Theatre in Melbourne 1887

"On Saturday, Sunday and Monday it has rained with a persistency which gladdens the heart of the farmer, and brings language not loud but deep to the unfortunate who live in cities, and only judge rain by the mud it makes. All our reservoirs are full to overflowing, and we were looking forward to a cessation of the annual water famine; but we are now cherrfully told that, although there is more than sufficient water, there are no pipes to convey it to the city. We are a curious people, we are." (Scalfax October 11, 1887)

New Princess Theatre 1886

The New Princess Theatre, Melbourne, 1886


Monday December 20th, 1886


There was a crowded assemblage at the opening of the new Princess's Theatre on Saturday evening, every seat being occupied in all parts of the spacious building. The short space of only eight months has elapsed since the theatre was commenced from original designs furnished by Mr. George Gordan, who also supplied the artistic decorations, Mr. William Pitt being the architect. Both these gentlemen were called before the curtain during the course of the evening and were honored with a most attractive reception. One novel feature among the decorations is two handsome paintings on each side of the proscenium, which during the intervals are withdrawn, showing a picturesque arrangement of ferns and rockwork, a miniature cascade trickling down the latter with deliciously cool and refreshing effect. An important feature is that the stage can be seen perfectly from any part of the theatre, owing to the shape of the auditorium and the sloped arrangements of seats throughout the house giving those at the back as good a view as those in front. The place reserved for the orchestra is exactly what it should be, and may be considered a model for imitation; and the acoustic properties of the theatre are everything that could be desired. The enterprise and appreciation of artistic requirements shown by Messrs. Williamson, Garner and Musgrove in the erection of this uniquely beautiful theatre cannot be too highly praised. It is a revelation of artistic possibilities, of luxury and loveliness, in which everything is complete, even to the smallest detail, and forms a tout ensemble having hardly any equal in the world. It might be aptly termed, like the "stately pleasure dome" in Coleridge's Kubla Khan, "a miracle of rare device," such rich and varied imagination does it exhibit in design and such artistic skill in execution.


Melbourne now had five major theatres. The theatre-going public never had it so good. Each of these theatres were modern sophisticated halls of entertainment and throughout 1887 artists and companies would make the long journey to Australia from Europe and America. The Brough and Boucicault Company played the Opera House most of the year before transferring to the Bijou. They continued to mount the latest attractions from the London stage. 1887 was Jubilee year and the celebrations fell in mid June. Thousands of pounds were spent on the illuminations and the city hotels and theatres enjoyed great business. In July the Royal Comic Opera Company mounted the first production in Australia of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Princess Ida'. This proved very successful with Australian audiences and achieved a long run. Martin Simonsen's Royal Italian Opera Company played an unprecedented three seasons during the course of the year. More opera in 1887 than today! So click on a month and check what was happening in Melbourne theatres for the year 1887. All reviews are from 'Table Talk' unless otherwise stated.

January February
March April
May June
July August
September October
November December


Theatre Royal

The Christmas pantomime, 'Robinson Crusoe', continued to draw excellent houses throughout the month.

"The Christmas pantomime at the Theatre Royal is a fair specimen of its class. Its scenery and accessories are all that talent and money can produce, and its representation is entrusted to competent artists." (Age)
"The dialogue is weak, and Mr Maltby, in his efforts to avois any charge of copying or plagiarism. has knocked the story very much out of shape." (Scalfax)

Of interest, the pantomime featured live animals on stage including a goat (played by Mr. Billee) and a parrot (played by Miss Polly).


The George Darrell season continued throughout the month. Darrell's Irish drama 'The Soggarth' played to dwingling patronage and barely mangaed a three week run finishing on the 22nd.
On the 24th the comedy 'Three Hats', by Walter Craven, was revived by Phil Day. This had previously been staged over a year earlier under the title 'Mixed'.

"The comedy went with considerable spirit" (Scalfax)


The New Royal Italian Opera Company continued their season throughout the month. There were productions of 'Faust', 'Norma', 'Roberto Devereux' [Editor's note: Australian premiere January 17th], 'Lucia di Lammermoor' and on the 22nd 'Un Ballo in Mashera'.

The Age said "The entire performance may be regarded as the most perfectly satisfactory yet given by this company...considered as a first production, the entire performance went extremely well."

New Princess

'The Mikado' played until the 7th. On Saturday the 8th 'The Pirates of Penzance' opened. This featured two Melbourne firsts: Nellie Stewart playing Mabel and Alice Barnett playing Ruth.

The Age said "Miss Barnett's fine physique, good contralto voice and excellent singing enabled her to impersonate the character and render the music in a very successful manner, and she obtained frequent applause."

On the 22nd there was a revival of 'Iolanthe'.

"Miss Alice Barnett repeated her able impersonation of the Fairy Queen, and was encored for her solo 'Oh! trembling dove'." (Scalfax)

This was followed on the 29th by 'Patience'. This would be the last appearance of Nellie Stewart before she took a twelve month rest. There was a farewell benefit for her on Friday the 4th of February with a single performance of 'The Mikado'.

Opera House

The so called London Gaiety Opera Extravaganza 'Little Jack Sheppard' continued to draw huge crowds.

"The airs are bright and expressively sung, and as far as the orchestra itself is concerned theatre goers have much to thank the conductor (F. Stanislaus) for, as he has, within a brief period, infused a spirit into its performance which, unfortunately, is not a general characteristic of the efforts of the orchestra of our theatres." (Age)
"Miss Fanny Robina, as the hero, acts, dances, and sings with a thorough appreciation of her part, and is graceful and ladylike in all she does." (Scalfax)


New Princess

On Saturday the 5th the Williamson company produced Edward Solomon's (1855-1895) 'Billie Taylor'. Billed as a nautical comic opera in 2 acts this work was first produced in London in 1880 and first seen in Melbourne in 1882.

