On the road with Pollards Opera – Irene Goulding remembers.

Above: Alice Pollard (1885-1943) and Irene Goulding (1888-1987) photographed in Shanghai, China c 1901, dressed for the comic opera Dorothy. Photo – courtesy The Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Sometime in 1985, Sally Dawes, a researcher with the Performing Arts Collection in Melbourne Australia, recorded an interview with 97 year old Irene Smith nee Goulding (1888-1987). Irene was the younger sibling of Alf Goulding (1885-1972) and Frank Goulding (c1882-1897) and is apparently the only member of Pollards Lilliputian Opera Company to be interviewed for posterity. Listening to this precious recording held by the Australian Performing Arts Collection, the listener cannot help but admire how much Irene recalled, 85 years on. I am grateful to Claudia Funder, APAC Research Centre and Acquisitions Coordinator, for drawing this interview to my attention – it tells us so much. But the interpretation of Irene’s words and meaning, as she leafed through many of the photos shown here, is my own.

Above: Left – Alf Goulding in the role of Lurcher for the opera Dorothy in 1896, long before his success as a Hollywood director. Right – Irene Goulding (left) with Ivy Trott in The Gaiety Girl;  Photos – courtesy The Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Irene’s first remark when Sally Dawes turned on her tape recorder in 1985 was to exclaim that her older brother Frank had died (from smallpox while on the 1897 Pollard tour of India), and that she herself had been so sick (on a later tour of South Africa) that she became delirious. She recalled that at one stage she imagined the Prince of Wales was attending to her.

Above left – Frank Goulding as the Major-General in Pirates of Penzance, 1896, shortly before his death from smallpox in India. Above right – Many of the photos in this collection were acquired from the Goulding family. This inscription on the reverse of another photo was written by Alf, addressed to his father, a bootmaker in Fitzroy, and contains the words “rest Frank’s soul.” Photos – courtesy The Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Despite the awful death of Frank, Irene had also signed up with the Nellie Chester – Charles Pollard troupe in about 1899. Her father had asked her if she also wanted to join, and although her favourite teacher at the Bell St State School (Fitzroy) strongly disapproved, she did. Later in life she apparently regretted her limited education, a consequence of a childhood spent on performance tours, but her comments when interviewed also reveal a strong sense of loyalty to “Aunty Chester” in particular, as the children called Nellie Chester. Irene’s first touring experience was in South Africa, probably departing Melbourne in early 1899. Learning parts for the company’s repertoire of musical comedies such as The Belle of New York and The Geisha, was very hard work, Irene recalled. Payment for her work was sent to her widowed father in Melbourne. She recalled being given pocket money while on tour, to buy sweets.

Occasionally one or other of the Pollard adults let slip how much money they made from their enterprise. In one unguarded moment in 1901, Charles Pollard revealed that he had netted £30,000 from the previous few years touring. This is the equivalent of about $AU 2,270,000 today. Another report on the operations of Tom Pollard in 1900 suggests similar success with his troupes travelling through Australia and New Zealand.

Interviewed in July 1899 by a correspondent for the Referee , the child performers were probably all instructed to not mention the downside of endless travel such as the inevitable homesickness. From Johannesburg, South Africa, the Sydney Referee correspondent wrote approvingly of the Pollard’s operation, and described Alf Goulding, as “the clever young comedian of the company, aged 12 years” and Irene Goulding“a bonny girl of 8 years.. who hadn’t been very well lately.” The Pollards had learned, years before, during their 1884 tour, that bad publicity could be fatal. This report from South Africa was all very positive.

A distant memory of Irene’s when interviewed in 1985 was of the South African tour being cut short, as the “Boer War” broke out in October 1899. The children were hurried back to Western Australia and then resumed a touring schedule in South East Asia.

Above: The Pollard troupe in Manila, posing with US soldiers. The presence of Teddie McNamara, sitting front left, dates this photo to mid 1903, not long after the Philippine-American War. Irene Goulding stands behind and to the left of the tall white-uniformed officer, and is flanked by Jack Cherry and Ivy Trott. Photo – courtesy The Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne .

