Theatre in Melbourne 1889

"The rebuilding of the Bijou Theatre was being rapidly carried on, and that the foundations were all down. The plans of the new building were submitted to the Board of Health on Thursday, and to the surprise of everyone were rejected on the ground that the theatre was not on the ground but over an arcade, and that the escapes were into a narrow street. The plans were accepted by the board's inspector, the official referees, and the professional element, but were rejected by the non-professional branch. Mr Wilson considers he has been very badly treated, as he has already spent a good deal of money over the rebuilding, which is now wasted. The matter will probably be settled in the Supreme Court. It is contended that the board has no power to adjudicate on the site of the theatre." (Scalfax July 2nd, 1889)

New Princess Theatre 1888

The New Princess Theatre, Melbourne, 1888

Mr. J.C. Williamson has received news of Mr. Arthur Garner's departure from London. The projected trip through America has been abandoned, all the necessary engagements having been made in England, and Mr. Arthur Garner will accordingly return by the P. and O. route, travelling overland to Brindisi. The Triumvirate has always been noted for completeness with which they stage comic opera, and in order to maintain the high level of the former years, several new artists and three new works have been secured. Dorris, Mr. Cellier's new opera, now succeeding Dorothy at the Lyric Theatre, has been purchased, and so has Paul Jones, which has already been running some four or five months at the Prince of Wales Theatre. La Gironette, a comic opera which lately made its trial trip at Portsmouth, has also, Mr. Williamson believes, been purchased, though he has received no cablegram on the subject as yet. The new engagements are Miss Helen Kinnaird, contralto, from the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, and Miss Clara Merivale of that ilk; whilst Messrs. Sass and George Walton and Miss Gwynne are invoiced to arrive shortly to strengthen the comedy department. Mr. Garner has also been negotiating with Mrs. Langtry and Miss Mary Anderson, and a successful issue is anticipated in both cases. Two complete companies of specialty artistes are under contact to land in time for next year's pantomimes. Mr. Garner has, since his departure from Australia, laid upwards of £10,000 in the purchase of plays and engagement of actors, and Mr. Williamson expects to have a busy year before him.

Notice in Table Talk newspaper on June 7th, 1889

[Editor's note: Garner decided against purchasing Cellier's 'Dorris' as he thought the libretto was not up to standard.]


Love him or hate him George Miln hit the Australian continent with a long season of Shakespeare. The advertising machine of the 1888s could create talent before the artist even hit the local theatre circuit. Never much a success in the USA he wooed audiences in this country and developed quite a following. Click on a month and check what was happening in Melbourne theatres for the year 1889. All reviews are from 'Table Talk' unless otherwise stated.

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


Opera House

The Royal English and Italian Opera Company were still in residence at this theatre. The season of operas that ran all December continued without a break into January. There were further productions of 'Un Ballo in Mascha', 'Ernani', and finally 'Maritana'. Suddenly the season came to an abrupt termination on January 5th. The theatre manager, Martin Simonsen, in a letter to the press explained that he could not control the people he engaged. The company uprooted and headed for Sydney. [Editor's note: At this point we should point out that Signor Verdi, and his wife Emelie Melville, departed for England (via South Africa). They later moved to America and settled down in California. However Emelie Melville couldn't resist the theatrical urge. The couple split with Emelie returning to Australia to tour twice in the late 1890s. Emelie (or Emilie as she was known at that time) first visited Australia in 1875 making her debut in Sydney in 'Girofle-Girofia'. The peak of her popularity was during the 1880s. She spent the last years of her life living in San Francisco.]

The Arthur Vivian company migrated from the Hibernian Hall to the Opera House. They put on 'East Lynne' on the January 7th followed by the military drama 'Current Cash' on January 14th and the drama 'The Queen's Evidence' on the 21st.

"I am always hoping that each production of that drama will be its last but it always 'bobs up serenely' after a short interval." (Scalfax)

Finally on Saturday 26th the Vivians revived 'Neck for Neck' a drama in which Arthur Vivian was the reputed author. There was a one off performance of 'East Lynne' on Friday the 1st.

Theatre Royal

'Sinbad the Sailor' continued its very successful season. The pantomime had been considerably shortened during the first few weeks of its run - this was to prevent dragging.

"Messes Royce and Goulay keep the fun alive, and Miss Ida Osborne's vocal efforts meet with continual encores." (Scalfax)

[Editor's note: The title character of Sinbad was played by Clara Thompson who received £16 a week for this role. Clara Thompson was, in fact, Mrs Henry Bracy. Henry Bracy had recently arrived in Australia after having worked at the Savoy Theatre, London, for nearly five years. He was fully conversant with the ways the Savoy Operas were mounted and had sung Prince Hilarion in the first London production of 'Princess Ida'. He would soon become a popular figure on the Australian stage working as both tenor and stage manager.]


Frank Thornton in Charles Hawtrey's play, 'The Private Secretary', continued to attract crowed houses.

"Mr. Frank Thornton and Mr. Harwood are the life and soul of the comedy, and while they are on the stage the house is in one constant ripple of laughter." (Scalfax)

The play continued until February 1st.

Princess Theatre

Nellie Stewart, in the popular 'Dorothy', attracted full houses at this theatre.

"Mr. Elton is the great font of humour as Lurcher, and Miss Fanny Liddiard ably seconds Miss Stewart as Lydia Hawthorne." (Scalfax)

The production ran throughout January, finally concluding on February 1st.


The very popular 'The World Against Her' continued its box office success.

"Mr 'Jack' Wrangham states that 68,000 ladies and 36,000 gentlemen have already seen the drama, from which I could infer that each gentleman went with at least two ladies, but as many of us are only in the habit of taking one lady there must be some Mormons who take at least half a dozen. I would also like to know how Mr Wrangham finds out the number of each sex present." (Scalfax)

On Saturday the 4th there was a matinee benefit for the Alfred Hospital. This performance netted £70. The long season finally concluded on January 18th.

