Monday, January 25, 2021

The itinerant Mr Kelsey: to the colonies and back


One of my favourite ebay shops is that run by 'claudiacaroline'. He (yes, he) has a fine, well-organised shop, clearly and commonsensically arranged and labelled, and he turns up the most delicious things. Priced to sell, and to be bought. My secret agent has bought all sorts from him in the past.

Today, I visited him, and spotted this slightly odd-looking chappie. And what? Not only dated, but photographed by Mr T Dureya in Adelaide, Australia? Oh, definitely worth a peek.

Little could I have guessed that my gentle inquiries would lead me from Adelaide to New Zealand, from Bethnal Green to Bournemouth and to Beurk's Peerage ...

In March 1866, Charles Kelsey was 25 years old and an orphan, and he had not long been in Australia.
He had been born at 9 Nichols Row, Tower Hamlets 9 March 1841, the youngest of the ten (?) children of a weaver turned painter and decorator, and coach trimmer, Benjamin Kelsey (x 14 September 1789) and his wife Rebecca née Jackson (m 10 July 1814). Father died when he was nine (his will is in the Canterbury files), and in the 1851 census little Charles is back in his father's birthtown of Nuneaton, being cared for by his cousin Elizabeth Pegg and her husband, George. Then, in 1861, both George Pegg and mother Rebecca died ... in the census of that year, five of the Kelsey children are homing together at 2 Parkfield Terrace: Henry is a trimming manufacturer, George (b 5 April 1827) and Charles are 'silkmen' , and Jane and Rebecca are presumably running the household. They have the help of a cook and a housemaid, so silk and trimmings presumably paid.
But in 1864, Charles decided to head for Australia. I see that by February 1865, he was established in Adelaide's Peel Street 'in business'. 

At least, I know he was involved. But one advertisement says 'B Kelsey'. Brother Benjamin (x 4 January 1818)? Is that why Ben isn't with his siblings in 1861? But wasn't he a plumber? Or is this his son (1844-1906)? Or a nephew? Anyway, it's some kind of relation, and it will be the Ben seen marrying Eliza Oliver Harcus in 1870 ... garn, too many Bens!
The Kelsey firm expanded quickly. By May there are occupying 3, 4 and 5 Peel Street and selling harmoniums, musical boxes, banjoes, concertinas and musical cigar stands. By October they are advertising for a salesman for the 'London, Birmingham amd Sheffield trade' ... In early 1866, a review of Adelaide's buildings notes 'a very fine store has been erected on the north of King William Street by Mr S R Hall ...' and the Kelseys are advertising for a junior clerk and a book keeper ('must understand double entry'), then an errand boy. And then they are advertising 'revolvers, guns, life-preservers, Cottrel's thief-and-fireproof safe, and a London agency at 20-1 Wilson Street ...  The firm seemed to be doing all right, while Peel Street's biggest business, Samuel Bakewell's wholesale grocery, was struggling. 
And then Charles shows up. Mr Charles Kelsey of Peel Street. And he's getting married to Emily, daughter of the aforesaid Mr S[amuel] R[oderick] Hall, JP, builder and man of substance.
'B Kelsey and Co, wholesale importers' carries on, selling his rosewood and walnut harmoniums, and in the local paper we see, in adjacent ads, the tie that binds our Mr Kelsey to his photographer 

The business carries on into 1868 as bagatelle board, billiard tables, papier maché goods, iron bedstaeds, aneroid barometers, cutlery, glass, crockey and other imports 'too numerous to particularise' swelled the Peel Street premises ..

In 1869 the business seems to habe moderated its activities, Charles was noted as a 'deacon of Stow Church' and something to do with the Congregational Union, Emily gave birth to her first son (7 March), and Charles was up in court for 'allowing his chimey to catch fire ... fine 5s'. In 1870 he was advertising as 'a commission agent for absentee proprietors and is now 'of Alfred Chambers, Currie Street' and quitting 'a detached house of seven rooms in South Terrace... Peel Street had sunk somewhat in tone by this stage, and in May 1870 Kelsey and Co moved out to Grenfell Street ... and Benjamin got married to Miss Harcus 'eldest daughter of William Harcus JP'. A child was born, and the family returned to London. The business was sold up, but news of the Kelsey family appeared, periodically, in the colonial press. Yes, there is brother Ben (above), listed as Ben (sr) ... he must be the Ben in London .... oyyy.

But I think, also, that other of the brood may have sailed south. Charles's brother, John George Kelsey (b Castle Street 12 May 1822; d Blackwood 16 April 1899) turns up in the Australian press ... was it he who started the southward drift?

So, there I shall pause, simply to say that Charles and Emily had four children in South Australia, before in 1878 they left the colony and took a trip home. But they soon returned south, and settled in Auckland, where a final son was born, and at Waimarama. Charles ran a fancy goods business in the city, with one hand, and dabbled in farming and real estate and goodness knows what else with the other ...

Eventually they returned definitively to Britain, to Bournemouth, where in the fulness of their years they passed away ... and I'm not going into the slightest bit of detail about the family, because there are 62 family trees on, of varying degrees of ambition and detail ... but they don't seem to give much about the PEOPLE in the tree, just dates and places which, sometimes, agree inter se ...  One of them has photos of all five of Charles and Emily's children, and one, indeed, of Charles. But it's not a patch on this one ...

PS Charles's eldest son made it into the Peerage books by marrying the daughter of a baronet. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Italian History: A 'Revolutionary' in ... Doncaster!


In the same box as Mrs Saker, I came upon another photo which grabbed me ... a fine-looking gentleman from ...