The performance stops made by the Charles Pollard-Nellie Chester troupes might surprise readers today. On the way to North America, the tours usually included colonial outposts – Singapore, Manila, Hong Kong and Shanghai, cities which all provided enthusiastic expatriate audiences. The fact that these performance tours went to places that had been or would soon be risky colonial war zones (such as South Africa, China and the Philippines) also reminds us that the Pollards were running a business, not a school or a charity, and their decisions were always commercial ones. Fighting had only just ended in the Philippines when the photo above was taken. (An extraordinary photo taken on the next tour in 1904 seems to show many of the same child performers posing with Filipino prisoners at a Manila gaol. See University of Washington Special Collections image here).

Irene’s memory was of a wonderful time as a child on the Pollard tours – and of the young men who were so attentive, of the unusual buildings in the tropics with their wide verandas, of being served dinner in hotels. America was “so big” she recalled, and not surprisingly, many of the Pollard performers returned and made their homes in the US – there was so much more work there.

Above: Some of the female Pollard performers in Manila, c1901-3. Front row left to right: Florrie Sharpe, Ivy Trott, Mrs Nellie Chester (nee Pollard), Alice Bennetto and unidentified. Back row, left to right: May Topping, Nellie McNamara and Irene Goulding. Irene disliked this photo – she said she felt her parted hair made her look like a grandmother. Photo – courtesy The Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Overwhelmingly comprised of girls, who usually also took on many of the male rolls, the members of Pollards troupes were drawn mostly from inner Melbourne suburbs. Indeed, of the children in the photo above, the Topping, Trott, Goulding and Bennetto families all lived in close proximity to each other in Fitzroy, suggesting they knew each other before joining up.

Irene was the daughter of Frank Goulding, a bootmaker and sometime performer, and Margaret nee Walsh, a performer. She was born in a house in Greenwood Street, Collingwood that no longer stands. As well as her older brothers, she had a step-sister Elsie, from her mother’s side, who later performed under the name Elsa Golding (sic). At the time of Margaret’s sudden death in April 1895, the Goulding family lived at 431 George Street, Fitzroy.

Interviewed by “Curious” for the Calcutta Englishman in mid 1901, Charles Pollard admitted that most of the children lived in a five mile radius of Melbourne. However, he insisted they came from “all classes”, and “selection, together with training” was the secret of Pollard’s success. He also pointed out that the child performers willingly learned from each other – he said Irene had taught Madge Woodson the role of Molly Seymour for The Geisha.

Above left: Some of the cast of The Geisha c 1901-2. Officers – Emma Thomas, Irene Goulding, Lily Thompson and Daphne Trott (aka Daphne Pollard); Girls – May Topping, unidentified, unidentified and possibly Merle Ferguson (aka Merle Pollard). Above right: Madge Woodson, (aka Madge Williams), born Margaret Banks in Richmond. Date of photo unknown. Photos – courtesy The Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Caring they may have been, but the Pollard company played fast and loose reporting the children’s age, no doubt adjusting these as it suited their preferred public profile. On the shipping manifest for SS Sierra, bringing the troupe to the US in September 1901, Alf Goulding, now the Stage Manager, was represented as 19. Irene’s age was listed as 11. Their real ages on this trip were sixteen and thirteen. On the same trip, Daphne Trott (usually Daphne Pollard) was really ten, not 6 years old as reported.

Possibly unbeknownst to Irene and other children, Nellie Chester and Charles Pollard were quite prepared to use force to make some of their parents fulfil their contracts. In 1900 the Pollards issued a writ against Frank Goulding (amongst others) to discourage him from letting Irene perform with Harry Hall’s proposed juvenile company. They won, or Frank backed down, but Frank remained aggrieved with the company, even while they employed Alf and Irene. In 1904, when the company’s former conductor Ernest Wolffe attempted to start his own new juvenile troupe using many of the Pollard’s most popular players – including Alice and Teddie McNamara, Oscar Heintz, Daphne and Ivy Trott, the matter ended up in court again. Wolffe lost and the children stayed with Pollards, for the mammoth 32 month tour of 1904-1907.

