was the character that reappeared in Australia in 1901 to star in the comic opera production of San Toy. Except for a brief break in 1905, Florence would spend the rest of her life working for J C Williamson. She was once again on the incessant working schedule of the Comic Opera Company.

In 1905 she travelled to New York, whilst there she saw several American plays that were not to her taste. Immediately upon her return she was playing the lead role of Winnie in The Girl from Kays.

1906 was another typically busy year for Florence. She played in Veronique in February in Sydney and her ‘excellent vocalisation’ was a highlight of the disappointing production. In 1907 she appeared in the pantomime, Mother Goose playing the principal boy. In July that year she played a leading role in The Spring Chicken and in August she played in Dorothy. In the revival of Dorothy, she was said to ‘have never done better’. She also appeared in ‘La Mascotte in Sydney that year.

During the run of these productions, Florence was sent a menacing letter. It was a list of nine prayers with a threat that if she did not copy one daily and send it to a friend, something dreadful would happen to her. Florence refused to do so. Unfortunately many of her fellow players were more superstitious, and every day she appeared in the theatre they asked if she had said her prayers and anxiously waited to see if some disaster would befall her.Florence refused to be intimidated and the nine days passed without incident.

In 1908 Florence continued her hectic schedule. She appeared in that year’s most popular musical, The Merry Widow which starred the returning Carrie Moore as the widow. Whilst Carrie was applauded for her strong starring role, The Referee said that ‘Miss Young musically was the success of the piece.’ Her duets with Reginald Roberts were singled out for praise and The Merry Widow had a long run in both Sydney and Melbourne.

Another major appearance that year was in ‘The Lady Dandies,’ a Royal Comic Opera production. It starred Florence, Fanny Dango, Claude Bantock and Edmund Sherras .One song, ‘A Woman’s Way’ was written especially for Florence by Charles Keningham. Her fame was such that it was a privilege to compose for her.

1909 was another frantic year for Australia’s queen of comic opera. In February, Florence appeared in the Duchess of Dantzic in Sydney. In early March she played in The Dairymaids and was praised for her ‘charming singing of ‘A Wild Rose’. It was a mere two months after the passing of George Lauri who had been a much loved member of the company and it was a mark of the company’s professionalism that they could continue to perform so successfully despite the tragedy. Within a week of "The Dairymaids’ the company produced ‘Havana’.

The quick rotation of three musicals in two months was indicative of the fast paced production style of the Royal Comic Opera Company. It was a style that had not changed since the 1890s. In a 1907 interview, Florence dispelled the notion that the life of the company’s members was glamorous, telling interviewers that members of the company could easily collapse with the strain of rehearsing one play whilst performing another for months at a time.

Often members of the company could not take the strain. George Lauri’s fragile health cracked partly due to this pace. In 1908 during the run of The Dairymaids, Fanny Dango was replaced by Ivy Scott. The reason given was ‘the former lady being too fatigued to appear on account of arduous rehearsals of ‘The Lady Dandies."

In general the Royal Comic Opera Company had a high turnover rate. It was a prestigious company, yet one which required absolute dedication and hard work. Florence’s longevity was a testament to the lady’s talent and her stamina.

By 1909, Florence had many personal connections to the J C Williamson company These may have contributed to her long association with the firm. Her sister Amelia was married to JC Williamson director George Tallis. Sister Gladys was appearing with the Royal Comics and her brother Fred was acting as stage manager for them.. Fred’s son was working on the theatrical staff of Her Majesty’s Melbourne and Mr George Young and his wife Miss Erickson were working for another JC Williamson production. The Melbourne family of a jeweller had become established members of the theatrical community.

Florence’s career continued into the next decade. In 1910 she appeared in The Orchid. According to The Referee, ‘Miss Florence Young had the most cordial reception of the night."

1912 was an important year for Florence as in that year she obtained a friendly divorce from Robert Rivington. Flo was appearing in "The Girl on the Train,’ when served with the petition in Melbourne.

The couple had been separated for several years. According to the petition, Florence had left her husband’s home in St Kilda to stay at the Grand Hotel in Melbourne, after a few years of co habitation. She told him that she wanted to be close to the theatre for rehearsals. Five years later, upon being asked to return, Florence told her husband bluntly, that she was wedded to the stage. The divorce was an amiable one and Florence did not contest the charge of desertion.

Whilst she may have stayed at the Grand Hotel in Melbourne, Florence had another home in Sydney. Called St Malo, it was located at Darling Point. It had a wonderful view of the harbour and was so close that the actress could hear music on the ferries as they sailed past her balcony. She had a maid and a vegetable garden and took some pride in her green peas.

By this time Florence had become more relaxed about her performances. Where once she would have performed despite ill health, she was now being careful about her voice and refused to sing when her voice was not perfect.