The Age said of 'Billie Taylor': "An old ballad was hunted up and a story constructed out of it, but in the treatment the wish to emulate (Gilbert and Sullivan), though occasionally perceptible, is diversified by excursions into the domain of components of the French opera bouffee school"

Also on the same bill was Alfred Cellier's 'Charity Begins at Home', by B.C. Stephenson with music by Alfred Cellier.

"Graceful tunea and pleasing harmonies, supported by charming instrumental accompaniment, render this little musical afterpiece most delightful to listen to. It was admirably played and sung, and waa received with great favour. (Argus)
"The music is throughout elegant, refined, and thoroughly adapted to the spirit of the situations and the orchestration is particularly admirable." (Age)

'The Pirates of Penzance' returned on Monday the 14th followed in close succession by 'Iolanthe', 'The Mikado' and 'Patience' with 'Charity Begins at Home' as an extra bonus with the latter. The season concluded on February the 25th. The company then headed to Hobart and then on to Dunedin.

On Saturday the 26th there was an Australian first. 'Harbour Lights' by George Sims and Henry Pettitt. [Editor's note: this was originally produced at the Royal Adelphi, London, in December 1885 running over 360 nights] This featured the first appearance in Australia of Isabel Morris, from London.

Isabel Morris "is a bright, intelligent actress who appears fully to comprehend the duties she has to perform." (Argus)

Also in the cast was American Louise Davenport making her reappearance after an absence of over three years.

Louise Davenport played the part of a ruined girl who "are always reverse of pleasant to play, for they consist of one sustained wail of agony and despair, which, to the average spectator, is about as unacceptable as a slab of ice down your back on a cold day." (Argus)

Theatre Royal

'Robinson Crusoe' finally completed its long run on the 4th of February.

On Saturday the 5th George Ringold appeared in 'Siberia', by American playwright Bartley Campbell (1843–1888).

The Age said "The piece would bear considerable curtailing; in particular some better means ought to be devised to wind it up than a supplementary act which involves a tiresome wait after the chief interest of the drama has culminated."
"The piece affords but few opportunities for good acting, as the playwright has been more intent upon making incident, situation and scenery, conduce to its success than upon devising strong characters." (Argus)


Phil Day continued his successful short season of 'Three Hats'.
On Saturday February the 19th Irish comedian Grattan Riggs appeared in a short season of 'The Irish Detective'.

Grattan Riggs Grattan Riggs (1835-1899) was born in Buffalo, New York. He established himself at various theatres in New York. He arrived in Australia in 1880 and was remembered for his comic Irish parts. He continually travelled Australia until his death in Tasmania.


The long opera season continued. This month saw performances of 'I Promessi Sposi', 'Lucia di Lammermoor', 'Lucretia Borgia'. 'Il Trovatore', 'Faust', 'Un Ballo in Maschera' and 'The Barber of Seville'. The season closed on Tuesday March 1st and the company headed for Sydney.

Opera House

'Little Jack Sheppard' continued to play to packed houses throughout the month.

"Miss Fanny Robina, as the hero, acts, dances and sings with a thorough appreciation of her part, and is graceful and ladylike in all she does." (Scalfax)

'Jack' finally came to rest on February 25th.

MARCH 1887

New Princess

'Harbor Lights', by Henry Pettitt and George Sims, opened on Saturday the 26th of February to rave reviews.

"The management have left nothing undone, and it would be scarely possible to achieve anything more realistic than some of the scenes presented on Saturday night...Miss Isabel Morris, a new arrival, is a decided acquisition to the Melbourne stage, and is destined to become exceedingly popular." (Age)
The Argus had this to say about one of the leading ladies. "Absence of feeling is only too noticeable in Miss Louise Davenport whose natural gifts have been obscured or perverted apparently by a stage training which has communicated a tone of artificiality to her voice and to her acting in the character of Linda Nelson." (Argus)

Theatre Royal

'Siberia' finished on Tuesday March 1st. On Wednesday the 2nd 'The Tempest' opened.

"The setting was behind hand with the acting, the text was maltreated, inasmuch as the storm, in itself well produced, did not introduce the action of the piece, and the curtain fell to Mr. Cellier's pretty interlude terminating the first act, leaving a disappointed house." (Age)

[Editor's note: Some of Sullivan's incidental music to 'The Tempest' was a feature of this production]
The play closed earlier than expected on Friday the 25th of March. This was the last production in Australia that Alfred Cellier was associated with. He returned to England soon afterwards.

On the 26th George Ringold appeared in 'Called Back', by Hugh Conway and Comyns Carr. [Editor's note: Hugh Conway's real name was Frederick John Fargus]

"Misa Kate Bishop continues to portray the heroine with such intelligent insight into the character, and such earnestness and feeling, as to maintain her hold upon the sympathy uud admiration of the audience throughout." (Argus)

The play ran for only a few nights.


Wrestling matches, amateur groups and benefits occupied this theatre for most of the month of March. On St Patrick's night (Thursday March 17th) Gratton Riggs appeared in a double bill 'Arrah-na-pogue' and 'O'Toole's Castle'.

Opera House

The Brough and Boucicault Company opened 'The Forty Thieves' on Saturday the 26th of February. This was written for the Gaiety, London, by Robert Reece, and was, in fact, adapted from 'Ali Baba' which had its first Melbourne performance in December 1883.

