By S. E. aREVILLB.SMITH
fpP the countless host of actors I and theatrical managers who I have ministered to the wants I of the Australasian playgoers during a century the majority are forgotten, while a great proportion of the rest are now mere shadows. Sometimes when men grown grey fall to talking cf the
play as it used to be when they were young, names that have lain hidden in the dusty recesses of memory are recalled for a moment, but those that live in the annals of 'the stage are astonishingly few. The actor does not transmit his work as the poet and the painter do ; he is a man of action, like the soldier or
Irving are imperishably connected witli the history of the English drama, and when the history of the stage in these Colonies comes to be written one of the most honoured names will be that of Alfred Dampier. A sterling actor, an enterprising and reputable manager, and a man estimable in every relation in life, Mr. Dampier's position is probably unique. He has b<;en amongst us for thirty years,, and his place in public and private estimation has never varied. Some of the sparkle of his earlier work has
the statesman, but lie does not leaves his impress on the map or the statute book. Such posthumous fame as he gets rests wholly upon the. recorded judgments of those who saw him ; but tastes are known to change radically in the span of one generation, and consequently there are' no absolute criteria. Actors are, for the most part, akin to the ephemera, and it is only the artist who appeals successfully to two or three generations that fills a niche in the national temple. Garrick and Kemble, Kean, Macready, and
departed, but the succeeding phase is not dulness, but mellowness. His talent is not of the order of the flowering shrub, but of the fruit tree. He gave delight to the graiic^ fathers of some of us, and he casts a spell over the new generation. I may cite in proof the enthusiasm displayed over his impersonation of Starlight, in " Robbery Under Arms/ and the breatnless interest evoked by his latest presentation of Shylock.
liad won golden opinions in England before he came here. It was because lie had become famous at Home that lie was selected to play the lead by the greatest Australian management. Mr. Damrier is a native of London, and made his first appearance in the Gem Theatre, in the Strand in " Isabelle." Both play and playhouse are now forgotten. The future star was ah amateur then, but he soon threw in his lot with the profession and went " on circuit/ He played, amongst other places, at Stratford-on-Avon. In 1.8j6$ he took the part of Matthew
Mr. Dampier has been so long, in the Colonies that Englishmen call him an " Australian " actor, but he
Elmore in. " Love's .Sacrifice," at Sadler s jWells, when he was just seventeen, and for the next ten years he toured the provinces as "an accepted actor of promise," winning the esteem of the greatest members of -the profession. In 1873, Mr. Harwood, of the firm of Harwood, Coppin and Stewart (Miss Nellie Stewart's father)* went to England to select a leading man and stage manager for the Old Drury of Australia. After the fullest deliberation and upon the recommendation of the best judges, including Madame Celeste, he engaged Mr. Dampier, who was then at the Royal, Manchester. Before his departure the young actor was given a brilliant send-off, his farewell appearance being as Mercutio in " Borneo and Juliet." Mr. Dampier had by this time married Miss Katherine Russell, R.A., of the Holies Great Bar, near Birmingham. Mr. Dampier's sojourn at the
Melbourne Royal was memorable in many ways. Under his direction the Australian public first saw Ristori, Janauscheck and Mrs. ScottSiddons. On the conclusion of his engagement at Melbourne, Mr. Dampier visited New Zealand, and it was at the Princess Theatre, Dunedin, that his two daughters, Lily and Rose, made their first appearance upon any stage, when little tiny tots, Lily as Henri in " Belphegor," and Rosie as Little Janet te.
Mr. Dampier' s departure from Melbourne on this tour was an event of historic magnitude. Nothing like the enthusiasm manifested had been known since the days of G. V. Brooke, the great actor who was lost in. the ill-fated steam-
er "London" in 1866. In the movement made to recognise the ability and genius Mr. Dampier had brought to hear upon the management of the chief theatre in Austral-
Asia, there were prominent most of the Colony's representative men, including judges, statesmen, lawyers, doctors and. journalists. The presentations were many and valuable, and the address, drawn up and read publicly on the stage upon the occasion of the farewell benefit, was couched in terms that would have sounded fulsome if they had not exactly represented public opinion.
Since those days, Mr. Dampier has travelled wide and far, and .has. enjoyed the felicity of playing over the English ground familiar to him, in his youth. He has never relaxed in his efforts to maintain the high level upon which he set out, and his productions have fceen, in the truest
sense of the word, educative as well as entertaining. It is ,a pity that the popular taste leans so strongly towards the sensational, and that so little encouragement is piven to the higher forms of the drama. Mr. Dampier's bent is for Shakespere, but worldly considerations impel him to melodrama, and the most obvious consolation is that we get "good " melodrama at his hands.
So far as the leading members are concerned, Mr. Darnpier's Companylias changed little for several years. In this article I am dealing only with the members of his family. Mrs. Dampier (Miss Katherine Russell) does not act often nowadays, but her occasional appearances are
welcome and interesting, as showing that she has lost none of that strong dramatic power that enabled her to give such admirable support to her husband in the earlier days of his career.
Miss Lily Dampier lias won for herself a distinguished place as an emotional and tragic actress, not only throughout the Colonies, but in England, where her fine rendering of many of Shakespere's heroines won the unstinted praise of the critics. Miss Dampier commenced to play leading roles 'before she was sixteen, and was probably the youngest Lady Macbeth that ever appeared on the stage. She possesses in a remarkable degree all the "natiuralcgifts. itliat .please, and on
the boards, as in private life, she isi a gracious, winning woman. Miss Eose Dampder is a capable and conscientious artist, who, if she had chosen, might have wen distinction as a singer. She has a sweet contralto voice, but her opportunities for displaying it in drama are necessarily few.
Mr. Alfred Rolfe, who married Miss Lily Dampier about a dozen years ago, and has been playing juvenile lead with the Company ever since, is an actor of brilliancy on a somewhat wide range, a little overshadowed, perhaps, by the stars with whom he has been so long associated, but by no means obscured. He is a native <bf Ballarat, and gained his first experience with
Mr. Charles Hollo way. Young, Alfred Dampier is somewhat of a •disappointment to his father. He was expected to turn out »a tragedian, whereas he shows something more than the promise of becoming a very excellent comedian. His father's disappointment will not be shared by the public. The last member of the family is Mr. Dampier's sole grandchild, the only son of Mr. and Mrs. Bolfe. He is ten years of age, and, so far, he has not joined the profession.
To know the Dampier family is to
respect and love them. They arei all devoted to their work, to each other, and to those who are privileged to call themselves their friends. For some of the particulars in the foregoing article, I havei to express my acknowledgements to a brochure published by Mr. Richmond Thatcher, a writer of songs and other racy trifles, who lived and sang in this Colony in the " good old days," when the settlers and citizens were engaged in fighting the Maoris, and loved to enjoy themselves between whiles.
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The Stage., New Zealand Illustrated Magazine, 1 January 1904
The Stage. New Zealand Illustrated Magazine, 1 January 1904
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