The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83
The first Melbourne theatre was a bandbox called the Pavilion behind the Union Hotel, not far from the Bull and Mouth in Bourke-street. This shanty was in after years used as the Canterbury Music Hall, before the Coliseum was built, as the 'Frisco Bella Union of Melbourne. The Queen's Theatre, Queen street, followed the Pavilion.
Mr. Coppin came from Tasmania, forty years ago, with a dramatic company, which included Mr. and Mrs. C. Young and Mr. Rogers. Mrs. Young was a Miss Thomson, and at fifteen years of age she married Chas. Young, a comedian. She is now known in England as Mrs. Hermann Yezin. The Youngs went to England about twenty-eight years ago. Both succeeded in London. Mrs. Young obtained a divorce, and Young returned here. He ultimately died in Sydney.
Rogers was a splendid comedian, and unequalled in Sir Peter Teazle. He had been a soldier, and developed his rare talent in Garrison theatricals at Hobart. In later years he was rivalled by the veteran Lambert, from London. This actor left six volumes of manuscript reminiscences, and John Dunn also left a manuscript autobiography, which his son-in-law, Marcus Clarke, at one time thought of publishing.
Mr. Coppin was the first to introduce a carpet on the Melbourne stage. He also introduced G. V. Brooke, who opened 31 page 45 years ago at the Queen's, as Othello, supported by Fanny Cathcart and R. W. Younge, whose specialty used to be villains of the Iago and Paul Lafont type, but he has since become a low comedian, and his Middlewick, in "Our Boys," is familiar throughout England. His brother, F. Younge, came to Australia four years afterwards. He was killed by a railway accident in England, after his powers as a comedian had been fully recognised at the Prince of Wales' theatre, under the Bancrofts.
Before Brooke's time, the favourite tragedians were Nesbitt, Morton King, and Shearcroft. King became an auctioneer, and was an M. P. for many years. Once the members of Parliament gave a dramatic performance at the Melbourne Theatre Royal. King played Shy lock, in the "Merchant of Venice," and Coppin was the Launcelot Gobbo. Among other members who took part were Messrs. Carpenter, Howard, Lock, and Wilkie.
Richard Capper, mechanist and actor of the Queen's, died recently, aged 86. He had been a stage carpenter at Drury Lane, in Lord Byron's time. Capper published a book of half-a-dozen five act plays, which he wrote in the solitude of the Plenty Mountains. They are the oddest things we ever read, and we are not sure but we may be able to steal some thunder from them yet, though it is queerly buttered. The scenes are laid in ancient Babylon, Egypt, and such places. We roared over the unutterably strange and clumsy fun of "Mr. Sanchoniatho, a Babylonian Costermonger," and "Mrs. Sanchoniatho, wife to Sanchoniatho." The author, as a mechanist, elaborately explains that this humour is only brought in for "carpenters' scene, first grooves," so that the terrible events of the tragedy may be suitably prepared in the back grooves.
Bishop Perry brought out iron churches from England, and, not to be behindhand, a gentleman in irreproachable black prompted Mr. Coppin to bring out a galvanised iron theatre. It was built on the Lonsdale-street and Stephen-street corner, the site of Rowe's Circus—but a word about the circuses. The pioneer was Noble's, at the eastern top of Bourke-street, afterwards known as the Salle de Valentino, opposite Parliament House. Rowe came from San Francisco with his circus. Afterwards there came the troupe of ladies, gentlemen, and horses from Astley's, London, and Astley's Amphitheatre, a wooden place, was built for them in Spring-street. This edifice has since been known as the Princess' Theatre.
Well, Coppin's Iron Pot, as it was called, the Olympic Theatre, opened with G. V. Brooke, who was there supported by an admirable company, including Mesdames Heir, C. Young, Brougham, Miss Herbert, Messrs. Coppin, R. Younge, Rogers Heir, C. Young, Leslie, and L. J. Sefton.
Meanwhile, the great Theatre Royal, Bourke-street, was page 46 rapidly built, and opened in 1855, with the "School For Scandal," supported by Mrs. C. Poole, Messrs. Rogers and Henry Neil Warner, a fine actor, in Brooke's style. When the "Corsican Brothers" came out, these two actors were the rival performers in this piece at the Olympic and Royal. But the Royal soon fell into the hands of Mr. Coppin. Fanny Cathcart, afterwards known as Mrs. Heir, and Mrs. Darrell, was a prime favourite. Miss Herbert was the wife of Sefton, who became a manager in England.
In 1858 Melbourne found a new idol in Ellen Mortyn, whose Hester Grazebrook in "The Unequal Match" is still affetionately bracketted with Fred. Younge's inimitable Blenkinsop. Then came Avonia Jones, daughter of the Count Joannes, who was so mercilessly taken off by the acting of Sothern, in the "Crushed Tragedian," written by H. J. Byron. Yet Joannes, so long the butt of New York, once witched London with his Hamlet.
When the Princess' was turned from a circus to a theatre, it was called the Royal Amphitheatre. It has been known as the Princess' nearly thirty years. There it was that the Sisters Adelaide and Joey Gougenheim made their brilliant success with a company which included Miss Emily Glyndon, Rogers, Messrs. Warner, Rogers, G. F. Rowe, and Milne. Their performance of the Irish Heiress is still borne in mind. With extravaganzas like Fortunio and Ganem, they emulated Madame Yestris. Then George Fawcett Rowe took the management, and made great hits in burlesque, with Julia Mathews. Among their best pieces were Pluto and Proserpine, Aladdin, and Endymion.
Barry Sullivan is so warmly remembered in Melbourne that his welcome now would not be much inferior to that of Henry Irving. Sullivan's management of the Theatre Royal for two years was, without exception, the most creditable in Melbourne annals. As an actor he pleased all throughout the legitimate drama, and we only "caved in" when he sang the "Wonderful Crocodile," as "Long Tom Coffin," in "The Pilot." But the cherished memory of the Melbourne stage is that of Joseph Jefferson, as "Rip Van Winkle," "Asa Trenchard," "Caleb Plummer," and a score of other parts. What a cast was presented with the "Octoroon," never equalled in the world.
Strolling along the Collins-street Block, the other afternoon, we saw a smallish white-haired gentleman, leaning on the arm of his tall daughter. Though he was a stranger, we did not need to be told that this cross between Shakspeare and Orion Horne, with the rasping, saw-metallic voice, was Dion Boucicault, the modern Lope de Vega, author of 400 plays. We thought of the night, forty-three years ago, when, as a blushing youth, he was called before the curtain at Covert Garden, when the première of "London Assurance" page 47 had been finished, with such eclat, by Mrs. Nisbett, Madame Vestris, Farren, Mathews, Harley, Anderson, Bartley, and Keeley. Only James Anderson survives. And "Di" delights Melbourne as "The Shaughraun."