Turn over the card and somebody has posted a newspaper clipping on the back. 

How nice. Clipped by one M E Dyson in 1881 'my old French master at Doncaster'.  But that is only a fragment of the story of this gentleman who lived, in fact, more than fifty years in the town of Doncaster. 

Giovanni Battista Testa was born in at Torrione, near the town of Trino, in Piedmont, 13 March 1798 and educated for the law. Barely into his twenties, he got mixed up in the local 'liberal' revolution promoted in 1821 by the usual sort of group of army officers -- an attempted coup d'état which, after a few posturings and an ephemeral 'liberal government' was squashed, and its leaders and noisier sympathisers condemned to death. They, needless to say, scooted out of Piedmont to hopefully friendlier pastures.

I don't know exactly what 23ish year-old Gibi had done to get himself on the proscribed list -- apparently he was on some kind of council --, but he was condemned (I suspect in absentia) in late 1821, and the friendlier pastures he chose to which to scoot were first Geneva, then London, and then -- don't ask me why -- Doncaster, England! He stayed there, living, unmarried, at no3 Christchurch Terrace, with the family of publican Ann Wright, and later nurseryman Thomas Wright, writing (Italian) history works, and teaching Doncastrians Italian and French into his eighties, before returning, at the last, to Italy. He died at Casale 16 February 1882.

His history books are said, a century and more later, to be models of their kind ... but I suspect politically slanted (I Martiri della Libertá Italiana). I wonder what his large-cast, Italian verse tragedy Olgiati published in Doncaster in 1827 was like .. and what about L'institution del Sabato (1855)?

He re-published his 1853 History of the War of Frederick I against the communes of Lombardy (2 volumes) in English ('by Giovanni Battista Testa of Trino, Knight of the Order of SS Maurice and Lazarus and of the Crown of Italy, and corresponding member of the Royal Delegation for the Study of National History') in 1877.

Anyway, a more detailed version of Testa's life can be read (in Italian) on the Trino website (Trino negli anni del risorgimento):
It doesn't have a portrait of the man. Maybe they would like this one?

PS Miss Mary Elizabeth Dyson (b 19 December 1833), daughter of a carrier (employing 35 men) and rope-manufacturer from Almondbury, Huddersfield, attended Miss Sarah Parker's school in South Parade, Doncaster c1851. She is numbered among the pupils there in the 1851 census. Unmarried, she lived, latterly (see 1881 census) in Brighton with her brother, Herbert ('merchant').

An odd, quiet life, rather at odds with his earlier Italian indiscretions. Perhaps it was what he really wanted. Perhaps his politics were theory rather than pratice. You would have thought, once his death sentence and exile were annulled by the newest Italian regime, he would have hurried back to Piedmon to take up where he had left off as a mover and shaker. But no: he spent half a century teaching Italian to little girls in Yorkshire, while Italy got into its messes without him. He satified himself with the odd paper dart ...

But then, it is rather difficult to take seriously a man unfortunately christened Giovanni Battista Testa. One sees, instantly, Salome with her platter-full of head, dancing towards the king ...

1869: A wandering theatrical photo identified!


Being old has its advantages. Being old and having spent forty years dabbling in the same pool -- in my case, theatrical history -- has more. Yesterday was an example. I am not one of those fortunate folk who can listen to a song and say 'oh, that's such and such a singer'. With photos I am a little better ... at least I can often say 'I KNOW that face', even if I cannot put a name to it.

Well, yesterday, amid a bundle of wholly non-theatrical pictures, I came upon this young lady..

Ah. Yes. Now who are you? I turned the card over. 

Saker plus Liverpool = theatre. Edward Sloman Saker, manager of the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Liverpool, married his leading lady, Emily Mary Kate O'Berne or O'Brien ... yes, that's she. Never seen a photo of her so young ... 1869? She'd be 22. BUT. She was still 'Miss Marie O'Berne'. She didn't become Mrs Saker until 16 February 1874 ... in fact, in 1869, she hadn't even met Mr Saker! Retrospective labelling? How would you remember the date 'received'? Odd. Someone's birthday, perhaps? I don't know Emily-Marie's birthdate. She was born in Dublin, allegedly to a John O'Berne or O'Brien 'printer' and his wife Elizabeth in 1847ish.

At some stage in her youth she emigrated to the mainland, and I see her performing first in Liverpool in April 1864. So, aged seventeen? Now, I'm not going to detail the distinguished performing career of 'Mrs Edward Saker'. That has been done, with the accent firmly on the glory days of the 1870s and 1880s. But I will just set the record right as regards her rather remarkable early career, which usually gets glossed over.  

'Marie' as she was known for the stage turns up in the aforesaid April singing at the Star Music Hall, in Williamson Square, on a bill including 'Handsome Nigger Joe' otherwise W H Wieland. The Star was a venue that catered for 'men only', and Marie seems to have been one of only two ladies performing there. I imagine the beer flowed.

In the months that followed, I see her singing at Hardy's Music Hall, at Pullan's fine house in Bradford ('ballad singer and serio-comic') and in 1867 at the Constellation Music Hall, 74 Whitechapel, Liverpool and the Dog Inn Music Hall. There were obviously others such in between.
Promotion, however, was soon to come. In August 'the new serio-comic' made her London debut, for Sam Adams at the tatty Philharmonic Hall, Islington. The other vocalists were the considerable soprano known as Charlotte Grosvenor, and 'Mrs Badzey' otherwise Mrs Grundy, an experienced stalwart of the halls who was to mother a whole breed of singing Grundys. Marie was in good company.
She seems to have stayed in London, and during that time made several appearances, as an actress, with the social and military amateurs out Woolwich way. And then came the announcement. Phelps was to open the new season at Drury Lane in a version of the Walter-Scottish The Fortunes of Nigel entitled King o'Scots, and among the cast was to be ... 'Miss O'Berne'! 