Above: A Pollard program flyer (here the company is titled Pollard Juvenile Opera Company) from November 1, 1901, when they performed in San Francisco. No ages are given here, and there is a long list of real and stage names, mixed in with joke names. Fred Pollard was really Freddie Bindlass from Collingwood, but Irene remembered this boy with the sweet voice by an alternative stage name – Freddie Stewart. Irene Goulding herself used the stage name Irene Loftus. Author’s Collection.

There is compelling evidence a child’s size and physical development were critical to being a Pollard’s performer, rather than simply just their age. Children who were physically undersized – like Willie Thomas and Daphne Trott, enjoyed longer careers with Pollards than most. Irene said she was always “little” too – but she finished up with Pollards when the SS Miowera brought her home in early April 1904. She was 16.

After her time with the Pollards, Irene Goulding performed in some smaller roles on stage, apparently in pantomimes and perhaps in the chorus for shows on the Tivoli circuit – and she was able to recall some of these details for Sally Dawes in 1985. Irene married Albert Smith, a driver, in 1931. Of her famous brother Alf, she seems to have last seen him during World War 2, when he lived in Australia again. He was “a clever boy” Irene recalled, but foolish with money. She said “he went through three fortunes” during his lifetime, perhaps in saying so she was a little regretful of her own opportunities missed. Of the other children in Pollards, Irene Goulding could recall gossiping with them about their parents’ Fitzroy businesses. Her contemporary in age and Fitzroy neighbour Ivy Trott she remembered clearly, but as Ivy and her family had left Australia in 1907, she had apparently lost contact.

Irene died in Melbourne, Australia in 1987.


Special thanks
to Claudia Funder at the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne, and Dr Kate Rice, the collection’s inaugural Frank Van Straten Fellow.

Nick Murphy
June 2021


References

  • Australian Performing Arts Collection,
    • Pollard Opera Companies Collection
    • Irene Smith (Goulding) interview by Sally Dawes.
  • State of Victoria: Births, Death and Marriages
    • Irene Goulding 28436/1888
    • Alfred John Goulding 5583/1885
  • Public Record Office, Victoria
    • Civil Case Files Supreme Court of Victoria
      • VPRS 267/ P7  unit 1280,  item 1900/195
        1900/199
        Charles Pollard Nellie Chester Pollards Lilliputian Opera Company v Alexander Sheddon
      • VPRS 267/ P7  unit 1280,  item 1900/199
        1901/562
        Charles Pollard Nellie Chester Pollards Lilliputian Opera Company v Frank Goulding Irene Goulding
      • VPRS 267/ P7 unit 1280, item 1900/200
        1900/187
        Charles Pollard Nellie Chester Pollards Lilliputian Opera Company v Harry Hall Alice Landershute Marie Sheddon Neillie Sheddon May Victoria Topping Nellie Finlay
      • VPRS 267/ P7  unit 1307,  item 1901/562
        1900/188
        Charles Pollard Nellie Chester Pollards Lilliputian Opera Company v Alexander Sheddon M E Sheddon Marie Sheddon Nellie Sheddon
      • VPRS 267/ P7  unit 1280,  item 1900/188
        1904/329
        Charles Albert Pollard Nellie Chester Pollards Lillipution Opera Company v Ernest Augustus Wolf
        fe
      • VPRS 267/ P7  unit 1360,  item 1904/329
        1900/200
        Charles Pollard Nellie Chester Pollards Lilliputian Opera Company v Millie Finlay
  • Text:
    • Gillian Arrighi (2017) The Controversial “Case of the Opera Children in the East”: Political conflict between popular demand for child actors and modernizing cultural policy on the child”. Theatre Journal 69, (2017) Johns Hopkins University Press.
    • Peter Downes ( 2002) The Pollards. Steele Roberts.
    • Dagmar Kift (1996) The Victorian Music Hall. Culture, Class and Conflict. Cambridge University Press.
    • Kirsty Murray (2010) India Dark. Allen and Unwin
      [Note: While written as a novel for teenagers, this beautiful novel is closely based on the events of the Arthur Pollard troupe in India and is highly recommended]
    • Frank Van Straten (2003) Tivoli. Thomas Lothian
  • National Library of Australia’s Trove
    • Argus (Melb) 19 June 1884, P6
    • The Age (Melb) 6 April 1895, P3
    • Referee (Sydney) 5 July 1899, P10
    • The British Australasian, 17 May 1900
    • The Ballarat Star, 14 July 1900, P2
    • The Ballarat Star, 7 Feb 1901, P4
    • The Age (Melb) 7 May 1903, P9
    • Daily News (WA) 9 March 1910, P7
  • Newspapers.com
    • The Honolulu Advertiser 14 Sept 1901, P10

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

Stars of Old Fitzroy

The inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy, looking north from St. Vincent’s hospital. Gertrude Street can be seen in the foreground. Author’s Collection.

