The Convict Theatres of Early Australia 1788-1840

The colourful and surprising history of those who played in Australia’s convict theatres is now published as an Ebook by Currency House. Martin Portus reports that as well as the odd riot and rude thespians there were quality performances and lots of money to be made.

Robert Jordan combed through British and colonial newspapers, official and private correspondence, court records, statistics and logbooks to uncover compelling stories about our first theatrical steps as a penal colony. 

Oh Johnny ... or should we say, Jill?

The age-old tradition of Stage Door Johnnies is alive and well in Melbourne (albeit in slightly updated form) for the star of Legally Blonde. Coral Drouyn explains.

Way back in the 1880’s, when “Musical Comedies” and “Music Hall” shows became the great entertainment for the masses, one entrepreneur, George Edwardes (pictured below), changed the face of theatre for all time.

How Mrs J C Williamson Struck Oil

When Maggie Moore (Mrs J C Williamson) left her marriage for a man fifteen years her junior, she took the theatrical couple’s international hit with her. Leann Richards reports.

In 1894 theatre impresario J C Williamson was a very unhappy man. His estranged wife, the popular Maggie Moore, was touring Australia with the melodrama Struck Oil. Williamson considered the play his property and resented his former wife profiting from it. In addition, she had cast her lover in the role Williamson had made famous.

Lonely Death for Queen of the Stage.

In 1873, outside the Melbourne Theatre Royal, a fair young girl, with a face surrounded by reddish gold hair, approached manager Mr Harwood.  In a sweet voice, tinged with a slight Irish brogue she asked, ‘Please sir, can I be an actress?’

The young girl was Myra Kemble. In three decades she reached the heights of colonial fame and the lows of a lonely death.

Theatrical Child Labour Scandal

Just over a century ago a scandal involving children in a theatre troupe made headlines across Australia. Children subject to abuse were left stranded on an overseas tour. Leann Richards reports.

In the mid 19th Century, child labour was common. Children were considered the property of their parents and governments were reluctant to interfere in the privacy of the home.


In the late 19th Century many people travelled to Australasia to make a quick fortune, but found little except tragedy and bad luck. When the Greenwood family tried a similar route they ended up having to sing for their supper. Through illness, accidents and financial hardship they entertained audiences across Australia and New Zealand for twenty years. Leann Richards reports.

The Redhead who Electrified the Australian Stage

Australia has a controversial redhead as its leader. Just on a century ago it was a redhead on stage, with a famous wicked wink, who set tongues wagging. Leann Richards reports on the scandalous life and times of Daisy Jerome.

In 1913 fashions and attitudes were changing quickly. Early that year suffragettes marched in the US and later the shocking Argentine tango was introduced to western society. It reached Australia in late 1913 and almost simultaneously, a young music hall artist called Daisy Jerome arrived in the country.

Voluptuous Songbird Forced to Ration Sweeties and Ditch Husbands.

At the beginning of the twentieth century Celia Ghiloni was a star in the JC Williamson Company, touring musical comedy and Gilbert and Sullivan across Australia and New Zealand. But jibes over her weight led to some serious belt tightening, as Leann Richards reports.

Born Rosabelle Ethel Celia Ghiloni in Victoria in 1879, the daughter of an Italian immigrant from Tuscany, she was known throughout her life as Celia.

She grew up in Western Australia and at 16 began singing in public at recitals.

How Christchurch’s Turn of the Century Child Protégés Conquered the Stage World.

Decades before Shirley Temple, Australasia had its own young starlets. The Beatty sisters, Maud and May, were two of our most famous exports during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Leann Richards reports.

The Comedian who became a War Hero.

When faced with mortal danger in World War 1, a showman did what came naturally – he cracked a joke.

Leann Richards looks back at the life of Tom Dawson.

In the early 1900s, Harry Rickards’ Tivoli Circuit featured a small number of regulars. They were an expected and much loved attraction of any Tivoli show. One of them was Welsh born comedian Tom Dawson.

Born Tom Besley in Wales in 1874, his first job was as a child labourer in mines and factories, before his family moved to Australia.