At this stage Florence was interested in leisurely pursuits, stating that her favorite pastime was fishing. She admitted that she did not read a lot and preferred light fiction to serious work. Her favorite roles were those where she played a girl pretending to be boy such as in Paul Jones. That play seemed to be forever in her mind. By this time Theatre Magazine was calling her a ‘veritable queen’ adding that "Australia has never fully realised what a fine artiste and rare voice it possesses in Miss Young."

Although Florence appeared to be satisfied and enjoying her fame,she did not reduce her schedule. In 1914 she formed her own company to perform The Climax which was a dramatic role. Her training with the Royal Comic Opera Company had ensured her versatility. She rejoined the company in 1915 and appeared in one of her favorite roles, Paul Jones.

In 1916 she appeared in ‘Gypsy Love’ with the company. Upon arrival in Melbourne for the production she received a gracious gift from a group of gallery girls who were waiting for her at the station with a beautiful bunch of flowers. Attached to the gift was a card. "To Florence-Young as ever! Welcome back." It was a delightful reminder of Flo’s never ceasing public appeal and a tribute to her personal charm.

Florence continued the hectic working pace up to 1920. She was planning retirement in that year. She told Theatre Magazine that she would retire in November that year after thirty years of stage life, twenty five of those with J C Williamson.

Florence did not know how many parts she had played for Williamson but estimated that in one year she had played thirty four different roles. She was forty nine years old in 1920 and the stress of performance was beginning to tell.

Florence passed away on November 11th 1920. She had attained thirty years of stage life as she had desired. According to her death certificate she died of a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by exhaustion. There is some suggestion that a car accident, weeks before, contributed to her passing.

Her death was mourned by the whole country. Naturally those in the theatrical profession were most affected. Florence died with the sound of applause in her ears, it was the life she had wanted and she lived it to the full. Theatre Magazine summed it up aptly with a simple sentence

‘It can truthfully be said that in Miss Young, Australia has lost one of the finest , most magnetic musical comedy actresses the world has ever seen ‘

George Lauri


George Lauri- The Tragic Comedian

Born England c1861 Died Sydney, Australia-January 5 1909

George Lauri was one of Australia’s most popular and prolific comedians whose specialty was musical comedy. He was a nimble dancer and possessed a strong baritone voice. During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, Lauri played almost sixty roles and was applauded for all of them. However behind the laughing stage performer was a troubled man.

George John Lowe Lauri was born around 1861 in London and was the son of John Lowe Lauri. In later reports John was described as either a pantomimist or the ballet master of the Alhambra theatre in London. What is certain is that John was a theatrical and worked extensively in Europe and America. John changed the family name from Lowe to Lauri in order to stand out in the theatrical world.

George Lauri’s early life has not been fully documented. He apparently made his stage debut aged nine, playing a monkey in a production of King Carat in the United States. George travelled extensively through England and America in his early years and probably made several appearances. At one time his parents apprenticed him to an architect but the theatre was in his blood as during his years with the architect he used to sneak off in the evenings and play small parts in local theatre productions. He used an assumed name and developed skills that would later enthrall Australian audiences.

By the age of 21, George had left architecture and was working at the Britannia Theatre in Hoxton England. Whilst working there he met a lovely young soubrette named Marietta Nash. The two married in London in 1882 and around 1884 they had a son, George M Lauri.

Marietta and George appeared in a variety show called A Bunch of Keys which was quite successful. George also worked in the United States and reputedly appeared in Dorothy on Broadway with Marie Tempest. George played the role of Lurcher, the sheriff, a baritone part.

While appearing in the United States in the late 1880s George was approached by Australian theatre impresario JC Williamson. Williamson was looking for a replacement for William Elton, who was the comedian for the Royal Comic Opera Company in Australia. The company had a high reputation and specialised in Gilbert and Sullivan and other light operas. Williamson saw Lauri and invited him to Australia to take Elton’s place. George agreed and he, Marietta, and their young son made the journey to Australia to begin a legendary career.

George made his first appearance on Australian soil in December 1891 in The Merry Monarch at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. The cast included William Elton, Howard Vernon and Florence Young. George Lauri was thus immediately surrounded by the best comic opera talent in Australia. He was also listed as producer for The Merry Monarch which was possibly an indication of future ambitions.

During that summer in Melbourne, George also appeared for the Australian Dramatic and Musical Association which was formed for the relief of distress of dramatic and musical performers. George performed at a benefit for this organisation in January 1892.

In June 1892, George made his first appearance in Sydney, with the Royal Comic Opera Company in a three act opera called Marjorie. He was described as ‘a comedian with high credentials from England and America.’

