Studied Monuments

Stories from a London cemetery

Conrad Berndt: Bakehouse murder victim

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Conrad Berndt (1879–1898), from the Illustrated Police News, 19 November 1898

 

At about 7 o’clock on the evening of Thursday 10 November 1898, 19-year-old Conrad Berndt began his night’s duties in the bakehouse of the baker’s shop kept for the past four and a half years by William Ross at 82 William Street (later renamed William Road), on the corner of Osnaburgh Street, off Hampstead Road in London. Born Johann Konrad Berndt on 9 June 1879 in Wolfhagen in the Hesse region of Germany, Conrad was the son of Heinrich Brandt, a wagon inspector (Wagenmeister), and his wife, Katharine, née Wilke, and had two younger sisters.

Conrad had been in England for about two and a half years and had been working for Ross – who had himself been born in Germany – for about seven months; he lived above the bakehouse and shop, where he occupied the second-floor back bedroom. At work he wore a soft cap, a shirt, and a pair of trousers held up by a blue-striped canvas belt with two buckles. He was dark-complexioned with almost black hair, and Ross regarded him as a very good worker. He was also courting Ross’s niece, 18-year-old Eva Ross. William Wieffenbach, a Paddington master baker married to Conrad’s aunt Elizabeth, described him as ‘one of the quietest of men’, who ‘would not pick a quarrel with anybody’.

Conrad’s first job each evening was to prepare the dough for the next day’s bread, which would take about 45 minutes, after which he would make himself a meal in the bakehouse and go to bed until at about 11.30 Ross – who slept on the first floor – would call him to cut back the same dough, which would take about half an hour. Conrad would then remain in the bakehouse and at about 1 o’clock would prepare a second batch of dough and then light the oven.

On that November night, Ross had not yet called Conrad when at about 11 o’clock a man in his mid-thirties whom he knew as Richard Montague arrived at the shop door. (Montague was also known as Richard Mandelkow and Johann Schneider. The latter is the name used in later reports and official records, and will generally be used here.) Montague/Schneider had worked for Ross for about six months a couple of years earlier, and on the previous Friday he had made contact again to ask about work, having been unemployed for some time; Ross had told him that he did not need anyone else, but gave him two loaves for his children. Now Schneider was asking if Ross would allow him to stay overnight in the bakehouse so that he could get to a baker’s near Oxford Street early the next morning to see the foreman about a job. ‘All right, Richard; I know you, you can come in,’ Ross said. He then went to raise Conrad and give him some instructions, before going down to his own room. About five minutes later he heard Conrad going down into the bakehouse, and he then went to bed to sleep.

At about 3.15 Ross was awoken by someone – who did not speak – knocking at his bedroom door and then going down into the bakehouse. At around this time he would usually be called by Conrad to help him get the dough ready for the oven, which would have been heating up for about an hour and a half; so he got dressed and went downstairs. The bakehouse was in the basement and could be accessed from indoors either via stairs from the parlour behind the shop or via a ladder below a trap door through which bread was passed to the area behind the shop counter. Ross started down the ladder and called out ‘Conrad’. He received no reply, but heard someone on the staircase on the other side of the bakehouse.

Ross then continued into the bakehouse and Schneider came over from the stairs, with his coat on. Ross asked him, ‘Where’s Conrad?’ Schneider quietly replied, ‘He’s gone upstairs to lie down; he has been sick.’ ‘What a funny thing,’ commented Ross: ‘he’s never been sick before, and it’s a good thing that you’re here.’ He then turned towards the oven, which he saw was alight.

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A baker’s oven and kneading-trough, from Charles Tomlinson, Illustrations of Useful Arts, Manufactures, and Trades (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, [1858]). The oven door is open at right angles to the picture plane.

 

In turning towards the oven Ross was turning away from Schneider, and he had not taken two steps before he felt a blow on the back of his head. He stood for a moment stunned, then turned round and saw Schneider standing by one of the kneading-troughs with a ‘life-preserver’ or cosh in his hand.

Ross dashed past him and up the back staircase, shouting ‘Police!’ when he was halfway up. But Schneider came after him and grabbed him, and Ross felt the point of a knife against his chest. As Ross seized the knife with his right hand and tried to push Schneider away with his left, he heard his wife and servant calling out upstairs. Schneider then pulled the knife away, badly cutting Ross’s hand, and ran back into the bakehouse.

Ross continued into the shop and opened the street door, calling out ‘Police!’ and ‘Murder!’ As he was doing this, the grating in the pavement through which flour was delivered to the bakehouse flew open and Schneider jumped out and ran down William Street towards Hampstead Road.

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William Street and its surrounding (from Bartholomew’s Handy Reference Atlas of London & Suburbs, 1908)

 

Constable William Grist, based at the nearby police station in Albany Street, was on duty in Robert Street, and hearing Ross’s cries he ran towards him, as also did Inspector John Gough, who was in Stanhope Street. Finding Ross bleeding from a head wound, Grist was sent to fetch the divisional police surgeon, Dr James Maughan, and Gough took Ross back inside the shop and heard his account of what had happened.

When Grist returned, he and Gough searched the house to look for Conrad. On the stairs from the bakehouse to the back parlour they found an axe, which was usually kept under the kneading-trough. It had hair on the head of it, and wet blood where the handle fitted into the head. On the floor of the bakehouse they found a cosh, the weighted end of which was covered by a rag on which was what looked like blood. Then they turned to the oven, which was alight and very hot. With the help of an iron bar, they opened the oven door – and inside they found the remains of a human body, very badly charred and burned. The head was towards the door, and the skull could be seen to be exposed and smashed in on the right side. Maughan was brought down and found traces of blood where the whitewashed bakehouse wall seemed recently to have been wiped with something wet, and small pieces of human brain elsewhere.

The fire was drawn, but it was a couple of hours before the oven was cool enough for the body to be removed and taken to the mortuary. It was burned beyond recognition, but in the ashes in the oven were found two buckles, one of them attached to a scrap of canvas, which were later identified as belonging to the belt that Conrad wore, and also fragments of a shirt and trousers of his.

The following day, a post-mortem concluded that death was due to fracture of the skull and consequent extensive bleeding on the surface of the brain, leading to asphyxia, as a result of a blow by something like the broad end of the axe that had been found. Conrad would have lived for about half an hour after the blow, but probably would not have regained consciousness and would not have been conscious when put in the oven.

Ross’s servant accompanied the police to Conrad’s room, which was in great disorder – it had seemed tidy when Ross spoke to Conrad earlier. Conrad’s best clothes had been taken from the box in which they were kept and were lying across the bed; a purse in the pocket of a pair of trousers was found to contain 5 guineas, and a receipt for a watch was found in a coat pocket. The cupboard in which he kept a second-best suit was open – the servant testified that Conrad kept his silver watch and chain in the waistcoat of that suit.

Meanwhile, at around 3.30 a.m. police constables Albert John Hearn and Jeremiah Westcote were on duty in Hampstead Road when they saw a man evidently much excited hurrying towards them along George Street. ‘Hallo,’ said PC Hearn, ‘what’s your game?’ At this the man turned tail and ran towards the Euston Road, throwing something away as he went. The policemen caught him by Gower Street station and asked what he had been doing. ‘Nothing,’ he said. He was taken back to George Street, and a knife – open, and with what seemed to be blood on it – was found where something had been thrown. He denied that it was his, though later someone was found who testified that he had given it him. There was blood on his hands: he said he must have cut himself when he was drunk ‘last night’. White marks on his clothing he explained as whitewash from leaning against a wall.

With a constable on each side of him, he went quietly to the police station. While he was being questioned, the inspector on duty received a note that a search was on for someone called Montague, and he asked the prisoner if that was his name. He said it was not, and that his name was Schneider and that he was Russian. (He had also told people that he was German, and was sometimes said to be Polish; his real nationality is uncertain.) He was searched, and a watch and chain later identified as Conrad’s was found in one of his coat pockets. Maughan, the police surgeon, examined him too and found recent blood stains on his hand and clothes and recent burns and blisters on his hands, as well as white marks on him, scrapings of which corresponded with flour scraped from sacks in the bakehouse.

At the Old Bailey on 13 and 14 December, Schneider was tried for the wilful murder of Conrad Berndt. He was found guilty and sentenced to death, and was hanged at Newgate Prison on 3 January 1899. His wife went into service, and their three children were placed in a Roman Catholic orphanage. A model of Schneider in the dock of the Old Bailey was soon placed in Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors, where it remained until at least the early 1960s. (Shortly after the murder it was widely reported that Tussaud’s had bought Ross’s oven, but both Tussaud’s and Ross denied this.)

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An advertisement for Madame Tussaud’s from the St James’s Gazette of 15 December 1898

 

Before the murder William Ross had been doing very well, and his customers included many of the residents of the up-market terraces facing Regent’s Park. Immediately afterwards he declared that he was having the oven replaced; but he found that no one would buy bread coming from his premises. The Master Bakers’ Protection Society set up a subscription fund which raised £594 (equivalent to about £77,000 today), and after a grave and a memorial for Conrad in St Pancras Cemetery had been bought, and expenses had been deducted, Ross received £563 to help him restart in business in the Holloway neighbourhood. He also received nearly £200 from the National Association of Master Bakers.

Conrad was buried in St Pancras Cemetery on 17 November 1898. Thousands of people gathered along Kentish Town Road to watch the cortège pass by: the coffin was carried in an open hearse drawn by four horses, and several other vehicles followed it. The inscription on his headstone reads as follows:

In Memory
of
Conrad Berndt
Born at Wolfhagen, Germany,
June 9th 1879
Died at Regent’s Park,
Nov. 11th 1898
Fürchtet euch nicht vor denen, die den Leib töten und die Seele nicht mögen töten.
[Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.]
Matth. 10.28
This memorial is erected by
London Master Bakers

 

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Conrad Berndt’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery

SOURCES

• Hesse State Archive birth records accessed via ancestry.com
Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 13 November 1898 (’Regent’s Park Horror’), 20 November 1898 (‘The Regent’s Park Murder’), 27 November 1898 (’The Oven Tragedy’), 25 December 1898 (‘Madame Tussaud’s Exhibition’)
Morning Post, 23 January 1899 (‘The Bakehouse Murder’ – subscription for Ross)
• Old Bailey Proceedings Online, December 1898, Trial of JOHANN SCHNEIDER (36), alias RICHARD MONTAGUE RICHARD MANDELKOW (t18981212-85)
• David Snell, ‘No Murders Like British Murders’, Life, 2 February 1962, pp. 80–90
The Times, 12 November 1989 (‘Charge of Murder in St Pancras’), 19 November 1898 (‘The Alleged Murder in St. Pancras’), 25 November 1898 (‘The Alleged Murder in St. Pancras’), 14 December 1898 (‘Central Criminal Court, Dec. 13’), 4 January 1899 (‘Execution in Newgate’)
Western Mail, 23 November 1898 (‘The Oven with a Gruesome Record’), 5 December 1898 (‘The Oven Tragedy: A Correction and an Appeal’), 24 January 1899 (‘The Bakehouse Murder: Assisting the Unfortunate Baker’)

Mary Robinson: ‘Queen of the Costermongers’

In January 1884 the following story appeared in more than thirty newspapers across the UK, and variations on it were carried by papers in the United States, Australia and New Zealand in the following weeks:

On Monday afternoon an extraordinary scene was enacted in the Caledonian-road, London, and its neighbourhood, in connection with the funeral of an aged woman, named Mary Robinson, who was well known not only in Islington and St. Pancras, by the title of the ‘Queen of the Costermongers,’ but throughout the metropolis. Mary Robinson, who had resided at 137, Bemerton-street, Caledonian-road, at one time used to have a stall in Somers Town, and of late years had been a vendor of cats’-meat. It is stated that she amassed a great fortune, being worth no less than £60,000. It was her custom to lend to costermongers money on Fridays and Saturdays to go to market with, they paying her for the loan a shilling in the pound. The deceased was a most eccentric character. She paid, some 20 years ago, to Mr Frank Sharman, of Caledonian-road, £20 for her funeral expenses. Owing to the rumour that the deceased in her will had ordered that her remains should be carried to their last resting-place by four men wearing white smocks, and that 24 young women should follow wearing violet or purple dresses, Paisley shawls, hats with white feathers in them, and white aprons; that there was to be £20 spent in drink at certain public-houses she named, by the costermongers, and that there was to be a band of music in attendance, some thousands of persons congregated in Bemerton-street, along the Caledonian-road, and the route the procession was to take to Finchley Cemetery [i.e. St Pancras Cemetery, in East Finchley]. So great, indeed, was the concourse of people that it blocked the whole traffic for the time being, and in some cases persons paid for windows to see the procession pass by. The police, under the direction of Inspector Tucker, of the Y division, had a most difficult task to keep the space clear so as to allow the funeral procession, when it did start, to get along. The coffin, which was of handsome polished oak, bore a brass plate, with the inscription ‘Mary Robinson, aged 71; died Jan. 1, 1884.’ It was reported that the corpse was dressed in white satin, and that round the head was a handsome wreath. A funeral car contained the coffin, which was completely covered with expensive wreaths and crosses. There were, besides the relatives and near friends of the deceased, who followed in the mourning carriages, a great number of pony-carts, donkey-barrows, and cabs, all being overfilled with costermongers, whilst hundreds followed on foot to the Finchley Cemetery, where the deceased was buried in her family grave. The scene, which was a strange one, caused a great deal of excitement. The deceased, it was said, left a sum of £10 to be spent in drink, and 10s for pipes and tobacco after the interment. The money was afterwards spent in the manner indicated by the deceased.

One report, however, told a rather different story. The Camden & Kentish Towns, Hampstead, Highgate and St. Pancras Gazette used the same text as above but without the (inconsistent) mentions of money to be spent on revelry, and ended with this additional sentence: ‘The deceased had been a teetotaller for the past ten years of her life, and did not leave any money for drink or tobacco, as has been stated, and the funeral arrangements were carried out strictly in accordance with custom.’

Then, on 10 February, Reynolds’s Newspaper reported that, at Clerkenwell magistrates court, Maria Gutteridge and Mary Ann Robinson had been summonsed on a charge of assaulting one Benjamin Burman of Cromer Street, St Pancras, in connection with the reports of the funeral. The 1881 census indicates that Burman was a fishmonger who lived round the corner from the Judd Street home of Mary Robinson’s son-in-law (also a fishmonger/greengrocer) and his family. The two women had gone to ask Burman ‘why he had put those wicked things into the paper about their poor mother’. While they were speaking to him, they claimed, his assistant ‘threw Mrs. Gutteridge down and kicked her, and afterwards assaulted the other defendant in a similar manner’. A crowd gathered and a policeman took the defendants into custody, but the mob rescued them. The court found against them, and they each were ordered to pay a fine of 40 shillings, in addition to damages of 40 shillings and the costs of the summons.

The ‘wicked things’ that the two women were complaining about were not specified, but the claim that Mary had been ‘worth no less than £60,000’ seems to have been a considerable exaggeration: the value of her personal estate for probate purposes was later officially published as £162 7s. 8d. – equivalent to about £20,300 in 2019.

By the time the story had got to Australia and appeared in Adelaide’s South Australian Weekly Chronicle, South Australian Advertiser, Express and Telegraph and Port Adelaide News and Lefevre’s Peninsula Advertiser, Mary had become ‘Mary Robeson’, and her will had ‘specified that she should be buried in her best silk dress, with all her jewellery. She was to be laid in state, to be seen by all her friends and neighbors. Her coffin was to be polished oak with brass fittings, borne on a car drawn by four horses, with two mourning coaches and a brougham to follow. There was to be a lid of feathers, and feathers and velvets on all the horses.’ The Port Adelaide News cited the London Times as its authority for this, though no report of Mary’s funeral can be found in that paper’s online archive. (In some shorter reports in Australia and New Zealand – such as that in the Ballarat Star – Mary became ‘Mrs. Healy’, apparently following the report in the London Evening Standard, which seems to have confused her with the Judd Street daughter who was then Mrs Haley, also referring to her as an ‘eccentric old woman … of miserly habits’.)

The funeral had taken place on Monday 14 January. Over eighteen months later, on 8 November 1885, the Richmond Dispatch, based in Richmond, Virginia, published a ‘London Letter’ article entitled ‘London Funerals. Some Wild Extravagance’, which included a description of Mary’s funeral along similar lines to the report quoted above. However, commenting on the ‘wild rumors’ about her will, it stated that ‘One of these … which proved true, was that she had ordered that her remains should be carried to the grave by four men wearing white smocks. But another, that twenty-four young women should follow, wearing violet or purple dresses, Paisley shawls, hats with white feathers in them, and white aprons, did not transpire in fact.’

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Mary Robinson’s headstone in St Pancras Cemetery

 

The inscription around the top of Mary’s headstone reads, ‘THE FAMILY GRAVE OF EDWARD AND MARY ROBINSON OF CHAPEL ST SOMERS TOWN’. Below that, Mary – who died age 71 and so was born in about 1813 – is described as Edward’s ‘beloved wife’. Edward died aged 72 in 1872, and so was born in about 1800. ‘Edward’, ‘Mary’ and ‘Robinson’ are such common names that it is difficult to be certain, but the couple may have been the Edward Robinson and Mary Welch who were married in St Pancras Old Church on 19 December 1831 – which would fit fairly well with the ‘beloved son’, William, who died aged 33 in 1866, according to the headstone (though he’s not buried with his parents). The 1831 couple were both illiterate, signing the marriage register with their marks, as did an M. A. Robinson who was one of the witnesses.

Maria Gutteridge, who was identified as Mary’s daughter in the report of the magistrates court hearing, appears in the 1881 census as living at 165 Bemerton Street, Islington, with her husband, Thomas, a labourer aged 36, and their four children. Maria’s age is given as 33, so she would have been born in around 1848. She and Thomas married in 1867, and in the marriage register Maria’s father, Edward, is said to be a general dealer. Maria signed the register with her mark, so she too was illiterate. Maria’s address then was given as Bemerton Street (and Thomas’s as Finsbury Street). Thomas and Maria are buried with Maria’s parents, as are three Gutteridge children – Emma, Mary and Charles – who died very young before the 1881 census.

It is in the 1881 census that Mary makes one of her few identifiable appearances in online records, age 69, living next door to her daughter at 167 Bemerton Street (not no. 137 as in the funeral reports), with a boarder (age 20), and giving her occupation as ‘cat’s meat dealer’ and her place of birth as St Giles – a notorious slum to the north-west of Covent Garden, near where Centre Point stands today. (Edward isn’t clearly identifiable in any online census records.)

Also buried in St Pancras Cemetery with the Robinsons and Gutteridges is a David Haley who died aged 2 years in July 1875 and whose ‘abode’ appears in his burial-register entry as 20 Judd Street. Mary Ann Robinson – Maria Gutteridge’s co-defendant in the Clerkenwell magistrates court – is presumably therefore the Mary A. Robinson who appears, aged 46, in the 1881 census entry for 20 Judd Street.

The head of the 20 Judd Street household in the 1881 census is also named David Haley, a 43-year-old greengrocer and fishmonger. The name of his 40-year-old wife is hard to decipher, but looks like Mary Haley, as does the name of one of their six children. These include yet another David Haley, this one aged 2 months and so born in early 1881. Mary A. Robinson’s relation to the head of the family is given as ‘relative’.

To add to the confusion, when Edward Robinson died, in 1872, the address entered on the burial register was 19 Judd Street. (The same address appears in the burial-register entries for two of the Gutteridge children who are buried with him.) Three different households are listed for this address in the 1881 census, none of them with an obvious link to Edward, but in the 1871 census there are again three households and one of them is headed by ‘David Halley’, a 32-year-old greengrocer. He has five children, whose names tally with those of David Haley’s eldest five children in 1881, so his household evidently moved across the road at some point. But the scribbled name of his 30-year old wife in 1871 looks like Ann, which is puzzling.

It seems likely that David Haley/Halley was married to one of Edward and Mary Robinson’s daughters; but what was her name? On 1 September 1858 a general dealer named David Haley married the daughter of another general dealer, Edward Robinson, in St Pancras Old Church. In 1871 the eldest child at 19 Judd Street was aged 11, so born in around 1860, which looks promising. But the bride’s name on 1 September 1858 was Emma (the name of one of the daughters in the 1871 household and of one of the Gutteridge children – and of course a quite common name). Again, both bride and groom signed the marriage register with their marks.

So it seems that Edward and Mary had a son, William, born in about 1833, a daughter, Mary Ann, born in about 1835, another daughter, Maria, born in around 1848, and a third daughter born between the other two in about 1841, and named … who knows?

As for Chapel Street, the location linked to Edward and Mary on their headstone, in the early 1860s Chapel Street, Skinner Street and Brill Row in the Somers Town area of St Pancras were the location for a popular Sunday market, known as the ‘Brill’ – until, later in the decade, Skinner Street and Brill Row were demolished and Chapel Street was shortened to make way for goods sheds for St Pancras station.