Fitzroy stars 4

Although much of the suburb of Fitzroy has been redeveloped, many of the homes of the actors featured on this site still exist. The Melbourne online encyclopedia reminds us that Fitzroy was amongst the city’s first suburbs, land being auctioned in the area as early as 1839. So this concentration of creative personalities is not all that surprising. It was a small area with great contrasts in wealth, education and opportunity.


A: Mary Maguire (1919-1974)

Born Ellen Theresa Maguire in 1919 in South Melbourne, “Peggy” later “Mary” Maguire was the daughter of well-known Melbourne publicans. The Academy of Mary Immaculate educated all the five Maguire girls until the family moved to Brisbane c 1932. Her overly ambitious parents ended up taking her on to Hollywood and then England in pursuit of a film career.

Her aunts and uncles ran numerous Melbourne hotels while her grandparents lived in the inner east of the city – Richmond and Hawthorn.

Maguire-enrolment-1

A school enrolment from another era! Peggy Maguire’s (spelled McGuire) enrolment record at the Academy of Mary Immaculate in 1923. Her pet name was good enough apparently, plus father’s name and his hotel in Bourke Street! How different to the 21st Century. Courtesy Academy of Mary Immaculate.

B: Maie Saqui (1879-1907)

May Saqui was born at 120 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy (a building that still stands) in 1879. She was the daughter of well known Melbourne bookmaker and property developer John I Saqui. After some success in Australia, in 1897 she travelled alone to London where she developed a successful career, appearing as a very young “Gaiety Girl” in the George Edwards company in London. Maie’s sisters Gladys and Hazel also had careers on stage.

120 and 122 Nicholson St

Both buildings at 120 and 122 Nicholson street, still private residences, were owned at various times by the Saqui family.


C: Saharet (1878-1964)

Paulina Clarissa Molony was born in Rowena Parade, Richmond in 1878 and grew up in a number of inner Melbourne locations, including the notorious Little Lon area of central Melbourne. In 1881, her mother gave birth to her sister Julia (Millicent) at 168 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy. A building in Nicholson Street still stands at that address. Performing in the US and Europe as Saharet, Paulina Clarissa became one of the most celebrated dancers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Boarding House Nicholson St Fitzroy

168 Nicholson street, Fitzroy was possibly a boarding house in 1881. The current building, in the centre of the photo may also have been built after Saharet’s sister’s birth. However, the site is one of few surviving links to Saharet in Melbourne.


D: Harry Allen (1877-1951)

Born at 2 Barkly St, Carlton, Melbourne, in 1877. Henry “Harry” Radford Allen worked hard to establish himself in Australia. He moved to New York and after performing there with some success, found himself in film. In the later part of his career he was working in Hollywood, taking on minor supporting and often un-credited roles, generally as a cockney cabman, a doorman, a butler or similar. Harry had at least 100 film credits of this type.

Possibly No 2 Barkley St Carlton

Although many of the small cottages in this area have been demolished, it is possible his birthplace was similar to this one, a cottage surviving as part of a tyre business on the corner of Barkly St and Johnston St in Carlton.


E: Daphne Pollard (Daphne Trott)(1891-1978)

Born at 56 Kerr St, Fitzroy, Victoria, in 1891 (in a building that survives).
The Trott family (father Walter was a French Polisher) also lived at 96 King William St, Fitzroy c1903-5 (The 5 room dwelling was demolished by 1960)

Daphne was active with Pollards Lilliputian Opera Company from 1898-1907, then on stage in the US and UK, then in Hollywood 1927-1935, appearing in about 60 films. Her sister Ivy Trott (1887-1984 ) also joined several Pollard performance tours.

