Maud Hobson (1860-1913), the gaiety girl who dreamed of Colorado

Maud Hobson c.1890-1900. A widely known “Gaiety Girl” in the George Edwardes’ Company, she was born in Melbourne in 1860. Her family moved back to England when she was an infant. She had lived in Hawaii, Colorado and London by the time she was 30. Talma Photographers, Sydney. Author’s collection. (I have taken something of a liberty with the title of this article. I only have one piece of evidence that she dreamed of Colorado.)

Born in the emerging suburb of Toorak, 5 kilometres south of Melbourne, Australia, on November 13, 1860, Jane Elizabeth Manson would eventually become one of the hugely popular English “gaiety girls” of George Edwardes‘ Gaiety Theatre Company, performing under her stage name, Maud Hobson. Tall, “stately, statuesque and classic” (by this the Brooklyn Standard Union meant she was attractive), she had earned a formidable reputation in Britain, the US and Australia by the end of the nineteenth century. And more than most of the “gaiety girls”, from the mid 1890s Maud was only too happy to speak at length to the press about anything that came to her mind – matrimony, the state of society, costumes and jewellery, and American as opposed to Australian audiences.

Her parents John Manson and Eliza nee Hollingshead, arrived (separately) in Melbourne in 1853, at the height of the Victorian gold rushes. For two Britons in their early twenties, it must have been an exciting environment of extraordinary opportunity. Many of the international arrivals of the 1850s were, like them, aged between 21 and 35. By 1858, half of the newly arrived Australian population lived in the colony of Victoria and Melbourne was the continent’s largest city. How the couple met we do not know, but they married at Melbourne’s St Peter’s Anglican Church in June 1855. John was soon to become “Head Teller” (Manager) of the Union Bank of Australia – an opportunity a young man could never hope to have achieved in London. Yet like some who did well in the booming colony, the couple returned to Britain soon after their daughter’s birth. Perhaps they had “made their pile” or possibly, they still weren’t convinced life in the young city was superior to life in Britain. Maybe John Manson was simply offered a better job back home.

bullion buying

Above: 27 year old John Manson announces the appointment of a bullion broker at the Union Bank’s Bendigo goldfields branch. The Age Saturday 9 Jan 1857. Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove.

Maud Hobson’s own account of her early childhood was – typically for an ambitious actor of the time – often short on detail. In several early interviews she suggested her parents were “just passing through” Melbourne when she was born. Later in life she embraced her Australian birth with gusto. It was claimed she was born Jennie or Jeannie, but this appears to have been a pet name used by the family.

MAud performing in 1881

Above: Maud appearing on stage before her marriage to Lieutenant Hayley in May 1881. The Era, 12 February 1881 via The British Newspaper Archive.

A popular up and coming performer in 1880, she admitted in several later press interviews that she owed some of her success to her uncle, the writer and manager of the Gaiety Theatre, John Hollingshead, who had also suggested her stage name. However, she left the stage in 1881, when she married Lieutenant Andrew Burrell Hayley, an officer of the 11th Hussars. A son, William Burrell Hayley, was born in early 1882. Soon after, Maud and little William joined Lieutenant Hayley in a new adventure – a posting to the Kingdom of Hawaii, of all places. There, Hayley took on the role of an attache to King Kalākaua. But while the last King of Hawaii received recognition for his efforts to reinvigorate Hawaiian national identity and shore up its economy, not all of the king’s European advisors were welcomed. On 31 July, 1884, The Honolulu Evening Bulletin took the unusual step of very publicly criticizing Hayley for his “lack of sobriety” and therefore his unsuitability as a Commander of the Mounted Police. He was appointed to this position anyway.


 

The Hayleys in Hawaii. Left; King Kalākaua with officers, including Lieutenant Hayley looking very splendid in white, third from the right. Via Wikimedia Commons. Right; Maud was still occasionally performing in Hawaii – The Honolulu Advertiser, 5 Jan 1886, via Newspapers.com. (click to enlarge)

In 1886, Maud returned to England, for reasons that are no longer known. Of her next few years, we only have court records to guide us, as she did not appear on stage again until mid-1889. Hayley petitioned for divorce from Maud in November 1887. He claimed Maud repeatedly committed adultery with Captain Owen Richard Armstrong, an officer in the Seaforth Highlanders. Hayley was extremely well informed about the places and dates of his wife’s adulterous behaviour, which included travel to the US and five months living “as man and wife” in Colorado. Before the court Maud and Armstrong strenuously denied the charges, but a divorce was granted in October 1888. The case was played out in newspapers in excruciating detail, although as Maud’s stage name wasn’t used, many readers may not have made the connection. The story that Maud spent the summer of 1887 in Colorado with a man she wasn’t married to would be hard to believe, if it wasn’t corroborated by records of shadowy movements that we can access today.

armstrong and maude

The faded manifest of the ship Servia, arriving in New York in June 1887. Owen R. Armstrong, Army Officer and his wife Maud(e) are listed. Via US National Archives and Records Administration, Via Ancestry.com

From mid 1889, Maud reappeared on stage in London for George Edwardes in such productions as ‘Faust Up to Date” and “Carmen Up to Data” – both burlesques with music written by Meyer Lutz. Edwardes was Hollingshead’s successor at the Gaiety Theatre at the eastern end of London’s Strand. She moved in to live with Hollingshead and his family in Kensington at about this time, continuing to enjoy her uncle’s advice and patronage.


Left: Maud – a photo taken well before 1896 (from “Around the world with a Gaiety Girl” page 100, via the Internet Archive). Centre: Maud on an undated postcard (probably about 1890). Right: Maud in The Sketch, July 21 1899. Author’s Collection.