After the conclusion of Marjorie the company staged The Gondoliers. This was the first real test of Lauri’s abilities. The part of the Duke of Plaza Toro was one that had belonged to William Elton. and George was again surrounded by high class talent including Florence Young and Howard Vernon.

It would have been simple for George to imitate Elton and not take the risk of a unique characterisation. He had, after all, worked with Elton early in the year, yet George decided to recreate the role in his own way.

By July 27th the newspapers were reporting that George was equally as successful as Elton and had won many friends in Sydney. Iolanthe and The Old Guard followed the Gondoliers and by September the Royal Comic Opera Company was taking the show to New Zealand.

The company continued to tour .They returned to Melbourne and Sydney the next year. In September 1893, they played The Mountebanks at the Lyceum Theatre in Sydney. The production starred Flora Graupner as Nita whilst George played Bartolo the clown. The pair sang a duet called "Put a Penny in the Slot."George was not only a capable singer but he proved a surprisingly good dancer.

In October George appeared in La Mascotte with Australia’s premier comic opera artist, Nellie Stewart. George’s role with the comic opera company followed a set pattern of appearances and tours of Australia and New Zealand for several years.

In August 1897, Williamson presented the Gay Parisienne in which George starred as the parson, Ebenezer Honeycomb. Honeycomb was a married man who got involved with a Parisienne whilst on holiday. The girl follows him home to England, where he fakes his own death to avoid a breach of promise suit. He then proceeds to have a wonderful time at a resort, posing as a Scotsman. His wife, daughter, the Parisienne and her lover come to the resort and chaos ensues.. This was not a Royal Comic Opera production and starred several imported faces. George’s duet with Ada Willoughby, ‘First and Third class’ was encored twice. His was the strongest voice in a company that included Ada, Alice Leamar, Pat Bathurst and George De Lara.

After this Williamson production, George left them temporarily. He joined with Harry Rickards, the Tivoli circuit owner,and presented A Bunch of Keys. This was the same production which he and Marietta had staged in London. The new company was called ‘The Harry Rickards Comedy Company and A Bunch of Keys was ‘produced under the directorship of Mr George Lauri.’

The show was not well received by critics, primarily due to its content rather than the cast. Like many shows of the time, the plot was negligible and an excuse to present a series of variety turns. The cast included Lottie Moore, and featured the debut of Willie Freear, an English comedian.

Marietta Nash, Mrs George Lauri, featured as a wildflower, ‘and a very pretty one too’ and she and George sang a duet, "Top Floor Flat" which was ‘rapturously redemanded’ by an enthusiastic audience. Although the critics were luke warm, the show had a good run of six weeks. It was followed by Dreams or Binks the Photographer directed by George Lauri and starring the same cast.

That December, George made a rare foray into pantomime. The Harry Rickards Comedy Company staged Jack the Giant Killer. It was Rickards’ first pantomime in Australia and was staged at the Theatre Royal in Sydney. George’s performance as the old maid was regarded as ‘highly amusing’ and the production was notable for the ‘Tiller Troupe of Dancers’. ‘They danced with the greatest vivacity and devil but without the slightest degree of vulgarity.’ The lack of vulgarity was a sign of Rickards’ early attempts to gentrify variety entertainment.

By 1898, George had abandoned his brief flirtation with production and was back working for JC Williamson. He rejoined the Royal Comic Opera Company for a Gilbert and Sullivan season that year. The Company included Carrie Moore, Howard Vernon and Dorothy Vane and the  season in Sydney included The Gondoliers with George playing The Duke of Plaza Toro. This was later considered one of his signature roles. George’s characterisation was notable for its ‘high bred, stately pomposity’. The Gondoliers was followed by Yeoman of the Guard.

One of Lauri’s favorite roles was Jack Point in Yeoman of the Guard. The character was one that suffered a sad fate. Disappointed in love, at the end of the opera he falls senseless at the feet of a happy couple. It was a role that allowed George to show a darker aspect to his acting. According to the Referee, ‘the pathos of Jack Point, the jester in The Yeoman of the Guard revealed another and deeper aspect of his art.’

1899 saw George create two roles, one of which was regarded as his best work. In February he appeared in the first Sydney production of The Geisha which co starred Florence Perry and Howard Vernon. George’s performance garnered rave reviews.

At the end of that year, George created the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham in the first Australian production of Robin Hood. It was a Royal Comic Opera Company production which included Carrie Moore and starred Charles Kenningham as Robin.

The next year, George recreated another of his famous roles, Polydore Poupart in The Old Guard. The production was staged at Her Majesty’s in Sydney and The Referee was enthusiastic saying that ‘there was not a dull moment when he was on’.

