In my report for April 1842 I mentioned that a three-month licence had been granted for the performance of amateur theatricals at the Pavilion Theatre (also known as the Theatre Royal). There was always official squeamishness about the raffishness of the theatre and those who trod its boards. In a valiant attempt to keep the theatre as ‘respectable’ as possible, this licence was for Monday night performances only, using amateur thespians (albeit under the directorship of Mr Buchanan). The whole proceedings were overseen by a board of stewards, most of whom were entrepreneurs or newspaper editors.
The Eagle Tavern and Theatre Royal’ by W. F. E. Liardet (1799-1878) Source: State Library of Victoria
By June this three-month opportunity was drawing to a close. The Port Phillip Gazette reported a meeting of the stewards on 18 June in order to make plans for the future operation of the theatre:
The stewards of the Amateur Theatricals held a meeting in the Pavilion, at noon, on Thursday last, to audit the accounts, take steps for the renewal of the license, and order the entertainments for the closing weeks of the season, so as to invest them with the greatest amount of attraction. His Honor the Superintendent will be solicited to patronize the theatre on one night; the St. Andrew’s Society are prepared to support it on another occasion; the Odd Fellows and the Sons of St. Patrick will be called upon in turn; and the whole is expected to close with a grand amateur performance, in which histrionic talent will be displayed to an advantage hitherto unwitnessed in the province.[PPG 18/06/42]
Unfortunately for the stewards and their claims to respectability for the theatre, there was another little contretemps in the theatre-pit the very evening of the stewards’ meeting.
On Thursday night last, the Pavilion was made the scene of a confusion which has been unparalleled in the district. During the course of the afterpiece in which Miss Sinclair was taking the part of Mannette, some parties in the pit, sitting close to the stage, made use of offensive expressions, accompanied by notes of purposed disapprobation, that obliged the actress to stop and complain of the interruption ; Mr. Stephen, the honorary manager, observing one of the young men attempting to repeat his sallies, ordered a constable down into the pit to take him into charge. A number of gentlemen gathered round the offender, and prevented his capture ; the pit, boxes, and gallery immediately rose, and the uproar became general : the constables dealt blows; and the parties attacked, grappled with the peace officers: the throng in the pit, prevented any egress; and the performers, driven off the stage, dropped the curtain. One or two gentlemen having at length got order, Mr. Stephen addressed the audience; defended his own course in having given the party into custody, and expressed the determination of the Stewards, not to allow these repeated insults to themselves and the attendants to pass over. He begged them all to recollect, that the renewal of the license given to them for charitable purposes, was under discussion by a bench of Magistrates ; and, now that the principals of the riot were known, and would be dealt with at the Police Office, he trusted that they would not prolong the confusion. The performers, headed by Mr. Buckingham and Miss Sinclair, coming on again, sung a finale chorus, and the house was dismissed. Parties who have been in the habit of frequenting the Theatre, and exhibiting uproarious demonstrations of criticism, have been more than once warned not to push their conduct beyond the verge of decency. Had, however, the offenders in this instance, contented themselves with the common motions of inebriety, we should have considered a little wholesome exposure at the Police Office, next morning, quite sufficient ; but, what excuse is there for such an unmanly attack upon a woman? The pot valiancy, which led a number of gentlemen to shield the offenders, was not unexpected ; but, they never could have meant intentionally, to defend the cowardly attack which was made by their friends. [PPG 18/06/42]
The matter ended up before the Police Court the next day
A lengthened investigation took place at the Police Office yesterday forenoon, into the riot which had been occasioned at the theatre on the previous evening. The stewards representing that they were not anxious to press the charge, if a proper apology were made, Mr. Graves, who with Mr. Moles, were very conspicuous in annoying the ladies, took advantage of the reprieve opened to him. Mr. Davies, however, on the part of the performers, not thinking that an apology to the Court was sufficient to satisfy their interests, pressed the charge against the latter gentleman as having headed the fray. Upon the charge being substantiated, Mr. Moles was fined £5. The stewards will be justified, we consider, in denying these parties admission for the future. Several gentle men were also brought before the bench upon informations laid by the constables, for having both in the theatre, and subsequent to the performance, out of the theatre, assaulted the constables, opposed them in their duties, and otherwise acted in a disorderly manner. [PPG 18/06/42]
Mr Moles was fined, but a Mr McLauren, whom the actors also thought culpable, seemed to have escaped punishment. The actors brought his actions before the public through a letter placed in the newspapers:
Letter to Mr McLauren. “We the members of the Amateur [Players?] feel it our duty to call upon you, in consequence of your gross conduct during the progress of the performance on Thursday evening last, to apologize to us [..iting?] for the very ungentlemanly manner you insulted the ladies of this company by your drunken remarks, otherwise, we shall feel it our duty to charge you before the Police Magistrate with obstructing the constables in the execution of their duty, also creating a disturbance in the Theatre. And we beg to call your attention to Major St John’s upright decision in the [?] of Mr Moles, and we shall also deem it expedient to publish an account of your conduct in the Melbourne journals. Your immediate reply is required. We are, Sir, Yours &c &c, George Buckingham, John Davies, James Southall, William John Miller, Richard Smith, James Warman, H. S. Avins, Robert Staisby, Richard Capper, Joseph Harper. [PPG 18/06/42]
Mr McLauren, however, was snippy in his reply:
MR McLAURENS REPLY. If I am called upon by the Stewards of the Amateur Theatricals, I may favour them with an apology, but I do not intend in the [?] instant to confer with subordinates. J. M. McLauren. [PPG 18/06/42]
There was another letter of apology, but this was from the theatre manager, Mr Buckingham, who had come on stage to remonstrate with the rowdies and to protect the feelings of his actors:
To the Editor of the Port Phillip Gazelle.