In March 1892, Edwardes and George Musgrove arranged for a tour of some of the London Gaiety regulars, including Maud in a supporting role, to take “Faust Up to Date” on tour to Australia. The London Gaiety Burlesque Company (note how often the name changed) first performed in Melbourne in May. Four months later the company wrapped in Sydney and headed for home. It had been a success. On the eve of the show’s closing, the Sydney Referee reported “‘Faust Up to Date’ at Her Majesty’s still draws the people, fills the exchequer, and promotes hilarity.” Interestingly, Maud sought no personal publicity and made no public comments during this first trip back to the city of her birth.

1893 saw some dramatic changes. In early April the news reached her that ex-husband Andrew Burrell Hayley had died. She did not regain custody of her son from Hayley’s family, but following this event she seemed to find her voice and her place in the world. Later in the year she took a leading role as Alma Somerset in George Edwardes’ new production “A Gaiety Girl”, alongside Marie Studholme and Decima Moore. While a few reviewers felt the leading role required her to do little more than look “exceedingly handsome,” other reviewers were effusive in their praise. At the same time she wrote and appeared in a short one act sketch for the theatre, and it was performed as a matinee at the Gaiety Theatre in early July 1894. “A Successful Mission,concerns Alice Gray, a burlesque actress (played by Hobson), and John Winton, a conservative vestryman (played by George Mudie) who attempts to convince Gray to discourage his love-lorn son’s attentions – to the point of offering her money to shun him. Of course, by the end, he discovers she is an admirable philanthropist and more than honourable. “Brightly written and neatly condensed, it was amusing and effective… and acted with much spirit” reported The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. One cannot help wondering whether there was a strong element of personal experience being recounted here! 

In September 1894, “A Gaiety Girl” was taken on tour. It opened in New York that month, had moved on to San Francisco and then on to Australia by June 1895. Finally, Maud Hobson freely discussed her Melbourne birth and talked at length about her time in Honolulu, with her “late husband”. One Sydney journalist described her thus; “a young lady tall and most divinely fair” She told the same journalist I, who am a native of Australia…feel that in coming to this country I am just visiting my own folks.” And she went on in this celebratory tone for the entire tour.

Gaiety Company 1895

Maud as part of a large photo spread in The Pictorial Australian, 1 April 1895, shown here with company members Cecil Hope and Harry Monkhouse. Fellow cast member Decima Moore married Cecil Hope in 1894 in New York while on tour (Hope was another former army officer whose real name was Cecil Ainslie Walker-Leigh) and like Maud and Hayley, they divorced a few years later. Monkhouse died in 1900, after being declared bankrupt. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.

While she was in Australia (and two years after Hayley’s death), a convoluted account of Maud’s relationship with Captain Armstrong appeared in some western US papers. This suggested that she had divorced Hayley herself, first, in the US, on the grounds of cruelty, and then had married Armstrong, only to find these arrangements were not recognised in the UK. Someone very well acquainted with her circumstances had written or provided the story. This writer cannot find the story in any Colorado papers, but more than thirty syndicated papers in nearby Kansas carried it. Following this brief outing, the story disappeared.

At the end of October 1895, the company departed Australia for England. The rather underwhelming 1896 travel book, “Round the World with A Gaiety Girl,” documents the successful trip.

Maud Hobson was now established as a leading regular in the Edwardes’ company. In August 1897 she appeared in the musical “In Town.”  She again joined the troupe travelling to the US in September 1897, where “In Town” ran at New York’s Knickerbocker Theatre, in company with another very young Australian – Norma Whalley .

Left: “In Town” At New York’s Knickerbocker Theatre.  The Sun, (New York)  September 11, 1897. Right; “In Town” at the Garrick Theatre a month earlier in August 1897, with an almost identical cast.  The Era, August 14, 1897. Via Newspapers.com.

Maud was now approaching 40, but she was regularly referred to as the “reigning English beauty”.  In 1900 she appeared in London as Lady Punchestown in the musical “The Messenger Boy.” The cast also included another young Australian, 21 year-old Maie Saqui from Melbourne. She must have felt some degree of national consciousness as she also appeared in a patriotic sketch with Maie and other Australian favourites in June, entitled “Australia’s tribute to Britannia” (in aid of widows and orphans of Australians and New Zealanders who had fallen in the Boer War).

By 1902 she was at a highpoint in her career – light comedy and musicals had become her forte. That year she played Lady St. Mallory in “Three Little Maids”She travelled to perform in the US again, and briefly to South Africa. After a “serious operation,” Maud travelled again to Australia in 1904 with another Edwardes’ Gaiety troupe. She was extremely popular in Australia, and she knew it. A journalist for a newspaper in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, put a typically Australian voice to this popularity when he wroteMaud is the biggest-hearted woman the stage has ever known. Last time she was here she sold some of her magnificent emeralds to pay doctor’s bills for a girl member of the Company, and more of ’em to pay the hotel bill of a now- dead fascinating man member. You never heard of a woman speaking ill of Maud. That’s the record!” 

Maud 1904

Maud Hobson during her final 1904 tour of Australia. The Australasian, Sat 14 May 1904 via National library of Australia, Trove. 

She spoke at length about herself and her career during this visit. She admitted to a nervous disposition, a condition she said had seen her spend much of 1903 resting. But she also spoke of her future, and mentioned her fiance who had an American ranch and was a minor cattle king. It was again, a successful tour.

1905 was her last year of activity on the stage – she took on a role in the popular musical Lady Madcap, in company with Zena Dare, Gabrielle Ray and Marie Studholme. Over the next few years she travelled to the US again but there were now stories of serious ill health. After what some papers reported was “a lingering illness,” she died in London on January 6, 1913. Maud Hobson was remembered fondly in British, US and Australian newspapers. The Era stated she had “a handsome appearance… amiable personality and was an intelligent and agreeable actress.”