At the turn of the 20th century George Lauri had been working constantly on the Australian stage for almost nine years. He had created several comic characters for Australian audience and had played comedic parts in Gilbert and Sullivan, the dame in pantomime and played numerous other roles in musical comedy. He had also branched into production and direction. By 1901 George Lauri was a legend to Australian theatre audiences and a fixture with the Royal Comic Opera Company. He had a steady job in an unstable industry, a loving wife and a healthy son. George Lauri was an Australian success story.

George Lauri Part 2

In the early 1900s, comedian George Lauri was one of the most popular performers on the Australian stage. George was a reliable and respected member of the Australian theatrical profession and in all of his nine years in Australia, he had never missed a booking.After his death, the referee newspaper published part of an interview with George and in it, he discussed the profession of comedian. George said that ‘I hate it, I’d rather be a blacksmith than the stage funny man’ adding that he hated ‘my sham merriment when I don’t feel like it’. He added that he did not enjoy comedy and had ‘suffered for years.’

 Like many comedians there was a dark side to George’s character. Perhaps it was the side that created the ‘ pathos’ of Jack Point which he later stated was his favorite part.

He worked continuously with the Royal Comic Opera Company in the early 1900s. In 1905 he appeared in The Orchid at Her Majesty’s in Sydney. It was a gorgeously staged musical extravaganza that played to standing room only audiences. It ran for over six weeks and was replaced by The Cingalee. At Christmas 1905, George starred in The Girl from Keys.

The next year he performed in Veronique a comic opera with music by Audre Messager. The show starred Florence Young, Margaret Thomas, WS Percy and Haigh Jackson but it  was not reviewed favourably by critics yet was well patronised by audiences. It featured gorgeous sets designed to recreate rural France.

In the middle of 1906 George began to complain of overwork. This was an unusual complaint from a man who was continually performing in one show after another and had been doing so for over ten years. Despite his complaints, when it was suggested that he take a holiday, George refused. He continued his hectic schedule with the Royal Comic Opera Company.

1907 was a crucial year for George and his friends began to notice ‘a profound abstraction and melancholy.’ He would shake it off but it continually returned. Many saw this as the beginning of ‘softening of the brain.’ Despite the concern of his family and friends, George continued working. In January he played in ‘A Country Girl’ and fulfilled a season of engagements at the Opera House in Sydney.

It was later that year, whilst performing in New Zealand that JC Williamson became concerned about George’s health. Williamson was visiting the Royal Comic Opera Company and became alarmed at George’s condition. The Guv’nor ordered the comedian to take some time off.

Yet by July, George was back on stage when he appeared in Sydney in a piece called Spring Chicken. That month Theatre Magazine featured a large picture of George. It also included a small and unusual paragraph about him saying that ‘he has occupied a big space in the heart of the play going public.’

This notice may have been prompted by George’s recent illness. It was a statement of support for the comedian. Perhaps his concerned employer, JC Williamson, had some influence over the piece. It was a timely tribute to the man who had garnered the respect and admiration of Sydney’s theatrical community.

In November 1907 George appeared in Melbourne in The Girls of Gottenburg. It was to be his final performance in that city. In January, the musical was played in Sydney, and he received good reviews from the newspapers.

The show co starred Fanny Dango, WS Percy and Reginald Roberts. In February 1908 the same cast performed in ‘The Dairymaids’. George played an ‘amusing’ sailor man. The Referee described his performance as ‘subdued’ and contrasted it with his usual effervescent characterisations.

It was apparent by this time that George was in need of some prolonged rest. His performance in The Dairymaids may have been an indication that he was once again suffering from depression. Unfortunately he was finding it increasingly difficult to hide his condition.

On April 23rd 1908 the theatrical establishment of Sydney came out in force to honour George Lauri in a benefit. The show was held at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney. All of the performers, the orchestra, the stage and auditorium staff worked for free. This was an indication of their high regard for George. The theatre was packed for the performance and hundreds of people were turned away at the doors. It was obvious that the general public shared the feelings of the theatrical community.

George appeared at the benefit as Lurcher in the second act of Dorothy. At the end of the benefit he was visibly overwhelmed. He managed a few words of thanks, but was too emotional to make a longer speech.. After the benefit many people believed that George would not appear again on an Australian stage.

George and Marietta planned to take a six month holiday. Their son, George Junior, was in his early 20s and was engaged as a mining engineer in Kalgoorlie. Presumably using some of the money raised from the benefit, Marietta and George travelled. They visited Colombo and New York.

At Christmas 1908 they returned to Sydney. They stayed at a small private hotel called La Corniche at Bayview, on the Northern Beaches. La Corniche overlooked the sea and the couple stayed there for several weeks. George was under the care of a doctor and Marietta was a devoted nurse. In January 1909, George seemed to be more cheerful and Marietta was probably hopeful that this indicated a return to good health.