Well, it didn't happen quite that way. When King o'Scots opened, Marie was in Hull, a member of the stock company at the Theatre Royal. But it was only a 'holding' job. After she had played 'Advenure' in the Christmas panto, alongside Cicely Nott and Edith Blande, she headed for the London and the Lane. She had clearly been hired as a 'singing lady', for she was cast as Second Singing Witch (the first was Elizabeth Poole!) to the Macbeth of Phelps, and the famous 'double' of Mrs Howard Paul (Lady Macbeth and Hecate), she was Mrs Circe in Burnand's afterpiece, The Girls of the Period, Madame Valjean in Les Misérables, and when Hamlet was staged, for Phelps, she was Ophelia! And when that season was over, she tootled off to Edinburgh to play Abdallah in Ali Baba over Christmas. So, I imagine, the carte was sent to whomsoever inscribed it, from Scotland...
Miss O'Berne's versatility however, was soon to have a further test. Mr Wood's Italian Opera company came to Edinburgh, and among its offerings was the then not very popular Der Zauberflöte. Ilma di Murska was the Queen of the Night, Clarice Sinico was Pamina, and for the first Knabe was co-opted ... Miss O'Berne! The opera company headed for Liverpool, and there Marie climbed off the operatic wagon.  She went to Eldred at the Prince of Wales's Theatre, where she appeared in the star-vehicle musical playlet, Perfection, supported by Billington, Sydney Cowell and Harry Paulton, and thence, in September, to the city's Alexandra Theatre, manager: Edward Saker.
And the career of Emily O'Berne as a leading actress, and a few years later a wife, a theatre manager and all the rest was on its way ... Mrs Darlington in Love or Money, Fanny Power in Arrah-na-pogue, Princess Ida in W S Gilbert's burlesque The Princess, Lady Adeliza in Birth, Mary Meredith in Our American Cousin with Sothern, and onwards and upwards.

Edward and Emily had four sons and a daughter before Edward died 29 March 1883 at the age of just 44. One son died young, and two were killed in the Great War, but Emily didn't have to suffer the loss. She, herself, had passed on 6 February 1912.
Eldest son, George Morton Saker worked as a touring musical for musical comedy, from The Shop Girl to No, no, Nanette and on the halls, notably for George Formby, lived to 1966, wed, but bred not, and it was left to daughter Marie Rose to keep the family line alive, even if possibly illegitimately. Marie 'actress' seemingly gave birth to a child, Agnes, surnamed Pearson, in Hull in the latter months of 1900 ...

There is much more to relate concerning the history of the Saker/O'Berne family, but I'm stopping here, my mission -- to put this photo in context -- accomplished ...

Just one animadversion ... that name? Would you sign your wedding certificate with anything but your correctly-spelled name?

Friday, January 22, 2021

A Manhattan Mystery, or Who Do You Think You Are?


All historians secretly love a good mystery. But we love it infinitely more when we are able to solve it, in spite of varying efforts to put us off the track. I think, in this case, I reckon I'm worth I'm a nine and a half out of ten. I'm pretty convinced I'm right, but when actors and the theatre are involved, with all the untruths about name, age, marital status and, even occasionally, sex with which they surround themselves ... well, it's just that more tricky (a) to decipher and (b) to be sure.

This particular quest began yesterday when I saw this jolly theatrical photo on ebay

I know about Hobbies. It was a loose-limbed, 1-act, 2-hour farce comedy, tacked together by Ben Woolf from Boston -- the librettist of America's first international musical-theatre success -- around the popular comedian and impersonator Nat[haniel] C[arl] Goodwin, his new wife, ex-Lydia Thompson star, Eliza Weathersby (actually Smith) and her sister, Jennie. Eliza was the soubrette, Minnie Clever, Jennie found her fach as the komische Alte, Miss Euphemia Bangs, and Nat was principal man, Professor Pygmalion Whiffles, in what was simply a ‘let's put on a show’ show, and the piece culminated with the ‘amateur’ performance of a burlesque Puss in Boots
Hobbies was, however, a six-hander, and Messrs W G Bowser and W J Stanton and Miss Clara Fisher made up the original 'Froliques' company, but the supporting players changed regularly as the piece covered the country, and one of the take-overs in the role of Major Garroway Bang was the 34(ish) year-old comic actor 'Thomas H Burns' (b ?1845; d New York 14 December 1905).

Burns (and we'll get to the quote marks later) was a thoroughly experienced young man. He had been on the stage from at least 1865, as a member of the companies at the Boston Theatre, Selwyn's Theatre Boston, at Providence, the Boston Howard Athenaeum, the Boston Globe for more than a dozen years, supporting stars such as Frank Mayo, Kate Regnolds, Katie Putnam, E A Sothern, Christine Zavistowski in pieces ranging from The Rivals, Virginus, After Dark, The French Spy, A Hornet's Nest, Rip van Winkle and Romeo and Juliet to a burlesque Robin Hood (he was Maid Marian), and getting his moments as Shaun in Arrah-na-pogue, as Handy Andy, The Limerick Boy or Paddy Miles's Boy. I suspect him of being Massachussetts Irish!


After his time with the Froliques, he played several seasons more in Boston. I see him supporting Maud Granger in The Galley Slave, as lawyer PH Stitch in The White Slave and playing in a version of Jack Sheppard, with Rachel Noah as Jack and a little lass by the name of Geraldine Ulmar as Winifred Wood. Miss Ulmar would, of course, go on the stardom in Britain as the creator of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers, The Yeomen of the Guard et many al.