Its notable that Maud’s acknowledgement of being born in Melbourne occurred later in life, when she was well established and a contemporary of Nellie Melba, Nellie Stewart, Norma Whalley and Maie Saqui. It would be wrong to over-emphasize Maud as an Australian –  for other than being her place of birth, her experiences of Australia were confined to her theatrical tours. In her mind, she was almost certainly British, more than anything else. And yet, one senses she developed a fondness for Australia – she was happy to make the long trip out on three occasions. She reputedly also made friends while on her Australian tours – perhaps these were old acquaintances of her parents, from the roaring days of the Victorian gold rushes.

Maud’s son, William Burrell Hayley died in 1967, after a distinguished military career. Her uncle and mentor John Hollingshead died in 1904. The Gaiety Theatre, which had seen Maud and the other Gaiety Girls perform so often, was seriously damaged by bombs during World War Two and was finally demolished in the 1950s.

 

Nick Murphy
May 2019

 

Notes:
1. The most accurate account of Maud’s divorce is the actual petition, held by the National Archives in Britain. The Era of 28 April 1888 also provides an accurate account of her life to that time. Hayley was in the 11th Hussars (not 10th or 5th as is sometimes reported) and was not a General, even if given this title as a courtesy.

2. Was she ever known as “the White Queen” of Honolulu? There is no evidence of this other than Maud’s own words.

 

Further Reading

Text

  • Granville Bantock and Frederick G. Aflalo (1896) Round the World with a Gaiety Girl. London, J. Macqueen. Digitised by University of California Libraries
  • Boyle Lawrence (1900) Celebrities of the Stage. London, George Newnes.
    Digitised by the Public Library of India.
  • J. P. Wearing (2013 ) The London Stage 1890-1899: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel. Scarecrow Press.

Websites

Newspaper archives

National Library of Australia – Trove

  • Australian Star, April 3, 1895. The Gaiety Girl Company
  • Australasian, September 28, 1895. Gentleman Joe at the Princess Theatre
  • Melbourne Punch, October 17, 1895. A Gaiety Girl at Home.
  • The Critic, June 15, 1904. Miss Maud Hobson at Home
  • The Sunday Times, July 3, 1904. Confidences of Stage Favourites
  • Table Talk. May 16, 1904. Miss Maud Hobson

British Library – British Newspaper Archive

  • The Era, April 28, 1888. The London Theatres
  • The Era, 11 June 1913. The Death of Miss Maud Hobson
  • Sunday Post, October 22, 1922. My Thirty years at the Gaiety

Newspapers.com

  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. December 26, 1894. Burlesque and Comedy
  • The Washington Times. December 16, 1894. The Theatres
  • The Pittsburg Mail. October 17, 1895. Gaiety Girl’s Life

Saharet (1878-1964) The Dancer from Richmond

The five second version
She was born Paulina Clarissa Molony in Richmond, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia on 23 March 1878. Of part Chinese-Australian background, she possibly had some early training in Australia that has not yet been identified. She first appeared as an exotic and audacious dancer on stage in California in May 1891 and quickly gained great fame and notoriety. Thereafter she performed in New York and other US cities, before her first very successful European tour in 1897. Photographed and painted, she became popular in France, Germany, Russia and Britain. She made at least nine films in Germany before 1914. She married three times, then retired to Battle Creek, Michigan, USA to be near her daughter. She died there on 24 July 1964.

Undated postcard in the author’s collection

The internationally celebrated dancer Saharet, (or Clarice or Clarissa as she sometimes preferred) made her way from the humblest of backgrounds in Melbourne to fame and fortune in Europe and the US in the early twentieth century. As Saharet, she was painted by leading European artists of the day and appeared on countless postcards; a clever and audacious dancer, and a vibrant young woman on stage. Yet much of her life remains an enduring mystery and the few contemporary accounts of her life tend only to amplify errors made by others, such as the oft- repeated but incorrect internet claim she died in Melbourne in 1942. But when she lived at her home in the Michigan town of Battle Creek in the early 1960s, she left behind the key to her story. She had told friends her parents’ names; Benjamin “Malony” (note the variation of surname Molony) and Eveline “nee De Vere” which was at least, partly true (her mother changed her identity numerous times). Her 1964 obituary in the Battle Creek Enquirer, the local newspaper, noted the day of her Australian birth, but sadly, nothing was said of her illustrious career as one the world’s leading dancers before the Great War, when she was the toast of Europe’s theatre society.[1]Battle Creek Enquirer July 24, 1964 via Newspapers.com

A courting couple in Berlin, drinking Champagne, lolling in each others arms, with the young woman showing as much flesh as possible and sporting a hair style similar to Saharet’s, about to see a Wintergarten performance with Saharet and Anna Held. Life as portrayed in this 1902 postcard could not be more liberated. Author’s collection

Contemporary writers were entranced by Saharet’s innovative and audacious dancing. A journalist who saw her in London wrote: “La Champagne, the dance which created a Saharet furore in America… is a performance as intoxicating as its name suggests. It is a phenomenal affair in which dazzling movement is enhanced by flashing jewels, long red skirts and the highest of high heels.”[2]The British Australasian, 5 August 1897, P1418. Via British Library Newspaper Archive
The Austrian writer Hermynia Zur Mühlen saw Saharet perform whilst still a child. In her autobiography, she recalled “I have seen a great many dancers since that time, including the entire Russian ballet, but I have never again seen such completely natural grace and charm, the expression, simultaneously, of a little wild animal and a beautifully refined woman.”[3]Hermynia Zur Mühlen (1930) The End and the Beginning. The Book of My Life. Open Book Publishers, 2010. Edited and translated by Lionel Gossman,P95