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Chapel Street and its environs in 1861 (top, from Cross’s New Plan Of London) and in 1894 (from Ordnance Survey London VII.NW)

 

In London Labour and the London Poor (1851), Henry Mayhew described the Brill as follows:

The streets in the neighbourhood are quiet and empty. The shops are closed with their different-coloured shutters, and the people round about are dressed in the shiney cloth of the holiday suit. There are no ‘cabs,’ and but few omnibuses to disturb the rest, and men walk in the road as safely as on the footpath.

As you enter the Brill the market sounds are scarcely heard. But at each step the low hum grows gradually into the noisy shouting, until at last the different cries become distinct, and the hubbub, din, and confusion of a thousand voices bellowing at once again fill the air. The road and footpath are crowded, as on the over-night; the men are standing in groups, smoking and talking; whilst the women run to and fro, some with the white round turnips showing out of their filled aprons, others with cabbages under their arms, and a piece of red meat dangling from their hands. Only a few of the shops are closed, but the butcher’s and the coal-shed are filled with customers, and from the door of the shut-up baker’s, the women come streaming forth with bags of flour in their hands, while men sally from the halfpenny barber’s smoothing their clean-shaved chins. Walnuts, blacking, apples, onions, braces, combs, turnips, herrings, pens, and corn-plaster, are all bellowed out at the same time. Labourers and mechanics, still unshorn and undressed, hang about with their hands in their pockets, some with their pet terriers under their arms. The pavement is green with the refuse leaves of vegetables, and round a cabbage-barrow the women stand turning over the bunches, as the man shouts, ‘Where you like, only a penny.’ Boys are running home with the breakfast herring held in a piece of paper, and the side-pocket of the apple-man’s stuff coat hangs down with the weight of the halfpence stored within it. Presently the tolling of the neighbouring church bells breaks forth. Then the bustle doubles itself, the cries grow louder, the confusion greater. Women run about and push their way through the throng, scolding the saunterers, for in half an hour the market will close. In a little time the butcher puts up his shutters, and leaves the door still open; the policemen in their clean gloves come round and drive the street-sellers before them, and as the clock strikes eleven the market finishes, and the Sunday’s rest begins.

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A costermonger as depicted in Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor

 

The market’s operating hours later seem to have extended, judging by a description in the Illustrated News of the World written just before the arrival of the railway and quoted by Edward Walford in his Old and New London (1878):

As the philanthropic or curious visitor enters Skinner Street, about eleven o‘clock some bright Sunday morning, his ears will be greeted … by the unnaturally loud cries of men, women, boys, and girls, anxious to sell edibles and drinkables – in fact, everything which a hard-working man or poor sempstress is supposed to need in order to keep body and soul together. The various so-called necessaries of life have here their special advocates. The well-known ‘buy, buy, buy,’ has, at the ‘Brill,’ a peculiar shrillness of tone, passing often into a scream – and well it may, for the meat is all ticketed at 4½d. per pound. Here the female purchasers are not generally styled ‘ladies,’ but ‘women,’ and somewhat after this fashion – ‘This is the sort of cabbage, or meat, or potatoes to buy, women;’ and each salesman seems to think that his success depends upon the loudness of his cry … The purchasers not only come from all parts of Somers Town itself to this spot on a Sunday morning, but from Camden Town, Holloway, Hampstead, and Highgate, and even from distances of five and six miles. The leading impression made by the moving scene is that of great activity and an ‘eye to business.’ Every one at the ‘Brill,’ as a rule, comes there on a Sunday morning for a definite purpose. The women come to buy meat, fish, vegetables, and crockery; and the men, chiefly ‘navigators,’ as they are termed, come to purchase boots, boot-laces, blouses, trousers, coats, caps, and other articles of wearing apparel.

The article continued:

Altogether, at the Brill matters are carried on in a business-like way. The salesmen, many of them young boys, are too intent on selling, and the purchasers too intent on buying, to warrant the supposition that they derive much spiritual benefit from the preachers of all persuasions and of no persuasions who frequent the neighbourhood. The most ardent, and apparently the most successful, of the street preachers are those who occupy posts in the immediate vicinity, and ‘hold forth’ in familiar strains on the advantages of teetotalism, and the evil consequences following intemperance.

Was Mary one of those latter street preachers’ successes?

In his Saint Pancras, Past and Present, published in 1874, after the construction of the station goods sheds, Frederick Miller noted that

Chapel-street, from time immemorial, seems to have been the favourite market-place in Somers Town. Skinners-street, part of Brill-row, and Brewers-street, also formed an important part of the market till their partial or total destruction. All kinds of shops which appeal to the appetite, the necessity, or the vanity of the frequenters of Chapel-street, are still to be seen. Interspersed is an occasional half-penny shaving shop: and for the mental pabulum is displayed the ‘Police News,’ and the endless variety of half-penny and penny serials, containing tales of highwaymen, or pirates, or love tales in which murder and suicide play a prominent part; in the same shops ’sweet-stuff,’ in its various colours and forms, lies in wait to beguile the young of their half-pence. Very few of the pure sweets or comforts of life fall to their lot. In front of this long line of shops (leaving but a narrow passage in the road-way) are the barrows of the costermongers, many of them vending similar articles to those displayed by some of the shopkeepers. On Saturday evenings (the only time when improvident luxuries are possible to go off) there may be seen engravings, or bright staring coloured pictures in frames. These attract many gazers, but apparently few purchasers.

This, then, would seem to be the context in which Mary’s selling and money-lending flourished. (Later, the same area was also home to Henry Croft – ‘The Original Pearly King’ – who is buried a couple of hundred yards away from her.)

The interest rate quoted earlier for Mary’s money-lending – ‘a shilling in the pound’, or 5 per cent – may sound steep for a short-term loan, depending on how quickly the loan had to be repaid, but in London Labour and the London Poor Henry Mayhew noted that ‘the ordinary rate of interest in the costermongers’ money-market amounts to 20 per cent. per week’, so perhaps Mary flourished by undercutting her competitors.

The 1885 Richmond Dispatch article mentioned above included – on what authority is not stated – a couple of details not found in earlier reports. One was that Mary had paid for her funeral so far in advance because ‘About twenty years ago she fell ill, and for some weeks lay in a critical condition. On her recovery she brooded much on death and funerals and the short-sightedness of people who in health make no practical burial provisions in case they are suddenly called hence.’ The other was that

Although seemingly a female Shylock, she was often generous, and, outside of money transactions, gave many a poor creature a helping hand. Especially in cases of illness and death was she generous. In short, she was a humble financier at the worst, and had she been born in better circles, doubtless would have turned her speculative talents to loftier account.

It might be nice to think that this generosity was the real reason for the large turnout at her funeral, but that would probably be imposing a narrative on events just as much as did the contemporary writers of fanciful reports.

 

SOURCES

• The report quoted at the start of this piece appeared in the Islington Gazette, the Middlesex Independent and the South Wales Daily News on 16 January 1884; in the Greenock Advertiser on 17 January; in the Abergavenny Chronicle, the Bicester Herald, the Brecon County Times, the Diss Express and the Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser on 18 January; in the Alcester Chronicle, the Banffshire Reporter, the Beverley and East Riding Recorder, the Buckingham Express, the Cardiff Times, the Central Somerset Gazette, the Christchurch Times, the Denbighshire Free Press, the English Lakes Visitor, the Exmouth Journal, the Hendon & Finchley Times, the Hertford Mercury and Reformer, the North London News, the Norwood News, the Renfrewshire Independent, Reynolds’s Newspaper, The Star (Guernsey), the Weekly Irish Times, the West Surrey Times and the Yarmouth Mercury on 19 January; in The People on 20 January; in the Tenbury Wells Advertiser and the Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette on 22 January; and in the Enniskillen Chronicle and Erne Packet on 24 January. A similar story had appeared in the St James’s Gazette on 15 January and was reprinted in, for example, the Chillicothe Independent (Illinois) on 1 March.
Ballarat Star (Victoria), 6 June 1884 (‘Funeral of an Eccentric Female’)
Camden & Kentish Towns, Hampstead, Highgate and St. Pancras Gazette, 19 January 1884 (‘St. Pancras Costermongers’ Funeral’)
Evening Standard (London), 15 January 1884
Express and Telegraph (Adelaide), 11 March 1884 (‘Funeral of the Queen of the Costers’)
• Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor: A Cyclopædia of the Condition and Earnings of Those That Will Work, Those That Cannot Work, and Those That Will Not Work, vol. 1: The London Street-Folk (London, 1851)
• Frederick Miller, Saint Pancras, Past and Present (London: Abel Heywood & Son, 1874)
Port Adelaide News and Lefevre’s Peninsula Advertiser, 14 March 1884
Reynolds’s Newspaper, 10 February 1884 (‘Clerkenwell: The Funeral of “The Queen of the Costermongers”’)
Richmond Dispatch, 8 November 1885 (‘London Funerals. Some Wild Extravagance’)
• Edward Walford, ‘Somers Town and Euston Square’, in Old and New London, vol. 5 (London, 1878)

George Proctor Hutchinson: Acrobat, dog-trainer and circus proprietor

In an overgrown grave beneath an almost illegible headstone in Islington Cemetery lie the remains of someone who performed before eleven crowned heads of Europe as well as in America, before ending up ‘in very needy circumstances’ as the subject of an appeal for donations for his support.

George Proctor Hutchinson was born in Birmingham on 13 May 1827, the fourth of five children – three boys and two girls – born to Thomas Proctor Hutchinson and his wife, Susanna, née Holloway. The oldest child, James, took up his father’s profession of moulder. But George and his other brother – seven years his senior and also named Thomas – went into show business.

Their debut was with Edwin Hughes’s circus, with whom at the end of March 1847 they arrived in London to take part in performances of The Desert, or the Imaum’s Daughter at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Queen Victoria attended a matinee on 29 April, with Prince Albert and other members of the royal family. She thought it ‘beautifully put on the stage & got up as to scenery, dresses & grouping. All the horses, elephants & camels of Mr. Hughes’s establishment appeared … An attack by Bedouins was admirably managed, as also the affect of clouds of dust & the desert starlight. The final procession with many horses & a chariot drawn by 2 elephants was very fine.’ The account of the visit in the queen’s surviving journals makes no mention of the brothers; nevertheless, they were to milk having played before her for all it was worth thereafter.

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A poster blank for Edwin Hughes’s circus (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

 

In March 1848 they were performing as the Brothers Hutchinson at The Theatre in Carlisle. The Carlisle Journal thought they ‘added in a great degree to the entertainments of the week by the display of their many clever and surprising gymnastic feats’, and a correspondent for the show-business paper The Era thought them ‘truly astonishing and clever artistes’, while commenting that they had done ‘very indifferent’ business thanks to Tournaire’s French Equestrian Troupe having opened ‘a circus which is very well attended’ in competition.

In the following month the brothers had joined Tournaire’s company and they would appear with it in Newcastle, Whitehaven and Carlisle again, en route to Edinburgh.

In March 1849 –now with a company of their own – they gave an ‘astonishing exhibition’ at the Guildhall in Fife. At the end of May they were in Hartlepool, in June in Darlington, July in Hull, and in October 1849 they were at the Queen’s Theatre in Manchester, whether on the same bill as The Blighted Troth or following that ‘domestic drama’ is not clear.

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A poster for the Brothers Hutchinson’s appearances in Hartlepool on 31 May and 1 June 1849 (Mike Armstrong / Tyne and Wear Archives)

 

Then in November they were in Ireland, and the Limerick and Clare Examiner declared that ‘We never witnessed anything of an artistic character that pleased us half so much’ as their ‘Dance of the Globes’ routine at Limerick’s Theatre Royal, where ‘before commencing their part of the entertainment, [they] appeared on the stage in a gorgeous uniform of golden hue.’ The ‘Dance of the Globes’ was probably the routine later called the ‘Sports of Atlas’ and described as follows:

They call it the ‘Sports of Atlas,’ but the globes in this case are borne on the feet and legs instead of the shoulders. The dexterity, agility and muscular power displayed is truly extraordinary, and must be seen to be properly appreciated. The brothers lay on their backs, side by side, and take each a large globe on his feet, which are tossed from one to the other with wonderful rapidity and with numberless variations, all of them very surprising. The last feat is with four globes, which are kept whirling in the air in a manner to completely mystify and bewilder the beholder.

A week after its favourable review, however, the Examiner commented that

Some parties in this city, not friendly to the Dramatis Personæ, have, we understand, propagated a rumour that such performances are not such as Ladies may witness. A more ridiculously absurd notion could not possibly be entertained. There is nothing in those extraordinary feats that the most prudish may not witness with the strictest propriety; were it otherwise they should not have our advocacy, however expert they may be.

The brothers seem to have remained in Limerick for the rest of the year and then toured around Ireland for all of 1850 and 1851, visiting some towns more than once. But in March 1852 they were in Ashton in north-west England, before playing in Manchester in April and May and then moving on to London, opening at the Rosemary Branch Gardens, Islington, in June and staying there for three months.

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The Rosemary Branch Gardens in 1846 (from Warwick Wroth, Cremorne and the Later London Gardens)

 

In October they were at the Royal Marylebone Theatre, providing a coda to performances by ‘the celebrated American Tragedian’ McKean Buchanan in King Lear, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and Richard III, and themselves followed by Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The following months found them in Southampton, Ireland and Edinburgh again, then in February 1853 they appeared with Hernandez & Stone’s American Circus in Manchester, presenting ‘many novel feats’. But by the end of March they had moved on, and, with the American Circus then in Bradford, in April 1853 they were appearing opposite The Slave Hunt at the Princess’ Theatre in Leeds.

That the British Newspaper Archive contains no mention of them for some time after this may be explained by an advertisement in the Beverley Guardian and East Riding Advertiser of 29 November 1856, which details appearances before ‘the following Crowned Heads of Europe’: the king and royal family of Denmark (Copenhagen, 12 May 1853), Prince Frederick William and the royal family of Prussia (Berlin, 21 August 1853), the king and royal family of Saxony (Dresden, 9 September 1853), the emperor and royal family of Austria (Vienna, 28 November 1853), the king and royal family of Hanover (Hanover, 25 June 1854), the king and crowned prince of Sweden (Stockholm, 19 January 1855) – and Queen Victoria, of course. (An 1857 ad in The Era also mentioned Emperor Napoleon III, the emperor of Russia, the sultan of Turkey and the queen of Spain.) They had also, the ad said, performed ‘before most of the Nobility on the Continent’. At the Victoria Pavilion in Copenhagen, The Era had reported in August 1855, their performances were so popular that ‘many could not get in’, and ‘On the last night 1,200 paid for places in the large marquee. Farmers came so far as thirty-two English miles, and were obliged to return without seeing the entertainment.’ In Vienna, Die Presse praised their ‘sturdy physique and beautiful appearance’ and a skill in gymnastic exercises which ‘captivates the eye through the grace of the movements’. And now– ‘FOR TWO NIGHTS ONLY!’ – the brothers were coming to the Large Assembly Room, Beverley, Yorkshire.

Given the above, it comes as something as a surprise to learn from an advertisement in advance of performances in Portsmouth in April 1856 that ‘The Brothers Hutchinson have just Returned from a four-years’ sojourn in Russia, including the whole period of the present [Crimean] War. Mr. THOMAS P. HUTCHINSON will, during the Evening, exhibit various Trophies, and deliver a 10-minutes’ oration relative to his treatment by the Russians during his travels in their Country.’

After Portsmouth, they then appeared for some months at the Royal Cremorne Gardens in Chelsea, followed by the Royal Pavilion Gardens in Woolwich and the Rosherville Gardens in Gravesend, after which they again headed north, ending 1856 as part of W. Sanger’s Allied Circus in South Shields.

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Cremorne Gardens in the Height of the Season, by M’Connell, 1858 (from Warwick Wroth, Cremorne and the Later London Gardens)

 

Although the South Shields engagement was billed as ‘positively the last SIX NIGHTS of their stay in England’, from January to March 1857 they were performing ‘Les Merveilles Vivantes’ with Macarte’s Cirque Imperial in Birmingham, then were back with Sanger’s again in Newcastle, presenting a ‘DRAWING ROOM ENTERTAINMENT of GYMNASTIC POSIES [sic], as performed before Five Crowned Heads, including her present Majesty’, before in April advertising themselves as ‘disengaged’ until appearances in Bradford from late April to early May with the ‘Equestrian Manager’ Pablo Fanque, né William Darby – the first recorded non-white circus owner in Britain – after which they would be free for twelve days. They were back in Birmingham in May, and ended the month with a return to Rosherville Gardens, where they remained until September with their own ‘Grand Continental Troupe of Artistes’, whose show was included with the price of admission to the gardens.

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Rosherville Gardens, Gravesend (Illustrated London News)

 

In advance of two performances in Maidstone on 23 and 24 September they advertised that

The BROTHERS HUTCHINSON beg respectfully to call the public’s attention to the novel Programme of Entertainments which they have selected for their amusement, at the same time assuring their Patrons that all the Performances announced are of a Classical Nature, and calculated to please the most fastidious. Many long years of laborious toil and study have been spent to accomplish the great Feats which they have the honour of presenting to you, and on which occasion they most respectfully solicit your patronage.

However, on their first night ‘Only twenty-five persons presented themselves for admittance, and to these their money was returned, the performance not taking place.’ So it was then back to Gravesend, followed by a tour of Kent and then on to Southampton, Cork and, from mid-December into January, Liverpool, where they starred in William Cooke’s Circus at the Amphitheatre in Liverpool.

On 23 March 1858 an ad in the New York Herald announced ‘TO THEATRICAL MANAGERS AND THE PUBLIC – Arrival of distinguished gymnasts – The BROTHERS HUTCHINSON, the renowned gymnastic artists, from the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre, London, have arrived by the Arabia … Letters should be addressed to the Brothers Hutchinson, at the Florence Hotel, 400 Broadway.’

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Cunard’s steamship Arabia, which carried the Brothers Hutchinson to New York (Illustrated London News)

 

On 29 March they made their American debut as one of the entr’acte turns in Thomas Dunn English’s The Mormons, or, Life in Salt Lake City at Burton’s New Theatre in New York, presenting their ‘Sports of Atlas’ routine. It was advertised that ‘The BROTHERS HUTCHINSON will go through their wondrous and elegant performances, as given before the Queen of England, the Monarchs of Russia, Austria, Prussia, Sweden and Norway, Saxony and Hanover. The testimonials from these countries, with the signatures of the various kings, may be seen at the Box office.’

On the following day the New York Herald gave the description of the ‘Sports of Atlas’ routine quoted earlier, with a sniffy conclusion that ‘These feats are not a very high order of entertainment, but for people who fancy that kind of thing they are very fine and must prove attractive.’

The Mormons played in New York until 2 May, after which it moved to San Francisco, but the brothers’ association with it didn’t last that long, for on 24 April the Syracuse Daily Courier carried an advertisement for five appearances they were making at ‘Plunkett’s Dramatic Temple (Corinthian Hall)’ in April–May. The ad gives an idea of their act:

                                                   PART FIRST
Raphael’s Dream, or Studies from the Ancient Masters. Concluding with the Fighting and Dying Gladiators, in three positions …

After which the exquisite performance of the highly-trained and beautiful CANINE PETS, which were exhibited on two occasions, by special command, before Her Majesty and the Royal Family at Winsor [sic] Castle. These docile and intelligent animals were trained by Mr. Geo. P. Hutchinson, by whom they will be introduced to the patrons of the night.
P.S. – They will on this occasion repeat their Great Ladder Dance.

To be followed by Illustrations of the Arena, or the Roman Wrestlers, embracing every description of Roman attack and defence practiced in the Gladiatorial contests before the Roman Emperors, and thousands of spectators in the Magnificent Collisium [sic], concluding with the tremendous Contest with the Lance! …

Then, the crowning act of these great artistes, the SPORTS OF ATLAS, comprising a variety of evolutions with 1, 2, 3 and 4 Silver Globes, a feat invented and performed solely by the Brothers Hutchinson!

Appearances were advertised with Tournaire and Whitby’s New York National Circus in Brooklyn, Williamsburg, New Jersey City and ‘all the principal towns on the North River’ later in May. When, as part of Hutchinson & Yates’ Celebrated English and American Gymnastic, Acrobatic, Ballet, and Concert Troupe, they appeared at Rand’s Hall in Troy, NY, in June 1858 the Troy Daily Whig found ‘their illustrations of the Roman arena, and delineations of works of art, were wonderful as well as pleasing’, though ‘The house was not as full as it should have been for the high order of performance, and the ability and talent of the members of the troupe.’

The brothers appeared at the Metropolitan Gardens in New York from late June until August, then they seem to disappear from online newspaper archives until in February 1859 ‘These WONDERS OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY’ are billed as appearing in New Orleans. In May that year the New York Clipper announced that they had been performing at the Concert Hall in Columbus, Georgia, and that

On the 16th, they opened a new gymnasium for athletic exercises, at the same hall, as much as to say – ‘There’s my next best – beat it if you can.’ On the 23d, their fencing, sparring and scientific class commenced under the guidance of Prof. Thos. P. Hutchinson, who seems to say – ‘If we don’t give satisfaction, may I be elected to bring in the groceries!’