At some stage in the mid-1880s, now more of an age to play the roles he was cast in, Burns joined Marie Aimée's troupe playing des Prunelles in Divorçons, T Tarleton Tupper in Mam'selle and apparently directing the stage as well. He was debited with the direction of the three-performance flop Marita which the lady quickly abandoned. 
Now, however, in his forties, his credits were much classier than heretofore. Nat Goodwin recalled him ('full and round in voice and person') to play Captain Medway in Turned Up and Wilson in A Gold Mine, he supported Minnie Maddern in Featherbrain, played Captain Knox in Belasco and de Mille's The Charity Ball, with Charles Frohman's Comedians as Major P Ferguson Mallory in Mrs Wilkinson's Widows. In 1899 he toured with Rose Coghlan, Grace George, Aubrey Boucicault and John T Sullivan in Mademoiselle Fifi.
In 1905, Tom Burns was engaged to play the part of Mr Trent in William Gillette's new play. But Clarice was produced at London's Duke of York's Theatre. So to London went Tom. He was 'a distinct hit' but Clarice was a flop, so Gillette canned it, and switched back to the proven Sherlock Holmes for the remainder of his tenure. And in December the company went home. The shiplist details them all: 'Marie Doro' (née Stewart), Lucille La Verne, who had been playing a black mammy and would go on to voice-over fame (Snow White etc), director William Postance, Gillette ... but where was Tom?

I found him. Tom had gone home earlier, and arrived in New York 25 November. Was he not in Sherlock Holmes, or was his return due to something more sinister? The day, 14 December, that the ship bearing his colleagues berthed at New York, Tom Burns died. Aged 61. I can't find an obituary anywhere. I'm sure there must have been something in the trade press ... after all, his death was registered in his stage name.

Now the mystery part. Was it a stage name? I say yes. I can find Tom in only one census, as 'Burns'. In 1900 he was living in East 17th Street avowing born Massachussets May 1846, of Massachusetts parents, and widower. So where was he in the others? Doubtless using his real name? I wonder.

What is true, is that he was a widower. The lady concerned was born Ellen Marie Sherman, in Concord, NH, and at some stage a vanity publication, apparently written by a relation, made an attempt to glorify her as a writer. The piece has been copied (on findagrave even!) verbatim and much of it is a load of irrelevant codswallop. 'Poet .. born 1850'. Nellie Sherman was born in 1835. 'She is a daughter of Dr. Newell Sherman, of Waltham, a descendant of Rev John Sherman and Mary Launce, a grand-daughter of Thomas Darcy, the Karl of Rivers. The family came to America from Dedliam, England ...'.   Well, there is no such place as Dedliam (I guess Dedham, Essex, where the General Shermans came from is meant), and Thomas D'Arcy, first Earl of Rivers flourished 1565-1640. Mary Launce (1625-1710) and John Sherman were wed in 1647 and had fifteen children ... fifteen multiplied by umpteen generations? Makes how many descendants? Mother's name was Nancy Kimball and she was 'of the Brights and the Bonds of Bury St Edmunds'. Who? Well, I guess this was Boston, and if you could squeeze a drop of aristocratic blood into your background ... alas, it did Nellie no good.

The article scurries over her 'achievements'. She had been in the dramatic profession. You bet she had. She married Thomas H Burns 'the actor' 'in 1878'. I don't think so.
Fact, She was one of the four children of Newell Sherman, dentist, and his wife Nancy née Kimball. We can see them all in the 1850 census of Waltham. And on 22 September 1855, Nellie married a young printer named Albert G Moore (b 15 November 1835) son of Amory Moore and his wife Merina ... 
But Albert didn't remain a printer. He went on to the stage. And for the occasion, he adopted the name 'E M Leslie'. And alongside him 'Mrs E M Leslie'. 


Albert had a successful career as a performer, and latterly manager, in the Boston theatres, until his untimely death 22 September 1873, at the age of 35.

Since 1865, the young Mr Burns had worked alongside the ten years older 'Leslie's. And, it seems, he married the widowed Nellie. In 1878? Well. Facts.
(a) On 11 February 1876, the widowed Ellen Maria Moore married Thomas Glennon, aged 31, actor, born Brooklyn
(b) Mrs Thomas H Burns is billed in the Boston theatres in early 1878 ...
So, she married two actors named Thomas, both born in the same year, in the space of a year and a bit?
It is my theory that Mr Glennon was, in fact, 'Mr Burns'. I can't prove it, but I'm damned sure I'm right.

Nellie 'retired from the stage at her marriage' (well, not quite) and apparently penned verses in her spare time. She died 16 June 1897 at the couple's summer home in Kittery Point, Maine.

So, there we are. Would somebody please burn any remaining copies of A Woman of the Century by cousin (?) Willard ... and let's get back to a bit of fact.

The Emperor and the Motor Car


While I was fishing the Lee family of Cumberland out of the muddy waters of ebay, I happened on another Mr Lee. A perfectly ordinary child photograph, of a perhaps rather Fauntleroyish kind, which wouldn't normally have held my attention ...

But I turned it over ...

Well, well. 'The emperor', eh. And that name ... Pelham? Maybe there was a story there? So many haughty babies turn out to be anything but as adults.

Well, not very hard to track down the family of Henry Pelham LEE (b Bramleigh, Putney 19 April 1877; d Leamington Spa 22 January 1953).