On the morning of January 5th 1909, George was sitting on the verandah overlooking the sea, whilst Marietta was inside the house. Around 11.45 am Marietta heard a cry from outside, running out she saw George with his throat cut, a bloody razor on the ground beside him. George mumbled,’ I have done it, I am tired of life.

A doctor was hastily summoned, but it was fruitless. George had severed his jugular vein. Fifteen minutes later, forty eight year old George Lauri was gone.

Obituaries ran in the major papers of Sydney and Melbourne. The Argus in Melbourne described him as ‘one of the most popular comedians who has ever appeared in Australia' The tone of the obituaries hinted that his death was not unexpected.

George was buried at South Head cemetery in a Church of England Ceremony. His wife appeared on stage irregularly thereafter. In 1937 Mariette Lauri died in Randwick, Sydney.

George Lauri graced the Australian stage for over sixteen years. He was a much beloved figure on stage and off. He was a skillful performer, a generous man and one who inspired devotion in others. There was no treatment for depression at the time of George’s death. His disease was diagnosed by an ignorant medical profession as ‘softening of the brain.’ The fact that he battled the illness and created laughter and goodwill in so many people was a tribute to the will, generosity and courage of the man.

Celia Ghiloni


The Western Australian Soprano- Celia Ghiloni

Born Victoria 1879 Died Perth 1955

Celia Ghiloni was a star for J C Williamson for over a decade. She was born in Victoria in 1879, the daughter of an Italian immigrant from Tuscany, Rafallo Ghiloni and his Australian born wife Isabelle. Celia was born Rosabelle Ethel Celia Ghiloni but was known throughout her life as Celia.

She grew up in Western Australia and as a girl was a singing student of Herr Dvorak. When she was 16 she began singing in public at recitals around Fremantle and Perth and one of her early appearances was at the Western Australian Agricultural show.

She continued performing as an amateur until 1898 when she started a regular concert series at the Fremantle Town Hall on Sundays. Celia was soon the manager of a small group of performers who regularly appeared at the Town Hall and she quickly gained a reputation as a singer in the area.

Soon she was making odd appearances in professional companies in Perth. Then she did a short tour of Australia with a company called the Elite Vaudeville Company.

Also in 1898, Celia married. Her husband was Barnett Breslau who was a tailor’s cutter from Western Australia. Barnett was not thrilled with Celia’s profession, but he was happy to move with her to Melbourne when J C Williamson offered her a contract.

She was working in vaudeville at the Cremorne Theatre in Perth when Wiliamson recruited her. Soon she was performing for his number 2 company and touring Australia. Williamson capitalized on her local renown by having her play prominent supporting roles when the company toured Western Australia. For example, in 1901 she performed in Florodora at the Cremorne Theatre and was well received by a local crowd. Later that year she was in Adelaide with the company.

By 1902 Celia had joined Williamson’s premier company, the Royal Comic Opera Company. As a member of this elite group Celia toured Australia and New Zealand incessantly, performing in musical comedies and operas such as The Runaway Girl, Robin Hood and Gilbert and Sullivan productions. Celia had a wonderful soprano voice and was well trained, but she was always a supporting player to the Williamson divas such as Florence Young who was the most popular performer in the country. However, Celia was happy and loved theatrical life, she coped well with the frantic schedule that often stressed other performers and thrived on the demands placed upon her.

However, her home life was not as happy. Her husband, Barnett, lived at Albert Park in Melbourne during her early touring years and he rarely saw his wife due to her hectic schedule. This led to arguments between the couple when he begged her to leave the stage to spend more time at home.  In 1903 he moved to Sydney to be closer to his wife but after a few months of cohabitation marked by further arguments, she left for Melbourne with the company. Around this time she wrote a letter to him saying, ‘Apart from our incompatibility of temper, my professional demands quite preclude the idea of my living with you again.’It was clear that Celia was committed to the stage to the detriment of her marriage.

Perhaps her most important achievement with Williamson was her participation in a Gilbert and Sullivan season in 1905-1906. This season included such stars as Howard Vernon, Charles Kenningham and Vinia De Liotte. Gilbert and Sullivan suited Celia’s talents perfectly and she was praised by critics and loved by audiences in roles such as Iolanthe and Ruth in Pirates of Penzance. So popular was she in this season that Williamson renewed her contract in 1905 so she could continue in the Gilbert and Sullivan roles.

By 1908 Celia had been working for Williamson continuously for six years and had reached the pinnacle of her profession. That year she joined a Hugh Ward company to perform in London.  She was so popular with her peers that before she left she was presented with a memento and a farewell tea was organized in her honour.

Whilst she was in London, her husband finally sued for divorce. He cited her constant travelling and was granted a decree nisi based on desertion. Celia was finally free to persue her theatrical career.