On 26 June 1859 The Era reported that they were expected to be back in London around mid-July ‘for the purpose of playing a few engagements prior to their final retirement from the profession, and return to the United States’, but it wasn’t until 17 September that the New York Clipper announced that ‘The brothers Hutchinson, gymnasts, have arrived in London after their tour through the United States.’

In June 1860 advertisements for the ‘disengaged’ Madame Delevanti – ‘whose astounding performances as an ascensionist on the TELEGRAPH WIRE and TIGHT ROPE have electrified every audience before whom she has had the honour of appearing’ – emphasised that ‘Mr George Hutchinson, of the renowned Brothers Hutchinson, will accompany Madame Delevanti as Clown and Gymnast, with his Canine troupe,’ and at the end of the month an ad in the Birmingham Journal for the ‘FIRST GRAND FETE OF THE SEASON’ at Aston Park on 16 July stated that the event would include Mme D. and

Mr. George Hutchinson,
Of the renowned Brothers Hutchinson, his unrivalled
GYMNASTIC TOUBILLON STILT ACT,
BACCHANALIAN GAMBOLS,
and Classical Representations of
GRECIAN AND ROMAN STATUARY,
Amidst a magnificent display of Coloured Fires.

In September, Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre advertised the ‘Re-engagement of the celebrated Delevanti Troupe, Mr. George Hutchinson, and the wonder of the world, the Great Little Menoni’. So what had happened to brother Thomas? An ad in The Era on 9 December 1860 explains:

Great BENEFIT Performance. Thos. P. Hutchinson, one of the Brothers Hutchinson, and a native of Birmingham, who has been stricken with that worst of all calamities, Blindness, begs to announce to the inhabitants of his native city, that Mr G. W. Cassidy, the liberal Proprietor of the Royal Grecian Amphitheatre, in Moor-street, has most generously placed his magnificent Circus and British Company at his (T.P.H.’s) disposal for a Grand BENEFIT Performance on WEDNESDAY NEXT … The entertainments will be of the highest order, and the whole of this Great Company will appear.

Thomas would later become a professor of gymnastics in Manchester. He died in Barnet in 1885.

Without his brother, George seems to have adapted their ‘Sports of Atlas’ routine and to have given more prominence to his performing dogs. He was in Gravesend in August 1861 and Portsmouth in September, And in October 1961 The Era reported that at the London Pavilion ‘Mr. G. P. Hutchinson is almost beyond compare in his pleasingly attractive performances with the barrels and globes on his feet and hands. His trained dogs, too, must have been wonderfully tutored to perform the tricks they do.’

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An illustration used in several advertisements for events featuring Hutchinson’s dog troupe. An 1866 ad claimed that ‘A description of the various feats that these sagacious special favorites have been taught to execute would surpass belief, Their intelligence, style and finish exceed every kind of training the brute species ever developed, and the amusing alacrity, and the immense docility displayed in their unique performances, call forth shouts of applause.’

 

He appeared in various London music halls in early 1862, and on 4 July that year he was on the bill for the Barnsbury Literary Institute’s Midsummer Juvenile Entertainment at Myddleton Hall. The Islington Gazette wrote that

Mr. G. P. Hutchinson and his dogs form a very united trio, and were decidedly the ‘winners’ at the juvenile entertainment. Docile and intelligent these animals certainly proved themselves in an extraordinary degree; their fondness for their master is evident, and their enjoyment of the performances appears in anticipating their master’s commands with an eagerness that showed coercion has nothing to do with their training. Mr. Hutchinson’s leadership cannot be too highly eulogised; he is active, spirited, and stirring.

But the Gazette added a rather baffling qualification to this praise:

There is one flaw, however, which we leave to his good taste to correct, we refer to the exposure of the hoop. Now, much as we dislike the hoop encumbrance, as alike inelegant to woman and incommodious to men, we yet think the exhibition of the skeleton hoop on the person of the dog more offensive than satisfactory. It will take all the skill of a very wise leech to cure this dropsical malady, and until this physician makes plain to the highest circles that they are cherishing a deformity, we, of lower degree, must be content to endure. With this little exception we commend Mr. Hutchinson and his faithful dogs to the attention of a sight-seeing public, who cannot fail to be gratified with these admirable performers.

Hutchinson made a number of performances at the Middlesex New Music Hall, Drury Lane, and at the Oxford, in Oxford Street, in the next eighteen months, and in July 1862 the Raglan Music Hall presented a ‘capital evening’s entertainment’ at a benefit for him. In various editions of The Era in 1863 he was included in the ‘Excelsior List’ of performers advertised as managed by the agents George Webb and Harry Montague.

Then in 1864 he returned to the United States. The American acrobat John Hayes Murray had been performing in Europe as part of an act called the Roman Brothers – supposedly reproducing trials of strength performed in ancient Rome – when his partner in the act, George Holland, died suddenly of heart disease. Hutchinson took Holland’s place, and together he and Murray joined Stone & Rosston’s Circus, where they were billed as ‘The Excelsior Gymnasts’ and the like, and where ‘Prof. G. P. Hutchinson’ presented his ‘WONDERFUL DOGS, trained to a point of perfection almost incredible’.

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A poster for Stone & Rosston’s Circus (Library Company of Philadelphia)

 

From May 1864 they performed around the western states – from 1866 as part of Stone, Rosston & Murray’s Grand Combination Southern Circus (with (John H. Murray ‘the Prince of Gymnasts’ and G. P. Hutchinson ‘the Aerobatic and Athletic Anomaly’) and from 1868 as part of Stone & Murray’s Combination Circus. In March 1867, while the Stone, Rosston & Murray troupe was in winter quarters, Hutchinson also presented his dogs at the New York Circus.

In March 1870 the New York Clipper commented that Stone & Murray’s Circus ‘enjoys a reputation second to none in the country’, and reported that ‘George P. Hutchinson lately left for Europe in search of novelties, and it is thought will return in time to commence the season with the party.’ But he did not return, and in September 1870 an ad in The Era announced that Hutchinson would be making ‘his only appearance after ten years’ [sic] absence in America’ at the Crystal Palace Concert Hall in Birmingham. Then in April 1871 he re-emerged as one of the proprietors of Bell & Hutchinson’s Great United States Circus, which was beginning its ‘First Tour through England’, boasting that

All the Artistes engaged are new to the British Public.
The Carriages and Paraphernalia all New!
One Hundred Horses!
The Finest Trained Horses in the World!
Fifty Performers!
One Hundred and Fifty Supernumerraies [sic]! The Best Band Travelling!

Venues visited included Gloucester, Chepstow, Shrewsbury, Grantham, Gravesend, Canterbury and Hastings. In September a correspondent from Vienna’s Neue Freie Presse saw it in a ‘small English town’ and was not impressed:

Several days in advance of the company’s arrival in a tiny corner of the country, posters elegantly printed in green and red present the artistic programme … In order to tie in with current events, representations of the battle of Wörth and the capture of Sedan are promised as key attractions. ‘In the interests of the esteemed public,’ it is stated, ‘the proprietors of the circus have turned their undivided attention to the course of the Franco-Prussian war … At great cost they have bought up large quantities of munitions from both sides and with these will present the scenes from Wörth and Sedan … ’

The troupe moves into town. All the inhabitants lean inquisitively out of their windows and swarm on to the streets … First to appear is a triumphal carriage, fantastically decorated in gold and drawn by four horses, followed by the ‘munitions’. These consist of a black-painted wooden cannon and a model of Fort Mont-Valérien made of wood and cardboard; only Messrs Bell and Hutchinson will know what this has to do with Wörth and Sedan. After this the heroes of the war ride past us: a youthful version of King Wilhelm; Napoleon, whose identity can barely be ascertained from his mask; a few Prussian uhlans and French lancers. Voila tout!

The performance begins; three clowns and three head grooms play the main roles by filling out the greater part of the evening with cheap jokes; a few gymnasts and trick riders with a number of horses – a total of 30 at most, instead of the advertised 150 – have to do the rest. In the battle tableau, the one cannon has to provide the final effect by means of red Bengal light … One thing is certain: no one is startled by gunshots, because that would require gunpowder, and gunpowder is expensive.

Later in September a notice in The Era advertised the availability of the circus’s performers from the end of October, but in the following February the company was on the road again, travelling across the south and west. In April 1872 an ad in the Aldershot Military Gazette promised a ‘grand procession’ including

                                THE GRAND TABLEAU CHARIOT
Representing the Sultan of Turkey surrounded by his Ladies of the Harem and their attendants, in full Turkish Costume. This Magnificent Chariot cost £1,000, and will be drawn by Nine Powerful Horses, in State Harness.

Readers of the Thanet Advertiser were assured that ‘THE CLOWNS will be found witty without being vulgar.’

In July the circus was ‘now Travelling on the Continent’, and in August the Edinburgh Evening News reported that

An exciting scene took place at Ham, in Belgium, in consequence of the escape early in the morning of four of the five lions belonging to Messrs Bell & Hutchinson’s American Circus … At 10 a.m. the lions were all secured and brought back to their cage, after a most exciting chase of five hours, for which the greatest credit is due to the tamer, the attendants, the gendarmes, and the peasantry co-operating.

In September 1974 the Paris Journal amusant noted that ‘The Circus of MM. Bell and Hutchison is accompanied by twenty famous Egyptian Eunuchs, who have been specially raised for the relaxation of the Ladies of the Harem of the Viceroy of Egypt, and who show themselves in Europe for the first time.’

The circus remained on the Continent until late 1874, when mentions of it in The Era come to an end.

It may have been soon after this that Hutchinson started working for the American circus proprietor James Washington Myers. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1823, Myers had begun his circus career aged 9, as a bareback rider and acrobat. In 1857 he came to England as a member of the Howes & Cushing Circus, which in 1858 had a triumphant run at the Alhambra Palace in Leicester Square and performed for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle. When Howes and Cushing returned to the USA in 1864, Myers did not go with them but formed his own company, J. W. Myers’s Great American Circus, with which he continued to tour Great Britain and eventually Europe. He even visited Egypt in 1868. Then in 1875 he put up a permanent circus structure at the Place du Château d’Eau (now the Place de la République) in Paris, where Hutchinson became his manager. From January 1879 Myers relocated to the Agricultural Hall in Islington for three months, after which his company toured the country.

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An 1876 poster for J. W. Myers’s Great American Circus at the Place du Château d’Eau (gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France)


Hutchinson left Myers at some point, and from July 1880 till November 1887, The Era later reported, he served as treasurer for the John Holden company of marionettes, which was mainly based in Europe from the late 1870s to the mid 1880s – in 1884 Le Courrier du Pas du Calais reported that the company’s show could fill an entire train.

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John Holden’s letterhead (gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France)

 

After leaving Holden, Hutchinson was employed irregularly on the staff of the Agricultural Hall; then on 5 March 1898 a letter in The Era announced a testimonial benefit for him, as, ‘now in his seventy-first year, and through no fault of his own’, he was ‘in very needy circumstances’. It quoted the circus proprietor ‘Lord’ George Sanger as saying that ‘to my knowledge a more respectable man, both in youth and age, does not live at the present day … I have no doubt the awful affliction to his brother – his insanity and blindness – has been the cause of [his] present distressed condition.’ But three weeks later an article in the same paper reported that, on 22 March, Hutchinson had ‘succumbed … to a complication of disorders’. He was buried in Islington Cemetery on the 25th.

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Hutchinson’s grave in Islington Cemetery

 

SOURCES

Aldershot Military Gazette, 11 May 1872 (‘grand procession’)
The Atlas, 1 September 1860 (‘Re-engagement of the celebrated Delevanti Troupe’)
Beverley Guardian and East Riding Advertiser, 29 November 1856 (‘Crowned Heads of Europe’)
Birmingham Journal, 30 June 1860 (‘FIRST GRAND FETE OF THE SEASON’)
British Newspaper Archive – various mentions of Hutchinson
Carlisle Journal, 17 March 1848 (‘many clever and surprising gymnastic feats’)
Chronicling America website – various mentions of Hutchinson
Daily Courier (Syracuse, NY), 24 April 1858 (‘Plunkett’s Dramatic Temple’)
Daily Whig (Troy, NY), 2 June 1858 (‘illustrations of the Roman arena’)
Edinburgh Evening News, 16 August 1873 (‘An exciting scene’)
The Era, 26 March 1848 (‘truly astonishing and clever artistes’), 7 October 1849 (The Blighted Troth), 27 February 1853 (‘many novel feats’), 26 August 1855 (‘many could not get in’), 12 April 1957 (with ‘Equestrian Manager’ Pablo Fanque), 8 November 1857 (distinguished patronage), 26 June 1859 (’final retirement from the profession’), 10 June 1860 (’will accompany Madame Delavanti’), 9 December 1860 (’Great BENEFIT Performance’), 27 October 1861 (’almost beyond compare’), 20 July 1862 (‘capital evening’s entertainment’), 25 October 1867 (‘at liberty’), 25 September 1870 (‘ten years’ absence in America’), 7 July 1872 (‘now Travelling on the Continent’), 5 March 1898 (‘in very needy circumstances’), 26 March 1898 (death announced)
Evening Star (Washington, DC), 30 March 1865 (‘Excelsior Gymnasts’, ‘WONDERFUL DOGS’)
Fife Herald, 22 March 1849 (‘astonishing exhibition’)
Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections – various mentions of Hutchinson
Illustrated London News, 1 October 1842 (Rosherville Gardens), 8 January 1853 (Arabia)
Islington Gazette, 12 July 1862 (‘a very united trio’)
• ‘James Washington Myers’ at Circopedia
• Megan Sanborn Jones, Performing American Identity in Anti-Mormon Melodrama (Routledge: Abingdon and New York, 2009)
Le Journal amusant, 26 September 1874 (‘famous Egyptian Eunuchs’)
Limerick and Clare Examiner, 21 November 1849 (‘a gorgeous uniform of golden hue’), 28 November 1849 (‘strictest propriety’)
• John McCormick, The Holdens: Monarchs of the Marionette Theatre (London: Society for Theatre Research, 2018)
Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser, 19 September 1957 (‘Grand Continental Troupe of Artistes’), 22 September 1857 (‘novel Programme of Entertainments’), 26 September 1857 (‘very different reception’)
Memphis Appeal, 26 January 1866 (‘sagacious special favorites’)
New Orleans Daily Crescent, 3 February 1859 (‘WONDERS OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY’)
New York Clipper, 28 May 1859 (‘opened a new gymnasium’), 17 September 1859 (‘arrived in London’), 26 March 1870 (‘lately left for Europe’)
New York Herald, 23 March 1858 (’Arrival of distinguished gymnasts’), 29 March 1858 (’wondrous and elegant performances’), 30 March 1858 (‘not a very high order of entertainment’)
Newcastle Courant, 13 March 1857 (‘GYMNASTIC POSIES’)
Neue Freie Presse (Vienna), 14 September 1871 (‘Zur Naturgeschichte der Reclame’ – with thanks to Arthur Fleiss for his help with this)
North & South Shields Gazette and Northumberland and Durham Advertiser, 4 December 1856 (‘positively the last SIX NIGHTS’)
• George C. D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage, vol. 7 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1931)
• ‘Pablo Fanque’, at Wikipedia
Portland Daily Press (Maine), 29 May 1867 (‘Aerobatic and Athletic Anomaly’)
Portsmouth Times and Naval Gazette, 29 March 1856 (‘a four-years’ sojourn in Russia’)
Die Presse (Vienna), 24 November 1853 (‘sturdy physique and beautiful forms’)
Queen Victoria’s Journals, 29 April 1847
Reynolds Newspaper, 10 October 1852 (‘celebrated American Tragedian’)
Shepton Mallet Journal, 1 September 1871 (‘First Tour through England’)
• William L. Slout, Olympians of the Sawdust Circle: A Biographical Dictionary of the Nineteenth Century American Circus
• John Stewart, The Acrobat: Arthur Barnes and the Victorian Circus (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2012)
Thanet Advertiser, 1 June 1872 (‘witty without being vulgar’)
• Warwick Wroth, Cremorne and the Later London Gardens (London: Elliot Stock, 1907)

Polly Newbury and Dean Wolstenholme: Music-hall singer and her husband

In January 1892 Percy Charles Courtenay, the husband of one of the greatest music-hall stars, Marie Lloyd, appeared at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and was found guilty of assaulting his wife. Reports that he had threatened to ‘cut her throat and serve her as Polly Newbury was served’ were perhaps the last appearance in the press of the name of a much less well known music-hall performer.

A few months earlier, at the end of October 1891, Thornton’s Varieties in Leeds had put on a programme including the 29-year-old artiste known professionally as Polly Newbury (sometimes spelled ‘Newberry’). Born Mary Ann Carpenter, she was described in the show’s advertisements as a ‘burlesque actress’ – in those days ‘burlesque’ meant the parodying of well-known serious works, often to risqué effect – though she was usually described as a serio-comic singer and dancer, mixing both tear-jerking and comic material. In January 1890 the show-business paper The Era had described her recent act at the Queen’s Palace of Varieties in Poplar:

A refined and piquant singer is Miss Polly Newbury. Her first two songs, one about a sailor, and the other, ‘Only a tiny portrait,’ which is pathetic and sentimental, are both very pretty. She concludes her turn with a song containing this stirring appeal: – ‘Shout, hip, hooray, For eight hours a day, It’s quite enough in any occupation,’ a sentiment which Miss Newbury’s hearers appeared heartily to endorse.

The Era had first noticed her in December 1883, when it reported that, at Deacon’s Music Hall, near Sadler’s Wells, ‘Miss Polly Newbury’s songs described some of the pleasures of courting, a subject of interest to serio and other ladies; and the possession of a telling voice enabled her to give effect to her selections, with which she seemed to please her listeners.’ In May 1885 it commented that her ‘style is taking and attractive, and [she] knows how to dance,’ and in September 1886 that she had ‘made herself a pronounced favourite’. A year later she was ‘a spirited characteristic vocalist and dances admirably’. At the Phoenix Music Hall in Dover in the summer of 1888 she was ‘frequently recalled’. It was later reported that she was ‘said to possess considerable personal attractions’, and she seems to have been regularly in work and to have been well received, without managing to rise very far up the bill. In November 1890 the London and Provincial Entr’acte noted that, at the Middlesex Music Hall, in Drury Lane, ‘Miss Polly Newbury, after a well-rendered preliminary by the excellent band, takes the stage, and by her lively contributions puts the audience into good humour.’ That seems to have been a regular spot in the programme for her.

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A programme for the Empire Variety Theatre in Newcastle, probably from late 1890, showing Polly Newbury as the first act after the overture (by courtesy of Byrnice Reeds and arthurlloyd.co.uk)

 

While she was appearing at Leeds, her husband, Dean Wolstenholme – known as ‘Fred’ – decided to pay her a surprise visit. Wolstenholme was four years older than his wife, and since he was a boy he had worked as a dresser for the music-hall comedian Herbert Campbell, who in October and November 1891 was appearing in line-ups including Lottie Collins and Albert Chevalier at the Tivoli and the London Pavilion and in 1882 had begun a run of successes in the annual Christmas pantomimes at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, which lasted uninterrupted till his death in 1904.

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Harry Nicholls (left) and Herbert Campbell as the Babes, Crissy and Bertie, in Babes in the Wood at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1888

 

Wolstenholme and his wife had been married for seven years and had been living amicably together in rented first-floor accommodation at 2 Mylne Street in the Pentonville/Clerkenwell area of London, until he had recently learned that she was having an affair with someone variously known as Lane, Wallace, Walmsley or Courtnay, who was believed to be ‘a gentleman [who] spent his time in visiting music-halls’. Before Wolstenholme discovered the affair, in September all three of them had been staying in Ramsgate, and the two men were described as being very friendly and ‘like brothers’ then.

Wolstenholme was ‘nearly mad’ on finding out was was going on, and was about to start divorce proceedings until he evidently decided on a different course of action and went to Leeds with the intention of shooting his wife there. When he arrived at her lodgings, he was told that ‘Mrs Wolstenholme had gone out with her husband.’ When they returned, Lane took a revolver from him.

Wolstenholme and his wife had returned to London together, and on 6 November Polly had had her widowed mother, Emma Carpenter, send Lane a telegram to break off the relationship. Polly was then advertised to be appearing at the South London Palace of Varieties, in Lambeth.