Father Sydney Williams Lee (b 18 September 1841; 14 February 1917) worked as an architect, mother Letitia Frances née Withall (b 22 September 1851; d Putney 18 March 1916) was the daughter of another architect, Richard Augustus Withall. Following their marriage (29 August 1868) Letitia gave birth to Letitia Mabel (15 August 1869), Blanche Maude (9 June 1871), Sydney Burton (13 May 1872) and the 'last and least', Horace, the 'second and younger' son in 1877. They can all be seen in the 1881 census, living at 'Bramleigh', 4 Burston Road, Putney.

By 1891, father has stopped being an architect and become a 'gentleman' (I didn't think you could 'become' a gent, I thought you had to be born one), the family has moved to a houses yclept Dereham in Putney Hill, and Letitia Mabel has married the well-heeled artist Alfred Frederic Roe and left home ...

The considerable story of Fred Roe can be read on the site of the National Portrait Gallery.

Father and mother, lived and died in Putney ...

Blanche married, in 1894, lawyer Charles Swinfen Eady, who became in turn a judge, a knight and ultimately (a fortnight before his death, 15 November 1919) the 1st Baron Swinfen. 

So, if not an empress, Blanche ended up a baroness. She died 8 June 1946. Letitia died 11 December 1940.

And Horace. Or, rather, Pelham. Pelham ended up rich. I'm not going to go in great detail about how, for plenty of folk have done that, especially those interested in the motor industry, and his obituaries are long ..   Here's a brief one: 

We regret to have to record the death, on January 22nd, of Mr. Horace Pelham Lee, chairman and founder of Coventry Climas Engines Ltd, Coventry. 

Mr. Pelham Lee will be remembered by many engineers as one of the pioneers of this country's motor-car industry in the early years of this century.

Horace Pelham Lee was born in London in 1877, and was educated at Bradfield College. Following some electrical engineering training, he became a pupil at the works of W H Allen and Sons Co, Ltd, Bedford, and upon the completion of his pupilage he was on active service in the Boer War. 

After that war Mr. Lee worked for a period in the factory of the Daimler Company and in 1903 he took some premises in East Street, Coventry, where he started business as a motor-car manufacturer under the name of Lee, Stroyer. The capital required for motor manufacturing, however, was more than was available, and the company therefore concentrated on the production of engines. But one of the few cars that were made in these works was successfully used by Mr. Pelham Lee to demonstrate his engines. 

In 1914 the Lee, Stroyer Company provided engines for the tractors for Sir Ernest Shackleton's expedition, and during the first world war the company received contracts for generating sets used for searchlights.

In 1917 Mr. Pelham Lee formed Coventry Climax Engines, Ltd., which in the years that followed concentrated on the production of engines for the motor-car industry. With the changing policy of the motor-car industry, which led to motor-car manufacturers producing their own engines, Mr. Pelham Lee's company took up the manufacture of diesel engines and trailer fire pumps, and petrol-driven electric generating sets. Until a recent spell of ill-health, Mr. Pelham Lee continued an take an active part in the affairs of his company and made many business visits to overseas countries. 

He became an associate member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1905 and was elected to full membership in 1924.

He married Minnie Augusta Speechley (1882-1960) and fathered two sons, of whom the elder followed in his father's footsteps.

And that just leaves brother Burton. Burton  didnt rise to the heights of his siblings. He, too, worked in the engineering/motor business, but as a clerk. Unlike his sibling, too, he did not marry. In the 1911 census he can be seen living with Horace and his family. He died at 59 East Street, Coventry 18 February 1927.

So who put the 'emperor' on e-bay?  Both sisters had descendants (Letitia 1, Blanche 3), as did Horace (5) ...  maybe Miss Julia Ann Lee would like her ancestor back ...

Monday, January 18, 2021

An afternoon in Poultry

I wanted a quiet, indoors day today. Its hot and (very) windy down Gerolstein way. But. I just popped down to town to get a doctor's certificate, to say I'm a brilliantly adept 74y 11mth year-old gentleman, totally capable of driving my little car and should be given a new five years of licence ... two hours later, I rolled back through the gates of the farm. The lady before me at the surgery me must have been suffering from something frightful: she was in there for half an hour! Then, this being the age of form-filling (4 pages!), Doctor Kathy had by law to put me through all sorts of tests ... by the time I'd lined up for my pills at the pharmacy, clambered into my wee red car, visited the merlot shop and ... HORROR! The petrol gauge was showing not only EMPTY, but SUPER-EMPTY! Who, I shrieked inwardly, has been using my car? I use it about twice a month, and always, always, as mein Papa told me, refill the tank when it reaches half-empty. So I never look ... Anyway, I made it to a service station (there is only ONE in Rangiora) and collapsed into the garage's office, babbling incoherently... Well, by the time I got home I was exhausted. A nap was needed.

Nap over, I determined that the rest of the day would be spent in play, and dove into e-bay. Lucky dip! And it was, too. I pulled out a nice plum, which has given me three hours of fun, wandering the streets of Cheapside, Poultry, Rotherhithe and Surrey ... I chose this lady because she reminded me strangely of Elizabeth Barrett Browning ... also, she'd be quick and easy to track down because she had a name on the verso ..

She was listed as "Cabinet Card Of A Lady Mrs Neilson was Miss Weatherley, Florence Road New Cross". Even a christian name! Aunt Harriet!

But that wasn't right. If you look at the 'was' ... it has a capital letter ... and someone seems to have obliterated the last letters with a later-dated 's'. My hunch was right. The lady is Mrs Harriet Neilson WAKE. Formerly Miss Harriet Weatherley of Poultry ... Yes, Poultry: the heart of 18th and early 19th London ... I hear a jingling sound! And although my hearing ain't what it was, I was right.