1878 in Melbourne, Australia

She was born Paulina Clarissa Molony, on 23 March 1878, to Benjamin Robert Molony, an illiterate Irish-born tailor and Elizabeth (nee Foon), a 19-year-old of part Chinese ancestry, from the gold-rush town of Ballarat. She was delivered at home in Rowena Parade, in the heart of the working class Melbourne suburb of Richmond.[4]Births Deaths and Marriages, Victoria. Certificate 11137/1878 A short-lived sister, Martha Lily Molony, was born in 1879[5]Births Deaths and Marriages, Victoria. Certificate 25331/1879 and Certificate 2504/1881 and another, Julia Mallicino Moloney(sic), in 1881.[6]Births Deaths and Marriages, Victoria. Certificate Certificate 2662/1882

Rowena Parade in 2018, looking west towards central Melbourne. The shop on the left was, coincidentally, built in the same year as Saharet’s birth – 1878. Author’s collection.

Unfortunately, a critical part of Clarice’s early story in Australia remains unknown. Where she lived, who taught her to dance and particularly, what were the circumstances surrounding the obvious change in fortune that occurred between her birth in Melbourne in 1878 and her appearance as a dancer in the California in 1891. Her parents had been so poor they could not afford a memorial for her sister Martha Lily when she died in early 1881, after suffering “convulsions”.[7]probably typhoid fever, then so prevalent in Melbourne Her mother Elizabeth (later Eveline) had lived for a time in 1881 in the heart of Melbourne’s notorious “Little Lon” district, a melting pot of the poor, newly arrived immigrants and sex workers.

On the birth certificate of Julia in 1881, Saharet’s mother listed her residence at 4 McCormac Place Melbourne, a neighbourhood now entirely demolished, off Little Lonsdale St., known as “Little Lon.” The author believes it was one of these terraces in the right middle distance, or of similar design and opposite. [8]This photo was taken in about 1950, before their demolition, by a Public Works photographer. Note- confusingly, the street was more generally known as McGrath Place in the C19th. And there is an … Continue reading Photo – State Library of Victoria

A British account from 1898 claimed she studied under US actress Minnie Palmer, who was in Melbourne in 1886-1887.[9]Illustrated Police News, 25 June 1898, P3, Via British Library Newspaper Archive Still another account claimed she performed in the corps de ballet at Melbourne’s Theatre Royal, under the direction of English choreographer Marie Reddall. [10]The Australasian (Melb), 12 Nov 1898, P24. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove There could be truth in all these claims. And yet… she remained “a mystery” to Australians, because no one recalled working with her or could reveal her real name.[11]Sunday Times (Sydney) 7 Nov, 1897, P2 WHO SAHARET IS. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Ike Rose, her husband from 1896-1912, visited Australia in 1913 and after years of constructing stories about her, finally seems to have given the most accurate information. He knew of Saharet’s connection to Ballarat, and said she had appeared only once on the professional stage, in the chorus line for a J C Williamson’s panto, before leaving the country aged 13, in 1891.[12]Critic (Adelaide) 5 Feb 1913, Page 17 ENCORE and Daily Herald (Adelaide) 3 Feb 1913 P2 TWO STRANGE VISITORS Via National Library of Australia’s Trove In his final and most comprehensive account of Saharet, Rose acknowledged the role her mother played in her career, but suggested they had “drifted to America, with no particular object in view.”[13]The Theatre (Syd), 1 May 1914, P35. Via State Library of Victoria

1891 in San Francisco

Saharet’s mother, now calling herself Eveline Campbell, apparently recently married (she enjoyed multiple relationships during her lifetime) and yet newly widowed, took her daughters Paulina Clarissa (Saharet) and Julia Malicino to San Francisco, sometime in 1891. It is probably this same Eveline Campbell who appears listed in Langley’s San Francisco Directories in 1892 and 1894, and is almost certainly the same Eveline Campbell who was interviewed as “The Australian sportswoman” in a women’s rowing competition in March 1893, [14]San Francisco Call, 28 March 1893, via Newspapers.com and who remarkably, invented and patented a convertible children’s carriage.(For more on Saharet’s mother and her extended family, see Note 1 below)

Saharet first appeared in a company called the “Liliputians”, performing at San Francisco’s Baldwin Theatre in May 1891, as Clarice Campbell. Over time, newspaper reports of dubious reliability appeared, recounting her early efforts to establish herself. She was only 13 in 1891 and perhaps she really did appear as a dime museum fortune teller and then a mermaid, as the Detroit Free Press was to recount.[15]Detroit Free Press, 26 Apr 1898,P4, via Newspapers.com However, it is well documented that by early 1894 she was using the stage name Saharet and in April that year she had joined M.B. Leavitt’s “Spider and Fly” vaudeville company – touring US cities. Through 1895 she was most closely associated with another popular touring vaudeville show – “The Night Owls”.[16]Original research thanks to Martin Goebel

Left: Saharet appears in print in The San Francisco Examiner, 4 March, 1894
Centre: Clarice Campbell, is described as a “wonderfully lithe and graceful” high kicker in the Los Angeles Times, 5 April, 1894.
Right: This 13 November, 1896 report in the Garnett Journal (Kansas) gives a moderately accurate account of her early life – the “indisposition” mentioned being her pregnancy. Via Newspapers.com  Thanks to Martin Goebel

1896 – Marriage in New York

In May 1896 18-year-old Saharet married New York theatre entrepreneur Isaac Rosenstamm, usually known as Ike Rose (1865-1935).[17]The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York)5 May 1896, P1, via Newspapers.com She disappeared for much of 1896, the reason being her pregnancy to Rose. A daughter Caroline Madelon Rose, was born in New York in November 1896. Saharet was back on stage by February 1897, appearing as part of the line up at Koster & Bial’s Music Hall in Manhattan.