But she was not free for long. She stayed in London for short season and the company stopped in India on the way home. Whilst there she remarried a man named Rowan McPherson. He was a military man who had fought with Baden Powell. He was also described as an adventurer and it was perhaps his adventurous spirit which appealed to Celia. He returned with her to Australia.

Marriage did not prevent her from continuing her theatrical career and she commenced a long tour with the Hugh Ward company. This lasted for about a year and then she returned to the firm.By 1911 she was under contract to Williamson after a three year break. However she was confined to roles which suited her now plump figure. She had always been described as ‘voluputous’ or imposing, but changing fashions now favoured a skinnier frame and her weight was posing a significant handicap to her career.

She could not fit into modern dress and this caused distress especially the problem of typecasting. She wrote to Williamson protesting her lot and quoted Gilbert and Sullivan.

“ As I have not renounced mankind and don’t intend to renounce mankind I won’t have it, so there.’ Williamson responded in kind quoting Patience.“The coming by and by has visited you early in life and you must have it, so there.’Celia soon grew philosophical about her fate, at least publically,“When my corsetiere says I am a little too plump for the present modes I answer that I am paid for being plump.”

However her weight remained an issue and in 1913 she took steps to control it. She started a diet which omitted all her favorite foods. She was so popular with the company that many of her fellow performers joined her in dieting with the result that the newspapers reported ‘a marked falling off in the principals.’

Celia remained with Williamson for most of the war years. She was supporting a new generation of stars such as Dorothy Brunton, Jack Cannot and later Gladys Moncrieff. She performed in drama with Julius Knight, musical comedy and light opera and participated in patriotic displays being a very imposing Britannia in one tableau.

In 1916 her husband enlisted and went to the front, Celia continued performing and in 1918 broke with Williamson to sign with vaudeville entrepreneur Hugh McIntosh. She began performing in Tivoli revues that year and was a popular addition to the circuit.

Around this time she also became publically supportive of the actors union, possibly because of her association with Jack Cannot who was an active unionist. In 1917 she was elected as a councilor for the actors association and in 1919 she signed an application for Commonwealth registration of the union. Ceilia was devoted to her profession both on and off stage.

After the war her husband wrote saying it was impossible for him to live with her again. In 1920 she divorced him and was once again a free woman.

Her career was slowing down and it seemed she was preparing to give up the stage. Her single life was short and later in 1920 she married for the third time. The groom was Alfred James Mellor and the couple moved to Perth, Celia’s home town.

She spent the rest of her life there as a devoted wife travelling overseas on occasion and supporting her husband’s endeavours. Alfred died in 1950 and in 1955 Celia followed him.

Celia was one of the most famous Edwardian actresses to originate in Western Australia and she had an incredible career which encompassed musical comedy, drama, light opera and vaudeville. A talented, loyal and adventurous woman her smile still glows with warmth in faded postcards of her theatrical triumphs.

William Anderson



In the early 20th century, most Australian theatrical entrepreneurs were foreign born. There was one exception, William Anderson. For over thirty years Anderson dominated Australian melodrama and actively supported native writers, actors and producers.

 William Anderson was born in Bendigo on January 14th 1868. He began working as a young boy to support his family and his first job was as a bill poster for the local Princess Theatre. He was a charismatic youngster who quickly became popular with the lessees of the theatre, so much so that they allowed him to book all their shows.


Through his work as a booker, Anderson met English actor/manager Charles Holloway. By 1895 he had become Holloway's business manager. However, it was more than business that attracted him to Holloway's company. Its leading lady, Eugenie Duggan was a talented, attractive and increasingly popular young actress. In 1898, she became Mrs William Anderson and thus began one of Australia’s most popular melodramatic companies, the William Anderson Company.


It was a family affair that featured Eugenie, her brother Edmund and a host of Australian actors. It was one of the few companies that did not rely on overseas talent as a draw. Anderson believed in Australian drama and also supported local writers and set designers, an unusual action for the time. His plays featured realistic sets, Australian themes and Australian accents. Typical of his melodramas was Thunderbolt, a play about the notorious bushranger, Frank Ward. The scenery consisted of gum trees, koalas and an authentic Cobb and Co coach driven on stage. 


Anderson was a man of grand ambitions and grandiose plans. By 1905 his company was one of the most popular in Australia but William wanted more than a company, he wanted an empire. By the end of that year he was presenting several different productions across Australia and New Zealand. They included Sinbad the Sailor at the Theatre Royal in Sydney, a season of melodrama at The Royal in Hobart, another series of melodrama featuring George Darrell and a tour of New Zealand by Czerny a magician.


  Anderson was a gambler who owned several racehorses.  According to his long time friend  Jack Ricketts ' he was modest in his successes and a sport in his losses'. William’s business decisions combined a gambler’s recklessness with gambler’s luck.