The Wolstenholmes’ landlady, Mrs Harriet Probart, had found them to be quiet people as a rule, though now and then they ‘would have a few words’, and on the morning of Monday 9 November she heard Polly call her husband ‘a dirty thing’. Later that morning, Mrs Minnie Beavis, the landlady’s sister, called at 2 Mylne Street. She had known the Wolstenholmes for six years, and they had always struck her as being very happy together, but she had not seen them for some six months. It was Mr Wolstenholme who answered the door to her, shortly after 11 o’clock. When she went in she saw Polly, who, coming down the stairs, said , Fred is going to kill me.’ Mrs Beavis asked him, ‘Fred, you wouldn’t kill Polly, would you?’ and he answered ‘No.’ Polly said, ‘I have just burnt some poison,’ and clung to Mrs Beavis and begged her to stay. But Wolstenholme pushed the visitor out of the door, and she then heard four gunshots.

James Currie, who had lodged on an upper floor at Mylne Street since the beginning of the year, heard quarrelling on the stairs and Polly saying ‘Oh, Fred, don’t – ’ followed by two shots. As he hurried down he heard two more shots and reached Wolstenholme just in time to catch him as he fell and a revolver dropped from his hand: he had shot his wife and then put the muzzle of the gun in his mouth and blown his brains out.

Dr Isaac Scarth from nearby Amwell Street was called and found the two bodies lying in the hallway of the house. Wolstenholme, he later told an inquest on 12 November, must have died instantly when a bullet passed through his brain; but Polly, though shot in the head and unable to speak, was still alive, and Scarth had her taken to the Royal Free Hospital in Gray’s Inn Road, where, at about 4 o’clock, she died from her wounds.

Her lover, Lane/Wallace/Walmsley/Courtnay, heard at the hospital that she had died and went distraught to Mylne Street to pass on the news. Mrs Probart – who told the inquest that she had known him visit Polly while Wolstenholme was out, but had never observed any impropriety between them – sent him away. She held him responsible for all that had happened. Mrs Beavis saw him outside the house with his face buried in his hands and exclaiming, ‘My poor girl has gone, and that dirty scoundrel has killed her.’

After a brief discussion, the inquest jury found that Wolstenholme had wilfully murdered his wife and then committed suicide ‘whilst suffering from temporary insanity and mental distress’ on account of his wife’s infidelity.

He and his wife were buried together in a private grave, paid for by Emma Carpenter, in St Pancras Cemetery on 18 November. A large crowd gathered to watch the two hearses followed by two mourning coaches leave the undertaker’s in St John Street Road, with policemen posted to keep the way clear. Many music-hall artistes were present at the grave. No monument was ever erected over it.

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The site (outlined) of Polly Newbury and Dean Wolstenholme’s unmarked grave in St Pancras Cemetery

SOURCES

The principal sources for the circumstances of the murder/suicide and the preceding events are the witness statements at the inquest into the deaths, as reported (slightly differently) in the Islington Gazette and The Times on 13 November 1891.

Cardiff Times, 14 November 1891 (‘considerable personal attractions’)
Daily Telegraph, 10 November 1891 (‘Wife Murder in Pentonville: Suicide of the Husband’), 13 November 1891 (‘The Pentonville Tragedy’)
The Era, 22 December 1883 (‘pleasures of courting’), 9 May 1885 (‘taking and attractive’), 25 September 1886 (‘a pronounced favourite’), 17 September 1887 (‘dances admirably’), 2 June 1888 (‘frequently recalled’), 18 January 1890 (‘refined and piquant singer’), 24 & 31 October 1891 (ads for the Tivoli and the London Pavilion), 21 November 1891 (funeral)
• ‘Four Early Programmes for the Empire Variety Theatre, Newcastle in 1890/1891’ at arthurlloyd.co.uk
• James Hogg, ‘Campbell, Herbert (1844–1904)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, January 2011
Islington Gazette, 11 November 1891 (‘Murder at Pentonville: Suicide of the Assassin), 13 November 1891 (‘The Pentonville Tragedy: The Inquest’)
London and Provincial Entr’acte, 15 November 1890 (‘Music Halls: Middlesex’)
South London Press, 7 & 11 November 1891 (ads for the South London Palace of Varieties)
The Times, 11 November 1891 (’Murder and Suicide’), 13 November 1891 (‘Inquest’), 19 January 1892 (‘Police: At Bow-street’)

E. A. and Cassie Maskelyne: Magic couple

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E. A. and Cassie Maskelyne (Getty Images (L) / State Library of Victoria)

 

Edwin Archibald Maskelyne – E. A. Maskelyne as he was known professionally, or ‘Archie’ to his friends – was born in London in the last quarter of 1879, the youngest (by some 13 years) of the three children of John Nevil (‘J. N.’) Maskelyne and his wife, Elizabeth, née Taylor.

J. N. had been born in Cheltenham in 1839, the son of a saddler of the same name, and claimed descent from Nevil Maskelyne (1732–1811), who from March 1765 was astronomer royal, and who had a crater on the moon named after him. J. N. was apprenticed to a local watchmaker, and as a boy was a keen amateur conjuror, giving a public performance of his own tricks at the age of sixteen.

In 1865 the famous American spiritualists Ira Erastus Davenport and his brother William Henry Davenport arrived in Cheltenham during a tour of England in which they claimed to communicate with the dead, who would manifest themselves through various physical means – such as playing and throwing of musical instruments – while the brothers were tied up inside a wooden cabinet. The brothers invited each town they visited to select a committee to view the proceedings at close quarters to detect any trickery, and in Cheltenham this committee included J. N. and his friend and fellow conjuring enthusiast George Alfred Cooke, a cabinet-maker. At what he judged a critical moment, J. N. had a sliver of light introduced into the darkened town hall where the Davenports were appearing, and this allowed him to see enough to declare that the brothers were frauds and that in three months he would be able to reproduce their effects by means of practice and dexterity, with no supposed help from spirits. And on 19 June 1865, in broad daylight at the Aviary Gardens in Cheltenham, J. N. and his friend did just that, defying all the audience members’ attempts to catch them out.

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The Davenport brothers and two of their associates in front of their ‘spirit cabinet’ in 1870 (Wikipedia)

 

The sensation that they caused prompted the friends to give up their steady jobs and take their magic on tour. And after a difficult couple of years they succeeded so well that in May 1873 they began a three-month London residency at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly – a residency which was extended until the building was demolished to make way for flats and offices in 1905.

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The Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly (victorianweb.org)

 

The hall became known as ‘England’s Home of Mystery’, and nurtured the careers of many illusionist who were booked as guest performers with Maskelyne & Cooke’s company – notably David Devant, whose Times obituary in 1941 reported the opinion that he was ‘not only the prime conjurer of his day, but the foremost magician of all time’. It was Devant who, in 1896, was responsible for the Egyptian Hall being among the first places to show moving pictures in the UK, using a ‘theatrograph’ machine bought from R. W. Paul in competition with the Lumière brothers’ shows at the Polytechnic Theatre in Regent Street.

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An 1876 poster for the Egyptian Hall (Evanion Collection, British Library)

 

The company’s acts had developed beyond ‘tricks’ to include sketches or playlets which included illusions as part of the plot, and in May 1898 the show-business paper The Era reviewed Trapped by Magic, ‘A Sensational Illusory Sketch’ by J. N. Maskelyne, and noted that ‘The part of a waiting-maid is brightly and piquantly played by Miss Cassie Bruce, whose fresh, tuneful voice and engaging style give charming effect to a well-written song, “Not at home.”’ The Morning Post, reviewing the same production, described how a pie appeared under a rolled-up piece of cardboard placed on an uncovered table and ‘The pie being opened, out jumps the lively Miss Cassie Bruce, wearing Japanese costume, and gracefully executes a pretty oriental dance.’

Cassie Louise Bruce had been born in London on 1 February 1875. Her parents were Henry Bruce – the newsagent son of the actors John and Louise Bruce – and his wife, Honora, née Neagle, the daughter of a greengrocer from Cork. Cassie and her twin brother, John, who died soon after birth, were the couple’s first children. Others followed in 1881, 1882 and 1889 – and possibly three more who did not survive until christening in the second half of the 1870s. The 1881 census records Cassie as living with her grandmother Louise (‘Actress’), Louise’s second husband, Edward Elton (‘Comedian’), their son, also Edward (‘Comedian actor’), and two of Louise’s children from her first marriage: Alfred (‘Comedian actor’) and Kathleen (‘Danseuse’).

Having been brought up in a household of performers, it is perhaps not surprising that Cassie also took to the stage, though her early career seems to have attracted little attention. On 9 February 1893 she appeared as Clara in a one-off matinee performance of T. W. Robertson’s School at the Opéra Comique theatre in London. In December that year she appeared as Fairy Brassfounder in a production of Cinderella that ran until the following February at the Lyceum. A year later she was Holly in the ‘Fairy Panto’ Santa Claus, again at the Lyceum. In November 1896 she took part in a matinee performance – the London debut – of Neville Lynn’s The Transferred Ghost at the Garrick, under the auspices of the Theatrical Choristers’ Association.

A couple of months after her opening in Trapped by Magic, in August 1898 Carrie was advertising her availability in The Era, but in December that year she was back  at the Egyptian Hall, in The Gnome’s Grot. The Evening Standard explained that

The grot, which is in Killarney, is inhabited by a hermit (Mr. J. N. Maskelyne), whose inclinations seem to lie less in the direction of religious observances than in the practice of magic. He is waited upon by a love-sick German tourist (Mr. Nevil Maskelyne [J. N.’s eldest son]), who, through a dream, has conceived doubts of the fidelity of his absent Gretchen (Miss Cassie Bruce). These doubts are cleared up … by a marvellous series of seemingly supernatural manifestations … Miss Bruce, who takes the dual part of Gretchen and the Oracle of Destiny, has a pretty soprano voice, by aid of which, in two or three dainty songs, she considerably enhances the charm and mystery of the piece.

The London and Provincial Entr’acte declared that Cassie was ‘good-looking, speaks her lines well, and, moreover, is endowed with a musical voice, which she uses with excellent effect in tuneful song’. And the Morning Post explained that the ’supernatural manifestations’ included the eponymous Gnome, ‘clothed in red and having a flowing red beard’, suddenly turning into ‘a pretty young girl, represented by Miss Cassie Bruce’.

Thereafter Cassie appeared regularly with the Egyptian Hall company, and also appeared in the company’s magic playlets which were filmed on the roof of the hall at the end of the century and which were distributed all over England and America.

In April 1900 she was the ‘shrewd and fascinating Madge Faulkner’ in A Twin Spirit, and ‘[sang] capably a well-written song to the pianoforte accompaniment of Mr. E. S. Elton’, her uncle. Two years later she ‘act[ed] with much charm and [sang] with rare verve’ in The Entranced Fakir. In 1903 she ‘employed talent, grace, and a charming voice with great effect’ in The Philosopher’s Stone, in which ‘as a materialised spirit [she] gradually appear[ed] out of nothingness and float[ed] in mid-air until she reache[d] terra firma’.

The Era described her appearance in that year’s Christmas show at the Egyptian Hall, Well, I’m ——: ‘Miss Cassie Bruce … mounts an apparently ordinary wooden table placed in the centre of the stage. A cloak is then thrown over her, a pistol fired, and Miss Bruce, who instantly disappears, exclaims within a few seconds at the back of the hall, “Well, I’m here.”’

In 1905, with the company – now Maskelyne & Devant, following the retirement of Cooke – in a new home at the refurbished St George’s Hall, in Langham Place, Regent Street, she ‘contribut[ed] a real character sketch of the cockney housekeeper whose love has been slighted by an impressionable policeman’ in St Valentine’s Eve and was ‘a pleasing and sprightly Dorothy’ in The Mascot Moth, in which a woman dressed as a moth with wings was seen in full view until dramatically disappearing when Devant approached her with a lighted candle.

In September 1906 The Era  judged Cassie ‘an interesting and attractive Patricia’ in Daylight Ghosts. Then in the following month Cassie partnered J. N. in A Side Issue, an illusion produced in response to a £1,000 challenge from Thomas Colley, Archdeacon of Pietermaritzburg, that Maskelyne – a continuing opponent of claims about the supernatural – could not reproduce the events that Colley said he had witnessed in 1877 at Bloomsbury séances conducted by the former Baptist minister and convicted fraudster Francis Ward Monck, when

there was seen steaming as from a kettle spout, through the texture and substance of the medium’s black coat, a little below the left breast, toward the side, a vaporous filament, which would be almost invisible until within an inch or two of our friend’s (the medium’s) body. When it grew in density to a cloudy something from which (and apparently using up which for the quick evolving of much white raiment) there would then stand, to step forth timidly, as did this little maiden, or in the same way boldly and naturally, to companion with us, other of our frequent psychic visitors. For as a cloud received One out of their sight, when the disciples of Bethany gazed on their ascending Lord, so, as from a cloud thus inexplicably evolved from the medium, came our materializing friends; and exhaling again to invisibility in a cloud (sucked back within his body) were they withdrawn from us wistfully gazing on their mysterious departure, and noting this or that particular phase of it within a few inches of the point of their inscrutable disappearance and evanishment.

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Cassie Bruce emerging from J. N.’s side in A Side Issue, their reproduction of the events of the séances described by Archdeacon Colley, with J. B. Hansard taking the part of Archdeacon Colley looking on (Illustrated London News)

 

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Cassie after she had completely emerged (Illustrated London News)

 

The press and public acclaimed the performances at St George’s Hall, but Colley refused to hand over £1,000, claiming the demonstration was inadequate, notably because Cassie had not been ‘sucked back within’ J. N.’s body as Monck’s manifestation had re-entered his side. And, as at St George’s Hall J. N. had handed out a pamphlet, The History of a Thousand-Pound Challenge, which included a denial of Colley’s right to the title of archdeacon, Colley sued him for libel. J. N. counter-claimed for the promised £1,000. (The naturalist and evolutionary theorist Alfred Russel Wallace testified that he had witnessed a similar manifestation from Monck’s side and believed it to be genuine and quite unlike J. N.’s performance.) J. N. lost and had to pay costs and damages – though he considered his total expenses of £1,143 good value for the packed houses that the trial brought.

By now Cassie had become more than professionally close to the Maskelyne family. The March 1901 census, taken a week before Easter, records her as a ‘Visitor’ at the home of J. N. and Elizabeth Maskelyne and their ‘Student’ son, Archie, at Bucklebury, a few miles west of Reading. (At the time of the 1891 census Archie had been at school in Margate.) Then on 27 June 1907 the Dundee Evening Telegraph and Post carried the following report:

Wizard’s Wedding:
Mr. Maskelyne to Marry the Disappearing Lady.

This afternoon at the Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone, will be celebrated the wedding of Mr E. A. Maskelyne, younger son of Mr Maskelyne, the famous magician, and Miss Cassie Bruce, the lady that has been connected with the Maskelynes for many years at the old ‘Home of Mystery,’ the Egyptian Hall.

Mr Maskelyne and Miss Bruce first met each other when they were about six years old [Cassie was in fact nearly five years his senior] at a Christmas pantomime, and Mr Maskelyne said to a press representative: –

‘I did not meet her after that for some time. I was busy studying Chemistry at King’s College for five years, but a year or two ago I left it to take up my position at the hall as business manager. There I met “Cassie.” We fell in love with one another, and I must admit that it was with some regret that I had during the course of the show to make her disappear.

‘A strange thing will take place at the wedding. After the ceremony we shall vanish, and next day reappear in Paris, where we shall spend our honeymoon.

‘One more thing. We have been engaged for five years, and I consider long engagements are the best.’

The Era, after reporting on the wedding and the entertainments at the reception in St George’s Hall, commented, ‘It is good news to hear that Miss Cassie Bruce, who is such a dainty little actress, does not intend to leave the stage.’

On returning from their honeymoon Archie and Cassie joined the company in a provincial tour that began in Ramsgate on 9 July, after which they lived at Cassie’s previous home, with her aunt Kathleen Bruce at 20 Upper Tollington Park, in Finsbury Park.

Archie had made his stage debut with the company at the Egyptian Hall in August 1904, alongside Cassie in Well I’m ——, and in the following year he had replaced his brother in The Mascot Moth. He also presented routines such as The Window of the Haunted House (1912) and The Yogi’s Star (1913), which included a telepathy illusion making use of wireless telegraphy. From July 1914 to June 1915, with just a week off in January, he led Maskelyne & Devant’s number 2 touring company around England, Wales and Scotland, in a new venue at least every week. Then from Christmas 1915 he was in The Philosopher’s Stone at St George’s Hall for six months.

In the spring of 1917 a new production opened at St George’s Hall, devised by Archie and with a script by his sister, Mrs Minnie Jane Mead. The Globe described The Four Elements of Alchemy as follows:

In full view of the audience, and apparently out of nothing, there come a munition worker, soldier, aviator, and sailor, representing earth, fire, air, and water, and combining to produce the spirit of peace [played by Cassie]. That they are real flesh and blood is clear when three of them step on to the stage and proclaim their patriotism. As for the other, the aviator, well he, after ‘awakening’ on earth, vanishes into thin air in a twinkling.

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Archie Maskelyne with his illusion The Four Elements of Alchemy (Magician Monthly)

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A St George’s Hall programme featuring The Four Elements of Alchemy (arthurlloyd.co.uk)

 

By the summer of 1919 Archie had contracted tuberculosis and was too ill to go to St George’s Hall. In September that year he went for treatment to a sanatorium at Matlock Spa, but a year later, on 26 September 1920, he died, aged 40. He was buried in St Pancras Cemetery on 30 September. The Magic Circular, in its obituary in its November issue, commented that ‘Everyone liked “Archie” … and everyone who knew him will long retain pleasant recollections of him. If one has to mention his outstanding attribute , it would be amiability, for Archie was always amiable, even under the sometimes trying duties of acting management.’

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Archie’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery

 

Cassie inherited a life interest in his shares in Maskelyne’s Ltd and his part-ownership (with Nevil) of the lease of St George’s Hall, and at a board meeting in January 1921 she was made the company’s supervisor of female staff at a salary of £10 a week (equivalent to about £440 p.w. today) – perhaps by way of a pension, or to make use of her experience, for she no longer appeared on stage. Two years later a board meeting was told she was taking £3,000 a year from the company, and this was reduced to £280 – which was nevertheless well above the average working wage.

J. N. had died in 1917 (he is buried in Brompton Cemetery), but Nevil and his own sons kept St George’s Hall going until 1933, when the BBC took it over as a studio and concert hall. (It was destroyed in an air raid in May 1941.) On 3 December 1937 Cassie was one of the contributors to ‘Entertainment at St George’s, 1867–1937: The Story of a London Hall of Entertainment through 70 Years ‘ on the BBC National Programme.

She died, aged 83, in the Whittington Hospital, Highgate, on 12 November 1958 – having been living at 20 Upper Tollington Park almost until the end – and was buried alongside Archie on 17 November.

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Cassie’s inscription on Archie’s monument in St Pancras Cemetery

 

SOURCES

• Anne Pimlott Baker, ‘Maskelyne, John Nevil (1839–1917)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2011
• Anne Davenport and John Salisse, St George’s Hall: Behind the Scenes at England’s Home of Mystery (Mike Caveney’s Magic Words, 2001)
• Edwin A. Dawes, ‘Devant, David (1868–1941)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, January 2011
The Era, 21 May 1898 (Trapped by Magic), 13 August 1898 (CB disengaged), 21 April 1900 (A Twin Spirit), 9 April 1902 (The Entranced Fakir), 3 January 1903 (The Philosopher’s Stone), 26 December 1903 (Well, I’m ——), 29 April 1905 (St Valentine’s Eve), 12 August 1905 (The Mascot Moth), 8 September 1906 (Daylight Ghosts), 30 June 1907 (wedding)
Evening Standard (London), 4 April 1899 (The Gnome’s Grot)
The Globe, 17 March 1917 (The Four Elements of Alchemy)
• Susanne Holt, The Story of a Theatrical Family
Illustrated London News, 4 May 1907 (‘Spooks in Court: The Famous £1000 Colley–Maskelyne Libel Case)
London and Provincial Entr’acte, 24 December 1898 (The Gnome’s Grot), 24 January 1903 (The Philosopher’s Stone)
• ‘Magic in 1918: An Interview with Mr. Nevil Maskelyne and Mr. E. A. Maskelyne’, Magician Monthly, December 1917
• Jasper Maskelyne, White Magic: The Story of Maskelynes (London: Stanley Paul, 1936)
Morning Post, 31 May 1898 (Trapped by Magic), 21 December 1898 (The Gnome’s Grot)
• Janet Oppenheim, The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)
• ‘The St. Georges Hall, Langham Place, Regent Street, London’, at arthurlloyd.co.uk
The Times, 25, 26, 27, 30 April & 1 May 1907 (‘High Court of Justice, King’s Bench Division, Colley v. Maskelyne’), 14 October 1941 (David Devant obituary)
• J. P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1890–1899: A Calendar of Plays and Players (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1976)

 

Charles Collard: Have-a-go hero

At about 8.30 on the night of Friday 8 December 1854, Charlotte Bennett, a household servant working for a Mr George Moore at 73 Warren Street, London, opened the front door to two unexpected callers. One of them was a veiled woman, whose features Bennett could not make out; the other was a man whom she knew as someone who had previously come to repair equipment used in her employer’s soda-water business. His name was Emanuel Barthélemy.