A play that had certainly been in preparation for many weeks but was delayed because of the success of 'World' was 'Marvellous Melbourne' by Alfred Dampier and J.H. Wrangham. This aired finally on the 19th. Running for four hours this was far too long, even for 19th century audiences who always appreciated long programmes. It was pruned down to three during the following week.

"The general appointments are unusually complete, and the scenery is excellent. The Spencer-street railway station and the Falls Bridge by moonlight, were fine examples of Mr. 'Alta's' skill, and he was heartily cheered for his work...Miss Lily Dampier as Dorothy Deane is seen to better avantage than in anything else she has done." (Table Talk)
"As to the manner in which the piece was placed on the stage, the management is entitled to the greatest credit. The sets representing the Spencer-street railway Btation, which constituted the opening scene, the exterior ot Fairholme House, with a view of Melbourne in the distance, and the mechanical change from a Chinese gambling and opium shop to the Falls bridge at midnight were in every respect commendable." (Argus)

Lily Dampier Lily Dampier (1868-1915) developed from a child star in her father's company into one of the great Australian actors of the 19th century. Her first appearance was as in 'All for Gold' in 1877. She was noted not only for her Shakespearian roles but for tearful innocents in melodramas and flamboyant heroines in adventure stories. She played opposite her father in many productions. She married stage actor Alfred Rolfe in 1889. After her father died in 1908 she spent much time with a theatrical company in New Zealand. In 1911 she appeared in three Australian movies.


Princess Theatre

On the 2nd 'The Mikado' was revived, for the second time this season. There were two newcomers in the cast: Arthur Rigby, as the Mikado, and Kattie Potter, as Pitti-Sing. Nellie Stewart could do no wrong.

"Miss Nellie Stewart continues to perfect her representation of Yum-Yum, which by this time is as brilliant and finely finished as a well-cut diamond." (Table Talk)

On February 9th the operetta 'Pepita' opened. The music was by Charles Lecocq (1832-1918) with interpolations by Edward Jacobowski.

"Miss Nellie Stewart, as Pepita, never was seen to better advantage, and sang and acted with unflagging energy." (Table Talk)
"Miss Stewart must also be complimented on the variety and beauty of her costumes, and it ia due to the management, also, to remark that no expense has been spared in the mounting of the opera, so that its spectacular effect is brilliant throughout." (Argus)

Later in the month Nellie Stewart became too ill to appear and her part was taken by May Pollard at a moments notice. The show continued to play (with dwindling houses) into March.


'Marvellous Melbourne' continued to attract huge crowds.

The Argus describes the city and the play: "The loves and hates of Melbourne, the turf, the town, the tricks are all character presentments which are vivid, vital, vehement. The habitations of the rich, the hovels of the poor are both revealed, and the mystery of that great mystery-existence is fully disclosed in scenes so widely dissimilar as a Toorak villa, a Chinese opium den, the Falls-bridge by night, and the great Stable Episode."

Dampier played five roles in the play. The production performed successfully the rest of the month. [Editor's note: When the play was produced in Sydney in 1893 the title was changed to 'Slaves of Sydney'.]

Theatre Royal

'Sinbad the Sailor' continued its successful season.

"Miss Clara Thompson has not improved upon her first night performance, and, sorry as I am to say it about one who held a high place here once, she is one of the weakest parts in the pantomime, and the weakest Sinbad for many a year. (Scalfax)

The pantomime was still attracting over 2,000 people a performance.

"Miss Ida Osborne's singing is so agreeably captivating that many go away with the impression that it is the best thing in the pantomime." (Table Talk)

Opera House

On the 2nd the thirty plus performers that made up the Hicks-Sawyer Big Black Boom Coloured Minstrel Show opened for a brief three week season.

"The company all round is a very fair one, and the fact that their being real 'cullud persons' gives them an extra interest, but their performance contains nothing that is specially new to you, and we also miss the female element which we always expect in minstrel shows now. " (Scalfax)
"The programme was brought to a termination by the farce, "The Blackville Duel," which had the charm of true Euthiopian humour." (Argus)

On the 23rd the Gaylord-Silbon acrobatic troupe advertised as the most wonderful and thrilling performance ever witnessed in Australia opened to stunning reviews.

"Everything passes off with the utmost smoothness and agreeableness, and the entertainment far surpasses expectations, and is of an excellent, novel and refined order." (Table Talk)
"The programme is perhaps confined too exclusively to gymnastic feats to permit of its being called a variety entertainment, but as far as skill and daring in that particular line are concerned, the members of it, may yet claim to be, as a company, superior to any other yet seen here." (Argus)

When the season concluded mid March the company headed for Adelaide.


On February 2nd 'Sweet Lavender', by Arthur Wing Pinero, opened. This domestic drama had opened in 1888, in London, clocking up 684 performances.

"The plot is slight, but well worked out, the interest of the story never flags, the dialogue is bright and brisk , tbe characters are unconventional, and each ot the three acts terminates with an effective situation, which causes the curtain to descend amidst general expressions of satisfaction followed by a call - a compliment due also to the good quality of the acting throughout." (Argus)
"Mr. Frank Thornton appears as Dick Phenyl, the barrister, and gives a brightly finished representation of the curiously complex natural individual, who, by turns, laughs, sneers, scolds, and argues as much as his various moods permit him." (Table Talk)

Little bunches of lavender were presented to everybody in the dress circle on the opening night.

MARCH 1889

Theatre Royal

'Sinbad the Sailor' finally concluded its record breaking run on March the 14th.
'The Union Jack' opened on Saturday March the 16th. This was the new melodrama by Henry Pettitt and Sydney Grundy and first seen in London in 1888. The whole production was in the capable hands of Bland Holt. The cast included Mrs. Bland Holt, Kate Bishop and Charles Holloway.