In 1906 he paid 3650 pounds for land at Bondi in Sydney to build Wonderland City, an open air amusement park.  The park included a circus, flying machines, aquarium, a maze, a Merry Go Round skating rink and a miniature railway. There was also a vaudeville act and several novelty features, including Alice the elephant. It was designed as a pleasure palace and beautifully situated next to the sea. By the time it opened in 1907, Anderson had spent 15000 pounds on this folly.


His ambitions were endless, in 1907 he hired architect William Pitt to build a grand theatre on Russell Street in Melbourne. The theatre was called the Kings Theatre and Anderson paid a 1000 pound deposit and committed to a 7 year lease of the building at a grand rate of 4420 pounds per annum. These were enormous sums for the time.


Yet his grandiosity did not stop there. In addition to his playground and theatre, in 1906, Anderson toured Wonderland Circus across Queensland. The endless delays and logistical nightmare of transporting a circus which featured exotic animals cost a fortune. But William persisted despite the obvious difficulties.


The Kings Theatre in Melbourne was speedily finished and opened in 1908 with Man to Man .The first season featured a series of bush dramas written by Albert Edmunds ( Edmund Duggan and Bert Bailey). Edmund was Eugenie's brother and Bert was a long time member of Anderson's company. Their plays had realistic settings and in one case included shearing a sheep on stage.


In 1909 Anderson was featured in The Referee newspaper as one of the preeminent theatrical managers in the country. His picture stood side by side with JC Williamson, Harry Rickards and James Brennan, a situation which proved his importance to the Australian theatrical industry.


However by 1910, it was clear that Anderson had been too ambitious. The Sydney manager of Wonderland City was being hounded by creditors and desperately asking his boss for funds. Anderson, ensconced at the Kings Theatre studiously avoided the pleas and his secretary was responding to letters with


' So far I cannot get the boss to fix up these outstanding accounts of Sydney. The boss is only here a few minutes every day.’


He was probably spending a great deal of time at the famous Melbourne races.


By 1911 a combination of bad debts and local opposition to the park forced Wonderland City to close. For months afterwards, Jack Ricketts, the manager, dodged and weaved his way through bills and demands with little help from his boss who had many other problems on his mind. 


Anderson was in severe financial difficulty and never recovered his former glory. In 1912 he sub leased the Kings Theatre to Duggan and Bailey who had a magnificent success with their version of Steele Rudd's On Our Selection. This was another wholly Australian production which would never have been produced without Anderson's financial and logistical support. The play became a staple of Australian theatre for decades.


Anderson continued in theatrical production; however he never reproduced his former successes. He settled for a time in Adelaide, and often staged an annual pantomime. However it was clear by World War 1 that the public had outgrown his traditional melodramatic fare.


In the 1920s he and Eugenie moved to Melbourne, and the couple separated later in the decade. She died in 1936 and William died shortly afterwards in 1940.


William Anderson was a proud and extravagant Australian entrepreneur who embodied the reckless abandon and creativity of his time. He was a man who thought that Australian product was as good as or better than foreign productions and backed his theory with practical support of Australian actors, writers and artisans. In many ways he was the forefather of the native theatrical movement.

Theatre Royal Sydney


The first Theatre Royal in Sydney was built by Barnett Levey. Levey was the brother of a convict and thought that the citizens of Sydney deserved their own entertainment venue. It was located where Dymocks bookshop now stands at 428 George Street.

It was 1827 and Sydney was primarily a town of convicts, emancipists, soldiers, and some free settlers. Governor Darling, a conservative man was in charge of the colony. Darling did not approve of theatricals and after Levey built his theatre, refused permission for performances.

Levey had built the theatre behind his hotel, the Royal Hotel, and in order to circumvent the prohibition presented concerts and one man acts in the space.

Darling left Sydney in 1831 and a new Governor, Bourke, took his place. Bourke was more lenient than his predecessor and gave permission for theatre performances. In 1832 Levey hired several actors and the first officially sanctioned professional plays took place in Sydney.

Levey, by all accounts was somewhat of a drunkard and a terrible organiser. It was inevitable that the demands of theatre management were beyond him. He leased the theatre to a consortium headed by a man named Wyatt. Wyatt ran the theatre until 1837 when his lease expired. Wyatt was however still interested in management and built a new theatre in Pitt Street Sydney. Most of the actors from the Royal moved there. The new theatre, called the Royal Victoria, opened in 1838. It was here that George Coppin, the ‘father of Australian theatre’ first appeared in Australia.

Barnett Levey died in 1837 in mysterious circumstances and his theatre, the Royal, burnt to the ground in 1840. The name ‘Theatre Royal’ fell into disuse for some decades after 1840. It wasn’t until 1875 that the name was once again used in Sydney

Wyatt ran the Royal Victoria for many years. In 1855 he had to sell, He opened a new theatre on unfashionable Castlereagh Street. It was called the Prince of Wales and located on the site of the current Theatre Royal.