54-56 Kerr St Fitzroy

Above: The former Trott home at 56 Kerr Street, Fitzroy, where Daphne was born, is the left of the single story pair of cottages, and is still a private residence.


F: Alf Goulding (1885-1972) & Irene Goulding (1888-1987)

Alf Goulding was born in Richmond on 26 January 1885, while Irene was born in Collingwood in 1888, (both houses have been demolished)

Alf’s family, with sibling Frank (junior)(1883-1897) lived at 431 George St Fitzroy at the time of mother Maggie’s sudden death in 1895.
Alf’s father Frank Goulding, an actor and part time bootmaker, then lived in a number of modest houses in Fitzroy in the early C20th – at 49 King William Street in 1914 (building survives), at 235 Fitzroy St in 1919 (demolished) and at 25 Hanover Street by 1931 (also demolished).

431-george-st

Above: The white terrace was the Goulding home at 432 George St, Fitzroy, when Maggie died in 1895.

All three Goulding children joined Pollards Lilliputian Opera tours in the late 1890s. Alf did 6 tours between 1896 and 1909, increasingly taking on stage management. Irene did 3 tours while Frank only 1- he died of Smallpox while touring in India in 1897. Alf went on to a long career as a director in Hollywood.


G: Oscar (1891-1939) Freddie (1895-1949) & Johnnie (1895-1945) Heintz

All three Heintz boys joined tours of the Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company.

Oscar Heintz was born when the family lived at 183 George St, Fitzroy on 17 March 1891
(The building survives). Twins Freddie and Johnnie Heintz were born when the family lived at 101 Argyle St, Fitzroy, on 3 December 1895. (This building also survives)

For many years the Heintz family lived at 84 Kerr St, Fitzroy. John Heintz, a baker, died in 1900. A few years later, his three boys joined the lengthy Pollard tour of Asia and North America, that departed Melbourne in July 1904 and returned home in February 1907. Although aged only 16, Oscar stayed on in the US. Freddie and Johnnie Heintz travelled again with another Pollard tour that departed later in 1907, and also another ill-fated Pollard Indian tour in 1909.

IMG_6740

Above – the former Heintz home at 84 Kerr St, Fitzroy is the cottage with the red door. It is still a private residence.


H: Florrie Forde (1876-1940)

Born 16 August 1875, in Gertrude St, Fitzroy (the exact address is not listed on her birth certificate).
The likely location is the former United Service Club Hotel on the corner of Young Street and Gertrude St, run by her father Lott Flannagan. (This building survives)
Florrie first appeared on stage in Sydney in early 1892. In 1897 she appeared in London for the first time. She became a popular favourite in British music hall, also appearing as herself in a few British films.

IMG_0229

Above: The former United Service Club Hotel.


Nick Murphy
Updated April 2021

Willie Thomas’ great adventure with Pollard’s Lilliputians

Above: Enlargement of a group photo of Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company in Manila, 1903. Willie Thomas is at right. Also shown – from left Teddie McNamara, Oscar Heintz, Fred Bindlass. Willie was the only one of these boys not to move to the US. Photo courtesy Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

The 5 second version
Born William (Willie) Thomas in Collingwood, Victoria, Australia, 1 January 1889,
died Boulder, Western Australia, 1969. Willie Thomas was in some respects the typical performer in Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company. Born in working class inner Melbourne, he was picked to join at least four extended Pollard company tours of the Far East and North America, between 1901 and 1907. His sister Emma, (born Collingwood, Victoria, Australia, 12 January 1885) also performed for Pollard’s and later accompanied as a supervisor.
On leaving the company, Willie became a butcher in Sunshine, Melbourne, and later in Western Australia.

“Willie” Thomas was a child performer in Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company, as it toured cities in South East Asia and North America, several times, between 1901 and 1907. He is shown below with his older sister Emma Thomas, while the company was in Vancouver.

willie and may
Willie was perhaps 14 and Emma 17 when this photo was taken c1902-4. Behind him in the peaked cap is Charles Pollard, company manager. The full photo of the Pollard Company is on the Vancouver As It Was website. Used with their permission.