"There is no very tangible plot in it, and what there is is not nice." however "it was gloriously put on the stage. Mr Gordon, the scenic artist, was called before the curtain - a compliment he fully deserved." (Scalfax)
"Miss Kate Bishop, who waa cordially received after an absence of two years, has the most important part to sustain in portraying the emotional but courageous Ethel, who falls in a dead faint three times, bat recovers very speedily when the exigencies of the drama demand it, and displays great fortitude when the fate of her lover and sister are at stake. Miss Bishop's acting was earnest and effective." (Argus)
"The title was good enough for a great national if not sensational drama, but it turned out to be a very stupid and commonplace play with nothing to recommend it but a most pretentious name. The piece was loosely strung together and though the scenery by Mr. Gordon was all that could bo desired, the acting was very indifferent." (Illustrated Australian News and Musical Times)

Princess Theatre

'Erminie', by Edward Jakobowski, was revived on March 16th.

"The charm of this production lies in Miss Fannie Liddiard's representation of Erminie, for not only does her beautiful personal appearance attract admiration, but her make up, as a high-born French damsel, is the daintiest picture imaginable, and her singing is on the level with her good looks." (Table Talk)

As an afterpiece to the operetta was a short work by Alfred Cellier entitled 'Charity Begins at Home' (written in 1870). The last performance of 'Erminie' was on the 29th.


'Sweet Lavender finished on Friday March 8th. The next evening 'Mamma' opened. This was an adaptation, by Sydney Grundy, of 'Les Surprises du Divorce' by Alexandre Bisson (1848-1912) and Antony Mars (1862 - 1915). It was first produced in England in September 1888. The season concluded on the 29th.

"Mr. Frank Thornton threw wonderful vitality and humor into the character of the sorely tried first husband...he played a skilfully thought-out part in a most natural manner." (Table Talk)

Frank Thornton then took off for a short season in Ballarat before he headed for Sydney.


'Every Man for Himself' opened on the 2nd March. This was written by, and starring, May Holt, sister of Bland.

"A well written sensational drama of familiar incidents and characters, which are used with smart effect." (Table Talk)
"Every incident in the play was enthusiastically applauded, and such lavish appreciation stimulated the company." (Argus)

Opera House

The Opera House welcomed the visiting Shakespearian actor, George Crichton Miln and his wife, Louise Jordan. They opened on March 16th in 'Richard 111', in an adaptation by Colley Cibber. This turned out to be a very successful production running through until early April.

The Melbourne Age said: "Mr. Miln represents Richard as a Prince, and not as a common ranting cut-throat."
"The performance passed off without a hitch, and Mr. Miln must have worked very hard to bring about such a result with a company to the majority of whom the text of Shakespeare-cum-Cibber must have been as unfamiliar as that of Euripides or Plautus." (Argus)

George Miln George Crichton Miln (1850-1917) was born in England. He was originally an accountant, a journalist and a clergyman before making his first stage appearance as an actor in Chicago. ALthough hearalded as a 'world famous tragedian' reviews in the States were not very flattering. He arrived in Australia in October 1888 along with his wife (Louise Jordan Miln 1864-1933) opening in 'Hamlet' in Sydney. He remained in the colonies for two years after which he toured the Far East. He then returned to the States and worked for six years as a provincial actor. He returned to England finally becoming the editor for the British Realm. His wife became a popular travel and fiction writer.

APRIL 1889


The last performance of 'Every Man for Himself' was on the 29th. Another play by May Holt opened the next evening. This was entitled 'Men and Women'.

"Miss May Holt acted with brightness and great naturalness." (Table Talk)

This play ran for three weeks. On the 20th was mounted one of Dampier's own works entitled 'Shamus O'Brien'.

"A drama full of smart action, deftly written dialogue, and telling tableaux, and the audience responded with much warmth...Mr. Dampier, as Shamus O'Brien, developed the nobility of the patriot's character with earnestness and feeling, and frequently won cheers from the more impressionable of the upper section of the audience." (Table Talk)

[Editor's note: this play was originally performed in Sydney in 1887]

Opera House

George Miln's company opened 'Julius Caesar' on April 6th. Reviewers noted that Mr. Miln surpassed himself in the role of Marc Anthony.

"(Neither the) lapse of years or change of clime lessened in any wise the strong interest which "Julius Csesar" awakens in the minds ot the spectators of its performance, as was shown by the very large audience which assembled at the Opera house on Saturday evening, the close attention with which the evolution of the tragic history was watched from begining to end, and the genuinely enthusiastic applause bestowed upon Mr. Miln as the representative of Mark Antony, and upon his principal colleagues." (Argus)

The play ran throughout the month to great crowds. On the 27th 'Hamlet' was mounted. On the first night of this production the theatre was so packed there was not even standing-room left.

On Miln's performance the Australasian said "He disregards tradition, not fitfully or wilfully, nor capriciously, nor for the sake of being different from other actors, but from conviction."

Theatre Royal

At this theatre there was a revival of Merritt, Pettitt and Harris' popular play 'The World'. This opened on March 30th to good reviews.

"The scenery and mechanical devices are, as they always have been under Mr. Holt's management - perfect, and the cast of characters has been judiciously chosen so that the piece goes without a hitch." (Table Talk)

The last night was on April 12th. This was followed by 'A Run of Luck', by Henry Pettitt and Augustus Harris, on the 13th and 'The Ruling Passion', by James Willing, on the 20th. This was an Australian first.

"It is one of Mr. Holt's best pieces, and as the cast now stands it is impossible to excel it...was so well received that a long run may be predicted." (Table Talk)


On the 30th of March the Saint Maur Dramatic Company took over the theatre for a season. First up was 'Bootle's Baby', an adaptation by Charles Bradley.

"His version of 'Mrs Winter's' charming story is about as weak and flabby as it could well be." (Scalfax)

This was followed by 'The Candidate', by Justin McCarthy, on the 6th.

"Harry St Maur's impersonation of Lord Oldacre is a very cleverly thought out piece of work, marked with great naturalness, and impregnated with humor."