The Age said that the work was produced "with all the scenic splendour and accessories available now a day, and proved a success full and complete, as the fitting reward of the care and pain bestowed on its representation....Mr. Brough, as Ali Baba, was, as usual, all life and animation, and Mr. Royce personated Hassarac in the most humorous manner, and Miss Robina made a charming Ganem."
"The management have spared no pains in the mounting of the piece, which has been effected on a lavish scale. The costumes and armour of the band of robbers are exceedingly handsome." (Argus)

The final night was on Friday April 1st after which the burlesque company headed for Adelaide.


The Grattan Riggs season was drawing to a close. 'The Irish Detective' finished on Wednesday the 2nd and 'Shin Fane' occupied the last three nights (3rd, 4th and 5th).

On Tuesday the 8th there commenced a short season to farewell Minnie Palmer. She appeared in Pinero's 'The Schoolmistress'.

The Age said "There is not an ill played part in the piece, and as due attention had also been paid to scenery and stage furnishing, the entertainment won the entire approval of the audience."

On Saturday the 26th 'Pert and her Stepmother' was the next change of fare for Minnie Palmer. This comedy was especially written for Minnie by Frank Marsden.

"Miss Minnie Palmer, as Pert, is entitled to every praise. It is far and away the most artistic performance she has yet accomplished here." (Age)
"In the character of Mabel Milway, Miss Minnie Palmer appears to greater advantage than in either of the parts she has previously sustained." (Argus)

Minnie Palmer from the Australasian sketcher 1886. Minnie Palmer (1865-1932) was born in Philadelphia but spent her early years in a convent in New York. At age 8 her parents took her to Europe where she studied German and music in Vienna, and dance in Paris. After returning from Europe she performed in her first stage play in Baltimore at age 12. In her twenties, she gained popularity in several stage roles, and toured the U.S. She first performed in England in 1883.

APRIL 1887


On Saturday the 9th of April the Alexander opened its doors again to legitimate theatre. New arrivals, Alice Norton and H.E. Sidney, appeared in W.S. Gilbert's 'Galatea and Pygmanion'.

The Argus said "Supported by a weak cast, and influenced by the depressing circumstance of a poor attendance, it was somewhat surprising that they should have made any but a disappointing impression; as it was, they made a distinctly favorable one."

Houses were dismal. On the 16th they presented 'East Lynne' and their short season concluded on the 20th. The theatre then went dark except for a few charity performances and benefits.

Theatre Royal

At the Theatre Royal it was a somewhat festive season. Joseph Bland Holt and company returned to Australia after an absence of four years. The first work opening their new season, on the 9th, was 'A Run of Luck', by Henry Pettitt and Augustus Harris.

"No special criticism about the acting is needed, and it only remains to say that so much attention was lavished on the scenery and stage accessories as to give the performance more the character of a panorama than a dramatic entertainment." (Argus)

Besides Bland the cast included W.H. Leake, Kate Bishop and George Rignold.

Bland Holt Joseph Joseph Thomas Bland Holt (1852-1942) was born in Norwich, England, and came to Australia with his father in 1858. He returned to England when he was fourteen and made acting his profession. He appeared on stages in New Zealand and the United States as well as the old country. He established himself back in Australia in 1877. His first production was 'New Babylon' at the Victoria theatre, Sydney, and for 30 years he continued to produce the principal melodramas of the period. His play 'The Breaking of the Drought' was turned into a movie in 1920. Being an actor all his life this gave him a practical experience of everything connected with mounting a dramatic presentation. He retired from the stage in 1909.


'Pert and her Stepmother' concluded its run on April 15th. There was a revival of 'My Sweetheart' on the 16th. This ran for just one week. [Editor's note: Minnie and her company would leave for America in July]

On the 23rd John Gourlay appeared in the first production in Australia of 'Skipped by the Light of the Moon' by George Sims.

"It is not a farce, nor a burlesque, nor a extravaganza, nor a pantomime, nor a variety entertainment, although it combines some of the characteristics of all five...kept the audience in a roar of laughter from beginning to end." (Argus)

This was successful enough to run well into May.

Opera House

The farcical comedy 'The Pickpocket' opened on the 2nd. This was the first performance in Australia. The play was an adaptation from the German by George P. Hawtrey and had ran over 300 performances at the Globe, London, in 1886. From that London production Fred H. Laye played his original role. Others in cast included H.R. Harwood, Walter Everard and the Boucicaults.

The Age said "If Mr. Hawtry's merit as a dramatist is to rest on this production, he is scarcely likely to achieve lasting fame."

The work ran for three weeks finishing on the 22nd. On the 23rd 'The Shaughraun', by Dion Boucicault, was revived. This featured Dion Boucicault Jr in the title role, a role which his father's created.

"Greeted on his first appearance by a highly gratifying demonstration of favour, Mr. Boucicault won their cordial approbation throughout, and was honoured with an imperative call at the end of each act. Míss Jennie Bryce, when recognised in her disguise, received a greeting on returning, alter a long absence, to a leading theatre and was a satisfactory Bridget Madigan, but Miss Marie Brooke's Arte O'Neill showed a want of ease and confidence which was probably attributable to the nervousness of a first appearance." (Argus)

'The Shaughraun' ran into May.
[Editor's note: The Irish playwright Dion Boucicault had toured Australia in 1885 along with his son and daughter. When Boucicault sailed to America his son and daughter remained in Australia. In 1886 they joined forces with Brough to form this company.]

New Princess

'Harbour Lights' ran throughout the whole month with very successful houses.

The Age said "As a stage picture it has never been equalled in Melbourne"

The long season ended on the 29th. This was the last appearance for the Royal Dramatic Company.