Harriet WEATHERLEY (b 9 Poultry 27 March 1827; d 137 Lewisham High Road 13 February 1890), was the only daughter (there were four sons) of Mr Joseph Weatherley (b Poultry 5 July 1793; d Poultry July 1832), gold and silversmith and jeweller, and his wife Ann née Jerram (d Greenwich 9 February 1868). Very nice. Jingle. But, then, huge amounts of jingle: Joseph Weatherley was the son of another Joseph Weatherley (b 1759; d 18 July 1838), gold and silversmith, of no 9 Poultry, who was ... well just say that his will, in the archives at Canterbury, runs to ten scribally-copperplate pages and all the numbers in it are in thousands, legacies, mortgages lent, investments. Joseph was seriously wealthy.

His great fortune, alas, did not come the way of Joseph junior. It went to his brothers, James Crabbe Weatherley (b 1 March 1805; d 2 May 1875) and Samuel Weatherley (b 23 October 1802; d 1871), his sisters Mrs Maria Temple, Mrs Mary Baker (b 13 May 1791) and Mrs Elizabeth Sargent, and his wife, Elizabeth (d 15 October 1843, aged 75). Because Joseph jr had had the misfortune to predecease his father. However, the Weatherleys seem to have been a pretty close-knit family (they turn up at each other's weddings and christenings), so I imagine the widow Weatherley was not left in want. Nor her three surviving children. In the 1851 census we see the four of them, living in Greenwich High Street: Charles Joseph, the eldest (b 11 October 1825), Harriet, and younger brother, Joseph (b 7 June 1832; d 25 August 1892). Before the next census, all three children were married and parents, but Harriet was still at home (with her two infant daughters) at, yes, 64 Florence Road, New Cross, with mother. And no husband in sight. For a very good reason...

Mr Neilson Wake (b Rotherhithe 8 September 1817; d 8 Howson Rd, Lewisham January 1904) was born during his father's shipyard days at Rotherhite. His boatbuilder father was, by name, Nelson Wake, like his father before him, so I'm not quite sure why the son was Neilson, but Nelson and his wife, Catherine née Morgan would spend a number of years in the south before heading back to home ground in Monkwearmouth. Mother, father, Eliza, Ne(i)lson, George Joseph, Elizabeth Jenkins Wake (d Sunderland 26 September 1886), Jane Sarah ... Father stopped building boats and became the local registrar of births, deaths and marriages, with George as his assistant, but Nelson, like younger brother William, had heard the song of the sea ... In 1853 he gained his first mate's ticket, in 1862 his master mariner's one .. and in between times, he and Harriet had somehow met, and married, and had their daughters ... Florence Catherine (b New Cross 1858, Mrs Edwin Harri Matthews); and [Harriet] Annie (b New Cross 1860; d 1938) ....
Some time in the 'seventies, Neilson retired from the sea and became the manager of the Portland chalk quarry at Northfleet, and after Harriet's death, lived out his days in Lewisham with unmarried daughter, Annie. But the family continued. Elder daughter Florence married Edward Harri Matthews, and gave birth to a son, Edward Harri Neilson Matthews (b Greenwich 28 September 1881). After her huband's death, at the age of 27, Florence seems to have re-wed (1895) ... Her son (d Elham 29 June 1959) became a photographer, married Ellen Heddon ...

Well, that's the story. I wonder who wrote 'Auntie Harriet' on the photo. I feel its comes from her side, the Weatherleys, rather than the northern Wakes. Well, I scoured the vendor's shop to see if anyone else from the family turned up, but, alas: no. Putting back together dismembered family collections is much, much harder than in cases where they have been kept in one box.
Harriet was 'auntie' to the children of her two brothers. So named Weatherley, right? Charles had eight children and Joseph three daughters ... I think I have to stop there ... cocktail time!

One day, however, I may follow up the children of Joseph the rich more precisely.

And who is the Lydia Wilkinson Hensman 'cousin', widow of Joseph Alfred Hensman, to whom Florence fled in her widowhood? She died at Edward Harri's home in Heathwood Lodge, Stelling 14 June 1922... and is buried in .. Folkestone?

Ah! Lydia Wilkinson Sargent ....

PS we can date the photo more or less to the 1860s, when the family were at Florence Road ...

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Die Grossherzogin von Ghastliness or, not in that wig you don't!


I couldn't go past this photo. I just couldn't. German, obviously. Even though stamped San Francisco. Someone playing a low farce or burlesque. That lumpy Gretchen wig is an absolute cliché. Read the caption, Kurt. Howwwwwwwwl. Alwine Heynold as ... the Grande-Duchesse of Gérolstein!

The French opéra-bouffe, of which La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein is a shining example, was, in my opinion, one of the most stunning varieties of musical theatre in the history of the genre. Its combination of textual wit and sparkling music has rarely, if ever, been equalled. But when it came to the time to export the enormous successes of Meilhac, Halévy, Crémieux, Hervé and Offenbach to other countries, in other languages, things did not go so smoothly. Britain and the English-language theatres and writers just didn't understand the esprit of the pieces, and writers such as F C Burnand and J R Planché tried to remake them in the form of old-fashioned English burlesques. The results were not good. Only when John Russell's La Grande-Duchesse (adapted by C L Kenny) and Hervé's own Englished Chilpéric came along, did Albion finally find the right groove. And the German-language theatre? I'm not at all sure it ever did. And this photo is an example. Here is Frau[lein] Heynold 

Dressed to play the pubescent, sexy, lassie of the title, first played by the sexy Hortense Schneider and Lise Tautin, and in England by piquante Julia Mathews and buxom Emily Soldene, she looks like a pantomime dame with a taste for chastisement ... Oh yes, the gown is the same: it always was. Here is Gertrude Cave-Ashton in the English provinces as late as 1885 ...