On the 20th the Brough and Boucicault Dramatic Company moved into the Bijou. The comedy 'Betsy', by Francis Cowley Burnand (1836-1917), was mounted on the Saturday night to glowing reviews.
Suddenly on Monday the 22nd the building burst into flames and was completely destroyed. Two people died and seven were seriously injured. Faulty electrical wiring was to blame. The company lost every thing in the fire, with losses estimated at over £10,000. The Bijou Theatre was the sixth theatre which had been burned down in Melbourne during the past 25 years.
Brough and Boucicault took over the Hibernian Hall, a much smaller venue that held 1,400 people. Two days after the fire they reopened again with 'Betsy'. This played at the new venue for the rest of the month.

Princess Theatre

'The Pirates of Penzance' commenced a short season on March 30th. This featured Walter Marnock as the Pirate King, a part he had played for many a season in London and throughout England. Reviewers noted that other than Howard Vernon, as the Major-General, none of the others in the cast were anywhere near the standard of the original production eight years earlier. 'Charity Begins at Home' continued as an afterpiece. [Editor's note: Charles Templeton, who played Samuel, committed suicide on April 15th. Templeton was his stage name. His real name being Pringle.] On the 13th 'Dorothy' was revived for a week seeing a return to the stage of Nellie Stewart who had been off with a severe illness. On the 20th the first Australian performance of 'The Yeomen of the Guard' took place.

The Argus stated: "of Sir Arthur Sullivan's music it may be honestly affirmed that it is charming from beginning to end. The orchestration is excellent throughout, and many of the numbers are among the best things he has ever written."
However Scalfax said "The music is different from Sir Arthur Sullivan's previous operas, and has nothing at all catchy in it. It reminds one at times of other well known operas, but just as you are about to fix the source the melody fades."

The production featured Nellie Stewart as Elsie Maynard, William Elton as Jack Point, and Howard Vernon as Wilfred Shadbolt.

Howard Vernon courtesy of the La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, A/S12/08/82/245 Howard Vernon (1848-1921) first hit the stage in a production of 'Barbie Bleu' in 1873. By 1874 Vernon had formed his own company with a small group of singers and toured Australia, New Zealand, India, China, England, America, Singapore and in 1877 to Japan becoming the first European actor to appear in a Japanese theatre. On his return to Australia Vernon achieved his greatest fame through his performances in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas playing the leading 'patter' roles. Alfred Cellier, the composer and conductor, stated that "Vernonís impersonations compared most favourably with anything that had been seen in London."

MAY 1889

Hibernian Hall

The Brough and Boucicault Company concluded their production of 'Betsy' on the 4th of May. On the 6th 'Modern Wives' was revived. Even though attracting good reviews it received very moderate audiences. 'Bachelors', by Robert Buchanan and Herman Vezin, was revived on the 15th. Once again a perfect success from an artistic point of view but very poor attendances. 'Two Roses', by James Albery, was reproduced on the 24th. After the last performance the company packed up and headed for Sydney.

Theatre Royal

'The Ruling Passion' concluded its run on the 10th. On the 11th 'New Babylon', by Paul Meritt, was revived for six performances only. Thus came the conclusion of the long Bland Holt season.

A new dramatic company was introduced by Williamson, Garner and Musgrove. They opened on Thursday, the 23rd May in a sensational new piece entitled 'The Pointsman', by R.C. Carton and Cecil Raleigh. This work had recently had a successful run in London.

"The principal parts are all lengthily written, but without color and the dramatic action moves slowly." (Table Talk)
"Miss Williamson, who plays lizzie, possesses a sympathetic voice, expressive face, and graceful carriage. The feeling, she displays is natural, and therefore impressive, and there is a note of sincerity in her emotion which relieves it from the suspicion of staginess." (Argus)

Opera House

George Miln's 'Hamlet' continued with good audiences.

"Mr. George Miln's impersonation of Hamlet grows fiercer each performance."

On the 17th there was a revival of 'Richard 111'. On Saturday, May 25th, the George Miln Company staged 'Richlieu', based on play by Alexandre Dumas. This opened to good reviews.

"Mr. Geo. C. Miln's effective impersonation of the famous Cardinal was accorded the emphatically expressed admiration which is only its due, while Miss Louise Jordan's graceful and earnest acting as Julie de Mortemar has won for her much popularity." (Table Talk)
"New scenery has been painted for the piece throughout by Mr. E. Vaughan, and the brightness of the setting formed an agreeable feature of the performance, which was watched from beginning to end with unabated interest by a large audience that was liberal of its applause, and called the principals before the curtain at the end of each act." (Argus)


The Dampier Company continued to have an unbroken record of prosperity and 'Shamus O'Brien' showed no sign of falling off in popularity.

Princess Theatre

'The Yeomen of the Guard' continued to attract audiences many returning for the second or third time.

"Under M. Caron's baton the lovely orchestration is skilfully brought out in all its delicate lights and shades." (Table Talk)

However towards the end of the month Nellie Stewart had to step down owing to sickness. She was replaced by May Pollard.

"Miss May Pollard is a very useful and painstaking young lady, but is not yet qualified for sustaining prima donna roles. The splendid acting of Mr. Elton and Mr. Howard Vernon are the only redeeming features of the representation as it is at present." (Illustrated Australian News and Musical Times)


Theatrical entertainment was flourishing around the country. There follows a listing of what you could see if you travelled around Australia in May, 1889.