MAY 1887


'Skipped by the Light of the Moon' finally finished on the 13th. On the 14th the next production was the farcical comedy 'Hide and Seek' by W.S. Craven, the author of 'Mixed'.

"Mr. John Courlay, Mr. J.R. Greville, Mr. George Forbes and Miss Amy Horton are fully competent to enter into the broad humour of such a production, and the other characters were generally sustained with such effect as they would admit of." (Argus)

The last performance was on the 20th. On the 21st 'Three Hats Mixed' was revived. The season concluded on the 27th.

On Saturday the 28th the Majeroni annual dramatic season commenced. Opening was an adaptation, by George Walker, of Guida's novel 'Wanda'.

Opera House

'The Shaughraun' finished on May 6th. On the 7th 'The Colleen Bawn' was mounted.

The Argus said "Of the performances of Miss Boucicault and her brother in this drama, it is only necessary to say that they sustained and confirmed the favourable opinion formed of them by the public when the play was produced by its adapter at the Theatre Royal, and that the death scene of Danny Mann was so well wrought up as to elicit an outbreak of applause from all parts of the house."

The play finished on the 20th.

On the 21st the Great Military and Spectacular Drury Lane Drama 'Youth' was mounted. This had first been seen in Melbourne in 1882. This was a farewell season by George Rignold prior to his departure to take over the lessee of a theatre in Sydney.

"The play was received with the upmost enthusiasm, the heartiness of the reception indicating the popularity of spectacular drama in Melbourne." (Argus)

New Princess

The Royal Comedy Comedy opened on the last day of April with Pinero's 'The Magistrate'. The cast included Agnes Thomas, G. S. Titheradge, Annie Taylor and Alfred Maltby.

"The pains in which Mr. A Maltby has bestowed upon the small and relatively unimportant part of Mr. Bullamy have been well requited by the results for the dramatist's outline is developed by the actor into a full-length portrait, with most genuine comedy in it." (Argus)

The final night of this production was May 13th. On the 14th there was a revival of the drama 'Hazel Kirke' by Steele Mackaye (1842-1894). [Editor's note: This play was the opening work at New York's Madison Square Theatre running for 486 performances in 1880/81]

"Mr. Titheradge is seen to conspicuous advantage in the eccentric invention of Mr. Pittaeus Green, to which he communicates a certain quaint colouring of his own invention." (Table Talk)

A week later there was another Australian first. This was the comedy 'A Night Off, or, A Page from Balzac' which also had been first produced in New York. This was an adaption, by Augustin Daly (1838-1899), of a German work by Franz von Schonthan.

The Age said "Altogether the cast was as near complete as possible, and the piece better acted and staged than its intrinsic merits entitled it to."

Theatre Royal

'A Run of Luck' continued successfully until the 13th. On the 14th the Bland Holt company mounted 'Alone in London' by Robert Buchanan (1841-1901) and Henrietta Jay (1863?-1932). The play had been first produced in Philadelphia in 1884.

Of the authors the Argus said: "The results of their joint labours was not such as to promise a remunerative return for the liberal outlay involved in its presentation. The scenery and transformations may be praised unreservedly."
Of the cast the Age noted that "Miss Kate Bishop represented the character of the tender Annie Meadows to the life, and Miss Kate Douglas was equally effective as the vigilant Gipsy Tom."


The Alexander produced a wide variety of different performances over the month. Besides the wrestling matches and benefits there was a single performance of the operetta 'Czaar and Zimmermann' (with a chorus of sixty voices) and on May 21st the theatre's own opera company performed Charles Lecocq's 'Little Dulcie' (the Little Duke). This featured Marian Norman making her first appearance in Melbourne. [Editor's note: Marian Norman was one of the Pollard Juveniles and she had recently married Tom Pollard]

"The orchestra was unusually good, and if the management are satisfied with moderate receipts they may pull through fairly well." (Scalfax)

The operetta ran two weeks.

JUNE 1887


'Les Cloches de Cornville' opened on Saturday the 4th. This featured Charles Templeton and was staged and produced by Tom Pollard. [Editor's note: For more on Tom Pollard check out Down Under in the 19th Century]

On Thursday the 16th the Wirth's Grand Circus occupied the theatre for a long season. The company included 32 highly trained trick horses and ponies as well as the Lilliputian troupe of midgets. A special circus ring was constructed for 5,000 dollars (sic) giving the audience an unobtrusive view from all parts of the theatre.


The Majeroni company proved moderately successful with 'Wanda'.

The Argus said "In the characters of Wanda and Vassia Cazan the Majeronis have found parts which they excel in portraying...the general verdict on the performance was that it was a pronounced success."

On Saturday the 18th 'The Corsican Brothers', from the novel by Dumas, was mounted.

The Age said "Signoro Majaroni appeared as Emilie de Lesparre, a character which, by reason of her exceptional acting she brought into unusual prominence...Mr. Henning's view of the interior of the Opera House, Paris, during a masquerade ball is a magnificent bit of painting, the large amphitheatre, tier upon tier, being crowded with figures, and presenting a picture full of animation and gaiety."

This production finished on July 1st.

Opera House

On Friday the 3rd there was the last performance of 'Youth'. George Ringold said his farewells.
On Saturday the 4th there was a grand revival of 'Arrah-na-pogue' with the Boucicaults and Phil Day. This ran for two weeks.

"The audience was large and sympathetic. One lady near me fainted, and her two male friends, instead of carrying her out, dragged her out by the shoulders, and fell down a flight of steps trying to walk backwards, which just served them right." (Scalfax)

[Editor's note: Phil Day would pass away in December]

On the 18th there was a revival of 'The Two Orphans' with surprise, surprise, George Ringold whose Sydney Theatre had been delayed and so was able to return to Melbourne. 'The Two Orphans' was an adaptation from M. Valèe's drama by Mr. Oxenford.