William Thomas was born in Collingwood in January 1889 to Ironmonger William Albert Thomas and his wife Emma, nee Stone. There were four older children – two brothers and two sisters in the family. Two other sisters died in infancy.

Much of the history of Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company is lost to us today and confusingly, there was more than one troupe of performers using this or a similar name in the early twentieth century.  Managed by Charles Pollard and his sister Nellie Chester, we know that they ran several extended and highly acclaimed tours to the Philippines, Japan, China and North America between 1901 and 1909 – each lasting a year or more, punctuated by a short break of a few months at home in Melbourne. This troupe is also of interest historically, because so many of its performers were from working-class inner Melbourne. And a number of its performers also went on to stay on in the US and work in Hollywood – including Alf Goulding, Harry Fraser or “Snub Pollard“, Daphne Pollard, Teddy McNamara, Fred Pollard (Fred Bindlass) and Jack Pollard (John Cherry). And the talented Willie Thomas from Collingwood worked amongst them on the three performance trips – September 1901-October 1902, January 1903-April 1904, and July 1904- February 1907.

Pollards in San Francisco Nov 16 1901 at the Tivoli Opera House,
Above: Part of the program for Pollard’s performing at the Tivoli Opera House, San Francisco on November 16, 1901. Both Willie (12) and Emma (16) have leading roles in The Belle of New York. Author’s Collection.

Historian Gillian Arrighi points out that several Australian companies employed child actors for prolonged offshore tours at this time. This practice enabled the producers to avoid contravening child labour and education laws in newly federated Australia. And apparently it was lucrative – for families and the organisers. Child performers made pocket-money selling postcards of themselves, while parents back in Australia were paid sometimes in advance or via a trust fund.

Pollards c 1903

Pollard’s Lilliputian Opera Company in costume, taken in the US about 1905. It appears to show Willie Thomas, second from right at the front, next to Daphne Pollard. The two little boys fourth and fifth from the left in the front row are Freddie and Johnnie Heintz. In the  postwar world Johnnie became a pastry cook in Adelaide. Freddie tried his luck acting again in the US. Copy of postcard courtesy Robert Maynard

The Thomas’ names are also found amongst other Pollard performers on the shipping manifests of the time. More interesting are the accounts that appeared in US and Australian papers as they travelled, that documented some of their experiences. By 1905, Willie was amongst the Company’s leading performers.

Sioux_City_Journal_Wed__May_28__1902_     San Francisco Chronicle 6 Sept 1903 cropped

Left: On his first tour of North America, Willie Thomas and three other performers had a near miss with a gas leak, according to The Sioux City Journal (Utah), May 28 1902. Via Newspapers.com .Right: A second tour, another performance. The San Francisco Chronicle, September 6, 1903, announces a new Pollard season and some of the stars – including Willie. Both these articles confirm the constant rotation of shows while on tour. Via Newspapers.com

willie Thomas4

Robert Maynard still holds the postcards, makeup box and other ephemera that belonged to his grandfather. There are also over 50 postcards that Willie collected including several from Shanghai, Japan, Suva, Canada and the United States. These are unmarked, so he apparently never posted them home, rather – keeping them as mementos of his travels. The remains of his makeup box includes fake moustaches and numerous sticks of grease paint.

Willie and Emma’s final North American tour with Pollard’s seems to have ended in early 1907, when he was 17 and she was 21 – both now too old to convincingly be presented as child actors. (Emma appears to have travelled as a non performing adult on this tour). Perhaps also, this marathon Pollard tour of 1905-1907 convinced Willie that performing on stage was not what he wanted to do.

Pollard's in Canada and the US 1905-1907

Above: Willie Thomas’ makeup box. Map – The Pollard Company’s “Grand Tour” of North America (March 1905- Jan 1907) avoided much time in the eastern USA, where child labour law made performances impossible. The troupe was in Sacramento during the April 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The map is based on Midas Martyn‘s diary. Thanks to Catherine Crocker for sharing this information. Courtesy Google Maps. Click to go to the google map – the author’s attempt to illustrate this extraordinary tour.

