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ROBERT BROUGH & DION BOUCICAULT, COMEDY COMPANY, SHANGHAI

This 1d red New South Wales postcard has an additional red 1d ‘Shield’ stamp added and it is cancelled with a duplex SYDNEY/ MY 3/ (–) PM/ 01/ 41 with the N.S.W obliterator. It is addressed to Allan Hamilton Esqr, The Brough Comedy Coy, Shanghai. It has a double circle SHANGHAI’ 1/ JU 1/ 01/LOCAL POST with an adjacent small single circle ‘34'. There is a manuscript Chinese script along the left border (Figure 1).

On the reverse is a purple hand-stamp ‘The Bank of (------------), PITT ST SYDNEY/ Corner of MARTIN PLACE” as well as a manuscript ‘3rd May 1901, 19 & 25th Mch’ and the rest of the message is not intelligible, other than ‘less 1/ 6d stamps’ and is signed by the manager. In the lower left corner is a transit postmark ‘HO - - - - - G/ C/ MY 28 01 which is Hong Kong, and it accounts for the ‘Local Post’ in the Shanghai reception postmark on the front (Figure 2).

Lionel Robert Brough actor-manager was born in 1857, the son of Robert Barnabas Brough, English journalist, satirist and burlesque writer and actress Elizabeth Romer. He made his stage debut in 1870 and gained his experience as a comedian at the Theatre Royal, Liverpool and the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, known as Robert Brough. He married the actress Florence Trevalyn Major in Devon in 1881. He was seen in burlesque at the London Gaiety Theatre by J.C. Williamson who contracted him for a year in Australia. Robert and his wife made their debut at the Royal Theatre, Melbourne in May 1885 in Iolanthe. The Broughs played out their contract at the Bijou Theatre and then he opened a permanent comedy company with Dion Boucicault.

In October 1886 the Brough & Boucicault Comedy Company opened in Melbourne with the farce Turned Up and they leased the Bijou Theatre, Melbourne and the Criterion Theatre, Sydney. The Bijou burned down in April 1889 and by June of that year they made their headquarters in Sydney. Their initial financial success was not maintained, so beginning with Adelaide in 1893, they inaugurated yearly tours and by 1896 the exhausted Boucicault retired from the partnership. Brough managed the company until 1902 and produced all the new comedies from London.

Brough was considered by Australian intellectuals as the only commercial manager who challenged J.C. Williamson’s productions. He was joined by the Australian born actor Gregan McMahon in 1900 and later they toured the Orient together. In confirmation of this statement, and of relevance to the above 1901 postcard, an obituary of Gregan McMahon states: “.......in 1900 when he (Gregan) was offered his first acting job – a tour of Australia, India and China with Robert Brough’s Comedy Company.”

The Broughs left Australia in 1902 and they claimed that they had played in over 300 pieces and had presented a hundred new plays. They had to retire because of the over-frequent changes of repertoire expected in Australia, and the lack of monetary reward for modern comedy. The company toured India, England and South Africa, and in 1905 at Perth, Brough contracted with Herbert Flemming a year’s comedy work in Australia and New Zealand. Soon after, Brough collapsed from a heart ailment, but recovered to fulfill most of his engagements. He died in Sydney on 20 April 1906. His obituary in 'The Church Commonwealth' supports the claim that he did for Australia what Henry Irving did for England in making the theatre a respectable institution. A picture of Robert Brough is seen in Figure 3.

You will have noted that the postcard was addressed to Allan Hamilton Esqr, The Brough Comedy Coy, Shanghai, and Allan Hamilton had some business (managerial?) arrangement with the Comedy Company as shown in several Australian Theatre flyers for the Brough Comedy Co. where Allan Hamilton’s name is indistinctly shown top right under 'Mr. Robert Brough's name (Figure 4).


This would almost certainly have been the same Allan Hamilton shown clearly in Figure 5.

This paper on Robert Brough was abstracted from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

 
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