Royal Reels: Gambling


This post card raises at least two questions, the first being: Was Master Walter Jansen of Maryborough, Victoria enamored of receiving a postcard from his sister of a future Shakespearian actress Dame?; and, did Ellen Terry perform on the stage in Melbourne in 1907? I can’t answer for sure in regards to the first question, but at present, after an intensive search of the extensive writings concerning Ellen Terry, I could find that she was in Australia only in the years 1914-1915.

The postcard had a single pink ‘ONE PENNY, POSTAGE’ stamp of Victoria clearly dated MELBOURNE/ 11/ 1-P 9MR07/ VICTORIA, and it was addressed to Master W. Jansen, Bourke St., Maryborough, Vic. The message read “Dear Waler (sic) I hope that you will like this PC. Ellen Terry is all the rage down here. Tell mother to send my handkercheefs (sic) as I want them very bad. Love to all (Signature illegible) (Figure 1).

The reverse shows an aging 60 year old flamboyantly dressed actress Ellen Terry, with a face that still proclaimed her beauty (Figure 2).

My question as to whether she was on the stage in Melbourne in 1907 is based on the fact that a reading of her biographies did not mention this year for her appearance on the stage in Melbourne, but I will restrict myself to the following search items:

My schoolboy acquaintance, Richard Bonynge (we were in the same classes at Sydney Boys’ High School) is the author of ‘ A Collector’s Guide to Theatrical Postcards’ (1988, text on p. 74, 2 photos on p.75) makes no mention of a visit to Australia in 1907, which is his usual practice), but this fact is weakened by the omission also of the 1914-15 visit; the second search item was the Google book of Ellen Terry’s autobiography, as documented by the compilers of her autobiography, entitled as:

‘The Story of My Life Recollections and Reflections’ Author: Ellen Terry Release Date: May 11, 2004 [EBook #12326] in which she states she had eight trips to the USA, the first in 1883 and the last in 1907, but she does not mention that she preceded this last trip to the USA in 1907 by a short trip to Australia. The third is I spent considerable effort researching the archival Australian Trove newspapers without any confirmation of an Australian visit in 1907. See later additional research near the end of this paper, which appears to settle this matter.

Dame Ellen Alice Terry (1847–1928), actress, was born in Coventry, Warwickshire, on 27 February 1847, the fifth and third surviving child of the actors Benjamin Terry and his wife, Sarah Ballard, who were then on tour. Benjamin Terry was of Irish descent, and his wife was of Scottish descent. Several children of the large Terry family distinguished themselves on stage. Trained by her parents, Ellen went on the stage as a child, her first part being Mamillius in Charles Kean’s production of The Winter’s Tale in1856, at the Princess’s Theatre in London. A picture of Ellen Terry with Charles Kean is seen in 1856 (Figure 3).

Under Kean’s management of the Princess’s, which ended in 1859, she also played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1856), Arthur in King John (1858), and Fleance in Macbeth (1859). Her salary was initially 15s. a week, rising to 30s. during A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mrs Kean gave her further training, concentrating especially on the child’s voice so that she could easily be heard in the gallery of the theatre. During the summer closure of the Princess, her father successfully organized a drawing-room entertainment of two short plays, which she acted at the Royal Colosseum, Regent’s Park, London, and then on tour.

By 1859 Ellen Terry was already an experienced juvenile actress with a reputation for high-spirited comedy. In that year she played in Tom Taylor’s comedy Nine Points of the Law at the Olympic Theatre, and then in 1861 joined the company of the Royalty Theatre in Soho. While in London she lived with her family near Regent’s Park. In 1862 she became a member of J. H. Chute’s well-known stock company at the Theatre Royal, Bristol, which also performed at the Theatre Royal, Bath. Here she stayed until 1863, when she went to London again to play in J. B. Buckstone’s company at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, in a repertory that included Shakespeare, Sheridan, and modern comedy.

During the run of Taylor’s hit comedy Our American Cousin at the Haymarket, in which she played Mary Meredith, Ellen abruptly left the stage to prepare for her marriage with the celebrated artist George Frederic Watts and they were married on 20 February 1864 at St. Barnabas, Kensington, and went to live in Kensington. The beauty of Ellen at this time is evident in a picture which is seen in Figure 4.

Watts was forty-seven, and Ellen Terry a week short of her seventeenth birthday. The disparity between their ages and temperaments was marked, and the marriage lasted less than a year, and in 1865 the young wife, who did not wish the separation forced upon her, found herself back with her family. In some respects the marriage was an artistic success, for Ellen added to her acquaintance a number of cultured and important people, among them Browning, Tennyson, Gladstone, Disraeli, and the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, and was widely exposed to the arts. Her husband painted her in 1862 in The Sisters, when she sat for him with sister Kate. Compelled to return to the stage, in which she now took little pleasure, to earn her living, Ellen in 1867 joined the company at the Queen’s Theatre, Long Acre, under the management of Alfred Wigan. Here she acted for the first time with Henry Irving, in Garrick’s adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, Kathrine and Petruchio, she playing the former and he the latter.

