1) The Pretoria Pit Disaster.
|Postcard of the Disaster (John Sharples later died).|
As these accounts detail, a fund was at once set up to support the many bereaved families and, even as more of the dead were being recovered, Sheffield was in the vanguard in arranging a charity matinee of entertainment at its Lyceum. Under the Immediate Patronage of the late Queen's third and fourth daughters (then in their 60's), the local Telegraph Mayor, (new) Master Cutler (Arthur Balfour) and others supported an ad hoc committee of Sheffield theatre managers. It is testament to their commitment and the tragedy's impact that such performers as Lillie Langtry and Seymour Hicks were engaged gratis at such short notice.
|Part 1 of the Matinee Programme|
At the time of the Pretoria disaster Conan Doyle was home at Windlesham with a special Christmas to celebrate. Adrian had just been born (on November 19) and would be christened on the second day of 1911. Notwithstanding this preoccupation, his permission is sought and given to include a version of his latest theatrical success in Sheffield's matinee of the 5th.
After the failure of The House of Temperley Doyle's hurriedly adapted short story had more than averted potentially heavy losses in leasing The Adelphi. Saintsbury's Holmes and Lyn Harding's Rylott had packed the theatre from June until the play's transfer to The Globe in August. That equally well-received show had closed by the end of November. In America, the less successful production starring Charles Millward would fold on December 17, after brief runs in Boston and at New York's Garrick.
The play was due to commence a new season in 1911 under Arthur Hardy's management at The Strand. The popular Lyn Harding would return along with Christine Silver as Enid Stoner. A new Holmes for London theatregoers, O P Heggie, performed the role from February 6-25, primed with a note from the author (see HERE ).
It is perhaps less well-known that Arthur Hardy was already touring a company that had, for example, played the Edinburgh Lyceum from 5-10 December, 1910. A playbill survives in Glasgow University's Special Collections. Holmes is Julian Royce (back in the role he played when touring the Gillette/Doyle play) and it is from this cast the Sheffield contingent was drawn (see HERE ).
|Part 2 of the Matinee Programme|
Andrew Lycett notes in his biography (p 345-60)that ACD kept a lump of coal in his study that he joked he'd gladly drop on his toe if visitors conceded there was coal in Kent ( a favoured, failed investment). I'm sure it took on a more sober meaning after Chrismas 1910.
3) Some Matters of Related Interest.
The Billboard for October 15, 1910 has an article about Charles Frohman's new production for the Boston theater in which Conan Doyle is reported to have promised to attend "the first performance of his play wherever it is presented in America" (see HERE ). I doubt he ever saw this as a feasible prospect.
My American friend, Sherlockian Howard Ostrom, may be intrigued to learn (or did he know?) that Gilbert M (Bronco Billy) Anderson is not the only early cowboy star with a Sherlock Holmes connection. While researching I came across a reference to the early rehearsals for Frohman's "The Speckled Band": Ronald L Davis notes in his "William S Hart: Projecting the American West" (see HERE ) that Hart was hired to play Holmes in The Speckled Band but quit after one week's rehearsal, "sensing that the show was heading for disaster". In the event, Charles Millward occupied Baker Street in Boston.
Later in 1911: While, in England, A Corney Grain is known to have played the detective in The Speckled Band on May 8 at the Southampton Grand, William Desmond began a lengthy tour of Australia and New Zealand in August for the Williamson Company.
1914: The Sydney Morning Herald for 25 April reported the imminent appearance of Julian Royce in the role made famous in England by Matheson Lang: Harry Vernon's "Mr Wu". (see HERE ). This article is of further interest in describing Charles Millward's career and current introduction to Australia.
Royce seemed fated to follow in more famous footsteps but there is an interesting comment on his Holmes in The New Zealand Herald of 16 May 1914 (see HERE ) suggesting "the British press spoke of him as the best Sherlock Holmes ever seen".
|Julian Royce in the Gillette "Sherlock Holmes" at Kennington Theatre.|
© Ray Wilcockson (2015) All Rights Reserved.