Barthélemy was born in Sceaux, near Paris, in 1820. In 1839 he was imprisoned for shooting a police officer during an attempted republican coup against the French monarchy. He was released during a general amnesty in 1847, but in 1848 was imprisoned for his part in the French workers’ uprising in June that year. In the summer of 1850 he managed to escape to London, where he opened a fencing and pistol-shooting salon in Rathbone Place, at which Karl Marx, who had arrived in London in 1849, became one of his clients. A shared interest in revolutionary politics made Barthélemy a frequent visitor to Marx’s house, though according to Marx’s friend Wilhelm Liebknecht ‘Mrs. Marx did not like him – he was uncanny to her, his piercing eyes were repulsive to her.’

In September 1850, at a rowdy Communist League committee meeting, Marx was challenged to a duel by August Willich, who regarded him as a reactionary. Marx refused to give Willich satisfaction, but his lieutenant Conrad Schramm took up the challenge, and when Schramm and Willich left for Antwerp – duelling being illegal in Britain – Barthélemy went along as Willich’s second. And it was he who, back in London on the day after the duel, called at Marx’s house and announced that Schramm had a bullet in his head – though a day later Schramm himself turned up, having just ‘received a glancing shot which had stunned him’.

Two years later, at Englefield Green in Surrey in October 1852, Barthélemy shot dead a fellow Frenchman in the last fatal duel in England, following differences over republican politics. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to two months in jail, having already been in prison for over five months while awaiting trial.

 
On that night in December 1854, Bennett showed the two visitors into the back parlour – where Moore evidently received them as friends: three tumblers were later found on the table – and then went upstairs. Details of what happened next differ slightly in contemporary accounts, but it seems that after about 10–20 minutes Bennett heard a scuffling noise from below and came back downstairs, when she saw Moore pushing Barthélemy towards the front door. She was just opening the door and was aware of the two men struggling together when she saw Barthélemy put a pistol to Moore’s head and fire it, at which she ran out into the street. Barthélemy came out too, but seeing other people in the street he went back inside and bolted the door.

Among the bystanders was Charles Collard, who had a greengrocer’s shop next door. Collard, the son of a butcher, was 36 years old and had served as a soldier with the East India Company, but by the time he married Sarah Tourell in October 1850 he was a police constable. He spent only two or three years in the police force, but was so popular with his colleagues that when he left to set up business as a greengrocer he was appointed to supply several police stations with vegetables.

Bennett told Collard that she thought her employer had been shot. Collard ran round to the back of the house, in New Road (now Euston Road), where he saw Barthélemy climbing over the back fence and, with another passer-by, grabbed hold of him. Then Barthélemy’s pistol went off and Collard fell wounded to the ground. Barthélemy struck the other man under the ear with the pistol and ran off to the west, until someone else who had seen what happened caught hold of him and resisted efforts to beat him off until others joined him and overpowered the fugitive until police arrived and took him away. Barthélemy was found to have been carrying a pair of pistols, 24 cartridges, some percussion caps, a dagger with a 9-inch blade, 8½d. in money, 2 door keys, 3 cigars and a corkscrew.

The police also entered Moore’s house – let in by the occupant of no. 72, who climbed over the wall between their rear gardens – and found Moore dead by the front door. In the back parlour there were a broken chair and marks of blood on the wall and floor. On the body there were signs of a blow to the head as well as a pistol shot, but a surgeon later found a bullet in Moore’s brain and declared that this must have caused instantaneous death.

Collard, meanwhile, had been taken to the nearby University College Hospital, where he was found to have been shot in the belly, with the ball travelling through his body to within a quarter of an inch of his back. The ball was removed, but the wound was judged to be fatal, and Collard was told this.

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University College Hospital – the former North London Hospital (Wellcome Library, London)

 

Later that night a police inspector visited him and took down a statement of what had happened. The next day Barthélemy was taken to Collard’s bedside and identified as the man with the pistol. ‘Oh, you cruel man,’ said Collard, to which there was no reply. The statement made the previous night was read out with the addition of the identification:

I, Charles Collard, of No. 74, Warren-street, say that about a quarter to 9 o’clock p.m., this day, I heard the report of a pistol and a cry of ‘Murder’ in No. 73, Warren-street. I went there, and found a man attempting to escape. I prevented him. He then re-entered the house, and fastened the door in Warren-street, and got out at the back. I ran into the New-road, and caught hold of him as he was getting over the garden wall, when he pulled a pistol from his pocket, and shot me through, and I fell. The man ran away. Another man was standing near me at the time, who tried to hold him, but he got away. The man I now see is the man who shot me. I am certain of that. I have made this statement believing that I am dying.
Charles Collard, his mark.

Collard died later that day, about 24 hours after being admitted to the hospital.

On 4 January 1855 Barthélemy was tried for Collard’s murder – not for that of Moore – and was found guilty. Despite the jury’s plea for clemency – the defence counsel had argued that the killings amounted to manslaughter rather than murder – he was hanged in front of a crowd estimated at 8,000–10,000 in bad weather outside Newgate Prison on the 22nd. At his request, as the sentence was carried out he held in his hand a letter delivered to him a day or two earlier, which turned out to be written in French, signed ‘Sophie’ or ‘Jeannette’ (accounts differ), sent from Poitiers, and urging him to repent – though the press made much of his insistence that he had no religious faith. He was buried within the jail.

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The death mask of Emanuel Barthélemy, from The Zoist, vol. 13 (April 1855 to January 1856)

 

No explanation of Barthélemy’s quarrel with Moore was offered at the trial, but after the execution his solicitor reported part of a conversation in which Barthélemy claimed he was returning from an abortive visit to a shooting gallery which he had found closed when he had met his female companion – who disappeared at the time of the murders and was never traced, but who presumably was previously known to him. He had then accompanied her to Moore’s house at her request. Moore supposedly became aggressive when she read him a letter, in French, which he tried to snatch from her, and struck out with a weighted cane when Barthélemy tried to intervene. The gun had been fired when Moore continued to strike out as Barthélemy and his companion tried to leave. The Newgate chaplain was reported as saying that Barthélemy had said that the woman was an illegitimate child – the daughter of a Catholic priest according to one report – who used to receive money from Moore and who had gone to see him to collect arrears, which Moore had refused to pay, and that Barthélemy admitted that he had struck Moore with a weighted cane that had been lying on Moore’s table.

In his memoirs of his friend Marx, first published in 1896, Wilhelm Liebknecht claimed that Barthélemy had been en route to Paris (with a ‘lady friend’) to kill Emperor Napoleon III with deer shot steeped in sulphur when he remembered that Moore owed him money and an altercation ensued when he tried to claim it – though reports at the time of Barthélemy’s arrest claimed that he had been planning to travel to Hamburg on the day after the murders.

Later still, in his 1921 book Remarkable Rogues, Charles Kingston O’Mahony (writing as Charles Kingston) claimed that Barthélemy had said that he and his companion had gone to Warren Street with the intention of getting Moore to recognise the girl as his daughter and bestow an allowance on her before her marriage to the Frenchman. But no reference is provided for this, and a number of details in the author’s account differ from those in contemporary reports – not least that Moore was killed by the weighted cane, with no mention of a pistol shot.

Meanwhile, on 15 December 1854, Collard had been buried in St Pancras Cemetery. Some 400–500 people followed his coffin there, and the undertaker said he ‘never saw so much sympathy manifested on any previous occasion’. In January the St Pancras vestry voted to waive the fees for erecting a monument over his grave (with some reservations about the legality of the vestry as trustees giving away ‘the people’s property’). An appeal for support of his widow and two children raised some £700 or £800 (equivalent to about £68,000–£78,000 today), and in July there was erected on his grave a monument designed by Thomas Milnes, whose previous commissions had included a statue of Nelson in Norwich and one of the Duke of Wellington now in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. It was reported that ‘the stone of which it is composed is of great durability, closely resembling marble, and the monument bears an appropriate inscription, referring to the horrible event by which the deceased met his death, but without perpetuating the name of the perpetrator’; now, however, over 160 years on, the wording is illegible.

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Collard’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery. ‘The design and execution of the monument, which had been entrusted to Mr. Thomas Milnes, of Judd-place East, Euston-square, is of a classical character, standing in the centre of a Yorkshire landing … Next to the landing is a noble plinth and sub-plinth, with neat mouldings supporting the pedestal, which tapers lightly towards the capital, but surrounded with foliage and scroll work, presenting a chaste appearance’ – The Observer, 16 July 1855 

SOURCES

• Richard Cohen, By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions (London: Random House, 2002)
• ‘Emanuel Barthélemy’, Old Bailey Proceedings Online
• ‘Emanuel Barthélemy’, Wikipedia
Evening Standard, 11 December 1854 (‘Horrible Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’), 16 July 1855 (‘The Late Murder in Warren-street’)
• Charles Kingston (pseudonym of Charles Kingston O’Mahony), Remarkable Rogues: The Careers of Some Notable Criminals of Europe and America (London and New York: John Lane, 1921)
• Wilhelm Liebknecht, Karl Marx: Biographical Memoirs (1896), trans. Ernest Untermann (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1901)
Manchester Guardian, 24 January 1855 (’Execution of the Murderer Barthélemy in London’)
The Observer, 10 December 1854 (’Horrible Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’, ’The Double Murder’), 17 December 1854 (‘The Double Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’, ‘The Double Murder’, ’The Double Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square: The Inquest Resumed’), 24 December 1854 (‘The Double Murder in Warren-street’), 31 December 1854 (‘Central Criminal Court’), 7 January 1855 (‘St. Pancras Vestry: The Late Double Murder in Warren-street’, ’Central Criminal Court … The Murders in Warren-street’, ’The Double Murderer Barthélemy’), 14 January 1855 (‘Monument to the Late Charles Collard’), 21 January 1855 (’The Murderer Barthélemy’, ‘Execution of Barthélemy Tomorrow (Monday)’), 28 January 1855 (‘Execution of Emanuel Barthélemy’, ‘Alleged Confession of Barthélemy’), 16 July 1855 (‘The Late Murder in Warren-street’)
• James Straton and John Elliotson, ‘The Correspondence Between the Characters and Heads of the Two Murderers Lately Executed at Newgate’, The Zoist: A Journal of Cerebral Physiology and Mesmerism and Their Application to Human Welfare, vol. 13 (April 1855 to January 1856), pp. 202ff.
The Times, 9 December 1854 (’Horrible Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’, ‘The Double Murder’), 11 December 1854 (’The Murder in Warren-street’), 12 December 1854 (’The Double Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’), 5 January 1855 (’Central Criminal Court … The Murders in Warren-street’), 22 January 1855 (’The Murderer Barthélemy’), 23 January 1855 (‘Execution of the Murderer Barthélemy’)
• John Van der Kiste, Surrey Murders (Stroud: History Press, 2012)
• Francis Wheen, Karl Marx (London: Fourth Estate, 1999)

Mabel Beardsley: Actress and ‘her brother’s sister’

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Mabel Beardsley (1871–1916)

 

Mabel Beardsley was born in Brighton on 24 August 1871, the first child of Vincent Beardsley and his wife Ellen, née Pitt. At the time of their marriage in the previous October, Vincent was living on a private income; but while they were on honeymoon the widow of a clergyman made a ‘breach of promise’ claim against him, and to avoid scandal he sold some property he owned in London to buy her off. The result was that the couple were so stretched financially that they were living with Ellen’s parents and her two unmarried sisters. And this was still the situation when Mabel’s brother, Aubrey, was born a year after her.

In 1874 Vincent obtained a clerical job in London, and the family moved to lodgings in Notting Hill. They were to remain in lodgings for the next 20 years.

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Aubrey and Mabel Beardsley in 1875

 

In 1920, Ellen Beardsley recalled that

Mabel was a very brilliant child and a great reader. She read Dickens and Scott at a very early age. I remember her sitting up at the table beside me reading. Presently I heard a deep sigh. ‘What is the matter, darling?’ I asked. ‘Don’t you like your book?’ ‘No, mother,’ she said, ‘I really do draw the line at Carlyle.’ She was six years old.

Mabel did not only read Dickens: she was also encouraged to recite him, and she and her mother would sometimes dissolve in tears over a particularly sentimental passage – although her party-piece was the skating scene from The Pickwick Papers.

Her mother also recalled that on one occasion

[Mabel] went out to lunch alone at the house of some friends of ours who were very fond of her … Behind her as she sat at table was a portrait of Gladstone. My friends were radicals. ‘Look at the picture behind you, Mabel,’ said Mrs. —. ‘Do you know who it is?’

The little creature looked round for an instant. ‘Those are not my Mother’s politics,’ she said politely and with perfect finality.

Ellen Beardsley was an accomplished pianist, and gave private piano and French lessons to help make ends meet. But, for the good of Aubrey’s delicate health, early in 1882 she gave up her teaching and moved with the children to live in Epsom – again in lodgings – for two years, taking them walking on the Downs every day.

Mabel and Aubrey had learned the piano too, and, back in London, Mabel would play and recite at private parties.

In 1884 Vincent lost his job and struggled to find another, and when Ellen fell ill and had to enter a nursing home the children were sent to live with an unmarried great-aunt, Sarah Pitt, in Brighton. There they took to going by themselves to services at the Anglo-Catholic Church of the Annunciation, almost a mile away from their aunt’s house.

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Mabel and Aubrey Beardsley at the time they were living with their great-aunt in Brighton

 

When Ellen’s health recovered, early in 1885 Mabel returned to London while Aubrey stayed on in Brighton to attend Brighton Grammar School, at his great-aunt’s expense.

During the school holidays Aubrey returned to the family (now living in Pimlico), and he and Mabel began to put on plays, puppet shows and sketches in their lodgings, with their parents and perhaps a few family friends as the audience.

The Beardsleys now attended St Barnabas, Pimlico, one of the ‘highest’ Anglo-Catholic churches in London.

Details of Mabel’s subsequent schooling are unclear – in an interview in 1896 she said, “I educated myself principally, and then went to the high school’ – but she won the fifth place in all England in the Higher Cambridge Local Examination, on the strength of which she was offered a scholarship at Newnham College, Cambridge. She declined this, however, and in September 1900 she started work as a teacher as the Polytechnic School for Girls, in Langham Place.

One of her fellow teachers there, Netta Syrett, recalled Mabel as ‘rather a big girl, with a good, erect figure. She held herself well, but she could scarcely be called pretty. Her hair was red, the kind of red usually described as “ginger,” and she had a nice pink-and-white, slightly freckled complexion.’ Syrett also noted ‘the charming courtesy of her manner. It was extended to every one, including the not too refined girls in her class, though one of them … made a remark to me about her that I have never forgotten. “Miss Beardsley is awfully nice to us,” she said. “But you like to teach us, and she doesn’t!”’

Mabel also lectured – ‘principally upon art’, she said – at a Girls’ Guild mission in Whitechapel, where she found that ‘The girls were perfectly charming – as fine and sweet as you could wish to have them. I was very fond of them. They had received no impressions and they were wonderfully receptive.’ She took them to the National Gallery once ‘on a little pleasure trip and it was very pleasant’.

At weekends she joined Aubrey in his artistic exploration of London. Her mother thought it was Mabel’s red hair that gained them entry to Edward Burne-Jones’s studio when, in July 1891, they turned up there with a portfolio of Aubrey’s drawings for inspection, wrongly believing the artist held an open house on Sundays.

In December 1891 their great-aunt died, leaving them each a bequest of £500 (equivalent to about £57,000 today) payable when they reached the age of 21. (Ellen also received £500, and Vincent 19 guineas.) When Aubrey was commissioned to illustrate Le Morte D’Arthur, Mabel offered the support of her recently received legacy in urging him to give up his clerical job with the Guardian Fire and Life Assurance Company and devote himself to his art, which he did; and as he increasingly moved in artistic and bohemian circles, she entered this world too.

In the summer of 1893 Aubrey’s earnings and the bequests from Sarah Pitt made it possible for the Beardsleys for the first time to take on a lease on a house – again in Pimlico – and on Thursday afternoons Ellen and her children began to entertain. Though Ellen was the nominal host, Netta Syrett remembered Mabel there ‘in a dress that vaguely recalled a lady of the Italian Renaissance, seated in a carved, high-backed chair, from which she rose to receive each newcomer with graceful if slightly mannered courtesy’. Vincent, by this time, was never seen: it was rumoured that he was separated from his wife, that he worked in the City, that he was a drunkard forced to live out of sight in the basement, or that he was dead.

In 1894 Mabel gave up her job at the Polytechnic School. Syrett asked her about her plans:

‘What are you going to do when you leave?’ I asked.

Go on the stage, and become a society beauty, dear,’ she calmly and quite seriously replied. Privately, I wondered how she would achieve the latter ambition. But she did … A few years later, when she had become slim and willowy in figure, when, with a very little touching up, hair that had been a trifle too pale a red was warm and glowing enough to justify admiration for her ‘Titian colouring,’ she was really beautiful.

 

(c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mabel Beardsley by Jacques-Emile Blanche (1895) (Art UK / Museums Sheffield)

 

In her last term at the school Mabel would sometimes relieve Syrett of the disliked chore of standing in for the often absent headmistress at morning prayers:

Mabel used to say, ‘Let me take prayers, dear. It gives me an opportunity to practise my stage walk and diction!’ It was difficult to keep a grave face while she proceeded to do so, moving majestically up the long room between the rows of standing girls, to the platform, where in a clear, histrionic voice she read the lesson for the day.

Her mother did not approve of Mabel’s choice of career. Ellen later admitted, ‘She was very self-possessed and unself-conscious. But I do not think she would ever have made a really great actress. She had not the temperament, or the health. Aubrey used to encourage her, but I used to tell her the truth about herself. She would cry and did not like it. But I had to tell her.’

However, the Beardsleys were friendly with Max Beerbohm and his mother, and through them Mabel went to see Max’s half-brother the actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree for advice on a stage career. He offered her a walk-on part in Once Upon a Time, an adaptation of a German play, which ran for 25 performances in March–April 1894. She then joined a touring production of Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance by a company run by Harry Morrell, a former secretary of Tree’s, through whom she had met him. It opened at the Assembly Rooms in Malvern on 3 September 1894, and when it arrived in Yarmouth later that month the London theatrical paper The Era commented, ‘Miss Mabel Beardsley makes an attractive Lady Stutfield.’

On 3 January 1895 Aubrey and Mabel were at the premiere of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband at the Haymarket Theatre. Aubrey had by now published his illustrations to Wilde’s Salomé and appeared in the first volume of The Yellow Book, which had made him notorious, and the fashion correspondent of The Lady noted ‘with special pleasure and a good deal of curiosity Miss Beardsley, the sister of the distinguished artist of The Yellow Book, resplendent in a pale mauve gown trimmed with bunches of pink heliotrope’. In April Mabel stood in for an indisposed Julia Neilson as Mrs Marchmont in two performances of An Ideal Husband, now at the Criterion.

In the following month, on 13 May, she was received into the Roman Catholic Church

In February 1896 the Morning Post praised Mabel as the ‘young lady whose presence, features, and mien give promise of a most charming actress’ in Dearest Mamma at a matinee in aid of St Anne’s, Soho, at the Royalty Theatre: ‘She had hardly thought out all the details of her part, and her want of experience was manifest at more than one point of the performance; but with sound guidance and devotion to her art, she might aspire to rise very high in her profession.’ But her career never really did take off. She received respectable reviews, but no one seems to have been thrilled by her, and the longest run she ever enjoyed was 59 performances in The Queen’s Proctor with Arthur Bourchier’s company at the Royalty Theatre in London in June–July 1896. Even then it was her costume rather than her performance that The Era commented on, noting that ‘A tailor-made costume of red serge admirably sets off the blonde [sic] beauty of Miss Mabel Beardsley, who later in the play wears an evening dress of yellow mirror moiré, with bodice of white satin, veiled with silver net, and sleeves of yellow tulle.’

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Mabel Bearsdley as Mrs Maydew in The Queen’s Proctor (1896)

 

In November she went to Canada and the USA with Bourchier’s company, and in December an interview with her appeared in the New York Times, under the main heading ‘Her Brother’s Sister’. The paper found her ‘an interesting young woman, with a complexion of peaches and cream, a delightful English voice and manner of emphasizing her words, and a reputation, she finds, for being her brother’s sister … She is not an outdoor English girl, does not “bike” or care for out-of-door sports. She is devotedly fond of music.’

After talking about her career, Mabel spoke of her brother:

There is not a year’s difference between us, and we are very proud and fond of each other. I don’t know as there is anything about me for him to be proud of, but he is very fond of me and I am very proud of him … He is very ill in the south of England now, and my mother is there taking care of him … He was very, very ill before I left, and I took care of him. He had very bad hemorrhages of the lungs.