The Age said "Mr. George Ringold imparted a jovial rollicking character to his part, which must be consonant with the intentions of the playwright, the only exception to his careful and studied rendering of the part being his somewhat doubtful French."

New Princess

'A Night Off' continued until 10th of June. On the 11th 'Blow by Blow', by Byron, hit the stage for six nights only [Editor's note: This was probably Henry James Byron, English playwright 1834-1884]. The cast included G.S. Titheradge, Hans Phillips, Emma Fischer and Agnes Thomas.

(Agnes Thomas's) "ability in representing strongly-felt and, especially, suppressed emotion, is now universally acknowledged." (Table Talk)

The week of the 18th was Jubilee week so there was much theatrical activity in Melbourne. At the New Princess there was a mixed programme all week with performances of 'Betsy', 'A Night Off' and 'The Professor'. 'The Silver King', by Henry Arthur Jones and Henry Herman, was revived on the 26th of July and played for twelve nights. This work had been first staged in Melbourne in 1883.

quot;The drama is illustrated, as before, by a charming series of stage pictures, and judging by the frequency of the applause, the hearty calls for the principals, and for Mr. Titheradge in particular, at the close of each act, and the generally cordial reception of the drama, it must be said to have again had a great success."

Theatre Royal

'Alone in London' continued successfully.

"The suffering of Miss Kate Bishop excite the sympathies of the audience as usual; and the drolleries of Mr. Bland Holt form an agreeable corrective." (Scalfax)

This production finished on Thursday the 9th of June. On Saturday the 11th 'The World' played for twelve nights only. The Bland Holt season concluded on the 24th after which the company headed for Sydney.

On the 25th there was a major event at the theatre. Maggie Moore had just returned from America and to celebrate the Williamson's opened a season featuring themselves. First up was the ever popular 'Struck Oil' on a double bill with 'The Chinese Question'.

The Age said "the welcome home to Miss Maggie Mooore was especially cordial, and was marked, not merely by the presentation of flowers, but by the more general demonstration of enthusiastic and long continued cheers from the whole audience."

[Editor's note: This would be about the tenth revival of this popular drama and farce]

JULY 1887

New Princess

'The Silver King' ended its run on July 8th. On the 9th 'The Harbour Lights' returned for one more week.

The Argus noted that "owing to the wretched condition of the weather, the attendance was not so large as it usually is on a Saturday evening; and the down-draught of a cold air into the dress circle through the ventilators caused many of its frequenters to send to the dressing-room for their cloaks and wraps."

On Saturday, July 16th the Royal Comic Opera Company returned for a season. They opened with the first Australian production of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Princess Ida'. This was in the presence of Govenor and Lady Loch. The cast included Howard Vernon, William Elton, Alice Barnett and, in the title role, Miss Colbourne-Baber, who was making her first appearance at that theatre. Also, making their first appearances in Australia were Mr. Jack Leumane (Hilarion)

"An experienced actor and a good singer, with a tenor voice extending in effective range to B flat" and F. Federici (Florian) "He possesses good stage appearance and an easy manner which betokens experience. His voice is one of great resonance, which he has under easy control." (Argus)

'Princess Ida' proved successful enough to run the rest of July and well into August.

Theatre Royal

The popular 'Struck Oil' finished its run on July 15th.

The Argus said "The whole performance was received with unflagging zest and most demonstrative approval."

On the 16th 'Shadows of a Great City', by L.R. Shewell, opened. Making her Australian stage debut was Isabel Morris who had taken the original part in California.

The Argus said "she gave a powerful and realistic representation of the parts, displaying modesty, delicacy of feeling, and strength of emotion, combined with that grace of manner which she also exhibits."

On the 23rd Boucicault's 'The Streets of London' opened and ran for two weeks.

"There is but little scope for good acting in the piece. Badger is the central and most conspicuous figure, and in Mr. Williamson's hands he becomes a great favourite with the audience." (Argus)


The last night of the Majeroni season on July 1st was a monster programme consisting of the comedy-drama 'The Corsican Brothers', the comedietta 'A Kiss' and a recital in Italian entitled 'The Death of Count Ugolino'.

The next evening the Harding Hanson Grand New Opera Company opened with Lecoq's operetta 'Girofle-Giofla'.

The Argus said "The performance on Saturday evening must be pronounced a success, although it presented some blemishes that ought not to exist...the music throughout was skilfully rendered."

On the 10th 'La Perichole' opened. This featured Gracie Plaisted in the title role.

The Argus said "The result was satisfactory to an unexpected degree, and was sufficient to show that the new lessee and manager, Mr. T. Hanson, is endeavouring to achieve success by legitimate means."

The production drew scant houses and ran only a little over a week. On Tuesday the 19th there was the first performanace in Australia of 'Babiole', by Laurent de Rille, adapted into English by Robert Reece.

The Argus said "The style of the music may claim the quality of being light and cheery and it is not obviously imitative; it is, however, fragmentary music, the listener is pleased here and there with a tuneful phrase, but never with a noble and complete symmetrically balanced melody."


Wirth's Grand Circus finished its run on Saturday the 2nd.

Carrie Swain returned for a season on Monday the 4th. First up was the popular 'The Miner's Daughter'. This finished on the 22nd. On the 23rd 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' hit the boards.

The Argus said "Miss Carrie Swain under took the character of Topsy, the wild, restless, unsophisticated slave-girl, and found in its scope for the exercise of her versatile abilities. Her appearance was grotesque, and her acting was clever and natural."