Melbourne: Besides the above listings you could also take in the mesmerist T.A. Kennedy at St Georges Hall and Mr. Frank Clark's English Variety Company was at the Victoria Hall.
Sydney: At the Theatre Royal 'Sinbad the Sailor' featured Fanny Liddiard. At the Criterion Theatre Frank Thornton and Annie Taylor appeared in 'Sweet Lavender'. At Her Majestys George Ringold appeared in 'Romany Rye' followed later in the month by 'The Beggar Student' featuring Lilian Tree. At the Gaiety Theatre, the Cogills Variety Company were in for a season with an evening entertainment under the title 'Mr. Picnic Party'. At the Haymarket Music Hall the Federal Minstrels were performing and at the Academy of Music there was the burlesque 'Dick Whittington'.
Adelaide: At the Theatre Royal Arthur Garner's new English company opened 'The Silver Falls'. This featured J.H. Clyndes.
Brisbane: At the Opera House 'Never Too Late To Mend', followed later in the month by 'Hands Across the Sea', were the current hits. These were mounted by English actor Charles Warner and company. At the Gaiety Theatre 'My Wife's Tricks' featuring the Mortyne Family drew good houses. At the Theatre Royal the Gaylord-Silbon Variety Troupe were in residence earlier in the month. They were followed mid month by the Cogills Variety Company.
Hobart: At the Theatre Royal the Simonsen English and Comic Opera Company presented a series of productions including 'The Bohemian Girl', 'Satanella', 'HMS Pinafore' and 'Faust'. The company headed for New Zealand on the 10th and the theatre went dark for the rest of the month.
Sandhurst: At the Princess Theatre 'Barnes of New York' was on stage with the Darrell family.
Dunedin: Fresh from Tasmania the Simonsen English and Comic Opera Company opened a season later in the month. The first work was 'Maritana'.
Wellington: At the Opera House the Arthur Vivian company were appearing in 'Current Cash'.
Auckland: At Abbott's Opera House the Hugo Minstrels were playing to such huge houses that authorities issued a summons for overcrowding.

JUNE 1889

Princess Theatre

'The Yeomen of the Guard' concluded its moderate run on the 7th of June. 'Patience' opened for a short season on the 8th. The cast included Howard Vernon, Walter Marnock, May Pollard and Fannie Liddiard as Lady Jane.

"Miss Liddiard always gets through her work with much sparkle and finish, that she stamps her individuality upon each character she represents." (Table Talk)

On the 15th there was a revival of 'H.M.S. Pinafore' with William Elton as Sir Joseph. Reviews were lukewarm.

"Mr. Elton can only be called a singer by courtesy, and Sir Joseph Porter requires singing." (Scalfax)

After the opening performance Edwin Kelly took over from William Elton owing to illness.
On the 17th there was a revival of the popular 'Dorothy'. The only novelty of this production was Helen Kinniard playing Mrs Privett. This part was originally played by Alice Barnett. 'Dorothy' ran until Wednesday July 3rd after which the company headed for Sydney. There was an amateur performance of 'The Merchant of Venice' on Thursday the 4th.


The Dampier's 'Shamus O'Brien' concluded its long run on the 7th. On the 8th 'Madame Midas' was produced. This was dramatisation of the novel of Fergus Hume by Phil Beck.

"In the acting, Mr Philip Beck, claims almost the entire attention of the audience. The part of Gaston Vandeloupe is one that suits him. To all the cynicisms placed in his mouth Mr. Beck gives special point, and where a weakness is noticeable, Mr. Beck maybe held responsible for it in his capacity of dramatist rather than as actor." (Argus)

This proved successful enough to run until the end of the month.

Opera House

The George Miln Company mounted 'Julius Caesar' on Wednesday 5th with benefits occupying the final two nights of the season. The company then headed for short seasons in Sandhurst, Ballarat and Tasmania.

American actress Kate Putnam and company opened a season with 'Lena, the Madcap'. This was written by the lady herself.

"It may be stated right away that pieces of that sort can only be called plays by courtesy." (Scalfax)
"Katie Putnam has produced a piece which can only be characterised as undramatic and unmitigated rubbish." (Argus)

The play was a disastrous failure and was replaced on Saturday the 15th by 'Fanchon' an adaption from a tale by Georges Sand. On Saturday the 29th Kate Putnam and company produced their fancy version of 'The Old Curiosity Shop'. Miss Putnam took on two roles.

Reviewer Scalfax noted "she does not appear to fully grasp either character, and could our greatest novelist only rise from his grave to see this adaptation of his most touching work he would immediately want to go back again."

The production proved successful enough to run two weeks.

Theatre Royal

'The Pointsman' was meeting with general favour and drew successful houses throughout the month.

"The excellent impression which Miss Clara Cowper and Miss Maud Williamson at first created has developed into decided popularity." (Table Talk)

The Bland Holt season concluded on June 28th.

JULY 1889

Princess Theatre

There was a special benefit for the Melbourne orphans on Thursday the 4th of July. The local Shakespearean Society put on a production of 'The Merchant of Venice'.
On the 6th Jennie Lee reappeared in 'Jo' after a five year absence from Australia.

"When Jennie Lee made her appearance she received a roar of friendly greeting that plainly told the hold she had on the public." (Table Talk)
"The lady herself in respect to her acting leaves nothing to be desired, but her company is decidedly weak, and unworthy of supporting one who must be allowed to be an artist." (Illustrated Australian News and Musical Times)

[Editor's note; 'Jo' is based on Charles Dickens' 'Bleak House' adapted by Jennie's husband John Pringle Burnett]
'Jo' clocked up good figures concluding on the 26th. On the 27th 'The Grasshopper' returned to the Melbourne stage.

"The audience were kept in a state of uncontrollable laughter for three hours...Miss Jennie Lee is the pervading spirit of the piece, bright, mischievous, frolicsome, coquettish, occasionally pensive and always lovable." (Table Talk)
"Miss Jennie Lee was called before the curtain at the end of the first act, and was encored in both her songs, besides eliciting plenty of laughter and applause throughout." (Argus)

Jennie Lee from the  Illustrated Australian news. Jennie Lee (1848?-1930) was born in London. After her fatherís death she entered the dramatic profession and first appeared on the stage at the Lyceum Theatre in 1870. In San Francisco she first appeared in 'Jo' which became her most famous role. This play ran for over a year in London. She was also popular in pantomime and toured throughout the United Kingdom, America, Australia, Africa, India and China. Her stage career continued into the 20th century.


'Crimes of Paris', by George Conquest (1837-1901) and Paul Merritt, was revived on June 29th. Philip Beck lead the large cast which also included Rita Wundale, Katherine Russell and Alfred Dampier.

Philip Beck's "performance throughout is even and artistic and marked by easy natural style that is a peculiar attribute of this gentleman."