But the attitude? Not an ounce of sophistication.

The press commented when the German opera-bouffe company hit America ... well, we've seen these pieces done French-style and English-style, wonder what they'll be like German-style. The answer: the German language press liked them, otherwise they were rather ignored. Aimée, Tostée and their sisters were not challenged by Mrs Heynold.

So who was Mrs Heynold? I can't wholly answer that because the requisite documents are confusing. Anyway she was Miss [Marie Louise Alwine] Heynold to begin with, she was born in Hannover, Germany, and married to and divorced from an actor named Fischer. 

I spot her on the stage at Berlin's Wolterdorff-Theater 10 July 1872, playing Méphisto to the Marguerite of Albertine Stauder in a German version of Le Petit Faust. It seems she was acted and sung off the stage. However, salvation was coming. She was hired to travel to New York to join the company at the Germania Theatre, and America would largely be her home for the next years. 
She played with the company in New York and in Philadelphia, then toured with Lina Mayr's troupe and ended up in San Francisco, starring at the California Theater (1 August 1875). Now comes question mark number one. In December of that year a newspaper published a piece on married ladies who continued to act under their maiden names: first on the list 'Frln Heynold has a husband in Germany'. I think he had already divorced her. But at some stage she acquired one in San Francisco. A newspaperman named Rudolf Thomann (b Lüneberg 11 December 1847). I wonder where that marriage record is. Anyway, she went right on performing as Frln Heynold... giving the West Coast Teutons her Duchess, her Boulotte, her  Giroflé-Giroflà, her Diana in Orphée ('she dressed more like Bacchus') through till 1877 or 1878, after which she seems to have spent a time in Germany. In 1880, the couple can be seen in Almeida. He is 'Editor of The Post, and she is 'keeping house' 'aged 28'. Well, she wasn't just 'keeping house'. In the 1880s, I see her performing in Omaha, St Louis, Philadelphia, Texas, crossing the Atlantic, and making an appearance in the news when Thomann died in 1890. In 1891, at San Francisco's 124 Clipper, she describes herself as 'widow' and was appearing with the local amateurs. So what next? Is that all?

No. In November 1894 a season of German plays was presented at London's Royalty Theatre. The character lady of the troupe was Frau Doktor Heynold-Thomann. Well, whatever the truth of that appellation, I cannot tell. Nor can I find what became of her. Did she go back to America? To Germany?  I think Germany. Her name appears in the Bühnen Jahrbuch for 1899, 1900 .. yes Bielefeld Sommertheater, Tilsit ... and obscurity ... not in that wig, I hope!

2023. Turned up another Deutsch-Amerikanische phot of the Grande-Duchesse. This one is from Milwaukee, and depicts Prince Paul with his 'Gazette de Hollande' ... my eyes ar'n't strong enough to decipher what's written on the back ...


Alice Gillis: a Pimlico doctor scorned...


I like to think I know a wee bit about Victorian vocalists, so I'm always curious when I come upon a photo of one whose name means nothing to me. Here's one, stumbled upon with today's first cup of tea.


Alice Gillis. 'Singer and dancer' says the extremely classy vendor (pcdf). How did he know that? Because it is correct. Or, at least, was for a handful of years. From 1868 to 1873. And then ....

Alice Louisa GILLIS -- and, yes, it was her real name, in spite of all suggestions to the contrary -- was born in Pimlico in the first months of 1854. Her father, Edward Gillis (b Buckingham Palace Rd 26 December 1816), was, like his father before him, a musician in the grenadier guards, of her mother, Elizabeth, I know naught, and Alice was the only daughter in a family of five (soon reduced to four). Father lost an eye at some stage, and ended up a Chelsea pensioner.

Alice took to the music-hall stage as a young teenager. I see her as a serio comic and dancer at the Regent Music Hall in 1868, then in 1870 at Leicester's Midland Music Hall, and by 1871 she had established herself well enough to rise up the bills at such as the Angel Gardens, Norwich the Aldershot Victory Music Hall, and some of London's lesser halls -- the Eastern in Limehouse, the Winchester, the Raglan.

‘[She] has a good voice and a brisk agreeable manner. ‘I want a handsome beau’ she brightly and boldly cried, then informed us that she was ‘Bashful Jenny’ which must be interpreted reversely for she was not shy. Again she came forward, prettily dressed as a stage prince, and invited the dear boys to make a noise’.

In 1872, she made an 'eight months' tour of Belgium and Holland, and returned to London to play at the Marylebone and the Cambridge ('an eminently brisk and forceful damsel') ... then I lose her. No, not terminally. But she disappears from the music-hall chronicle. Why? Because during that 'tour' in the lowlands, she had evidently lost her virtue (if she ever had one) in Rotterdam, and she was now a brisk, kept damsel with an annual allowance of 800 thalers a year.

Nevertheless, she seems to have spent a certain amount of the years that followed in England, apparenly acting as 'Miss Greville', and didn't officially 'retire' from performing until 1879. By which time she was shacked up, on a semi-permanent basis, with a certain Algernon Charles Fitzgerald, in south London, and a confirmed alcoholic. Her 'illness' required the services of a doctor, and the doctor who came was a certain Dr William Cunningham Cass, who was said (by her) soon to have climbed from the side of the lady's bed, into the betwixt of its sheets and ... The reason that we know all this is that, when Alice dumped the good doctor, he vengefully sued Fitzgerald for 97L in 'medical fees' and the press had a couple of field days with the gory details. Miss Fortescue's suit against Lord Garmoyle for breach of promise had a hard job competing in the column-inches stakes.