The last night was on Monday the 25th after which 'La Fille de Madame Angot' was revived for a few nights.

Opera House

'Two Orphans' finished on the 1st. On Saturday the 2nd 'My Partner', by Bartley Campbell (1843-188), opened. This work had previously played in Melbourne six years earlier [Editor's note: 'My Partner' was first produced at the Union Square Theatre in New York City in 1879. It was filmed in 1909].

The Argus said "Mr. D. Boucicault gives another proof of his versatility as a character actor in his presentation of the part of Sam Bowler."

On the 9th the Brough and Boucicalut company mounted the comedy 'Turned Up' by Mark Melton.

The Argus said "The audience was kept in a state of hilarity throughout, and the principals were called before the curtain after each act."

On the 16th the popular 'Little Jack Sheppard' returned for a season. This featured English actress Fanny Robina in the title role.


Theatre Royal

The Williamsons continued their successful season. On the 6th 'Rip van Winkle' (with Williamson in the title role) opened a double bill with 'Fool of the Family'. The latter featured Maggie Moore, as Betty Sanders.

Maggie Moore "creates immense amusement by her humorous acting and her songs." (Argus)

On the 13th 'Rip van Winkle' was replaced by 'Eureka'. The ever popular 'Struck Oil' was played on the last performance of Williamson's eight week season. This was on Monday the 22nd. [Editor's note: This performance was given at the request of the Governor who was present with his family.] The rest of the week saw various benefits at the theatre.

Martin Simonsen's Royal Italian Opera Company returned on Saturday the 27th of August for a twelve week season. Works featured were 'Rigoletto', 'La Sonnambula', 'Norma', 'The Barber of Seville' and Donizetti's 'Belisario' which opened the season.

"The performance by Signor Santinulli and Signor Pimazzoni roused the admiration of the audience to n very high pitch, and as the curtain fell on the end ot the act, the singers were recalled with enthusiasm. The men's chorus, which is numerous and powerful in tone, requires yet a little extra drill to improve its intonation. The production of this work is earnest of the grand scale on which the business of this season is to be carried out. The musical forces in both band and chorus have been increased." (Argus)

New Princess

'Princess Ida' continued to draw crowds through most of the month.

"The scenery (by Mr. John Brunton) was extremely beautiful, the grounds of Castle Adamant being a veritable feast of dreamy. delicious colour." (Scalfax)

On Saturday August the 20th was an Australian first at the New Princess. This was Alfred Cellier's 'Dorothy' which cost £3,000 to mount. The cast included Leonora Braham, Aggie Kelton, Ida Osborne, Alice Barnett, F. Federici, William Elton, W.H. Woodfield and Leonora's husband Duncan Young.

"Dorothy was received so well and the applause so lavish that it should have a long run...Miss Leonora Braham is of course the great point of attraction, and it is very evident she is making herself a great favourite." (Table Talk)

Alfred Cellier Alfred Cellier (1844-1891) grew up as a chorister and an organist. In 1871 he was appointed conductor at the Prince's Theatre, Manchester. In 1877 he joined the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company as Musical Director. He was a composer in his own right and conducted several of his own works as well the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. His most successful operetta was 'Dorothy' (1886) which ran in London for 931 performances. Cellier travelled to Australia in 1886 joining the J.C. Williamson company. He remained there until 1888. His last work was 'The Mountebanks' with book by W.S. Gilbert.


On July 30th the Majeroni Company returned briefly to this theatre. First up was 'Only Dust', by Wybert Reeve with additions by Signor Majeroni.

The Argus said "Quiet comedy has always suited Mr. Wybert Reeve, and he succeeds admirably in the delincation of Dr. Bolusi."

This played for only one week. 'The Woman in White', by Wilkie Collins and Wybert Reeve, opened on the 6th and played until the 16th [Editor's note: This was obviously an adaptation made by Wybert Reeve of Collins' popular play which had its first performance in Lambeth in 1860]. The Majeroni company sailed for Auckland on the 17th.

On the 17th,18th and 19th Wybert Reeve produced 'The Crushed Tragedian', an adaptation of the H.J. Byron comedy 'The Prompter's Box'.
'Masks and Faces', by Tom Taylor (1817-1880) and Charles Reade (1814-1884) opened on the 20th. This featured Emelie Melville.

Emelie Melville "displayed her powers as a comedienne to the utmost, and showed she had thoroughly grasped the idea of the character."

On the 27th the popular 'London Assurance' by Boucicault returned. Emelie Melville played Lady Gay Spanker.

The Argus said that the role "has never been played better in Melbourne during the last 30 years than it is by Miss Melville."

Owing to complications over the lesseship of the theatre the Emelie Melville season came to an abrupt close early in September. The company then headed up to Brisbane.

Opera House

'Dick', by Edward Jakobowski, received its first performance in Australia on August the 6th. This was first performed in London in 1884.

"If all the leading members of the company were as good vocalists as they are good actors and actresses the success of 'Dick' would have been much more pronounced than it was; but with the exception of Miss Robina and Mr. Brough, they certainly do not shine in this respect."

The final night was Friday September 9th. As the Brough and Bouccault company's lease was due to expire at this theatre they moved over to the Bijou.


The Carrie Swan season drew to a close on the 13th. The theatre then gave way to boxing and wrestling matches and the occasional benefit but mainly remained dark until December.


Theatre Royal

The Simonsen season continued with the usual favourites, 'Lucrezia Borgia', 'Don Giovanni', 'Un Ballo in Maschera' and 'Rigoletto'.