Her first overseas performance was in July 1897 in London – where she was well received at the Palace Theatre. Australian newspapers had first reported her US appearance in 1896 and her performances in London inspired further interest and questions about who she was – but no answers.

saharet ike and daughter
Saharet and Ike Rose, with daughter Carrie. From an unidentified German paper. c1902. Author’s collection.

Over time, it was Rose who managed her career and passed around the most fanciful stories about her identity – for example the one that she was the daughter of a well-known pastoralist (rancher). This constant narration about her all appears to be part of a concerted effort to advance her career and later, to create interest in Rose’s other professional activities, even after the couple separated. Rose appears to have written much of the commentary that was attributed to her and this, combined with the freewheeling use of different surnames by Saharet’s mother, only added to the confusion. Rose himself was creative with his own history, acknowledging his birth in Hanover, Germany in 1865 in his first US passport application, but in later documents not only anglicising his name, but also claiming to have been born in New York.

In late 1898 Saharet returned for another season to London, and then travelled on through Europe, to what was widely reported as a rapturous reception, managed all the way by Ike Rose’s smooth publicity.[18]Referee (Sydney) 7 Sep 1898, P10 “General Gossip.”Via National Library of Australia’s Trove[19]Evening News (Sydney) 24 Feb 1900, P4, “STAGELAND” Via National Library of Australia’s Trove Ike Rose’s surviving US 1898 passport application indicates they intended to be in Europe for up to two years,[20]Isaac Rosenstamm, US passport application, April 4, 1898. Via Ancestry.com and there are other passport applications surviving which reveal their extensive European travel over the first decade of the twentieth century.

As an adult, Saharet was an attractive looking woman with a powerful stage presence. She stood about medium height -168 cms tall (five foot five inches), with grey eyes and a mass of dark brown hair. Above: The double image device was not uncommon on post cards of the 1900s. Author’s collection.

Success in Europe 1898+

Like Isadora Duncan, Saharet’s innovative style can be seen as a fore-runner in the development of the modern dance movement. This was characterised by the rejection of traditional forms of classical ballet – and the embracing of new concepts in dance to express human emotions and realism. Saharet’s stage turn, usually part of a varied program, appears to have often lasted for less than 15 minutes, and yet she seemed to speak to audiences of a new era of freedom and joyfulness.

One very early European film of Saharet has miraculously survived – a hand tinted rarity made in France by pioneering director Alice Guy-Blaché in 1905. In it, Saharet dances the Bolero for just a few minutes. She swings, gyrates and kicks her legs with supreme confidence. The film would have been shown as part of a mixed vaudeville review show, one that consisted of live acts interspersed with short films.

Click on the image to watch a very low res version on Youtube.

Over the next ten years, through numerous return visits to many of Europe’s capitals – including cities in Russia, Rose fed the story that she was given a fortune in diamonds by European admirers, and was earning another fortune by performing. It was probably true. He also encouraged her to be photographed, and sit for numerous accomplished and emerging French and German artists, including Franz von Lenbach, Otto PropheterMaurice Biais, Franz Von Stuck, and Leo Rauth. Saharet’s relationship with Rose had drifted by 1907 although Rose remained her manager for another five years and his influence on her career continued to be significant, until their 1912 divorce.

Photos of Saharet
Above: Saharet as she appears in the Jean Reutlinger album of various portraits. Source – Bibliothèque Nationale de France – National Library of France, Gallica -Digital collection.  via Wikimedia Commons

German writer Eugen Wolf saw her perform in Berlin in early 1899. For Die Zukunft (The Future) he described meeting a friend who was secretly travelling to see Saharet, not wanting his wife to know where he was going. Wolf wrote “… I saw her dancing four times, on all four evenings I was in Berlin…A curious creature, the only one of its kind, this gazelle, this Kangaroo, this Australian Saharet with the big round eyes …” Wolf also interviewed the 21 year old at some length, and characteristically, she gave the same sprinkling of fact mixed with a great deal of fiction in her answers. Her mother was a “Canadian born” fortune teller and circus rider, her father a “Scottish born” chief ship’s steward. Her mother had remarried several times and Saharet had several siblings who had died. Turning from the personal, she described her makeup and dressing, her costumes, her dancing. She said that in ten years time, she hoped to return to Australia to live in a little cottage in the country.[21]Die Zukunft (The Future).18 Feb 1899. via Biblioteka Elbląska Digital libraries federation, Poland This charming but implausible story was not picked up by the English language press.

Not surprisingly, not everyone believed that the beautiful young dancer who could throw her leg over her head, do the splits, and wink cheekily to her audiences was an Australian, just because she said she was. At least some Australian journalists were suspicious, particularly as there appeared to be no family or friends back home to claim her. When renowned German singer Otto Reutter happily posed with one arm around her and the other around a bottle of Champagne in 1908, the sense of “foreignness” about her was only reinforced.

Surviving samples of her cursive script suggest the hand of a well-educated, native English-speaker, although as yet her schooling cannot be identified.

Saharet’s autograph, Author’s collection

Saharet’s film career

Saharet’s adventures in German silent film, a career direction cut short by the war, were somewhat typical of the forays well-known stage performers made into film in the first few decades of the twentieth century. At the time no one could guess the power narrative film would come to have a few decades later. Saharet made at least nine films in Germany between 1907 and 1913. On their release in Australia, she was generally acknowledged as an Australian.