In the summer of 1868 she left the stage once more, to live with the architect, interior designer, and essayist Edward William Godwin (1833–1886), in the Hertfordshire countryside on Gusterwood Common. She had met Godwin while acting in Bristol, and resumed the acquaintance in London. Godwin had been widowed in 1865. His knowledge of colours and fabrics, his interest in oriental design, and his preference for simplicity of style permanently influenced Ellen Terry’s taste and her choice of design schemes for her own residences and of materials for her own clothing and stage costumes. After her return to the stage and their separation Godwin continued to design costumes for her. She, however, was to remain away from the theatre for six years; during this time she bore Godwin two children: Edith Ailsa Geraldine Craig, born in1869, and (Edward Henry) Gordon Craig, born in1872. After her daughter’s birth, Godwin designed and built a house for his new family at Fallows Green, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, and Ellen Terry lived there until 1874. Godwin became preoccupied with problems arising from his architectural practice and was often away from home; he also suffered increasing financial difficulties. Concerned for the future security of her small children, Ellen left Hertfordshire in 1874 and went back to work in the theatre. A chance encounter in the Hertfordshire countryside with her old friend the playwright Charles Reade had led to an engagement at the Queen’s Theatre in Reade’s drama The Wandering Heir.

Ellen toured in a trio of Reade plays and then distinguished herself as Portia in the Bancrofts’ production of The Merchant of Venice at the Prince of Wales’s Theatre in 1875. After several more roles at the Prince of Wales’s, she joined John Hare’s company at the Court Theatre. When she was with Hare, she moved with her children from lodgings in Camden Town to Rose Cottage at Hampton Court. In November 1877, having received a divorce from Watts, she married the actor Charles Clavering Wardell (1839–1885) at St Philip’s, Kensington. Wardell, whose stage name was Kelly, was thirty-eight, and they went to live, with the children, at Earls Court. The marriage lasted less than three years, they were separated in 188, and it was the cause of a reconciliation with her mother and father, whom she had not seen since her alliance with Godwin.

In July 1878, Henry Irving (1838–1905) called on Ellen at Longridge Road; they had not met since 1867. The outcome was a contract at the Lyceum at a salary of 40 guineas a week and an annual benefit performance; her touring salary, for much of her Lyceum career, was a generous £200 a week. Her first part at the Lyceum was Ophelia, on 30 December 1878, the day Irving inaugurated his new management with Hamlet. Ellen was to remain with Irving for twenty-four years, undertake frequent provincial tours and seven tours to America with the Lyceum company, and play a total of thirty-six parts, eleven of these were in Shakespeare; Irving’s repertory consisted mostly of Shakespeare and Victorian romantic melodrama, with the occasional comedy.

Terry achieved her greatest distinction in Shakespeare, especially in Shakespearian comedy. Her Shakespearian parts at the Lyceum were Ophelia, Portia (The Merchant of Venice, 1879), Desdemona (Othello, 1881), Juliet (Romeo and Juliet, 1882), Beatrice (Much Ado about Nothing, 1882), Viola (Twelfth Night, 1884), Lady Macbeth (Macbeth, 1888), Queen Katherine (Henry VIII, 1892), Cordelia (King Lear, 1892), Imogen (Cymbeline, 1896), and Volumnia (Coriolanus, 1901). She also played Lady Anne in a scene of Richard III for Irving’s benefit performance in 1879. Her last appearance at the Lyceum was as Portia on 19 July 1902, but she did tour the provinces with Irving and the Lyceum company in the autumn of that year.

Some contemporaries and later biographers declared that they were lovers. Irving was separated, but not divorced from his wife. Terry was separated from Wardell in 1881; he died in 1885. Irving was godfather to both her children. They were close to one another, not only professionally at the Lyceum, but also in private life. They went on holidays together, and Irving wrote her letters that can only be described as tender, loving, and committed. Yet there is no decisive evidence of a physical love affair, only a possibility which some see as a probability, some as a certainty. Ellen had a great admiration for Irving as an actor and as a hard worker. Terry’s lengthy and famous correspondence with George Bernard Shaw, which was especially prolific between 1895 and 1900, and much of which consisted of his advice on her acting and his attempts to woo her away from the Lyceum, represented an affectionate relationship of another kind, for they met only occasionally until the rehearsals for Captain Brassbound’s Conversion in 1906. Her replies reveal a great deal about both her art and her personality.

In 1889 Terry’s son Teddy joined the Lyceum company as an actor in a drama of the French Revolution, Watts Phillips’s The Dead Heart; he had earlier walked on when the company was on tour in Chicago. He remained with the Lyceum, and acted in the provinces, until 1897, when he left the stage to study drawing and produce his first woodblock engravings. His sister, Edy, who also appeared at the Lyceum for several years from 1887 in small parts, became much more interested in costume design than acting. She designed costumes for her mother and for productions staged by Lillie Langtry and Mrs Brown Potter in the early years of the twentieth century.