When Bourchier returned to the UK in January 1897, she stayed in the USA with another company before returning to England at the end of May and travelling directly on to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, where Aubrey was attempting to recover his health. Arriving on 4 June, she was amazed by an apparent improvement in his condition. After a week – during which they took communion together, as Aubrey too had become a Catholic during her absence – she returned to London and at the end of the month advertised herself as ‘disengaged’.

In July she was working at the Matinee Theatre and the Criterion, then in August she spent another week with Aubrey, now in Dieppe, and in October was again ‘disengaged’, before finding work at the Royalty in late November: in A New Leaf she ‘gave a boldly drawn sketch of a lady of easy virtue, with several redeeming points in her curious composition’.

On 3 March 1898 she opened in The Nettle at the Garrick Theatre, but on the 6th Aubrey – now with his mother in Menton – suffered a major haemorrhage and had clearly not long to live. Ellen telegraphed Mabel to urge her to come at once, which she did. After frequent further severe haemorrhages, during which two nurses were in attendance and Ellen and Mabel spent much time kneeling by his bedside, Aubrey died in the early hours of 16 March.

He was buried in Menton, after which Ellen and Mabel returned to London, where in May there was a memorial service at Farm Street church. Mabel then briefly collapsed. ‘A pile of rich red hair had been the most remarkable feature of this strange beauty,’ wrote Beardsley’s biographer Malcolm Easton: ‘from now on it would be her extreme pallor.’ Later in May probate was granted on Aubrey’s will, which left his sister all his property, valued at £836 17s 10d net (equivalent to about £98,000 today).

On his deathbed, Aubrey had written to the louche publisher Leonard Smithers urging him to destroy all his drawings and the prints made from them for an illustrated edition of Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata, about a sex strike by the women of classical Athens; he had come to consider his work obscene. Mabel was upset when she learned that Smithers had instead sold the drawings to a collector, and tried unsuccessfully to buy them back so that she might destroy them herself. She had not seen the drawings at this stage, but later she became blasé about the images and acquired her own set of the prints; and when the young actress Faith Stone was recovering from influenza Mabel loaned them to her, saying, ‘Are you, dear child, well enough to enjoy a book? I have brought something of my brother’s for you. Being just pictures, they will not tire you, as the printed word might.’

She and Aubrey had been discussing plans for a Catholic quarterly review shortly before his death, and she had already begun to try her hand at journalism, as one of the contributors to a discussion on ‘Is Bohemianism Extinct?’ in The Idler in April 1898. (‘The Bohemians of London are, as a rule, more remarkable for freedom of manner and costume than for the wild untameable spirit of genius which is usually supposed to justify eccentric behaviour and aloofness from Society. Bohemianism (so-called) will not become extinct in England for lack of professors; it is too useful an apology, too picturesque a pose.’) In June 1898 the subject was ‘Should Women Smoke?’ (‘Who will dare to attack a practice recommended to the greater approval of the country by its Chancellor of the Exchequer? Tobacco set far above tea by a fatherly legislation, which would place it within the reach of all; does that declaration contain a subtle appeal to the sex which holds tea in especial honour and favour?’) In January 1900 it was ‘Flirtation: Is It a Legitimate Amusement?’ (‘As in all games, the amusement is in proportion to the degree and interest with which it is played. It is not within the capability of everyone, but then neither is croquet – and to some it is hardly more amusing.’) She also wrote for the Saturday Review and The Rambler on occasions – the critic and poet Arthur Symons thought ‘A New Watteau’, her article on her friend the artist Charles Conder, which appeared in The Rambler in August 1901, had a ‘peculiar fantastic quality’.

In August 1898 she appeared with the Old Stagers at the Theatre Royal in Canterbury, and in December she ‘cleverly expressed the mental anguish’ of seduced then cast-off Grace in A Settlement in Full at St Leonard’s Pier Pavilion. She was also on tour in the new year, at venues including Kilburn, Bury St Edmunds and Colchester.

Later in 1899 she was engaged for the largest part she had so far undertaken: the Duchess of Strood in a touring production of A. W. Pinero’s The Gay Lord Quex. The Duchess, a former lover of the eponymous reformed Don Juan, insists on a potentially compromising farewell meeting with him before he marries someone else. On the strength of the press reports, when the London production opened in April 1899 the Bishop of Wakefield, Dr George Eden, condemned it as ‘the most immoral play that ever disgraced the stage of this country’ – which had an excellent effect on the box office.

When the touring production (rehearsed by Pinero himself) arrived at the Theatre Royal, York, in August the Yorkshire Gazette found that ‘Miss Mabel Beardsley deserves special mention … her fine stage personality and graceful and dignified bearing lending themselves in marked degree to her role.’ But in September she had to leave the tour when she became ill.

In November she appeared as the star-struck Lady Fitzroy in The Modern Craze at St George’s Hall, London. The Morning Post thought that she at times fell into ‘the cleverest possible imitations of Mrs. Patrick Campbell’, while the Pall Mall Gazette believed she gave a ‘delightfully natural imitation of Miss Ellen Terry’.

In early 1900 she was back with The Gay Lord Quex. When, in March, the production arrived in Hull the local Daily Mail found the play ‘not artistic … not beautiful … not wholesome’. The reviewer was particularly shocked by a scene in which ‘Lord Quex, much against his ideas of good sense, consents to say farewell to his old “flame” the Duchess in her boudoir (into which Mr Pinero very unnecessarily introduces a bed)’, especially when ‘the Duchess is made to retire to the back part of her boudoir, stand before her mirror, and – with the help of her maid – produce a representation of a particularly daring corset advertisement!’ It conceded, however, that ‘Miss Mabel Beardsley’s beautiful shoulders figure most effectively in the boudoir scene’, and thought ‘her impersonation of the Duchess of Strood is marked by power; what weaknesses there are are those of the character rather than of the interpreter.’

In April–May 1901 she enjoyed her second-longest London run – over twice the length of the third – with 55 performances in The Lion Hunters at Terry’s Theatre. Then, in a letter postmarked 5 September 1901, Max Beerbohm, recently arrived in Dieppe, wrote to his friend Reggie Turner, ’Miss Beardsley has also arrived, fresh from a provincial tour. She trails about, all day, in evening dress – low neck, no sleeves, and a train as long as the Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, which she carries over her arm. She creates a great sensation.’ Later that month she again advertised herself as ‘disengaged’, and in October she stepped in for an actress with an ill brother in an amateur production of The School for Scandal in Tunbridge Wells.

Her 35 performances in 4 productions in 1902 included a one-off performance of The Finding of Nancy by her former colleague Netta Syrett at the St James’s Theatre. The role had been intended for another actress, but the theatre’s manager objected that she could not play such an unpleasant woman. ‘Mabel Beardsley would probably be very glad to do so,’ replied Syrett, refusing to rewrite the part. ‘Very well, get Mabel Beardsley!’ was the manager’s reply.

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Mabel Beardsley as Mrs Bennett-Boldero in The Degenerates at the Haymarket Theatre in 1902

 

In 1903 she was touring in South Africa in A Woman of No Importance and The Marriage of Kitty. Then, back in London, on 30 September that year she married George Edward Wright, an Old Etonian, six years her junior, who acted under the name of George Bealby; they had met in The Lion Hunters in 1901. Her father was a witness at what was one of the first weddings to be held in the new Westminster Cathedral. The marriage seems soon to have faded away, though George remained good friends with Mabel’s mother.

Thereafter Mabel appeared very little on the stage, at least in London: 4 performances in 1904; none in 1905; 23 in 1906, including a run of 21 in The Whirlwind at the Criterion; none in 1907–9; 1 in 1910; and none in later years. But she began to create a theatre of her own, hosting weekly lunch parties at which her guests might be of the distinction of J. M. Barrie, Henry James, Somerset Maugham, Mrs Patrick Campbell, and the Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott (who met his wife, the sculptor Kathleen Bruce, at one of these lunches in December 1906), as well as old friends like Max Beerbohm.

Many of Aubrey’s old friends found her warmer and more approachable than her brother had been. ‘Mabel must have known the worst of human nature and thought the best of every individual. Nothing startled her, nothing astonished her. She made allowances for all her friends. She credited them with beautiful natures,’ wrote their friend André Raffalovich in 1928. ‘Being Aubrey’s sister’, wrote the painter William Rothenstein, ‘little that is hidden to most young girls was unknown to Mabel, & there was nothing that cd not be discussed.’

In May 1910 Mabel attended an artists’ ball at the Grafton Galleries dressed as an Elizabethan page, and her friend Oswald Birley painted her in that role:

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Oswald Birley, Miss Mabel Beardsley as an Elizabethan Page (1910)

 

In 1912 Mabel was diagnosed with cancer, and by October that year she was confined to a Hampstead nursing home. Just before Christmas W. B. Yeats, who had known her and her brother in the 1890s, learned of her situation, and on 5 January 1913 he made his first visit to her sickbed. After it he wrote to his friend Lady Gregory:

She had all her great lady airs and asked after my work and my health as if they were the most important things in the world to her. ‘A palmist told me,’ she said, ‘that when I was forty-two my life would take a turn for the better and now I shall spend my forty-second year in heaven,’ and then emphatically ‘O yes I shall go to heaven. Papists do.’ … Then she began telling telling improper stories and inciting us (there were two men besides myself) to do the like. At moments she shook with laughter.

The old Beardsley circle that regrouped round Mabel’s bedside, exchanging stories and jokes and memories of outrageous behaviour in years gone by, appealed to Yeats. In a later letter to Lady Gregory he wrote, ‘How her life, her speech would horrify the pious Dublin people & yet how loose & dark they seem in contrast.’

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Mabel Beardsley with her mother in the Hampstead nursing home in 1913

 

Between 5 January and 18 February 1913 Yeats made four visits to Hampstead, and celebrated Mabel’s ‘strange charm’ and ‘pathetic gaiety’ in ‘Upon a Dying Lady’, a sequence of seven poems, of which the first is this:

Her Courtesy

With the old kindness, the old distinguished grace,
She lies, her lovely piteous head amid dull red hair
Propped upon pillows, rouge on the pallor of her face.
She would not have us sad because she is lying there,
And when she meets our gaze her eyes are laughter-lit,
Her speech a wicked tale that we may vie with her,
Matching our broken-hearted wit against her wit,
Thinking of saints and of Petronius Arbiter.

In July 1914 Mabel wrote to Robert Ross, commiserating with him for his problems as the literary executor of Oscar Wilde. In a postscript, she added, ‘I still go on, merely I believe to spite the doctors who gave me up long ago.’

Towards the end she was moved to the Holland Park home of her mother-in-law, where she continued to be watched over by her friends. Aged 44, she eventually died on 8 May 1916. She was buried in the Roman Catholic section of St Pancras Cemetery on 10 May.

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Mabel Beardsley’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery

SOURCES

• Ellen Agnus Beardsley, ‘Aubrey Beardsley’, in R. A. Walker (ed.), A Beardsley Miscellany (London: Bodley Head, 1949)
• Max Beerbohm, Letters to Reggie Turner, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1964)
Daily Mail (Hull), 20 March 1900 (The Gay Lord Quex)
• Malcolm Easton, Aubrey and the Dying Lady: A Beardsley Riddle (London: Secker & Warburg, 1972)
The Era, 15 September 1894 (A Woman of No Importance), 6 June 1896 (The Queen’s Proctor), 4 December 1897 (A New Leaf), 3 December 1898 (A Settlement in Full)
Evening Post (Wellington, NZ), 10 June 1899 (‘A Remarkable Drama’)
Evening Star (Dunedin, NZ), 10 June 1899 (‘Footlight Flashes’)
• R. F. Foster, W. B. Yeats: A Life, vol. 1: The Apprentice Mage 1865–1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)
• Alexander Michaelson [André Raffalovich], ‘Aubrey Beardsley’s Sister’, New Blackfriars, January 1928
Morning Post, 11 February 1896 (Dearest Mamma), 3 November 1899 (The Modern Craze)
New York Times, 27 December 1896 (‘Her Brother’s Sister’)
Pall Mall Gazette, 3 November 1899 (The Modern Craze)
• David A. Ross, Critical Companion to William Butler Yeats: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work (New York: Facts on File, 2009)
• John Russell Stephens, The Censorship of English Drama 1824–1901 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980)
• Matthew Sturgis, Aubrey Beardsley: A Biography (London HarperCollins, 1998)
• Arthur Symons, Selected Letters, 1880–1935, ed. Karl Beckson and John M. Munro (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989)
• Netta Syret, The Sheltering Tree (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1939)
• J. P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1890–1899: A Calendar of Plays and Players (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1976)
——, The London Stage, 1900–1909: A Calendar of Plays and Players (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1981)
• W. B. Yeats, ‘Upon a Dying Lady
Yorkshire Gazette, 19 August 1899 (The Gay Lord Quex)

Alfred Arkell Hardwick: Adventurer and sales manager

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Alfred Arkell Hardwick (1878–1912), the frontispiece to his An Ivory Trader in North Kenia

 

Jean Baptiste de Manio and Max Cremetti – the subjects of two earlier posts – are not the only people who ended up in St Pancras Cemetery as a result of accidents in the early days of aviation. Another was Alfred Arkell Hardwick (or Arkell-Hardwick as his name was sometimes given). He used to say that he was too lucky to be killed in an aeroplane. He was mistaken, but it’s understandable that he should have thought that.

Hardwick was born in Dalston, in north-east London, on 14 January 1878, the son of Alfred James Hardwick, a silk salesman, and his wife of a couple of months, Louisa, née Green, who went on to have another three sons and two daughters. (Their third son, Albert, born in 1883, was in 1905 awarded the Royal Albert Medal, first class – the precursor of the George Cross as Britain’s highest gallantry award for civilians – for saving the life of an elderly woman who fell from a crowded platform at Finsbury Park station as a train approached; he jumped down after her and managed to position them both full length between the rails and the platform so that the train could pass safely over them.)

When he was 14, Alfred junior went to sea as an apprentice on an Australian liner and, according to his obituary, ‘spent three or four years knocking about the seven seas’ – surviving being washed overboard on one occasion – ‘and then turned up in Yokohama, and afterwards Beira [on the coast of Mozambique] and Capetown’.

From Cape Town, he and a friend decided to head north to Bulawayo in present-day Zimbabwe, to seek their fortunes where Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company had recently taken over. He drifted into the British South African Police, and fought in the suppression of the Mashonaland revolt of 1896–7, when the pastoral/hunter Mashona people rebelled against those who had taken their land, coerced them into the workforce, introduced a hut tax, and usurped the authority of their chiefs.

Hardwick’s commanding officer, Inspector (later Colonel) Colin Harding, who adopted a controversial policy of dynamiting caves where rebels and their families were sheltering, wrote of him:

Hardwick was a typical Londoner, a type of man very hard to beat. He left a comfortable home in the North of London and joined the British South African Police, as he informed me to see life. I do not think he was disappointed, for everything he had to do, whether rough or smooth, he thoroughly enjoyed, and he was heard to exclaim to a fellow-trooper who was raving about the ‘Devil’s Pass,’ one of the most beautiful sights on the picturesque journey between Umtali and Salisbury [present-day Harare], ‘You may keep your “— view” but give me Hampstead!’ I have seen Hardwick clambering over a stockade far ahead of anyone else, and then with a captured Mashona gun much older than himself, return dirty and glorious to dream of fleeing Mashonas, in his service blanket under the starry canopy. A great lad was Hardwick.

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The Devil’s Pass, from H. C. Thomson, Rhodesia and Its Government (1898)

 

Hardwick was wounded, mentioned in dispatches, and awarded a medal and a bar for his part in the campaign.

He then worked on the railway being built to link Beira with Salisbury, before finding his way to Egypt, where he worked on the Nile boats and befriended an engineer in the irrigation department of the Egyptian government, George Henry West.

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George Henry West

In late 1899 Hardwick and West left Cairo intending to travel to Uganda via Zanzibar and Mombasa in the hope of finding engineering work. Having got as far as Nairobi, in June 1900 they set out with someone whom Hardwick’s subsequent memoir refers to only as ‘El Hakim’ (’The Doctor’) – ‘said to be one of the most daring and resolute, and at the same time one of the most unassuming Englishmen in the Protectorate; a dead shot, and a charming companion’ – on a five-month expedition in search of ivory and if possible to investigate a supposed great lake called Lorian into which the river Waso Nyiro discharged itself, but which a previous explorer had found to be only a swamp.

During the expedition, as Hardwick recounted in his memoir, An Ivory Trader in North Kenia, they arrived at a place they christened the Green Camp, about 3,500 feet above sea level. There

we felt that we should be content to remain where we were for an indefinite period. Game was more than plentiful, the climate was glorious, and we were free as the pure air we breathed. Only those who have been placed in similar circumstances can appreciate the full value of that word ‘free.’ We did precisely what seemed good to us in our own eyes. We rose early, bathed in the warm spring, ate our breakfast, and then went shooting, or, if disinclined for that, we sat in a folding-chair in the shade of the trees and read, or mended our clothes, ever and anon raising our eyes to watch the herds of game walking steadily past our camp on their way down to the river to drink. In time we got to know the various herds, and even to recognize individual members of the same herd … It was a perfectly Arcadian existence, which we left with very real regret when the exigences of travel compelled us once more to resume our weary march over the sun-scorched desert country down-river.

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The Green Camp

 

However, their appreciation of the wildlife seemed to have deserted them when they later arrived at a place where

Opposite us the cliffs of red gneiss rose to a height of over 300 feet. The face of the cliff was inhabited by thousands of monkeys and baboons, who chattered excitedly over our arrival, an excitement which was not allayed by a bullet I sent through a group of them, which flattened itself against the cliff wall with a sharp smack. They at once scattered to various places of safety behind the rocks, and from thence made rude remarks in monkey language.

Rhinoceroses could be ‘disgustingly frequent’, sometimes being hunted for food and sometimes taking against intruders into their territory:

I remember one rhinoceros which amused us very much. We were making our way across a belt of bush which somehow managed to draw sustenance from the sand, when the familiar but subdued shout of ‘Faru’ caused us to glance hurriedly round. Facing us ten yards away a large rhinoceros was stamping and snorting. In a few seconds he made up his mind to investigate, and charged down upon us. Something impelled George to place his fingers in his mouth and send forth a shrill ear-piercing whistle. The charging rhinoceros stopped suddenly in mid-career, so suddenly, indeed, that he almost sat on his hind quarters. Such a look of porcine surprise came over its ugly features that we involuntarily burst out into a roar of laughter, which apparently completed the ungainly brute’s discomfiture, as it turned and galloped away with every symptom of fear.

They enjoyed a friendly and trusting relationship with the chief of the M’thara tribe, ‘an old man named N’Dominuki. In his youth he had a great reputation as a warrior, and was commonly credited with the slaughter at various times of thirty-five men with his own spear.’ On one occasion

N’Dominuki came into camp with a chief named ‘Karama,’ who wished to make ‘muma,’ or blood-brotherhood, with me, to which I consented. It was rather a long affair. They brought a sheep with them, which was killed, and the liver cut out and toasted. Karama and I then squatted on the ground facing each other, while our men on the one side, and Karama’s friends on the other, formed a circle round us. A spear and a rifle were then crossed over our heads, and N’Dominuki, as master of the ceremonies, then took a knife and sharpened it alternately on the spear-blade and the gun-barrel, reciting the oath of ‘muma’ meanwhile. It was a long, rambling kind of oath … with divers pains and penalties attached, which came into operation in the event of either or both the blood-brothers breaking the said oath. At the conclusion of N’Dominuki’s speech the assembled spectators shouted the words ‘Orioi muma’ three times. Three incisions were then made in my chest, just deep enough to allow the blood to flow, and a similar operation was performed on Karama. N’Dominuki then ordered the toasted sheep’s liver to be brought, which, on its arrival, was cut into small pieces, and a piece handed to both Karama and me. A further recitation of the penalties of breaking the oath was made by N’Dominuki, and again the spectators shouted ‘Orioi muma.’ Karama and I then dipped our pieces of liver in our own blood, and amid breathless silence exchanged pieces and devoured them. This was repeated three times to the accompaniment of renewed shouts from the spectators. The remainder of the liver was then handed round to the witnesses, who ate it, and the ceremony was concluded, it only remaining for me to make my new blood-brother a present.

But relations with the tribespeople were not always so cordial, and after Hardwick and his companions had forcibly repossessed some trade goods stored in the village of Munithu they found themselves pursued by angry villagers. They reached a ravine, at the bottom of which was a small stream, with the edge of a thick forest opposite.

While George superintended the crossing of the men and animals, I and my two men squatted down in the bush at a turn in the path, about a hundred yards in the rear, and prepared a surprise for the enemy. They were howling in a most unmelodious key, and between the howls they informed us that they were coming to kill us, a piece of news which seemed to me to be quite superfluous under the circumstances … Our men in their turn inquired why, if they were coming to kill us, did they not come and carry out their intention? It appears that these exchanges of repartee are part of the ceremonial of A’kikuyu warfare, though at the time it seemed to me to be very childish. The enemy then shouted, ‘Resarse kutire mwaka,’ literally, ‘Your bullets have no fire; ‘meaning to say that they did not hurt – evidently Bei-Munithu’s [their chief’s] teaching. They were asked to ‘come and see,’ an invitation they accepted … and they were within twenty yards when I opened fire. Two of them were put out of action at the first discharge, and the others retreated in disorder, having learnt a wholesome lesson.