Saharet, at right, in the 1912 film Im goldenen Käfig. Der Kinematograph, August 1912. Via Lantern, Media History Digital Library.

Professor Julie Allen of Brigham Young University has researched Saharet’s early films.[22]Email correspondence Julie Allen, Brigham Young University, 2020 Intriguingly, most of these films were released in Australia soon after they opened in Germany, and often before they opened in the US or Britain. The films included:

Im goldenen Käfig / (In) A Golden Cage, a three-reel Oskar Messter drama that opened at West’s Palace in Melbourne on November 23, 1912 (this might be the same film as Die Tänzerin)
Unter der Maske / Behind the Mask (aka The Black Mask) at West’s in Melbourne on December 26, 1912, just seven weeks after its German premiere and a month before it opened in London as a Gaumont exclusive
Hexenfeuer / Gipsy Hate, which opened at the Tivoli Picture Theatre in Bendigo, Victoria on January 27, 1913
Fürs Vaterland / For Their Country (aka On the Altar of Patriotism), premiered at Spencer’s Theatre Royal in Perth, WA on February 26, 1913, more than a year before the same film would open in the US
Mimosa-san / Madame Butterfly was first screened briefly at Armadale Theatre in Melbourne on February 27, 1913 before appearing in suburban and provincial theatres in Tamworth, NSW and St. Kilda, Victoria on March 1.

The German Film Portal additionally lists the following films – Auf Dem Maskenball (1910), La Malaguena (1910), La Serenada (1910), Terpsichore. Die Macht des Tanzes (1921).

Unfortunately, the author is inclined to believe all of these films are now lost. Alice Guy’s short film of Saharet appears to be the only one surviving.

Saharet, c1906, by Franz von Stuck. Painting now in the public domain.

1913 – Further Marriages

Citing desertion and his infidelity, Saharet began divorce proceedings against Ike Rose in Britain, in October 1912, and the divorce was finalised in 1913. Soon after, she married German-born US millionaire Fritz von Frantzius (1865-1917). Von Frantzius had long been an ardent admirer of hers, but their marriage was a disaster, as she abandoned him after only a few days for a new partner on stage and off – Jose Florido. She performed with Florido in the US and Britain for several years and clearly intended to marry him, but never did. Variety magazine’s 1914 review of their new act was positive and outlined exactly what her program looked like;

“Saharet has lost none of her charm, nor indeed her stage looks…Her dancing partner, Senor J. Florido, is a lithe, slender, virile Spanish youth… Saharet alone does her first number, programed as a minuette. It consists of pirouettes and posing of the old- style ballet school. It is a trifle disappointing… Florido follows with a solo dance, The Sabaje, which is strident and of toreador inception. It consists of some twists and a series of rapid stamping and taps, all on the heels. Third is a Spanish castanet dance by both, with Carmen and Toreador entrance, well done but on old style lines. Nothing sensational until the fourth and final number, Tango Argentine. Saharet and Florido’s is the genuine South American, sensuous thing… It is a violent, living, palpitant affair that earns for them the applause it richly deserves.”[23]Variety Feb 1, 1914, Via Lantern, Media History Digital Library

But by November 1916, reviews of her New York performances in “The Open Sesame of Love” were less enthusiastic. Perhaps, in the midst of war, the public appetite for performance was already changing. Her final performances outside the US were at London’s Empire Theatre in March 1916.

In 1917 Saharet married again, to a third German-born New Yorker and her latest theatrical agent – Maxim P (Phideus) Lowe. Soon after, she retired from the stage for good.

Her Daughter – Carrie M Rose

Saharet and Carrie Rose, early 1900s. Postcard in the author’s collection.

Ike and Saharet’s only child, Caroline Madelon Rose  was born in New York in November 1896. Known to all as Carrie, she accompanied her parents throughout their first European tours. In time, young Carrie experienced a life as tumultuous as her mother’s. In 1906, she was placed in a convent school in Belgium and later, another convent in Essex, England. Carrie then had a go at following her mother onto the stage and performed in England under the unbelievably mundane stage name of  Dorothy Siddons. She closely resembled her mother in appearance and her choice of dancing and acting as a career seems understandable, although she only met with mixed success.

In the early 1920s, Carrie rebooted her acting career, this time as Madeline (also Madelon) La Varre. With this exotic name she appeared with greater success, in fleshy roles on Broadway and in two films. In 1927, Carrie changed course again, leaving the stage and entering a Carmelite Convent in the USA.[24]The Times (Louisiana) 19 June 1927, P48. via Newspapers.com She finally found her calling in 1944, when she joined the US Naval Reserve, becoming one of the first women to achieve the rank of Lieutenant Commander during World War Two. An amazing transformation.

In 1947, Carrie was appointed to a senior position managing the occupational therapy clinic at Fort Custer Veteran’s Hospital at Battle Creek, Michigan, a position she held until 1950. Saharet moved to Battle Creek to be near her daughter, and for a time lived with her at Brown’s Trailer (caravan) Park.[25]Barbara L Hill (1973) The Quiet Campaign. A History of the Veteran’s Hospital, Battle Creek. Second Edition. Courtesy Jean Ritsema and the Fort Custer Historical Society

Death in 1964

Saharet, now calling herself Clarice Saharet Lowe, was 85 years old and living alone by 1964 (she had divorced Lowe in 1930). When alert neighbours near 41 Ivanhoe Street, Battle Creek, realised they hadn’t seen her for some time, the local Police were called to break into her house. They found her body in the bath. It was 20th of July and she died alone and probably by her own hand, because sadly, daughter Carrie had also taken her own life after a catastrophic car accident, 14 years before.[26]Battle Creek Enquirer (Michigan), 12 March, 1947, P26 and Battle Creek Enquirer (Michigan), 6 Jan 1950, P10, via Newspapers.com Her half-brother Archibald McKenzie was by then her closest living relative.

