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THE ATRICALS IN AUCKLAND IN THE EARLY DAYS.

CHARLES SOUTHWELL.

The mention of Charles Southwell's name in my communication under the above heading, has caused me to receive two inquiries as to whether I could furnish particulars respecting that gentleman's career in Auckland, where he is known to have died. As I have intimated to those inquirers that I would send to you what I remembered respecting him, perhaps you may think the following worth publishing: —

At the time of Charles Southwell's death I was acting as " own correspondent" to the Sydney Empire, and in my letter, dated September 4, 1860, I find the following particulars respecting him:—

" Charles Southwell, who no doubt will be in the memory of mauy in Sydney in connection with the Victoria Theatre, where he performed soma nights, has ceased to exist. Those who may remember him in Manchester some twenty years ago (1840) will be able to imagine his career m Auckland daring the four, years and seven months he has resided hern, Ho arrived on the 29th January, 1856, with a company of theatricals, who nad been engaged in Sydney by a Mr. Foley, to perform in a theatre that was then only in course of erection. The speculation proving a failure, Southwell left the company, and gave orations on various subjects in the Oddfellows' Hall, in Queen-street. His first interference with politics in New Zealand was in the shape of a pamphlet,- pub' lished about June, 1856, violently attacking the Stafford Ministry, who had just then got into power. Two companies tiaving failed at the theatre, Southwell then became lessee of the building as well as manager, bat the drama failing to fill the boase, he turned the theatre into a ballroom. Failing in that, he ceased for some time to be prominently before the public. The next that was heard of him was his uame appearing on a prospectus of a new journal, to be called the Examiner, which he I proposed publishing, and which eventually I xppeared. The paper at first only came out i I'uoa a week, and was scurrilous in the extreme. Private oharacter was assailed in its columns, apparently without any fear for c£e consequences, and every publio man had a nickname awarded him. . . , The New-Zealander was called Mrs. Slipslap'; its editor, 'Swipes'; another gentleman, 'Sponge No. 2'; the Governor (Browne), * Wait-a-bit,' and the Superintendent (John Williamson) 'Cheap John.' Nothing escaped the vigilance of Charles Southwell, nor did anything happen but his scurrilous pen was ready to make it appear in the worst light possible. The paper, however, proved a success, and at last it was issued twice a week. Dropping the scandal of the towu, Southwell then applied himself more closely to politics, and the Examiner became ' respectable,' and was evidently a paying conoern. About the beginning of 1860, however, it became very apparent that {Southwell's health was beginning to fail; and gradually getting worse and worse he at lust died on the 7th august of that year. Owing to bis illness the Examiner had to be conducted by other persons, and gradually fell into disrepute, ceasing to be issued about a fortnight previous to Southwell s death. Charles Southwell was buried in that part of the cemetery set aside for the ' Independent Connexion,' thegKev, Mr. flamer making a long and eloquent oration over his grave."

When Southwell first came to Auckland 1 was very intimate with him, and spent many &u evening in his company at his lodging, whioh wai in a boardinghouse in (Joburg-street, on the hill near the barracks. He was a well-educated man, and a good Greek and Latin (scholar. His was a strange life. 1 gathered from him that when about twenty years of age he delivered an oration in the Town Hall at Manohester, and owing to certain language he used,* he was prosecuted for blasphemy. He was also, I understood, somehow connected with Abel Hey wood, of Manchester, and in 1841 convicted for publishing " blasphemous" publications, Charles Southwell being imprisoned twelve mouths. He came out to i Melbourne in the year 1854, and shortly after arriving stood for one of the electoral districts for a seat in the Victorian Parliament. He, however, was defeated badly, getting very few votes. He then visited Bandigo, Forest Creek, and other digging townships, giving lectures on Shakspeare's plays, as well as occasionally appearing on the stage. He afterwards went to Sydney, and appeared at the Victoria Theatre for a few nights, but was a failure. He then epgaged with Foley and came to Auckland. As an actor he was by no means "a star." He was a good elocutionist, but a regular " stiok" on the stage. Being exceedingly ecceutrlc when be first arrived in Auoklaud many considered he was a little daft, 1 remember his delivering a leoture on Hamlet in the old theatre, and in describing the supposed madness of the Prinoo he isaid to his

audience, "No doubt many imagine I am mad I Well, I may be so. But then I may think by many of your actions that it is you who are mad I" Here he pointed to his audience and paused. " Which of us is right ? The majority generally decide the questions, but the majority too often is wrong, and the sane man is incarcerated whilst the mad men go about free." As mentioned above Charles Southwell formed part of Foley's Dramatic Company, but failing to agree with the other actors he left the troup. The pamphlet referred to he wrote under the nom de plume of " Peter Plume," and it was printed at an offioe in Princeaxitreot,, by one .Lambert, who afterwards went to Dunedin and started a paper there, The articles in the Examiner, although very scurrilous, were well written, Every week he published a " Pen and Ink Sketoh by Qaizzicus," when some public man was scarified.< He would rake up all the scandal about his subject's character, and give it in as plain language as it was possible to write it. The success of the paper was great, for it soon was enlarged from a small doublecrown sheet to double-demy, besides coming out twice a week.

The disease from which Southwell died was a pulmonary complaint, and though it could be seen from the way he wasted away what he was suffering from, no one could convince him that he had any affection of the icing#, I believe one of his last wishes was, that a post mortem examination might be made on his body by the doctors, which he said would prove to them that he did not die of consumption. Be was buried in the cemetery in ttymonds-street, and a few of his admirers raised a subscription, with which they put a fence round his grave and erected a headstone over him, bearing the following inscription : —

• In memory of CHARLES SOUTHWELL, * DiTOH AND LHCTUKfeK, Who died 7th august, 1860, aged 46 years.

Auckland was a very small place in those days, and it was customary when any one died who was known and respected, for the ahopkeeperu to put up one or two shutters on their windows. There were very few shopkeepers who showed that sign of respect for Southwell. I find, however, in my diary the following words :—"There was scarcely a shop with its shutters up for him, and yet I do believe there are many in Auckland sorry that he is no more, although they cculd cot tell you why if you asked them. There was something about his death which is very sad, and it would seem as if it gave a shook to the community, for when bis demise is spoken of, he is always referred to as 1 Poor Southwell,"'

W. H. J. Sefkkrs'. New Plymouth, November 9, 1887.

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Permanent link to this item

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZH18871203.2.50.6

Bibliographic details

THE ATRICALS IN AUCKLAND IN THE EARLY DAYS., New Zealand Herald, Volume XXIV, Issue 8916, 3 December 1887, Supplement

Word Count
1,303

THE ATRICALS IN AUCKLAND IN THE EARLY DAYS. New Zealand Herald, Volume XXIV, Issue 8916, 3 December 1887, Supplement

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