Sir, — I trust that I may be permitted, through the medium of your journal, to reply to the observation made by the Patriot and Herald with reference to my addressing the audience at the theatre during the performance of “Therese” on Thursday week. The apology I made upon the occasion, I had hoped would have saved me from further animadversion, nor should I again advert to the circumstance, did not the censure appear to be unaccompanied by any palliation. It therefore is due from me to the public generally to remark, that the frequent interruptions from a portion of the audience, who seemed bent on annoying the performers by remarks which, from the propinquity of the stage to the seats in the pit, could not fail to he heard, compelled me to adopt the only course which at the moment presented itself. However ” improper and unusual” it may be for a performer to destroy the illusion of his character by a personal appeal to the auditory, still it should be borne in mind that the actor whose mind is wholly absorbed in the study of his performance, upon the recurrence of disapprobation, such as that complained of, is placed in a trying and difficult position. The fault, however, in this instance, was atoned for by the expression of my regret, and the public who received the ‘amende’ favourably, might have been spared any further appeal to their indignation. I have the honor to be, Sir, Your most obedient Servant,
However, he didn’t get much joy from the editors of the Port Phillip Patriot who issued an editorial response to his letter directly underneath:
Mr. Buckingham has been too long on the stage to be ignorant that his very intemperate conduct on the occasion referred to, was calculated rather to augment than allay the mischief he com-plains of. However annoying the expression of disapprobation, deserved or undeserved, may be to a performer it is his ‘weird’, and he must ‘dree’ it in silence, relying, as he may safely do, that if it is unjust it will not be tolerated by any well disposed audience. The practice of interrupting the performance and addressing the audience whenever a solitary hiss, or other mark of disapprobation is heard, is altogether intolerable, and would not be permitted to occur a second time by any less good-natured audience than that which assembles at the Melbourne Theatre. If the occasion in question had been the first on which Mr. Buckingham was guilty of this decorum, we should have considered his apology sufficient, but it was matter of complaint before, and it was necessary that steps should be taken to prevent its recurrence in future. The Stewards will, doubtless, to the extent of their ability, protect the performers from insult, and put a stop to the unseemly interruptions by the blackguards in the disguise of gentlemen, which have given rise to this discussion; but if Mr. Buckingham, or Mr. any body else, so far forgets himself in future as to address himself to the audience without a legitimate cause for so doing, he may lay his account-with being hooted off the stage, and the verdict of any impartial jury in the world will be “served him right,”— Ed. P.P.P. [20/6/42]
On 20th June the Port Philip Patriot published an editorial of support for the extension of the licence, which would be decided the next day.
THE AMATEUR THEATRE.
The Magistrates meet in Petty Sessions, to-morrow, to determine as to the propriety of granting an extension of the license of the Melbourne Amateur Theatre. The Theatre has now been open for a period of three months, and, we believe, every person who has visited it, will admit that the performances have far surpassed his expectation, and that the audiences have been in every respect orderly ; indeed with the solitary exception of the disturbance referred to in another column, we have never in any part of the world seen an audience so uniformly quiet and orderly. The persons who occasioned the disturbance referred to, have been shewn that they will not be suffered so to misconduct themselves in future, and we doubt not the lesson will prove a salutary one. As there can be no reason why the inhabitants of Melbourne should be deprived of this their only public amusement, while the authorities have assurance that no evil consequences are to be apprehended from the Theatre being kept open, it would be hard if the extension of the license asked for should be refused. We do not, however, apprehend any such refusal, for we know that every magistrate who has visited the Theatre, has expressed himself most agreeably surprised and entertained, and it is not likely that those who have not been present will oppose the renewal of the license which the others are disposed to grant. [PPP 20/6/42]
However, by the end of June the stewards needed to wind up the season.
The Amateur Theatre — The performances at the Theatre on Friday night, the last night of the season, were under the patronage of the St. Andrew’s Society of Australia Felix, and the house being both very numerously and fashionably attended, the whole affair came off with great eclat. The former license having expired, the Theatre will be closed for a month or six weeks, within which period the renewal recommended by the Bench of Magistrates at the late Petty Sessions, is expected to arrive. In the interim the Stewards purpose effecting extensive alterations in the house, with the view of affording increased accommodation. The pit and the stage will be lowered so as to cut off all communication between the former and the boxes, and slips will be put on a level with, but separate from the gallery, thus enabling family parties to attend without being subject to the risk of annoyance of any kind. Care will also be taken to secure an efficient body of performers, so that in every respect the Theatre may be rendered deserving of the public support. [PPP 4/7/42]
It took until 29 July for the permit for the next season to arrive. This time it was a permit for twelve months, and the theatre was planned to reopen on Monday 7th August.