41 irving - ivanhoe st Battle Creek
Above; Saharet’s modest home at 41 Ivanhoe Street, Battle Creek (now demolished). Photo courtesy of Willard Library, Battle Creek, Michigan, USA.

She left a modest estate to her step-brother Archibald. Her property, some jewellery and cash, but very little evidence of her spectacular career. Her modest two story timber home has long since been demolished but similar houses still stand in Ivanhoe Street, so very far from her birthplace and her extended family.

What sense can we make of this Australian girl who really could dance so spectacularly she developed an international reputation in just a few years? Somewhere, hopefully, someone still has the photos and scrap books that she must have kept, detailing her extraordinary life, one that must have been rich in experiences.


Note 1 – Saharet, her mother and her extended family

A Saharet family album, sourced from US passport photos c1919-1920. Left to right : Saharet’s third husband Maxim P. Lowe (1886-?). Daughter Caroline “Carrie” Rose (1896-1950) Half brother Archibald McKenzie (1901-1971). Saharet’s niece Clarice Roberts (1905-1920). All passport photos shown are via Ancestry.com, from the US National Archives

This writer believes much of the mystery surrounding Saharet relates to her Ballarat Chinese ancestry, something she and her mother wanted to disassociate themselves from as quickly as they could. In the late nineteenth century, the British colonies in Australia created laws that were driven by deeply held views about concepts of race. Most would find such archaic views offensive and irrelevant today, but discriminatory laws were amongst the first passed by Australia’s national parliament after federation in 1901.

Saharet’s mother was born Elizabeth Ah Foon in Ballarat in December 1857. She lived a tumultuous life and is probably worth an entire biography of her own. At the same time, the evidence suggests that she was a resourceful and clever woman, who remained a forceful presence in Saharet’s life.

Elizabeth, later to call herself Eveline, was the oldest of a large family born in Ballarat to 19 year-old Tasmanian born Caroline Ramsay and her first husband, 24 year-old gold miner William Moy Ah Foon from Canton, China.[27]Births Deaths and Marriages, Victoria. Certificate 1990/1858 She appears in the Ballarat Benevolent Asylum’s register as “pregnant and destitute” in September 1873[28]Ballarat Historical Society. Ballarat Benevolent Society – Register of Inmates Aaa – Alk and reappears in the historical record in an authorised (but underage) marriage in 1874 to 30 year old James Ah Fook.[29]Births Deaths and Marriages, Victoria. Certificate 3424/1874 Thus, she had already given birth to two children before she had Paulina Clarissa – their fates are unknown.

Above: Photos of two women Elizabeth/Eveline knew well, and probably also Saharet. Left: Caroline Ramsay (1839-1919) (Saharet’s grandmother). Right: Emma Dinah Foon (later Lepp)(1866-1939), Elizabeth/Eveline’s sister, with one of her children (and thus Saharet’s aunt and first cousin) Cropped photos courtesy Mark Lepp, both taken c 1885 – 1890.

Throughout her life, Elizabeth / Eveline went to great efforts to remain anonymous, consistently obscuring her identity by repeated changes of surname – Molony, Martella, Campbell, McKenzie, De Vere and claims on official documents that she was “born at sea”, or of Scottish or French-Canadian ancestry. It was remarkably easy to do this because until the First World War, people could travel internationally without formal documents.

Eveline Campbell in The San Francisco Call on March 28, 1893. Via Newspapers.com

Saharet’s mother is almost certainly the same Eveline or Evelyn Campbell, “the Australian Sporting Lady,” who appeared in a rowing competition with a US woman in San Francisco in April 1893. In a lengthy interview with The San Francisco Call on March 28, 1893, this Eveline revealed her daughter was on the stage, and by her comments clearly had experience of living in Melbourne and had saved children from drowning in its major river, the Yarra. She had just designed a baby carriage she announced.[30]The San Francisco Call March 28, 1893 Via Newspapers.com

Eveline Campbell interviewed in The San Francisco Call on March 28, 1893. Note her particular style of “bluster”. Via Newspapers.com

Lacking rowing experience, she lost the competition and missed the $250 prize. Intriguingly however, it seems she received $14,000 for a patented “child’s carriage” at about the same time – a significant windfall which explains her later claims to be of “independent means”.[31]Autumn Stanley (1995) Mothers and Daughters of Invention: Notes for a Revised History of Technology. P. 331, Rutgers University Press.

US patented Child's carriage
US patent No. 495,301 Patented Apr. 11, 1893

Eveline married again in the early 1900s to a Fred McKenzie and very late in life had another child, Archibald. She moved to London soon after, where she raised Archibald and Julia’s daughter Clarice, following Julia’s death from TB in 1906.

Finally, in 1919, Eveline McKenzie returned to New York. The war had brought more rigorous requirements for international travel, particularly to the USA, and this time she was unable to disguise her birth in Ballarat, Australia.