[Editor's note: Philip Beck committed suicide on Christmas eve in Ceylon while on his way to England.]
On the 13th 'The Unknown', by J.A. Stevens, opened to good reviews.

"Mr. Dampier as the Unknown, made the character attractive, and assisted it with a good deal of poetic feeling.".

The production finished on the 26th and on the 27th 'East Lynne', the adaptation of Mrs. Henry Wood's novel, was revived.

"Miss Lily Dampier essayed the character of the heroine with considerable success for so young a representative."

Opera House

The Katie Putnam season drew to a close on Friday 12th with a benefit for the lady. Ms Putnam then went on to tour the provences commencing in Ballarat.

On Saturday 13th the Silbon Family Gymnastics and Acrobatic Company returned for a few more weeks. The family had recently joined forces with the Stirk family who were also from America. The Stirks were a family of trick riding bicyclists.

"The programme is excellently arranged and excellently performed." (Table Talk)
"The house was tolerably well packed from floor to ceiling, and even in the dress circle scarely a vacant seat was to be noticed." (Argus)

Theatre Royal

'The Bells of Haslemere', by Henry Pettitt and Sydney Grundy, received its first Australian performance on June 29th. This was a play that had mounted up considerable success in London a year earlier.

"The story is clearly told, the dialogue smart and to the point, and the comedy element well developed." (Table Talk)
"The drama has been most magnicently mounted, and every possible effort has been made to dazzle the eye and impress the mind." (Scalfax)

This production featured the first appearance in Australia of Emma Gwynne. Emma had been a successful performer on the London stage. She had appeared with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company taking on roles that had previously been made famous by her sister, Julia Gwynne.

"Miss Emma Gwynne met with a flattering reception, and made a favourable impression; but the female characters of the drama are relatively weak ones." (Argus)

'The Bells of Haslemere' made a reasonable run finishing on August 2nd.


Theatre Royal

'The Silver King', by Henry Arthur Jones (1851-1929) and Henry Thomas, was revived on August 3rd to mediocre reviews but it managed to sustain audiences for the rest of the month.

"The noise and disorder of the occupants of the gallery - which is becoming the dominant section of the audience - were more offensive and persistent than we ever remember them to have been, and the foul language vociferated by a few juvenile roughs was simply disgraceful, and will have to be repressed with a strong hand in the interests alike of the management and the public." (Argus)

First produced in London in 1882 'The Silver King' was critically acclaimed as perhaps the most successful melodrama of the century.

Princess Theatre

The final performance of 'The Grasshopper' was on the 16th. Owning to illness the Jennie Lee season was interrupted. Charles Warner filled the gap with 'Captain Swift', an all Australian drama by Charles Haddon Chambers. [Editor's note: Chambers, 1860 - 1921, an Australian who spent most of his life in London, wrote several successful plays]. This was the first production in Australia.

"Every character in 'Captain Swift' is finely developed, and thoroughly human, and the climax to each act arises naturally out of the situation." (Table Talk)
"In Wilding, or Captain Swift, Mr Warner has found a part so congenial to his fancy that he has elaborated it into a masterpiece of refined and delicate, yet strong and impressive acting ,earnest without exaggeration, tender without mawkishness or insipidity, and pathetic without ever losing the note of sincerity." (Argus)

Charles Warner concluded his Melbourne season on the 30th and the company then headed for Tasmania and New Zealand.


'East Lynne' concluded its revival on the 16th. The Dampier Company then mounted 'Hamlet' on the 17th.

"Mr. Dampier's arrangement of the play is different to what is usually given, and, seeing that the obligation of stage traditions press so heavily on most actors, the present performance of Hamlet is all the more worthy of praise, since it shows the independent thought that has been bestowed upon it." (Table Talk)
"Mr. Dampier made the best of the material which he had at his command, and there was an evident desire to achieve something satisfactory in the way of stage appointments. Indeed, the new scenery, the greater portion of which was painted by Mr John Hennings, formed quite a new feature." (Argus)

For whatever reason audiences steered clear and the play was quickly withdrawn. There was a return to melodrama on Monday the 26th of August when Frank Harvey's 'The Wages of Sin' was produced.

"Miss Lily Dampier, as the heroine, got through her work very creditably and deserves to be especially praised for efforts in the little comedy scenes in the first act." (Table Talk)

Opera House

The Silbon Company finished their season on the 16th. The company then headed for Adelaide.

On the 17th John F. Sheridan appeared as Widow O'Brien in 'Fun on the Bristol'. This company was formed from some of the brightest young vocal and comic artists of the London stage. Reviews were glowing.

"Mr. J.F. Sheridan's clever representation of the Widow O'Brien is received with roars of laughter and applause, and his singing is one of the most amusing items in the performance." (Table Talk)
"Mr. Sheridan has lost none of his vigour, and is as well, if not better, worth seeing than when he was here before" (Scalfax)


Theatre Royal

'Harbour Lights' was revived on the 31st of August.

"Mr. Bucklaw's representation of David Kingsley is one of the best efforts, and quite deserved all the applause showered upon it. Mr. Edward Sass makes as much as possible out of his brief opportunities, and Mr. E Royce developed his peculiar humor with capital effect". (Table Talk)
"Mr William Calvert was properly passionate and desperate as Mark Helstone, the homicide. Misa Clara Camper made Dora Vane what she should be, a most attractive and loveable young lady and Miss Edith Blande was appropriately mournful as the unfortunate Lina Nelson." (Argus)

This production ran until the 13th. On the 14th the Pettitt-Sims drama 'The Silver Falls' was produced for the first time in Melbourne.

"There is not much novelty in it, but the construction is so thoroughly finished, and the situations and dialogue so well managed, that the effect of the play cannot fail to be otherwise than pleasing." (Table Talk)
"The attention of the audience was enthralled from first to last, the leading members of the company were called before the curtain again and again with enthusiastic applause, and playgoers agreed that "Silver Falls" was one of the best dramas of its kind that have been produced in Melbourne in recent years." (Argus)
"The company is only of average merit, and the ladies especially do not oome up to the standard of excellence looked for at our leading theatre." (Illustrated Australian News and Musical Times)

Opera House

'Fun on the Bristol' ended its long run on the 13th of September.