At the Prince of Wales, Wyatt attempted to produce Opera to compete with the more profitable Royal Victoria. Disaster struck in 1860 when Wyatt’s theatre was burnt to the ground. A common occurrence for theatres at that time. Their wooden structure and reliance on candlelight made them prime candidates for such disasters.


By 1861 the theatre had been rebuilt and rechristened. It was now the Prince of Wales Opera House and leased to William Saurin Lyster. Lyster is generally held to be responsible for the first quality opera productions in Australia.

Just over ten years later fire again struck the theatre and the Prince of Wales was no more. A new theatre was built and given the name Theatre Royal. A theatre of that name has stood on that spot in Sydney ever since.

The first night of the Royal was December 11th 1875. It opened under the management of Samuel Lazer. It had red velvet chairs and was decorated in white, gold, and grey with a large glass chandelier as a centrepiece.

In this guise the theatre presented such famous names as Mrs Scott Siddons , George Rignold and the Soldene Opera company. The latter was well known for it’s beautiful and scantily clad girls. Perhaps the most significant event at this time was the arrival of the man who was to become one of Australia’s foremost theatrical entrepreneurs. James Cassius Williamson.

Williamson and his wife Maggie Moore, arrived in Sydney in 1874. They presented the play, Struck Oil. Both were American. Williamson had started his career in New York at Wallacks Theatre. He had subsequently moved to San Francisco where he had met Maggie. The two, like many before them decided to try their luck in Sydney. It was to be the start of a lifelong relationship between Williamson and the city.

In 1878, the Williamson and Moore pairing returned to Australia. Williamson had secured the rights to HMS Pinafore from Gilbert. This was the beginning of a profitable relationship for both men. In 1879 he produced the authorised HMS Pinafore at the Theatre Royal in Sydney.

Williamson’s vigorous defence of his rights and Gilbert and Sullivan’s rights, led to him being given the rights to all Gilbert and Sullivan productions in Australia. It was this stroke of good fortune which led to Williamson’s management career. He found that good and popular material such as Gilbert and Sullivan productions did not need the presence of himself or Maggie to attract audiences. This lead to him producing one show and performing in others at the same time.

In 1882 Williamson formed a partnership, known as the firm or the triumvirate, with two other men ,George Musgrove and Arthur Garner. Musgrove had the advantage of being in a relationship with the popular Australian musical comedy star, Nellie Stewart. The three men soon controlled the Theatre Royal in Melbourne, the Royal in Adelaide and the Theatre Royal in Sydney.

During the 1880s under the auspices of these three men several important international artists appeared in Australia. The firm believed strongly in using imported acts to attract local audiences. Amongst the acts in the 1880s were, American actress, Genevieve Ward, Irish actor/playwright Dion Boucicault, and Fred Leslie, English actor. Amongst the local artists was Johann Krause, Australian violinist. In 1885, the Royal also saw the first appearance of Mrs Armstrong, who was later better known, as Nellie Melba.

The depression of the 1890s effected the theatre industry just as it did other Australian industries. The firm however held a trump card. In 1891 the world’s most famous actress, Sarah Bernhardt performed at The Royal . Bernhardt performed in French. The audience followed the performance by using printed booklets in English. The reaction from the public was overwhelming.

By this time Musgrove and Williamson were having business differences and this eventually lead to the dissolution of the partnership between the two in 1901.

In the early 20th century, control of the Theatre Royal fluctuated between the two men. Musgrove presented Nellie Stewart in the very successful Sweet Nell of Ol Drury. Williamson on the other hand continued to present a variety of imported acts. For example in 1905 Williamson presented Scottish actor, Julius Knight, with Maud Jeffries in a season of plays. Maud , an American, eventually settled in Australia and retired from the stage.

Williamson was looking to reduce his responsibilities. He sold shares in the company to business manager George Tallis and Gustave Ramaciotti. Ramaciotti was the firms financial manager. In 1908, Ramaciotti bought the freehold title of the Theatre Royal in Sydney and it remained in his family’s hands until they sold it in 1970. Williamson had been offered the freehold but believed that management and ownership did not mix.

In 1911, Dame Nellie Melba played a season at the royal and was supported by young Irish Tenor John McCormack. In 1912 Australian born Oscar Asche and his wife Lily Brayton played. Later that year English born Hilda Spong graced the stage. Hilda liked Australia so much that she stayed for 14 years.

Williamson was ailing. He made his last Australian stage appearance at a benefit performance in Sydney in 1913. On 6th July that year he died in France. He was buried in his home country, the United States.

Williamson the man may have passed, but his legacy and name dominated the Australian legitimate theatre scene for decades afterwards