Rushall Crescent, Fitzroy North (Dramatic Association)

While the Old Colonists’ Association, the creation of Mr. George Coppin, had great success, the Dramatic Association established next door did not. On Friday 22 Sep 1871, a meeting of theatrical professions was held in St. Georges Hall with the purpose of establishing an association for the assistance of distressed and infirm members of the dramatic, musical and equestrian professions. The meeting was well attended with 50-60 people present. Mr Coppin spoke to the gathered using examples of how the Association would work. (The Argus, 23 Sep 1871, p. 6) He say that it would have three sections:

  1. The relief of members of the dramatic profession, whether belonging to the association or not;
  2. To partake of the character of a benefit society, members to pay a certain sum per week, and receive so much in case of sickness, the money to go to the widow and family in the event of death; and
  3. to be similar to the Royal Dramatic College in England, for the support of aged and infirm members of the dramatic profession

Mr Coppin had already established a cottage on four and a half acres granted by the Government and on appointment of a Committee it would be handed over. (The Argus, 23 Sep 1871).

The Australian Dramatic and Musical Association however struggled and only three cottages were ever built (Source: Fitzroy, Melbourne’s First Suburb, p.63-64 (Frances O’Neill)). The MMBW map in 1904 below also indicates this to be the case, while the Old Colonists’ have generated a number of cottages, the Dramatic Association only has a few and a little garden.

MMBW Map 1904 showing the Dramatic Association and Old Colonists Association.

Today, the full parcel of land forms part of the Old Colonists’ Association.

Those that stayed:

Henry Burton

Image from: The Battle for Colonial Circus Supremacy: John Bull, Uncle Sam and their Chariot’s of Fire, by Nicola Brackertz

The circus first reached Australia in the 1840s and were not travelling affairs but performed in the yards of public houses and presented programs which were a hybrid between what we consider today as the classic circus and theatre, often melodramatic, with horses and songs along with the circus acts: acrobatics, tightrope walking and tumbling. (Source: The Battle for Colonial Circus Supremacy, Nicola Brackertz)

Burton came to Australia from England in late 1849 and used the experience of being a ringmaster with the travelling circus of James Cooke (1840s) to first join Malcolm’s Royal Australian Equestrian Circus (Sydney’s first successful circus) and then to establish ‘Burton’s National Circus’ in March 1851. The circus focused on horses, tumbling, tightrope walking, acrobatics and the occasional song or dance performance, there was no exotic animals and the theme was very theatrical. Burton started his circus performances in Parramatta in the grounds of the Glasgow Arms Inn in March 1851 and then travelled overland to West Maitland and then into gold digging areas, arriving in 1952 to the Victorian gold areas. The tour was very profitable for Burton as the miners had little other entertainment. As the gold rush declined, Burton modified his route to encompass settlement areas and reached the height of its success in the 1870s. During this time Bird and Taylor had established the Great American Circus which was also very successful. The rivalry escalated into a showdown in 1873, which took place on 24 May. Burton won 4 of the 7 contests and Bird and Taylor disbanded shortly after and Taylor joined Burton and continued to tour the colonies until 1877. (The Battle for Colonial Circus Supremacy, Nicola Brackertz).

Burton was married, and after his first wife died, he married an Irish girl, Fanny Hanly, Brighton Victoria on 7 May 1863. He then bought Redbank, a run on the Murray River, where his family grew up and where he wintered, bed and trained his horses.  After she died, he married Isabel Janet Sutherland on 3 February 1880 in Sydney and then Elizabeth Buckland on 7 October 1890 at Toowong, Brisbane. He lost his accumulated wealth in an unsuccessful tour in 1881-82. He moved to Melbourne and was working with George Coppin. He drops out of society and died in obscurity at the Dramatic Home, Fitzroy on 9 March 1900. (Australian Dictionary of Biography, by Ruth Teale)

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