After she finally left the Lyceum, Ellen Terry did not lack invitations to act, although her age now restricted the kind of parts she could play. Ellen Terry remained active in the theatre for a few more years, despite increasing health problems. She created the part of Alice in J. M. Barrie’s Alice Sit-by-the-Fire at the Duke of York’s Theatre in 1905, and, finally submitting to Shaw’s constant hounding, took a part in one of his plays: Lady Cecily Waynflete in Captain Brassbound’s Conversion at the Royal Court in 1906. Soon after this, on 12 June 1906, an Ellen Terry jubilee performance, marking her fifty years on the stage, was organized at Drury Lane by the theatrical profession. It raised for the actress a much needed £6000. Enrico Caruso, Paoli Tosti, Nellie Melba, and a host of leading actors, actresses, and entertainers went through a substantial and varied programme. Like a grand and beautiful divinity, Terry herself finally appeared on the stage in an act of Much Ado about Nothing. In 1910–11 she visited America once more with a programme of lectures on and recitations from Shakespeare. She later gave her Shakespeare programme in Britain and visited New Zealand and Australia with it in 1914–15. There followed scenes from Shakespeare performed in music-halls under the management of Oswald Stoll, and her last Shakespearian part was the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet (1919) at the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue. She also appeared in at least five films, and her last stage role was Susan Wildersham in Walter de la Mare’s fairy play Crossings, on 19 November 1925 at the Lyric, Hammersmith. She had been on the stage for sixty-nine years.

On 22 March 1907 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Ellen Terry married her third husband, the American actor James Carew (1876–1938), whom she met at the Royal Court and with whom she toured America in Captain Brassbound’s Conversion. Carew was thirty-one. The marriage broke up amicably in 1910. The Chelsea house was given up in 1921; for some years Terry’s financial condition had been poor and her financial affairs disorganized and she was in worsening health. St Andrews University conferred an honorary LLD upon her in 1922, and in the new year’s honours list of 1925 she was made a Dame Grand Cross of the British Empire, only the second actress to be so honoured. In 1927 she suffered an attack of bronchial, pneumonia. On 21 July 1928 she died at Smallhythe of a cerebral haemorrhage. After a ceremony at Smallhythe church on 24 July, her body was taken to the crematorium at Golders Green, Middlesex.

Finally I came across a fourth and fifth search items relevant to a possible earlier Australian stage appearance at Melbourne in 1907, which makes it impossible for Ellen to have performed there, as stated by Master Walter Jansen’s sister on the postcard she mailed to him on March 9. 1907 from Melbourne. The fourth item was found in The New York Times, January 12, 1907, headlined ELLEN TERRY SAILS TO-DAY, as seen in Figure 5.

The fifth item was in The New York Times May 5, 1907, ELLEN TERRY SAILS. What follows is: “After a tour of leading American cities, beginning in New York at the Empire Theatre and lasting about four months, Ellen Terry and the members of her supporting company started for home yesterday morning. The party sailed for London on the Atlantic Transport liner Minnetonka”. In the interval between these two New York Times dates Ellen was married, for the third time, to the actor James Carew in Pittsburgh on 22 March, 1907, which is not consistent with the possibility of her appearing on the Melbourne stage in early 1907.

Addendum (May 2011): I received an extensive reply to my question I raised with the State Library of Victoria re whether Ellen Terry did/did not have an earlier than 1914/1915 tour of Australia in  March 1907.  I felt that I had marshalled enough information above to say that, at least, this was very unlikely.  Kerri Hall, Australian History & Literature Team. State Library of Victoria had recourse to information in addition to my own, and I can say that the 1914/15 tour was the only one she made to Australia and New Zealand, for no evidence was found re an earlier tour. I will greatly reduce her findings:  The Argus (Melbourne) 7 May 1914 on p. 9 “Ellen Terry…..will make her first appearance in Australia in the Town Hall tonight”;   in “Table Talk” 30 April 1914 p. 22 in a special interview on the eve of her departure from London she speaks of looking forward to the tour of Australia and New Zealand in language of being a novice as regards knowledge of the countries, and her hopes that the audiences will like her performances;  “The Theatre, Society and Home, (Sydney: Theatre Ltd. 1924-26, p. 24 reported that she ‘came to Australia too late in life to do justice to her great reputation, she came as a reader (rather than as an actor in a production);  in the book “Ellen Terry’s memoirs” Edith Craig & Christopher St John London, V. Gollancz, 1933 pp. 288-89 gives in detail that her doctor had reasons why she should not go to Australia in 1914, but her business manager pointed out that Australians had never seen her act and would be attracted to her lectures, “Better Ellen Terry late than Ellen Terry never”. 

I am greatly indebted to Kerri Hall for her comprehensive research.