"The greatest satisfaction derived from this performance - because it was the least anticipated - was in the marked success achieved by Signor Cerne, in the part ol Rigoletto. Hitherto this gentleman's best endeavours have been considerably hampered by the condition of his voice, which has been, so far, shaky in utterance and wanting in power. The audience fully shared with the singer on Saturday night the satisfaction of finding his voice restored to an easy fulness of volume, and that under this reassuring and stimulating effect he was able to give untrammelled expression to his intelligent study of a most interesting character." (Argus)

Also there were performances of 'Il Trovatore', 'Ernani', 'I Promessi Sposi' and 'La Sonnambula'

"It is a many long day since I heard that opera so well sung. Signorina Rebottaro and Signor Lazzarini were in excellent voice, and richly deserved the applause they received." (Scalfax)

On Wednesday 28th a new production of 'The Huguenots' was due to open. However Signora Cinti owing to illness would not be singing. 'Don Giovanni' was substituted with 'Rigoletto' on the Thursday. 'The Huguenots' did play on the Friday with Madame Simonsen stepping into the breach.

"Unfortunately it was nearly midnight when the opera came to an end, and many people forgot all the pleasure derived from the usual treat in the fumbling and growling incidental to the loss of the train."

On the Saturday Signora Cinti was well enough to appear.

Opera House

'The Pickpocket' was staged on Saturday 10th with the same cast of a few weeks back. A week later 'Mixed' returned for six nights only. Phil Day and Dion Boucicault led the strong cast. The following week Fanny Robina and company took the stage with Bryon's ever-popular comedy of 'Our Boys'.

"Fanny Robina makes Belinda to be a deliciously cheeky, red-headed, lovable, little wretch smudged with soot and kitchen grease." (Table Talk)

The season finished on October the 6th.

New Princess

As houses were dwindling at the New Princess 'Dorothy' concluded its run on September 23rd. 'The Mikado' opened on the 24th for a week.

"Leonora Braham is very successful as Yum-Yum, her singing of the Moon song being greatly applauded." (Table Talk)
Of Frederici, Scalfax said, he "spoilt the part of the Mikado. This latter gentleman has an apparently unconquerable tendency to burlesque his roles, the very thing to be avoided in this class of opera. If ever he played before Mr. W.S. Gilbert he must have deteriorated greatly, or else W.S.G. must have longed for a good heavy brick."

At the end of the week 'The Mikado' company headed for Adelaide.


The Brough and Bouccault moved over to this theatre and continued with the first production in Australia of the Civil War drama 'Held by the Enemy' by W.H. Gillette (1853–1937) [Editor's note: this play was first seen in New York in 1886]. This opened on the 10th with Cecil Ward and W. Carey in the cast. The houses were good especially after Miss Florence Trevelyan joined the cast.

"Of the drama it may at once be said that it is vastly superior to the specimens of American work we have had lately. It is full of interest and thrilling in effect." (Scalfax)

The play continued to run through September.



For the first time in Australia, the comedy 'Modern Wives', by Ernest Warren based on a French farce, opened on October 8th.

"The comedy is presented by an exceptionally strong cast, and its success was unqualified, the company being called before the curtain after each act." (Argus)

New Princess

'Les Cloches de Corneville' opened on the 1st. The cast included Clara Thompson, Patti Laverne and William Elton.

"Every endeavour was made by Messrs. Williamson, Garner, and Musgrove to make the production as complete in all its details as possible. There was a strong and well-balanced chorus, and a noteworthy feature was the admirable stage groupings, which contributed much to the spectacular effect." (Argus)

Maggie Moore appeared at the opening performance but had to miss the rest for the next few weeks owing to ill health. Miss Colbourne-Baber took over her role. "Her singing was excellent, and there was an amount of life and go in her acting quite foreign to her usual method." (Scalfax)

'Les Cloches' was followed by 'La Fille du Tambour Major' on the 15th.

"Miss Colbourne-Baber amazed everybody by the life and go she threw into her presentation of Stella."

The show ran for two weeks. On the 29th 'La Mascotte' was revived with Maggie Moore in the title role and W.H. Woodfield as Prince Frittelini.

"This is one of Mr. Woodfield's best performances. The part suits him admirably, and he gives a very pleasing representation of it." (Argus)

Opera House

'Our Boys' finally played on Thursday 6th. There was a benefit for H.R. Harwood the following evening.

Frank M. Clark's All Star Novelty Combination opened a season on the 22nd. The company included minstrels, ballads, comedy, novelties and even a Japanese gymnast.

"Mr. Frank Clark's new company are playing to very large audiences, in fact so large that the Opera House is not big enough to hold them, consequently Mr. Clark has got into trouble with the police authorities for having his theatre too full."

Theatre Royal

The Simonsen season continued at the Theatre Royal. Productions included 'The Huguenots', 'La Gioconda' [Editor's note: Australian premiere November 5th], 'Un Ballo in Maschera', 'La Sonnambula', Bellini's 'Romeo and Juliet' and Gounod's 'Faust'.

"Signor Lazzarini is greatly admired for his representation of the old-young German student, his voice being so clear and melodious."


Theatre Royal

The Simonsen company season concluded on the 18th. The last week featured a new production of 'La Gioconda'.

A new dramatic season by George Darrell opened on the 19th with the Australian drama 'The Sunny South'.

"The play itself, as well as its clever author, is well and favorably known, and as a very good company have been got together, it follows that the audience are not slow to show their admiration."

[Editor's note: this play was first seen in Melbourne in March 1883 when it had a five week run]

New Princess

The successful 'La Mascotte' continued to play to good houses.

"Maggie Moore delighting everybody by her acting and singing."

On the 12th was 'The Mikado' with Leonora Braham again as Yum-Yum.