This writer has commented elsewhere of the controversy accompanying Pollard’s travels to the Far East and North America.  The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, or the “Gerry Society” kept Pollard’s away from the east coast of the US. The society’s opposition to children performing on stage was well-known. The Chicago Tribune of 19 May 1902 touched on this issue in a long article about the company during their only visit to that city; “Although the idea of keeping children on the stage is repugnant to Americans, and although it is forbidden by law in some states, the Pollards claim that their children… suffer no evil effects from the experience.” 

Whatever other reasons he had for leaving the stage, a few years on and now calling himself “William,” he had became a butcher. He was also a competent Australian Rules Football player, playing for teams in Boulder Western Australia (where he spent a few years between 1910 and 1913) and Sunshine, Victoria.


Above left: William in the Boulder City (Western Australia) Football Club in 1911, seated front left,
Above right: William seated at right with Sunshine Braybrook Football Club in 1914. Photos courtesy Robert Maynard.

Following the outbreak of war and during the surge of enlistments following the Gallipoli landings, William and his two older brothers Albert and Jack (John) joined the Australian Imperial Forces. With other soldiers of the 3rd Division AIF, they sailed on the Medic, arriving at England in July 1916. William went on to serve in France with the 29th and 30th Batteries, 8th Field Artillery Brigade. In the photo enlargement below, William is seated on the left, Albert is on the right – unusually the two brothers served together. In February-March 1918 William’s military record shows he was granted leave in England. There he saw Albert De Courville‘s latest review, Box o’ Tricks, at the London Hippodrome, featuring a very old friend, Daphne Pollard in the line-up, whom he met after the show. The conversation must have been a joyful one about show-biz;  it defies belief that William, having been under fire and in action for the last 14 months, would wish to talk about the appalling reality of trench warfare.


Above: William and Albert (enlargement)  in France c1918. Photos courtesy of Robert Maynard

Miraculously, all three Thomas brothers survived the war and returned to Australia in 1919. In the early 1920s William set up a butcher’s shop in Sunshine, a western suburb of Melbourne, in partnership with brother Albert. In 1924 he married Lizzie O’Brien and brought up a large family, at first in the house next to the shop, and later in nearby Adelaide Street. Lizzie, the “life of the party” and a favourite with all the children in the family, called him “Butcher.” Like many returned soldiers, William liked a drink, and earned a reputation for regularly being thrown out of the Sunshine pub. One can’t help wondering if the Sunshine pub became the place he liked to practise the keen sense of humour he had developed on stage with Pollard’s, years before.

William Thomas’s Butcher shop, on Hampshire Rd, Sunshine. William Thomas is proudly holding his daughter Emma, with brother Albert (second from left) and nephew William (at right) and another butcher. Before widespread refrigeration, the horse and gig was a quick and convenient way to sell and deliver meat. Photo Courtesy Robert Maynard.
Advert at right from the Sunshine Advocate, 9 June 1928, Via the National Library of Australia’s Trove.

Unfortunately, the Depression hit William’s family hard. Such businesses were used to extending credit but also dependent on a regular cash flow. A kind man (in 1924 he had paid for his nephew to travel to a scout jamboree in England) William’s generosity eventually got the better of his business in the hard times of the 1930s, and it closed down.

By 1941, the family had relocated to Boulder, Western Australia, where William, determined to make a fresh start, became a butcher again. He died there, aged 80, in 1969. Sister Emma had died in Sunshine in 1963.

A few years after Willie Thomas’ final tour, the era of the travelling troupes of Australian children came to an end. In 1909, another Pollard family member, Arthur Hayden Pollard, who had been on some of the North American trips, raised a mostly new troupe to perform in South East Asia and India. It was a disaster and amid the claims of impropriety, cruelty and underpayment, the troupe broke up in February 1910, with the children forced to find local support to make their own way home. New Federal legislation in 1910 banned Australian children travelling overseas to perform.

William kept his Pollard’s make-up box all his life, which says something about how fondly he viewed this exciting stage of his childhood. If he regretted his seven years of travel and performing, and then leaving the stage behind forever, he never said.

Emma Thomas 1950s

Above: Emma Thomas (left) in the 1950s, welcoming Mr and Mrs Pettit on a visit to Melbourne. The Pettits employed William as a butcher in Western Australia by this time. The days of Pollards Lilliputians were far behind. Photo courtesy Robert Maynard.