Fresh from Hobart George Miln returned to the theatre for his second Melbourne season having acquired the lease for the next twelve months. His Shakespearian Company had been carefully selected. The opening production, on the 14th, was 'Othello'. A thousand pounds was spent on scenery, costumes and general effects.

"Not only has 'Othello' been presented to the public better than it has ever been presented before, but it has been produced with the same attention to detail and scenic effect that mark a sensational drama." (Table Talk)
"Much of tho success of tho tragedy depends upon the manner in which Iago is played. Mr H N. Douglas, to whom the part was entrusted, quite rose to the occasion, and is to be credited with a full share of the honours of the evening. His representation of this prince of all stage villains was a careful, painstaking, and really able one." (Argus)


Robert McWade, an American actor, leased the teatre for a very short season. He opened on September 7th in his own dramatisation of 'Rip Van Winkle'.

"Mr McWade, as an actor, possesses all the qualities that go to make a thoroughly popular and successful actor, animation, humour, knowledge of resource and easiness."(Table Talk)
"Mr. McWade has formed his own conception of the character, and he ia faithful and consistent in his development of it. He brings into prominence its serious and sentimental side, and he is successful from the first in securing the sympathies ot the spectators, which he retains to the end of the play." (Argus)

The final presentation was on the 20th.

On the 21st the John Solomon English and Comic Opera Company moved into the theatre for a season. The first work was 'The Beggar Student' by Karl Millocker (1842-1899). This featured Henry Bracy, Lilian Tree and Knight Aston.

Princess Theatre

Jennie Lee, quite recovered from her recent illness, opened in 'Jack-In-The-Box' on the 31st of August. This play was written by George Sims and Clement Scott.

Jennie received the usual good reviews: "The chief personage was sustained by Miss Jennie Lee with all her characteristic sparkle and vivacity, and her aptitude for boy impersonation has never been more apparent." (Table Talk)
"Miss Jennie Lee's part is one which suits her, in theatrical phraseology, "down to the ground," and if she would only break herself of the habit of gasping when she sings and of a spasmodic action of the throat when she laughs, her acting would be still more acceptable in characters of this kind, Ľhere her exuberant vitality and unwearying "go" compensate for the absence of the higher qualities of a dramatic artiste." (Argus)

The last performance of the Jennie Lee season was on September 13th.

On the 14th Henrick Ibsen's controversial play 'A Doll's House' was produced in Australia for the first time. This featured direct from England members of the original London cast, Charles Charrington and Janet Achurch.

A female reviewer in the Bulletin described Miss Achurch as "the new actress, who talks for three hours in a dreadfully tiresome play."

Janet Achurch Janet Achurch (1864-1916) was born into a theatrical family first appearing at London's Olympic Theatre. In 1884 joined the company of Frank Benson playing roles from pantomime to Shakespeare. In June 1889 she appeared as Nora in the first English translation of 'A Doll's House' at the Novelty Theatre, London. She retired from the theatre in 1913 and died of an overdose of "morphine poisoning" aged 52.


Theatre Royal

'The Silver Falls' played for the last time on October the 4th. On the 5th was a revival of the five act drama 'Human Nature' which ran until the 18th.

"There is plenty of plot in the five acts, but the dialogue is dull and the incidents are mostly old friends under a very transparent disguise." (Scalfax)

On the 19th Janet Achurch and Charles Carrington moved over from the Princess to take the leads in 'The Merchant of Venice'. The production received such negative reviews that it closed a week later.

"Miss Achurch was the Portia, and Mr. Charrington the Shylock. A more charming lawyer or a more disappointing Jew it would bo difficult to conceive. Mr. Oharrington was anything but the Hebrew, that, the Bard drew, and the exasperating part of it is that he seemed to think himself a born genius." (Illustrated Australian News and Musical Times)

On the 26th 'Led Astray', Dion Boucicault's 1873 play about marital infidelity, was produced.


'The Beggar Student' proved so popular that it ran throughout the whole of October.

"Mr. Henry Bracy has returned to all his old popularity and in his impersonation of the leading character, shows great animation and naturalness, and his singing is warmly applauded." (Table Talk)

The Alexander Theatre:
The Alexander Theatre opened on October 1st, 1886, in Exhibition Street. It had seating capacity for 2,500 and was the principal house for melodramas. After the opening the Australasian wrote that the theatre was "roomy, bright, commodious, agreeably lighted and apparently well ventilated." In the 1890s it fell into disrepair. In 1900, after alterations, it was reopened, by J.C. Williamson, as Her Majesty's Theatre. After several refits the theatre continues to provide entertainment today.

Princess Theatre

At the Princess the touring company put on a revival of 'The New Magdalen', by Wilkie Collins, on September 28th with Janet Achurch receiving glowing reviews.

"It is not too much to say she is the best importation the firm have ever made." (Table Talk)

This production finished on the 11th and 'Pygmalion and Galatea' was mounted with fairly negative reviews.

On the 19th Henry Edward's company took over the theatre. 'The Real Little Fauntleroy' was the first production. This was Mrs Francis H. Burnett's adaptation of her own novel. [Editor's note: This work was originally produced in London in early 1888]

"Mr. Henry Edwards received the tumultuous welcome of an old friend." (Table Talk)

The work was so popular it ran into November.

Opera House

George Miln's 'Otello' concluded its run on the 4th. The following evening Tom Taylor's tragedy 'A Fool's Revenge' opened.

"Mr Miln's acting in the last scenes of the third act rises to sublimity...the feeling of the audience manifested itself in enthusiastic cheering at the fall of the curtain." (Table Talk)
"Miss Louise Jordan was not suited as Fiordelisa, but it is only fair to say that she is stated to be in a very bad state of health." (Scalfax)

This production finished on the 18th and on the 19th 'The Royal Guard' opened. This was an adaptation of Dumas' 'Three Musketeers' and featured American newcomer Edwin Thorne.