As for Lorian, having arrived at its supposed site the expedition found that

Not a sign of the swamp could be seen! The river, scarcely half a dozen yards in width, meandered eastwards, flowing smoothly and sluggishly between its low banks. On every side stretched the silent plains, in some places perfectly bare, and in others covered by patches of dried reeds, while a few solitary thorny acacias stood like ragged sentinels amid the general desolation.

Lorian had vanished!

Hardwick came to the conclusion that

In very wet seasons, or after a series of wet seasons, the Waso Nyiro overflows its banks and covers a portion of the Kirrimar Plain, forming a vast swamp, or more probably a chain of swamps, to which the name of Lorian has been given by the natives … After a long drought, by which the supply of water brought down by the Waso Nyiro would be materially curtailed, these swamps dry up, those lying up-stream, owing to their higher level, naturally drying up first, and consequently the western edge of the swamp, or swamps, called Lorian, would gradually recede more and more to the eastward as the drought increased. At the time of our visit in September, 1900, there had been no rain in Samburuland for three years … and it is therefore quite reasonable to suppose that Lorian, for the reasons enumerated, had receded many miles to the eastward of the point at which Mr. Chanler [the previous explorer] turned back, having satisfied himself that Lorian was merely a swamp and not a lake as he had supposed. It is quite possible that the swamp seen by Mr. Chanler may not have been Lorian at all, but may have been only one of the chain of swamps to the west of it and higher up the river, and which had dried up prior to our visit.

In December 1902 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society for his report on Lorian. In October 1904 he was reporting on the prospects for ‘Gold Dredging in West Africa’ for the African World:

The Ankobra is an ideal river for dredging purposes … The results, so far, have absolutely proved that gold in large quantities can be fairly easily recovered from both the Offin and Ankobra Rivers, and companies holding concessions on those rivers are to be congratulated upon their prospects. Neither the Offin nor the Ankobra Rivers will be worked out in this – and probably not in the next – generation. There is enough work to be done to fully employ 100 or more dredges on each river, and when it is realised that the return from a large dredge is equal to that from a 300-stamp mill, it is easily seen that, as a sound, payable proposition, dredging takes a high place.

Back in London, in January 1906 he married Adeline Kate Dorington, a pawnbroker’s daughter. They were to have three children.

In July 1908 he was interviewed by Central News as the London representative of the war correspondent and former soldier and barrister Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, who was prominent in a group of Englishmen who, in the hope of subsequently receiving ‘concessions regarding mineral rights and exploration and development generally, including the building of railways’, were supporting attempts by Mulai Hafid to depose his half-brother Abdul Aziz as sultan of Morocco. Later that year, with Mulai Hafid now in power, the journalist Lawrence Harris was sent to Fez to interview and sketch the new sultan for The Graphic. As he described in his book With Mulai Hafid at Fez, on arriving in Tangier he found that

Now, in the hotel there sat opposite me at table a quiet, mild-looking, blue-eyed Englishman. Amongst the cosmopolitan crowd who thronged the dining-room he was specially noticeable, for he seldom spoke to any one. During the first three days, beyond a brief ‘Good morning,’ we exchanged but few words. I gathered, however, that he intended going to Fez. I at once made direct inquiries in the right quarter and found that my vis-à-vis, for all his lamb-like appearance, was just such a man as I should wish to accompany me. An ex-member of the South African Police, he had seen service in the native wars in Rhodesia. As a big-game hunter and trader in ivory he had written a successful book on sport and travel in East Africa. He was, in fact, a wanderer of many years’ experience in most of the wilder parts of Africa. I approached him with a view to his accompanying me on my trip to Fez. He agreed at once. Thus began my acquaintance with Mr. A. Arkell-Hardwick. His knowledge of transport and camp equipment was invaluable. A good rider and an excellent shot, he proved throughout the expedition an ideal travelling-companion.

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Lawrence Harris in Moroccan dress

As they made their way to Fez, wearing djellabas and with ‘heads shaved and beards trimmed in Moorish fashion’ to avoid unwelcome attention, Harris and Hardwick witnessed the brutality of the sultan’s regime. As quoted by Harris, Hardwick had a low opinion of the Moroccans: ‘You cannot get them to like us, however well you treat them. Educate them, and you fondly imagine they will be grateful for showing them the advantages of civilization and their years of degradation; but nevertheless, they hate us, and – well, after all, why bother? … The east is east and the west is west, and never the twain shall meet!’

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Punishment for giving false weights at Fez: ‘From a wooden gibbet fixed in the wall, a man was hanging by one wrist, his toes just reached the ground. A crowd jeered around him, and gamins pelted him;, with stones and refuse. The agony depicted on the face of the sufferer was horrible to see. We reined in our horses and gazed with horror at the scene … Hardwick nervously fumbled with the butt of his revolver, and it was hard to have to ride by indifferently … It appears that a merchant had been accused of giving false weight. He had been seized and carried to the place of punishment, and from sunset to sunrise he would hang as we had seen him. He would then be cut down and his senseless body carried home by his friends. It was the usual method of punishment for giving false weights.’

 

The purpose of Hardwick’s trip to Fez is not clear, but on 1 January 1909 he left Harris there and set off back to Tangier with a friend.

In March 1910 he was sailing to America on the SS Friesland, in whose manifest his last permanent residence is said to be Southampton and his destination Chicago, although he ended up working with George A. Spratt, a Pennsylvania-based inventor and associate of the Wright brothers, in his experiments in aviation. Back in London again, he joined the Handley Page aircraft company as a sales manager, and ‘In his work’, said Flight magazine, ‘he was very popular, for with his organizing abilities he had an unvarying good humour.’

In May 1912 he was quoted on Handley Page’s having bought all the assets of the failed Aeronautical Syndicate Ltd, in advance of a proposed auction, in order to avoid a loss of confidence in the British aircraft industry. He complained that ‘Money does not flow into the aeroplane industry here as it does in France or Germany, largely because, with a few notable exceptions, the ordinary member of Parliament has not yet recognised the absolute necessity of a thriving British aeroplane industry to provide war material.’ He seems also to have made some input into design matters, and in the previous month it had been announced that he would be speaking on ‘Breaking Stresses’ as part of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain’s 1912–13 lecture series.

One of the machines to whose design he apparently contributed was the two-seater Handley Page Type-F monoplane, and both his father and one of his sisters had been given joyrides in this before, at about 11.50 a.m. on 15 December 1912 in a gusting south-westerly wind, it set out from Hendon Aerodrome in north London with the very experienced Lieutenant William Parke of the Royal Navy as the pilot and Hardwick in the passenger seat, intending to fly to Oxford.

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The Handley Page monoplane in which Hardwick was killed

 

The plane’s engine – a 70-h.p. Gnome – was not running well at take-off, and the plane had difficulty in leaving the ground and climbing. It continued to fly weakly, and appeared to be turning around to return to Hendon when, having just cleared a belt of trees on a ridge alongside Wembley Golf Club, it dived head first into the ground near the sixteenth hole of the course. The aircraft was completely wrecked, and both Hardwick and Parke were killed almost instantly. It was later concluded that the accident had been due to the failing engine combined with the loss of speed on making a sharp turn, aggravated by wind disturbances caused by the trees and the ridge on which they grew.

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The Handley Page monoplane in flight in November 1912

 

Hardwick was buried in St Pancras Cemetery on 20 December. A detachment of the Legion of Frontiersmen, to which he had once belonged, accompanied the hearse, and as the procession entered the cemetery a monoplane sent by Handley Page appeared overhead and made a circuit of the cemetery before flying off in the direction of Hendon. Two trumpeters of the Royal Horse Guards (one of them a brother of his), who had also accompanied the hearse, sounded the Last Post as his coffin was lowered into the grave.

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Hardwick’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery

 

SOURCES

• A. Arkell-Hardwick, ‘Gold Dredging in West Africa’, African World, 1 October 1904, quoted in C. C. Longridge, Gold Dredging (London: Mining Journal, 1908)
——, An Ivory Trader in North Kenia: The Record of an Expedition through Kikuyu to Galla-Land in East Equatorial Africa, with an Account of the Rendili and Burkeneji Tribes (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1903)
Daily News and Leader, 16 December 1912 (‘Two More Air Victims’), 17 December 1912 (‘Sailor, Soldier and Airman: Remarkable Career of the Dead Aviator’)
Flight, 27 April 1912 (‘Aeronautical Society of Great Britain’), 26 October 1912 (‘The Handley Page Monoplane’), 30 November 1912 (‘The graceful Handley Page monoplane in flight at the London Aerodrome last week-end’), 21 December 1912 (‘The Wembley Fatality’), 28 December 1912 (‘The Wembley Disaster’), 11 January 1912 (‘Report on the Fatal Accident … on Sunday, 15th December, 1912 … ’)
Glasgow Herald, 24 July 1908 (‘British Support for Mulai Hafid’)
• Colin Harding, Far Bugles (London: Simpkin Marshall, 1933)
• Lawrence Harris, With Mulai Hafid at Fez: Behind the Scenes in Morocco (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1909)
New York Times, 16 December 1912 (‘Two British Airmen Dashed to Death’)
The Star, 16 December 1912 (‘Fell Fifty Feet: Eye Witnesses’s Graphic Story of the Wembley Disaster’)
• Edward I. Steinhart, Black Poachers, White Hunters: A Social History of Hunting in Colonial Kenya (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2006)
The Telegraph (Brisbane), 31 January 1913 (‘Aviation Accident: Aeroplane Falls Like Stone’)
• H. C. Thomson, Rhodesia and Its Government (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1898)
The Times, 11 February 1905 (‘Court Circular’), 16 December 1912 (’Aeroplane Accident at Wembley’), 19 December 1912 (’The Wembley Aeroplane Accident’), 21 December 1912 (‘Funeral: Mr A. A. Hardwicke [sic]’)
Times of India, 3 May 1912 (‘Aeroplanes Sold: Syndicate’s Auction Averted’)

 

Michael and Bessie Gunn: Theatre people

As mentioned in an earlier post, when the actress Olga Brandon died in May 1906 and was buried in a common grave in St Pancras Cemetery, a friend of the writer George R. Sims was instrumental in having her moved to a private plot. On reflecting on this in his memoirs, Sims noted that ‘now the dead actress rests in a grave near that of Michael Gunn.’

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Michael Gunn (1840–1901)

 

Michael Ralph Gunn was born in Dublin in 1840, the second of eight children of Michael and Ellen Gunn, and was baptised on 31 May that year. His mother was a corset-maker, and his father was originally a piano tuner, before founding a company – M. Gunn & Sons – that sold pianos and sheet music.

Michael was helping his father in the business and also keeping its books by the time that, in April 1861, Michael senior was killed in a bizarre accident. He was one of the six passengers inside a Dublin omnibus which, having started its journey at about 9 o’clock at night, stopped at the Portobello canal bridge, to which there was a sharp ascent on both sides.

The driver pulled up to let out a passenger on the bridge. While the conductor was taking the fare the omnibus began to back down the incline towards Rathmines. In the effort to get on the horses, which were fresh and spirited, one or both became restiff, the pole got entangled in the harness, the driver lost control over them, the omnibus continued to back up on the road towards Portobello Barracks, and then, turning rather sharply round, it was pushed violently up the rising ground to the lock basin, bursting and passing through the wooden railing; and before any assistance could be rendered the omnibus, horses, and all were precipitated into the canal.

They had fallen into a lock chamber, and a witness told the subsequent inquest that, as efforts were made to rescue them,

To my great surprise I saw a great rush of water into the chamber. I went to the upper gate and met O’Neill, the lockkeeper, who had the key of the sluice-gate in his hand. I bawled out to him, ‘In the name of God, O’Neill, what have you done?’ ‘I’ll float the ’bus,’was his answer… He seemed unable to distinguish between a ’bus and a boat. It is a fact that the water rose rapidly and covered the omnibus.

In its verdict, the inquest jury declared that ‘We do not attach any blame to any of the persons concerned, believing that all exerted themselves to the best of their judgement on that occasion’; nevertheless, 50 years later ’Jimmy’ Glover, the master of music at the Drury Lane Theatre, who was born in Dublin in 1861, recalled the folk memory of the accident in these terms: ‘“Begorra!” shouted the bewildered lock-keeper, “I’ll save their lives by floating the ’bus,” which he immediately proceeded to do by opening the sluices, filling the lock and drowning all the passengers.’

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The fatal omnibus accident at Portobello, as envisaged by the Illustrated London News

 

In the following years Thom’s directory of Dublin listed Michael junior as a ‘professor’ (i.e. teacher) of singing, with his older brother, John, as a cello teacher and his younger brother James as a piano tuner. Michael was also a talented violinist and pianist, and in 1865 directed some of the music played at the reopening of St Teresa’s church in Dublin. He served on the municipal council in the late 1860s and into the 1870s, until the need to travel for his developing business activities made it impossible to continue.

He was a keen traveller and spoke French and Italian fluently, as well as some German, and it is said that ‘his experiences in France and Italy, with the various suggestions that from time to time reached the Corporation, suggested to him the building of a theatre in Dublin.’

In April 1871 he and his brother John received permission from the Letters Patent Office to establish ‘a well regulated theatre and therein at all times publicly to act, represent or perform any interlude, tragedy, comedy, prelude, opera, burlette, play, farce or pantomime’. The theatre, to be named the Gaiety, was designed by C. J. Phipps, who had already been responsible for three London theatres as well as the rebuilt Theatre Royal in Bath, and it was built in South King Street, Dublin, in just 28 weeks, at a cost of £26,000. It opened on 27 November 1871, when the actress Mrs Scott Siddons prefaced a performance of She Stoops to Conquer with

Scarce hath the earth her journey half way run,
In changing seasons round the central sun,
Since Art, obedient to the Muses’ call,
Laid the foundation of this Thespian Hall.
Then day by day, in fair proportions grew,
The beauteous fabric that now meets the view.
The graceful shafts with floral sculpture crowned,
Supporting tier on tier that rises round,
With many a rich device by genius planned,
Wrought by the painter’s brush, the carver’s hand.
’Till amid gleaming gold and flooding light –
Resplendent shines ‘The Gaiety’ tonight.

GaietyTheatre

The auditorium of the Gaiety Theatre (as redecorated by Frank Matcham in 1883), from the souvenir booklet produced for the theatre’s twenty-fifth anniversary

 

The new theatre was not without competition: the Theatre Royal (originally the Albany New Theatre) had been in Hawkins Street since 1821, and there was also the Queen’s in Pearse Street. However, the Gaiety differed from these in not having its own company but instead acting as a receiving house for visiting English companies with first-class productions of drama, musical comedy and opera. Thus the performance of She Stoops to Conquer (which was followed by the burlesque La Belle Sauvage) on the first night was given by the St James’s Theatre Company of Mrs John Wood. And the enduring tradition of the Gaiety pantomime began in December 1873 with Edwin Hamilton’s Turko the Terrible.

Earlier that year M. Gunn & Sons had been wound up, ‘a change having taken place in their Partnership Arrangements in consequence of the retirement of Mrs. Gunn, Senr.’, but in March 1874 the Gunn brothers expanded their activities by taking on the Theatre Royal, which was thereafter managed by Michael while John ran the Gaiety.

In September 1875 the Gaiety Theatre was one of the venues visited by a company whose programme included the first tour of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera – Trial by Jury – organised by Richard D’Oyly Carte. Michael Gunn took an interest in Carte’s ambition to set up a permanent home for light opera in London, and eventually became his business manager. It was he who sent out two touring companies of HMS Pinafore in the UK while Carte was in the USA to counter unauthorised productions there, and he was involved in Carte’s battles with the Comedy Opera Company in London when it tried to continue with Pinafore when its agreement with Carte expired. He also played a large part in realising Carte’s plans for a theatre of his own, the Savoy: besides investing in it himself, he helped Carte find other investors, and negotiated additional loans for the building. In a letter to his solicitor, Carte – who became a close friend as well as a business associate – later said of Gunn, ‘I have a greater respect and regard for him than I think for any man living except my father.’

The Savoy – claimed as the first public building to be lit by electric light – opened on 10 October 1881, and when, in the new year, Carte was again in America, Gunn took over its management, as well as supervising the G&S touring companies, which he continued to do until 1884. Thereafter he continued his association with Carte as a major shareholder and a director of the Savoy Hotel, which opened in 1889.

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Bessie Sudlow (1849–1928)

It was not only Carte’s plans for light opera in English that interested Gunn during the performances of Trial by Jury in Dublin in September 1875: it was supposedly then that he also took an interest in a member of the opera’s cast – Bessie Sudlow, who sang the part of the Plaintiff.

Sudlow had been born Barbara Elizabeth Johnstone (or, in some records, Johnston) in Liverpool on 22 July 1849, the daughter of George Johnstone, a captain in the merchant navy, and his Irish-born wife, Eliza, née Lee, who had been widowed by the time of the 1851 census. By 1870 Eliza had married Thomas Sudlow, from Liverpool, and she and Barbara were living with him and four other children in America. Barbara, using the name Bessie Sudlow, had already embarked on a career on the stage. In October 1868, commenting on the end of the run of the spectacle Undine at the Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote:

The lady who sustained the role of Undine, and whose singing has been especially noticed as the musical feature of performances, has shared the fate of Byron’s hero, of having her name spelled wrong in bills and newspapers. Her name is Miss Bessie Sudlow. She is a resident of Brooklyn, and has obtained some local celebrity by her musical talents. She gives promise of future eminence on the stage. She has all the advantages of youth, comeliness, a good voice well cultivated, and a graceful ease of manner.

A month later she appeared in The Lancashire Lass at the New Chesnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia and ‘acted well her part, but the “Grecian bend” which she affected was in shocking bad taste, and certainly out of date … The ridiculous postures of Miss Sudlow were received with such derisive laughter that it is to be hoped that this lady will conform her dress to the times.’ (A week later it was reported that the Grecian bend had been abandoned.)

grecianbendbook

The Grecian bend (‘an affected carriage of the body, in which it is bent forward from the hips’ – Oxford English Dictionary) illustrated and deplored, from The Grecian Bend: What It Is (1868)

 

In January 1869 she appeared in the opening production of the new Tammany Theatre in New York: the burlesque The Page’s Revel, or the Summer Night’s Bivouac, an ‘exceedingly stupid extravaganza … in which some dozen or so … young ladies looked remarkably pretty’. Burlesques – usually parodies of well-known works, often risqué in style and featuring music and dance, with many of the male roles being played by actresses as breeches roles, to show off their physical charms – were to be a mainstay of Bessie’s early career, both in New York and on tour, including spells with Lydia Thompson’s celebrated ‘British Blondes’ troupe and with the Lisa Weber Burlesque Opera Troupe – ‘the raciest, jolliest little company of people in the country’, according to the Auburn Daily Bulletin. Productions in which she appeared included The Burlesque of Robinson Crusoe, The Forty Thieves, Sinbad the Sailor, Ixion (in which she ‘looked very well as Venus’), Bad Dickey (a spoof of Richard III, in which, as Catesby, she ‘had little else to do but look well, in which she was successful’) and Don Carlos (based on ‘one of Verdi’s last, feeblest and most worthless productions’ and in which she was ‘altogether a great attractive force to the company’).

She also appeared as a singer in mixed variety bills alongside the likes of Americus the child violinist and G. W. Jester, the Man with the Talking Hand. She was well received: in Baltimore, the New York Clipper reported in October 1870, ‘Miss Bessie Sudlow, serio-comic vocalist, has won golden opinions. Her rendition of “Sweet Spirit Hear My Prayer” and “By Killarney’s Lakes and Vales” is truly excellent.’ And as Mollie Malone in The Green Banner, or the Heart of Ireland at the Globe Theatre on Broadway in February 1871 she had ‘a new song, written and dedicated to Ireland’s exiled patriots’.

She became particularly associated with the Niblo’s Garden theatre on Broadway, where she was the Player Queen in Hamlet and later played Osric in Hamlet and Phoebe in As You Like It as part of a ‘Grand Shakespearian Combination’ starring Mrs Scott Siddons as Ophelia and Rosalind. In June 1871, announcing her booking for the Niblo’s summer season, the Brooklyn Daily Union commented that, ‘although her connection with the stage has not been more than two or three years, she has, by her talent, taken a high position in histrionic art, having appeared with marked success at Havana, New Orleans, St Louis, and most of the large cities in the States.’ And when, in December that year, she was one of the cast of some 200 in a revival of the ‘intricate and incomprehensible drama’ The Black Crook – a mishmash of Goethe’s Faust, Weber’s Der Freischütz, and other well-known work, and often considered to be the first piece of musical theatre that conforms to the modern notion of a ‘book musical’ – the Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted that

Miss Bessie Sudlow … has mounted continually higher on the professional ladder ever since she first went on the stage. Five years ago Miss Sudlow was a Brooklyn school girl, her parents still residing in this city. She had a very sweet voice, and for some time sang in the choir of St. Mary’s Church … She has been steadily improving until she can now vie with any actress on the Metropolitan boards.