Note:

Emma and Willie travelled with the following Pollard Lilliputian Opera Company tours of South East Asia and North America under the leadership of Charles Pollard and Nellie Chester:

1. Departing Australia via SS Sierra 3 September 1901,
Returning to Australia via SS Aorangi 17 October 1902.

2. Departing Australia SS Chansha 18 January 1903,
Returning to Australia SS Miowera 2 April 1904.

3. Departing on a Queensland tour July – Sept 1904, then to “the far east” late September 1904, then SS Empress of India arriving Vancouver BC, March 1 1905.
Apparently returning home on the SS Moana in February 1907, an extraordinary tour of 32 months.

Another Pollards trip departed sometime in June 1907, arriving in the US on the SS Hong Kong Maru from Yokohama, Japan on Mar 3, 1908. They arrived home in Australia on RMS Makura on April 17, 1909. Emma and Willie were not on this final trip or its disastrous follow-up to India organised and led by Arthur Haydon Pollard.


Nick Murphy, Updated March 2020

Special Thanks

To Robert Maynard, William Thomas’ grandson, for so generously sharing his family history – much more than I could fit in this article.


Further Reading

Collections

  • Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.


Websites

National Library of Australia – Trove

“STAGELAND.” Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931) 27 September 1902: 2 (EVENING NEWS SUPPLEMENT).

Evening Entertainments.” The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947) 26 July 1904: 7.

SEND-OFF TO SCOUT THOMAS (1924, May 24). Sunshine Advocate (Vic. : 1924 – 1954), p. 4.

“POLLARD’S LILLIPUTIAN OPERA COMPANY.” Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918) 2 April 1910: 23.

“THE POLLARD TROUPE.” Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918) 21 May 1910: 24. Web. 15 Oct 2018

“POLLARD OPERA COMPANY.” The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954) 22 April 1910: 8. Web. 15 Oct 2018

Frank W. Healy’s San Francisco Opera Company 1907

A joyful but anonymous chorus line in Gertude Lederer’s collection. It may include Laura Vail (3rd from right) and Gertrude Lederer (4th from right), performers in Frank W Healy’s San Francisco Opera Company, in 1906-7.

Several years ago, I purchased a small group of photographs that came from the estate of a Gertrude Lederer in the USA. I was told that Gertrude M. Lederer had been born in Illinois, USA, in 1884. She appears to have been a very young performer in Frank W. Healy’s San Francisco Opera Company from early 1907 and amongst other things she collected a number of photos of fellow performers. Through changing ownership, the collection found its way to an online auction. Having purchased them, it occurred to me that while I love them, the collection needs to be available online for US theatre historians. So here are some of them. Most images have been cropped to fit.

Many of the photos are signed and dedicated to Gertrude, who appears not to have pursued a long term stage career.

Photos of some of these performers can also be found in the J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs at the University of Washington Library.

In any use, please make an attribution to forgottenaustralianactresses.com . Please note that copyright may still be held by third parties.

Top row: Frank W. Healy; Minnie Estella Clayton; Maud Beatty (New Zealand born performer and sister of May Beatty)
Middle row: Leona Rogers; The incomparable Daphne Pollard; Frank Bertrand
Bottom row: Carl Haydn (as Robin Hood); Laura Vail; Freda Wisher

Top row: Corrine Hewlette; Teddy Webb; Brownie Browning
Middle row: unnamed (possibly Gertrude Lederer); Gertrude Lederer; Four unknown artists (picture mounted on card with a hook on the reverse – perhaps for a dressing room door?)
Bottom row: Stella Grey; Carl Haydn; Laura Vail 

Top Row: Joe Miller; Joe Miller (without makeup); Jack Farrell
Middle Row: Joseph W. Smith; unknown artist; unknown artist
Bottom Row: Artist named Coujuer; A mysterious request – what was going on!?

Left: Artists unknown. Right: Artists unknown – may include Laura Vail (3rd from right) and Gertrude Lederer (4th from right)

sf opera

The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, Multnomah, Oregon) · 15 Mar 1908. Via Newspapers.com