Eveline Mckenzie travel to the US in 1919a
The SS Rotterdam, arriving in New York in 1919, with much more information required for entry to the US than prior to the First World War. Eveline McKenzie’s age and birthplace – “Ballard” Australia are revealed. Via Ancestry, from the US National Archives

evelyn 3
Enlarged section. Note that her trip was paid for by her daughter, Saharet, “Mrs C.S. Lowe” of New York. Via Ancestry, from the US National Archives

In 1931, a 74 year old woman called Eveline McKenzie was arrested in New York for telling fortunes for money (which was then illegal). She told the judge she was not a fortune teller but a “telepathist” and had “previously proved her science to the Duke of York at Buckingham Palace” (a familiar style of bluster this writer thinks). Unimpressed, the judge sentenced her to 5 days in jail.[32]Daily News (New York) 24 March, 1931, P629. Via Newspapers.com

Eveline McKenzie died in Brooklyn, New York on 11 March 1936.

Eveline did not maintain any connection with her extended family in Ballarat and neither did Saharet. According to Mark Lepp, a descendant of Caroline Ramsay, the family knew Elizabeth/Eveline had gone to America, but nothing more. Caroline waited patiently in Ballarat for news of her oldest daughter and grand-daughter, which never came. But it’s interesting that in far away New York, Saharet chose her grand-mother’s name – Caroline – for her only child.

Ramsay Sang Ballarat
Headstone for Caroline Sang (Ramsay) and her second husband at Ballarat New Cemetery. She died in 1919 without knowing what had happened to her daughter Eveline and grand-daughter Saharet. Author’s Collection.

Nick Murphy,

Updated February 2022


Special thanks to

  • Professor Julie Allen – Brigham Young University, Utah USA
  • Mark Lepp – Australia
  • Martin Goebel – USA
  • Barry Humphries – UK
  • Jim Eldridge – Battle Creek, Michigan USA
  • Michael McCullough – Willard Library, Battle Creek, Michigan USA
  • Fort Custer Historical Society
  • And especially to Jean Ritsema – Jackson, Michigan, USA

References

Texts

  • Julie K Allen (2017) Divas down Under: the circulation of Asta Nielsen’s and Francesca Bertini’s films in Australian cinemas in the 1910s, Studies in Australasian Cinema, 11:2, 59-76. 
  • Wilhelm Benignus (1913) Woman’s Soul. Sonnets, Odes and Songs, p.70. Max Schmetterling, New York.(In a footnote in this book Saharet’s father is claimed to be a John Campbell.)
  • Edward Ross Dickinson (2017) Dancing in the Blood: Modern Dance and European Culture on the Eve of the First World War. Cambridge University Press.
  • Averil King (2013) Emil Nolde: Artist of the Elements. I.B.Taurus
  • Quincy Sharpe Mills (1930) Editorials, Sketches and Stories. GP Putman’s Sons

Websites

This site has been selected for archiving and preservation in the National Library of Australia’s Pandora archive

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Battle Creek Enquirer July 24, 1964 via Newspapers.com
2 The British Australasian, 5 August 1897, P1418. Via British Library Newspaper Archive
3 Hermynia Zur Mühlen (1930) The End and the Beginning. The Book of My Life. Open Book Publishers, 2010. Edited and translated by Lionel Gossman,P95
4 Births Deaths and Marriages, Victoria. Certificate 11137/1878
5 Births Deaths and Marriages, Victoria. Certificate 25331/1879 and Certificate 2504/1881
6 Births Deaths and Marriages, Victoria. Certificate Certificate 2662/1882
7 probably typhoid fever, then so prevalent in Melbourne
8 This photo was taken in about 1950, before their demolition, by a Public Works photographer. Note- confusingly, the street was more generally known as McGrath Place in the C19th. And there is an unrelated McGrath Lane still in Melbourne
9 Illustrated Police News, 25 June 1898, P3, Via British Library Newspaper Archive
10 The Australasian (Melb), 12 Nov 1898, P24. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
11 Sunday Times (Sydney) 7 Nov, 1897, P2 WHO SAHARET IS. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
12 Critic (Adelaide) 5 Feb 1913, Page 17 ENCORE and Daily Herald (Adelaide) 3 Feb 1913 P2 TWO STRANGE VISITORS Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
13 The Theatre (Syd), 1 May 1914, P35. Via State Library of Victoria
14 San Francisco Call, 28 March 1893, via Newspapers.com
15 Detroit Free Press, 26 Apr 1898,P4, via Newspapers.com
16 Original research thanks to Martin Goebel
17 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York)5 May 1896, P1, via Newspapers.com
18 Referee (Sydney) 7 Sep 1898, P10 “General Gossip.”Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
19 Evening News (Sydney) 24 Feb 1900, P4, “STAGELAND” Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
20 Isaac Rosenstamm, US passport application, April 4, 1898. Via Ancestry.com
21 Die Zukunft (The Future).18 Feb 1899. via Biblioteka Elbląska Digital libraries federation, Poland
22 Email correspondence Julie Allen, Brigham Young University, 2020
23 Variety Feb 1, 1914, Via Lantern, Media History Digital Library
24 The Times (Louisiana) 19 June 1927, P48. via Newspapers.com
25 Barbara L Hill (1973) The Quiet Campaign. A History of the Veteran’s Hospital, Battle Creek. Second Edition. Courtesy Jean Ritsema and the Fort Custer Historical Society
26 Battle Creek Enquirer (Michigan), 12 March, 1947, P26 and Battle Creek Enquirer (Michigan), 6 Jan 1950, P10, via Newspapers.com
27 Births Deaths and Marriages, Victoria. Certificate 1990/1858
28 Ballarat Historical Society. Ballarat Benevolent Society – Register of Inmates Aaa – Alk
29 Births Deaths and Marriages, Victoria. Certificate 3424/1874
30 The San Francisco Call March 28, 1893 Via Newspapers.com
31 Autumn Stanley (1995) Mothers and Daughters of Invention: Notes for a Revised History of Technology. P. 331, Rutgers University Press.
32 Daily News (New York) 24 March, 1931, P629. Via Newspapers.com