During 1872–3 she took the title role in Jenny Lind (‘Jenny Leatherlungs’), which toured with Ned Buntline’s play The Scouts of the Prairie, featuring ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody and ‘twenty real Pawnee Indians’. She also appeared as the Indian maiden Dove Eye in the Buntline play, and it is said that during one performance Buffalo Bill propositioned her while on stage. She was so outraged that she hit him over the head with one of the war clubs lying about and, when he fell to the floor, she sat on him until she had composed herself sufficiently to leave the theatre.

bessie-sudlow

Bessie Sudlow in an unknown role

 

After spells in revivals of The Black Crook and Undine and other work including ‘a spectacular extravaganza in three acts and a prologue’ called The Children in the Wood, in which she was ‘encored every evening for the song “The Harp in the Air”’, in September 1874 it was announced that she was joining Lydia Thompson’s company at the Charing Cross Theatre in London, opening in H. B. Farnie’s burlesque Blue Beard, which had already been performed 470 times in America and proved a great success both in London and on tour.

In January 1875 she was in the pantomime The Yellow Dwarf at the Theatre Royal, Dublin – ‘a very graceful and attractive actress and sings pleasingly’ was The Era’s verdict – and in March she was in The Isle of Bachelors (an English version of Charles Lecocq’s comic opera Les cents vierges) at the Gaiety. Then in June she volunteered her services for a promenade concert held at the Theatre Royal in honour of the American team taking part in an Irish–American International Rifle Match in Dublin. Her performance of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ was so enthusiastically received that it took ten minutes for the applause to subside so that she could give an encore, and her success was reported in several papers in the USA. Although it is usually said that she met Michael Gunn when she returned to Dublin in Trial by Jury three months later, as mentioned above, it seems improbable that they would not have met during one of these earlier visits.

In October 1875 Bessie appeared in an English version of another Lecocq opera, Fleur de Thé, at the Criterion Theatre in London. As the actress and manager Emily Soldene recalled in her memoirs:

Miss Bessie Sudlow, as ‘Cæsarine,’ made an immediate success under peculiar and adverse circumstances. It seems the Lord Chamberlain at the last moment objected to the original cast, and said unless a certain character was cast differently the piece could not be played. Mr. D’Oyly Carte, in agony, wired Mr. Michael Gunn of Dublin. Mr. Michael Gunn sent on Miss Sudlow. She studied the part in twenty-four hours, played it in boots damp from Davis, in dresses that had to be pinned on her. She sang songs she did not know to tunes she had never heard, wedded to words improvised as she went along. But she was all right, ‘pulled through,’ as she says, by ‘that dear Goossens,’ the conductor. When the notices came out, Miss Bessie Sudlow found herself famous; she had captured the town.

She started 1876 back in Dublin, in Dick Whittington and His Cat at the Theatre Royal: ‘Her acting was as fresh as a daisy, and her sparkling vivacity and pleasant manner again won showers of applause and golden opinions,’ The Era reported. In the summer she was with Doyly’s Carte’s company in Manchester. Then on 26 October 1876 she and Michael Gunn were married in St Marylebone parish church, London – Bessie was given away by George Dolby, who had managed many reading tours for Charles Dickens, and Michael’s best man was Richard D’Oyly Carte – and in the following January the lord mayor of Dublin presented them with ‘an illuminated address and a valuable service of plate of solid silver’ on behalf of subscribers in honour of their marriage.

Thereafter Bessie appeared only occasionally on stage: in 1877 she again appeared as the Plaintiff in extracts from Trial by Jury at a benefit concert in the Theatre Royal; in 1878 she appeared there as Cinderella, then in an amateur charity performance of The Two Roses, as Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal, and as Ariel in The Tempest; in 1880 at the Gaiety she was Kate Hardcastle in performances of She Stoops to Conquer to mark the tenth anniversary of the theatre’s opening and Lady Teazle in some performances of The School for Scandal, and in 1887 she sang Azucena in extracts from Il Trovatore in a benefit concert there.

She and her husband eventually had six children. Three of them – Kevin, Haidee and Agnes (later Lady Webb) – had careers on the stage, and the fourth child, Selskar, had a distinguished international career in public health. Selskar was also a friend of James Joyce. In a letter to his friend C. P. Curran in July 1937, Joyce wrote:

Selskar Gunn (without an ‘e’) used to come with us to the opera … He is the son of Michael Gunn. The brother James was a good friend of my father’s … He [Selskar] told me his sister Haidée had drawn his attention to the many allusions to her father and mother (‘Bessie Sudlow’) in W.i.P. [Work in Progress, later published as Finnegans Wake].

Michael Gunn has been said to be a recurrent creator–father–god figure in Finnegans Wake, where he first appears as ‘Mr Makeall Gone’. He is also mentioned in a number of places in Joyce’s Ulysses – for example:

What had prevented him [Leopold Bloom] from completing a topical song (music by R. G. Johnston) on the events of the past, or fixtures for the actual, years, entitled If Brian Boru could but come back and see old Dublin now, commissioned by Michael Gunn, lessee of the Gaiety Theatre, 46, 47, 48, 49 South King street, and to be introduced into the sixth scene, the valley of diamonds, of the second edition (30 January 1893) of the grand annual Christmas pantomime Sinbad the Sailor (written by Greenleaf Whittier, scenery by George A. Jackson and Cecil Hicks, costumes by Mrs and Miss Whelan produced by R. Shelton 26 December 1892 under the personal supervision of Mrs Michael Gunn, ballets by Jessie Noir, harlequinade by Thomas Otto) and sung by Nelly Bouverist, principal girl?

Throughout his work with Carte, Gunn had remained involved in the Dublin theatre scene. Sir Charles Cameron, who for over 50 years was in charge of the public-health department of Dublin Corporation, recalled in 1913 that

The late Mr. Michael Gunn, one of the two brothers who founded the Gaiety Theatre, was much given to generous hospitality, in which he was assisted by Mrs. Gunn, one of the best hostesses I have ever been entertained by. There were few theatrical stars who visited Dublin who were not in their time entertained at dinner or supper by Mr. and Mrs. Gunn. To many of those entertainments I was invited, and in that way got to see the actors and actresses when they appeared as themselves and not as some other persons.

John Gunn died in 1878, and Michael was then responsible for both the Gaiety and the Theatre Royal. Artists who appeared at those theatres under his management included Sarah Bernhardt, Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and Beerbohm Tree, as well as many international opera stars.

In February 1880 the Theatre Royal caught fire shortly before a charity performance, and was burned to the ground with the death of the stage manager. While nothing was happening to its site, in the early 1880s Michael was involved in productions at the Olympic, Avenue and Lyceum theatres in London, as well as at the Gaiety, including an unsuccessful attempt to establish Edward Solomon and Henry Pottinger Stephens as a light-opera team to rival Gilbert and Sullivan. It was suggested in the American press – which continued to take an interest in her and often reported on her visits back to the States with her husband – that in 1883 Bessie was instrumental in getting her stepfather a job as the business manager of the Lyceum; he and her mother had divorced in 1877. Eventually, in November 1886, Michael opened a concert and meeting hall, the Leinster Hall, on the old Theatre Royal site, with Adelina Patti singing at the opening.

leinster

The Leinster Hall in 1887 (from The Graphic)

 

A concert at the Gaiety in November 1896 to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of its opening also marked the end of Michael’s management of the theatre. He was in poor health – he was not even well enough to attend the concert – and he handed over the running of the Gaiety to his late brother John’s son, also named John. The Leinster Hall was sold to a consortium led by the actor-manager Frederick Mouillot, which revamped it and opened it as a new Theatre Royal at the end of 1897.

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‘Mrs Michael Gunn’, from the souvenir booklet produced for the Gaiety Theatre’s twenty-fifth anniversary, in 1896

 

Michael and Bessie moved to London, though retaining links with Dublin – they were there at the time of the 1901 census, when Bessie’s mother was also part of their household. Michael died at his London home, St Selskar’s, Eton Avenue, Belsize Park, on 17 October 1901 from ‘a complication of diseases’, though it was stated that he ‘had been ill for some considerable time with diabetes’. He was buried in St Pancras Cemetery on 21 October, and left an estate in England of £17,489 (equivalent to about £1.9 million today).

Not long after that, John Gunn junior moved to Australia ‘to recoup his health’, and the Gaiety passed into the hands of the Associated Managers of the United Kingdom. Sometime afterwards, however, Bessie was appointed its manager, in which role she continued until May 1909, when it was taken over by the Theatre Royal Co. Ltd. She died in Hove, Sussex, on 27 January 1928, and was buried with Michael on the 30th.

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Michael and Bessie Gunn’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery

 

SOURCES

The Advocate (Melbourne), 14 December 1901 (‘Death of Mr. Michael Gunn’)
• Michael Ainger, Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
Auburn Daily Bulletin, 26 May 1870 (Lisa Weber Burlesque Opera Troupe, Don Carlos)
British Newspaper Archive – various mentions of Gunn and Sudlow
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 9 October 1868 (Undine), 16 December 1871 (‘has mounted continually higher’)
Brooklyn Daily Union, 8 June 1871 (‘a high position in histrionic art’)
• Sir Charles A. Cameron, Reminiscences (Dublin: Hodges, Figgis & Co.; London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1913)
Chronicling America website – various mentions of Gunn and Sudlow
1871–1971: One Hundred Years of Gaiety (Dublin: Gaiety Theatre / Eamonn Andrews Productions, 1971)
The Era, 17 January 1875 (The Yellow Dwarf), 2 January 1876 (Dick Whittington and His Cat), 29 October 1876 (‘Marriage of Miss Bessie Sudlow’), 28 April 1878 (‘Death of Mr. John Gunn’), 23 October 1909 (John Gunn junior to Australia)
Evening Express (New York), 5 January 1869 (The Page’s Revel)
Evening Freeman (Dublin), 2 March 1865 (St Teresa’s church)
Evening Telegraph (Philadelphia), 10 and 17 November 1868 (The Lancashire Lass)
Evening Telegram (New York), 11 February 1871 (The Green Banner)
Freeman’s Journal (Dublin), 27 February 1875 (The Isle of Bachelors)
• Kurt Gänzl, The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre (Oxford: Blackwell Reference, 1994)
• James M. Glover, Jimmy Glover – His Book (London: Methuen, 1911)
The Graphic, 10 December 1887
The Grecian Bend: What It Is (New York: Grecian Bend Publishing Co., 1868)
• ‘Gunn, M. (& Sons)’, Dublin Music Trade website
• James Harty III, James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: A Casebook (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015)
Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections – various mentions of Gunn and Sudlow
Illustrated London News, 20 April 1861
• James Joyce, Selected Letters, ed. Richard Ellmann (London: Faber, 1975)
• R. M. Levey and J. O’Rorke, Annals of the Theatre Royal, Dublin, from its Opening in 1821 to its Destruction by Fire, February 1880 (Dublin: Joseph Dollard, 1880)
National Police Gazette (New York), 29 December 1883 (Thomas Sudlow at the Lyceum)
National Republican (Washington DC), 2 May 1873 (‘twenty real Pawnee Indians’)
New York Clipper, 23 October 1869 (Ixion), 18 December 1869 (Bad Dickey), 15 October 1870 (‘golden opinions’), 20 December 1873 (The Children in the Wood), 10 February 1877 (‘an illuminated address’)
New York Herald, 27 November 1870 (‘Grand Shakespearian Combination’)
NYS Historic Newspapers website – various mentions of Gunn and Sudlow
• Robert O’Byrne, Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre: The Grand Old Lady of South King Street (Dublin: Gaiety Theatre, 2007)
• George C. D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage, vols. 8 and 9 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936, 1937)
Old Fulton NY Post Cards website – various mentions of Gunn and Sudlow
• George R. Sims, My Life: Sixty Years’ Recollections of Bohemian London (London: Eveleigh Nash, 1927)
• Emily Soldene, My Theatrical and Musical Recollections (London: Downey & Co. 1897)
Souvenir of the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the Opening of the Gaiety Theatre, 27th November 1871, with Michael Gunn’s Compts (Dublin, 1896)
The Spirit of the Times (New York), 27 December 1873 (‘encored every evening’)
The Stage, 24 October 1901 (‘Death of Mr. Michael Gunn’)
• Adrian J. M. Stevenson, 13 Westland Row, Dublin website
• Colin Sudlow, posts on Ancestry message boards, February 2012
Thom’s Almanac and Official Directory for the Year 1862 (Dublin: Alexander Thom, 1862)
The Times, 9–12 April 1861 (omnibus accident), 10 February and 10 March 1880 (Theatre Royal fire)
• ‘Victorian Burlesque’ at Wikipedia

Thomas Simpson: Life-saver

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Skating on the Highgate ponds in 1895 (Illustrated London News)

 

In a fragment of autobiography written by the critic and artist Roger Fry, he recalled that one day in January 1929 he was dozing when he suddenly had a vivid picture of his father ice skating:

It must have been somewhere in the [18]70’s about ’74 1 should guess and the place was one of the ponds in Lord Mansfield’s Park at Kenwood which is now public property but was then very private. Only when the ponds bore, the privileged families of Highgate of which we were one were allowed in by ticket … He [Fry’s father] was passionately fond of skating – it was indeed the only thing approaching to a sport that he cared for … He loved skating indeed so much that though he was a Q.C. in big practice he sometimes managed an afternoon off in the middle of the week so terrified was he of the frost giving before Saturday. It was the only interruption he ever allowed in the routine of his work.

If you were a member of one of the less privileged families of Highgate or its neighbourhood and wanted to skate, a popular place to go was the Highgate ponds, outside Lord Mansfield’s estate. Although these were then part of the estate of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and there was no public right of way, people constantly visited them without difficulty, especially when they were covered with ice.

On Saturday 24 January 1885 The Times reported that

The frost which set in on Monday night continues to be severe … So hard was the frost of Tuesday night that, with its continuance since, almost every pond in the suburbs of London, including those of Clapham-common, Hampstead, and Highgate, were frozen over. The ornamental water in St. James’s Park was fully coated with ice; and around the central island in the Regent’s Park lake ice, rather more than an inch thick, has formed … Should the frost keep sharp for two nights more the ice in St. James’s Park will be perfectly fit for skating. Last night at 8 o’clock 4deg. of frost were marked at the Hyde Park Receiving-house [of the Royal Humane Society, founded in 1774 for the recovery of persons apparently drowning], and on the southern shore of the Serpentine thin ice was beginning to form. The most experienced officers of the Royal Humane Society stationed at Hyde Park believed last night that all the atmospheric indications pointed to a continued frost.

Perhaps it was colder on the outskirts of London, or perhaps children were just impatient to get on to the ice. Whatever the reason, on Thursday 22 January 12-year-old Edward Banks had gone sliding on the ice of the Highgate No. 2 Pond – the present-day Men’s Bathing Pond – with two friends. Edward had ventured further towards the centre than the others, and the ice there gave way and he was drowned, his body being recovered only with difficulty and at some risk by a gardener named John Smith.

Despite this, there were people skating on the pond the next day, and at one point on Sunday the 25th there were reckoned to be up to 500 people on this and the two adjacent ponds, though the ice was no more than 2 inches thick, if that, and it gave way on several occasions, causing skaters to be immersed.

By 5 o’clock many people had drifted off to tea, but there were about 150–200 skaters left on No. 2 Pond when there was a sudden crash of breaking ice and, as the Daily News put it, ‘there arose loud shouts, and the skaters, as if impelled by one impulse, swept like lightning on to the banks’ – except for six or seven people who were seen struggling to stay afloat in a hole some 20 yards or so from the shore.

Several people rushed to their assistance. One took off his coat and extended it to a man in the water, who grabbed it and was pulled out. A rope brought from the bank by two skaters proved to be rotten and of little use. A policeman and three others fell in themselves while carrying out rescues. Charles Whyte, the swimming ‘professor’ at King Street baths in Camden Town, went into the water and rescued two people – for which he was later awarded the bronze medal of the Royal Humane Society. And Thomas Simpson, a casual labourer on Thomas Ward’s neighbouring farm, jumped in and managed to bring out one young man. He then went in again to try to rescue someone else, but the bitter cold of the water and the strain of his exertions resulted in he too beginning to struggle and sink. Seeing this, someone on the bank – a Mr Frank Pullen, of Brecknock Road – ran towards the hole, slid to the edge, and plunged in, managing to reach Simpson and, with difficulty, get him on to the ice. Efforts were then made to revive him, but eventually a doctor who had arrived on the scene – William Pepler of Mansfield Road, Gospel Oak – pronounced him dead.

wardsfarm

Ward’s Farm, Fitzroy Park (date unknown) by H. Hart (Public Catalogue Foundation / Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre). In the 1881 census Thomas Ward declared that he employed eight men and one boy there.

Simpson, who was aged 45 and lived at 6 York Place (probably the terrace of that name in what is now Kentish Town Road) in St Pancras, was a familiar figure thereabouts, and there were many expressions of regret at the death of a good-natured man. It seems likely that he was the same Thomas Simpson whom the 1881 census records as an unmarried agricultural labourer, then aged 40, lodging with a family in nearby Grafton Road.

There was some comment during the evening about the meagreness of the Royal Humane Society’s provision of life-saving equipment in the neighbourhood of the Highgate ponds. The 1879 edition of Dickens’s Dictionary of London noted that the society had drags and life-saving equipment stationed at Ward’s farm; but in the 1884 and 1885 editions the nearest equipment listed was in the police station at what is now the top of Highgate West Hill (no. 49). Police Inspector Goodwin of Y Division told the subsequent inquest that through some misunderstanding the Royal Humane Society had removed the equipment formerly kept at the ponds, and it no longer sent an officer to them when they were covered with ice. But on the day of Simpson’s death a police constable had been stationed there to warn people that the ponds were in a dangerous condition, and the ropes and drags that he had with him from the police station had proved valuable.

Recording verdicts of ‘death by misadventure’ on Banks, Simpson and another man, Francis Annett, whose body was recovered on the Monday morning, the inquest jury, under the direction of the coroner, added a rider that ‘The jurors having heard in evidence that the Highgate ponds are practically open to the public, would recommend that the Royal Humane Society be respectfully requested to consider the subject with the view of establishing at these ponds life-saving apparatus and drags; and that some authorised person should be stationed there to protect the public when ice covers the water.’

When, 14 years later, the stableman William French was drowned while trying to rescue a dog from the Highgate No. 3 Pond, animal lovers had his body buried in a private grave and paid for a handsome monument to be erected over it. Though Simpson’s death was quite widely reported, no such benefactors came forward for him, and on 3 February 1885 he was buried in an area of unmarked common graves in St Pancras Cemetery.

simpsongrave

The area of unmarked common graves in which Simpson is buried in St Pancras Cemetery

However, in 1908 a tablet bearing his name was unveiled in Postman’s Park in the City of London as part of the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice, originally conceived of by the artist George Frederic Watts to honour people who died while saving the lives of others and who might otherwise be forgotten:

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Thomas Simpson’s memorial tablet at Postman’s Park in London. (Watts’s notes on which the Postman’s Park inscriptions were based were not always accurate.)

 

SOURCES

• A. P. Baggs, Diane K. Bolton, M. A. Hicks and R. B. Pugh, ‘Hornsey, Including Highgate: Public Services’, in A History of the County of Middlesex: vol. 6: Friern Barnet, Finchley, Hornsey with Highgate, ed. T. F. T. Baker and C. R. Elrington (London: University of London Institute of Historical Research, 1980)
Daily News, 26 January 1885 (‘Fatal Ice Accident at Highgate’)
• Charles Dickens Jr (ed.), Dickens’s Dictionary of London: An Unconventional Handbook (London: Macmillan, 1879, 1884, 1885 edns)
Evening Standard (London), 29 January 1885 (‘Inquests’)
Hampstead & Highgate Express, 31 January 1885 (‘Fatal Ice Accidents at Highgate’)
List of the Fellows, Members, Extra-Licentiates and Licentiates of the Royal College of Physicians of London (1887)
• ‘List of Tablets on the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice’, Wikipedia
Pall Mall Gazette, 26 January 1885 (‘Fatal Ice Accidents at Highgate’)
• John Price, Heroes of Postman’s Park: Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London (Stroud: History Press, 2015)
The Times, 24 January 1885 (‘The Weather’), 29 January 1885 (‘The Highgate Ponds’)
• Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry: A Biography (London: Hogarth Press and New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1940)
Yorkshire Gazette, 24 March 1885 (‘Bravery Rewarded’)