The jury couldn't decide on the case, but it didn't really matter. Alice ('Her brain is more like that of a child 12 years old than a woman of eight-and-twenty') returned to Rotterdam and died there at the sodden age of 32 (9 January 1887). A few months later, poor, silly Fitzgerald, too, passed away, at one of continually-changing addresses at Ramsgate (29 June 1887). And Dr Cass 'without a blemish to his character', so the judge assured the press, carried on ministering to the ill of Pimlico, doubtless with an increased clientele of maiden ladies. He never married, but lived with his sister until his death 4 March 1919. He left over eleven thousand pounds, so he hadn't really needed that 97L. But Pimlico has no fury like a doctor (or clergyman) scorned.

And of all that, naught remains but this little picture ...

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Foreman and Fannan: a durable comic duo

Today's little bit of showbiz history: sparked as usual by the discovery of an old photograph...

Well, it was not just the photo. Someone, a hundred years ago and more, stuck a caption on the card which says 'from Australia'. So I thought I'd have a wee peep to see if they were someones about whom I ought to know. And if they were kosher Aussies.

Well, they weren't. But they spent several of the best years of their long careers in Australia, both married Aussie lassies, and they worked as a double act in the music-halls and in pantomime of Britain and the colonies for over thirty years together. Because James Foreman and Peter Fannan weren't just partners: they were brothers. And if their forenames were their own, their surnames were not. They were the Messrs McCormack.

James Edward McCORMACK (b Plumstead, Kent 25 March 1869; d Colindale 3 December 1961) and Peter McCORMACK (b Plumstead 16 April 1871; d Bromley ?February 1961) were two of the sons of Sligo-born Peter McCormack, a labourer at Woolwich Arsenal and his wife, Mary. I first see them performing on the music halls as 'refined Irish comedians' at the Parthenon Music Hall in Liverpool at Christmas 1889. They obviously went down well, as the went on to end-to-end dates at the People's Palace, Newcastle, the Prince of Wales in Middlesborough, the Star Music Hall Dublin, the People's Manchester, Rochdale, Bolton, the Cardiff Philharmonic Music Hall, the Alexandra Wigan &c &c. The boys clearly had more strings to their act than just crosstalk: 'they show their skill as dancers', 'end wth a duet' and in February 1891 they put a toe into London at the Sebright Music Hall, Bethnal Green and the Hammersmith Varieties ('They relate many amusing particulars about 'The Connor Clan'). The following year, they played Sam Collins Music Hall, in 1893 I see them at the Cambridge, in 1894 at Gatti's and the Hammersmith Temple, but most of the year they were touring the larger provincial towns where their popularity was firmly established.

Whoever was hiring talent for Williamson and Musgrove of Australia then changed their lives. They were engaged for the firm's Princess's Theatre in Melbourne to play in the end-of-year pantomime, and in November they and another music-hall act, Albert and Alice Saker, sailed south. 22nd December they opened in Beauty and the Beast with Alice Saker as Beauty, Marie Luella as principal boy, and James and Peter playing Beauty's brothers. Following the pantomime season the four joined Harry Rickards's troupe, for almost a year, before the boys headed home. They headed on the Monowai via San Francisco, where they were engaged for the Orpheum variety show ...

It was later related that after their first performance, greeted by seven calls, the management told them they were a failure and that their salary would be reduced. So they left. So their American career lasted one performance? They were still billed for a week. But then they were gone.
'The funny men straight from Australia' were soon back in London, playing the South London Music Hall, and pantomime (Sinbad) at the Parkhurst, but come 1897 they were off on their travels again: a season at the Johannesburg Empire, and then in 1898 back to Australia, New Zealand and Rickards.

This time round, they didn't come home alone. Both boys brought home a girl. James plucked one of the  prettiest dancers on the circuit (2 May 1899): 'Olive Delroy' [Lydia Olive BREAKWELL] performed in a duo with 'Mabel Lynn'. Peter brought home Rosa ABBOTT (1875-1952) from Ballarat, another prize dancing girl who, with her sister Gertrude [Teresa May] ('the Abbott sisters') had featured in variety with Rickards and Harry Cogill. Each wife duly delivered a son, but there the similarity ended. Olive's son died, she broke down and died 'of consumption' soon after (March 1902). Rosa's son lived to wed and father children, and she and Peter passed their Golden Wedding before her death.  James would remarry, and himself have children.

For the next 20 years the brothers played the music-halls with the latest version of their act -- they were no longer Irish, they were Percy and Harold, the ragged millionaires ... and come pantomime time they were Jovial Joe and Grumpy George in Robinson Crusoe or the broker's men in Cinderella 

In 1909 they returned once more to Australia to play 'the bold, bad robbers', Snatchem and Catchem, in Melbourne's King's Theatre panto of Babes in the Wood, directed by none other than Johnnie Wallace. The panto toured asfar afield as Perth, before the company switched to variety programmes till the end of their six months' contract.

I see Foreman and Fannan as a team for the last time in 1920. They have rather slipped down in the billing. 

The brothers, together in so much through life, both died in 1961.

Peter and Rosa's son, confusingly named Peter McCormack and working as 'Peter Hannan' (initially jr) played in touring revue/variety programmes and developed an act as a comedy padre: 'The Rector of Mirth'. He died in 1949.