"When she was not charming the audience with her singing, she had them in roars of laughter at her oddities." (Table Talk)

This was followed on the 19th by 'Iolanthe' with Leonora Braham as Phyllis who

Leonora Braham "fills the character with the sparkle and light-heartedness of her nature."

On the 26th 'Patience' was produced for one week.

"Mr. Duncan Young was entrusted with playing Grosvenor, and though he fulfilled the musical requirements of the part, there was a want of finish in other respects which prevented his impersonation from being so complete as those of former representatives." (Argus)


'Modern Wives' ended its successful run on November 11th.

"Mr Warren has done his work cleverly, keeping the dialogue bright and full of points."

On the 12th 'The School for Scandal' opened.

"Mrs Brough's Lady Teazle was full of that rare quality which we call womanliness, but lacked that necessary spice of devilry which is essential to the part."

After a few performances Robert Brough fell seriously ill and his part was taken by "Father" Cathcart.

Opera House

Frank M. Clark's All Star Novelty Combination continued throughout the month with an ever changing programme.


Theatre Royal

On December 3rd the George Darrell Company staged the first production in Melbourne of Frank Scudamore's play 'First Class'.

"Herbert Fleming played First Class, the gentlemanly ruffian, with careful, understudy of the dual character he had to represent." (Table Talk)
Scalfax noted that the play was "highly popular with the gallery boys, who whistle and shriek themselves haorse in their own peculiar way with all the energy they are capable of."

By tradition the ever popular pantomimes always opened on Boxing day. 1888 was no exception. 'Jack the Giant-Killer and Little Bo-Beep' opened at the Theatre Royal. This was written by Alfred Maltby and was hugely successful. It ran until February 10th. Alfred Maltby was responsible for the comic opera 'Mefistofele II' which had a fairly successful season in Bradford, England in 1881.

"When it came to the transformation scene...the design was excellent, and the gradual removal of the intervening visions, prior to the full development of the perspective, thoroughly authorised the call which was made for the artist, Mr. Brunton." (Age)

The Theatre Royal:
The Theatre Royal was built in 1854-55 in Bourke St. It had seating for 3,300 people on four levels. Its auditorium size rivalled those of the largest London play houses. After fire destroyed the building in 1872 it was rebuilt with a three-story hotel in front. The size of the theatre was increased again with a capacity for seating nearly 4,000 people. In 1904 J.C. Williamson had the auditorium gutted and redesigned to only three levels. It was demolished in 1933.

New Princess

The Comic Opera Company's Gilbert and Sullivan season continued at this theatre. On December 3rd 'HMS Pinafore' was revived for the first time in Melbourne in five years. May Pollard replaced Leonora Braham in the role of Josephine at the last minute.

"(May Pollard's) voice has improved a good deal lately, the middle register seeming much stronger, while the high notes are given more easily, thus displaying the good quality of the voice." (Table Talk)

Leonara Braham recovered to perform the second week of the season.

"The second act was lengthened by the introduction of 'As we ride o'er the main' sung by Mr. T. Liddiard, and encored by the audience; a glee for male and female voices (which was quite out of place on the deck of a man of war), and a double hornpipe, which was enthusiastically redemanded." (Argus)

On Saturday the 17th 'The Pirates of Penzance' played for seven performances.

Leonora Braham played Mabel and "was happily in better voice than she has yet been during her sojourn here...the result was more than satisfactory, and at the close of her first scene the audience broke into a storm of pleased applause."

On Monday the 26th of December, 1887, the Comic Opera Company opened 'Ermine', with book by Harry Paulton and music by Edward Jacobowski. [Editor's note: 'Ermine' had been successful on Broadway in 1886 running for 571 performances. Edward Jacobowski was later to write the music for 'The Queen of Brilliants' with book by Brandon Thomas. This piece would have a long run at the Lyceum Theatre, London, with Lillian Russell in the cast.] This production featured F. Federici, C.M. Leumane, Howard Vernon, Maggie Moore, William Elton and Leonora Braham

"Miss Leonora Braham's acting was characterized by that spontaneous gaiety and brightness which is the charm of everything she does." (Table Talk)


The Alexander reopened on December 10th under the management of Martin Simonsen. The Royal Italian Opera Company were making their third appearance in Melbourne in less than twelve months. This was to be a short farewell season. They opened with 'Maritana'.

"The opera was not given after the usual manner for the dialogue was all delivered as recitative as set forth in the score, thus thoroughly Italianising the work." (Table Talk)

A new opera 'I Due Studente', by Alfred Plumpton, opened on the 17th. It proved a diaster and was taken off after a couple of performances. [Editor's note: Alfred Plumpton was the music critic for The Age] 'La Traviata' followed. 'Ernani', 'Lucia di Lammermoor' and 'Un Ballo in Maschera' played later in the month.

Opera House

Arthur Vivian's New Dramatic Company opened on the 23rd. The work was 'Current Cash' - boasted as a great spectacular military and emotional drama.

"A combination of sensationalism, humor and pathas" (Age)

The production would run until January 13th.


'The School for Scandal', continued to play until Christmas. Robert Brough was still recovering from his operation. 'Two Roses', by James Albery, opened on the 17th "Mrs Brough and Miss Boucicault were an improvement on the other representations, insomuch as they looked the characters and did not suffer from a ponderosity of flesh."
The comedy 'Sophia', an adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 'Tom Jones', by Robert Buchanan (1841-1901), opened on December 26th and this would run for the entire month of January.

"It may be said in general terms that all the company did their best with the parts for which they were cast." (Age)

Theatre in Melbourne 1886

Theatre in Melbourne 1888