"I must confess that Mr. Thorne is very far from my ideal of what the dashing young guardsman who can never be beaten, outwitted, or 'bested' in anyway is. He is too solid. I am sure D'Artagnan would never have had a double chin." (Scalfax)

Edwin Thorne failed to attract so the show only ran for two weeks and Thorne then headed for Sydney.


Theatre Royal

'Led Astray' ran for just one week and Janet Achurch made her last appearance in Melbourne on November 1st. On the 2nd 'The Pointsman' was revived for a week and on the 9th Grattan Riggs reappeared in 'The Shaughraun'.

"His performance of Conn is as fresh, as humourous and as natural as ever it was." (Table Talk)

This production finished on the 22nd. On Saturday the 23th 'The Irish Detective' was produced. In this Grattan played the parts of an American detective, an Irishman, a German, a negro, an Irish woman, a Chinese, and an Italian.

"The plot is weaker than the average milk, as sensational as a boy's magazine, and as lopsided as a toy boat. This beautiful play is to run all the week, and aid in teaching us to admire Shakespeare and desire better things for our stage. The last it does, for we want better things than 'The Irish Detective' badly." (Scalfax)

On the 30th 'The Octoroon' was mounted. 'Shin Fane' and 'Colleen Bawn' would follow.

Opera House

One of the most eagerly awaited theatrical events took over this theatre on November 2nd. George Miln's production of 'Anthony and Cleopatra' was the work. Many little details went into mounting this production including the Nubian Guard. These were specially selected men over six feet high of which specially manufactured armour and tiger skins were made for them. A very pregnant Ida Osborne was employed to sing a couple of incidental songs.

The Telegraph reviewer said: "Pleasing music captivates the ear, and the admiration for physical prowess, inseparable from human nature, is pulsed into excitement by the spectacle of trained athletes displaying their skill before the wonderful Egyptian and her stalwart lover."
"The part of Cleopatra was allotted to Miss Jordan who proved most unfortunate. The lady, although possessed of considerable histrionic ability and high intelligence, was wholly unsuited for the part, and the result was, as is invariably the case where the manager's lady regards herself as a heaven-born genius, disastrous. What might have proved a grand triumph turned out a fizzle." (Illustrated Australian News and Musical Times)

The production didn't really catch fire with the public and only played until the end of November.

Princess Theatre

'Little Lord Fauntleroy' continued its successful run all November.

"The acting of the two child performers, Miss Olive Berkley and Miss Gracie Hopkins has won troops of friends for each little lady." (Table Talk)


The last performance of 'The Beggar Student' was on the 8th. On the 9th there was the first production in Australia of Alfred Cellier's 'The Sultan of Mocha'.

"Mr. Alfred Cellier's Sultan of Mocha cannot be said to be on an equality with his Dorothy, even, with all the rewriting and rearrangement." (Table Talk)

The operetta had a modest run which took it into December.


Theatre Royal

The Grattan Riggs season continued with a variety of different plays, each lasting no more than a few performances. The season closed on the 21st with a one off performance of 'The Irish Detective', one of the more popular productions, in which Riggs played seven different characters.

"It rained all it knew the whole day, the piece was old and well known, and the attendance poor." (Scalfax)

Riggs then headed to Launceston and later to Hobart.

On Boxing day the annual pantomime opened. This year it was 'Cinderella' by Frank Emery.

"It is about the weakest pantomime we have had for a long time, and that is saying a good deal. Miss Clara Merivale was very nervous as Cinderella, but as soon as she gets well into her part she should become popular. Miss Fanny Liddiard was a very solid Prince Prettypet, but pleased everyone by her grace and excellent singing. The harlequinade was much as usual, and was principally in the hands of the William Walton troupe, specially imported from England."" (Scalfax)

Opera House

'Romeo and Juliet' hit the stage on November 30th. Even though it received excellent reviews it only ran one week. 'Hamlet' followed but, owing to the illness of George Miln, it was taken off after a single performance and 'Romeo and Juliet' returned. George Miln was back on the 14th in 'Richard 111' and the season concluded on the 20th. The productions Miln mounted were very costly owing to the lack of an audience they lost money. The company then took to the road. Between Christmas and New Year Miln gave readings of Dickens in Ballarat. [Editor's note: Miln managed to get enough money during a short season to risk a visit to New Zealand which proved successful. His last performance in Australia was in Adelaide in October 1890.]
On the 21st John F. Sheridan returned to Melbourne with 'Fun on the Bristol'. An excellent work for the holiday season.

Princess Theatre

'Little Lord Fauntleroy' finally finished on the 13th. The company then took the production to Geelong and then to Adelaide.
On the 14th the Musgrove Opera Company mounted a revival of 'The Yeomen of the Guard'. This featured the young English prima donna, Clara Merivale, making her first appearance in Melbourne.

"(Clara's) singing is extremely pleasant and her acting is easy and spontaneous." (Table Talk)

The whole company moved into the Theatre Royal on boxing day to mount the pantomime.

On the 26th the comedy 'Dr Cupid', by Robert Buchanan, opened at the Princess. This had been a recent success in London and this production featured William Elton, Wilson Forbes and Janet Achurch.

"Mr. Elton has given much attention to Dr. Cupid, and has pleased the critics prety well all round. The comedy has been magnificently mounted." (Scalfax)


Cellier's operetta finally completed its reasonable run on the 10th. 'Martha' opened the following evening.

"The present production certainly merits praise for the careful and attractive manner in which it is presented." (Table Talk)

Starting on the 16th were brief stagings of 'The Bohemian Girl', 'Maritana' and 'The Beggar Student'

On Boxing night the Dampier Company commenced another dramatic season with the five act drama 'Judge Not' by Frank Harvey.

"The performance was entirely stopped on Boxing Night during a farmyard scene, in which two roosters engaged in a square fight to the frantic amusement of the gallery." (Scalfax)

Theatre in Melbourne 1888

Theatre in Melbourne 1890