English tragedienne in gold rush theatres

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I would like to know whether anyone has come across details of a theatre couple who visited the Californian and Australian gold fields between 1854 and 1858 - Eleanor Goddard ( always billed as Miss Goddard) and her husband, actor/manager John Caple. The arrived in Australia from the States in May 1856 on the ship "Birman." I have an English report that while in California, Miss Goddard presented 135 - the proceeds of one of her Shakespearean readings - to the Ladies' Relief and Protection Society. Unfortunately it doesn't say where that reading was, or what city that Society might have been in. Miss Goddard was a well-regarded provincial star in the north of England - and was very well regarded in Australia as one of the best of the early tragediennes to visit here. She was noted particularly for her female Hamlet.

Peter Freund - Theatre Historian - Her Majesty's Theatre - Ballarat, Australia

-- Peter Freund (pfreund@hermaj.com), August 15, 2001


Yes, Miss Goddard performed on October 5, 1855 as the character Hermione in Shakespeare's comedy "A Winter's Tale" at the Metropolitan Theater. There was another actor in the play by the name of John Booth was the father of the John Wilkes Booth who killed Lincoln. On October 18, 1855, Miss Booth performed at a benefit at the Metropolitan Theater for the benefit of the Fire Department Fund and managed to raise with her co-actors, $600 which was a lot of money at that time.

-- Harry Murphy (harrymurphy@my-deja.com*), October 28, 2001.

Where did you find that? I had zip luck hunting for the lady.

-- Rosa Debonneheure (rosadebon@yahoo.com), October 29, 2001.

She is an elusive figure but I have managed to put together a pretty good picture of her activities. She was a well-known figure in the north of England, but failed to build a London reputation. She and Caple went on tour after changes to the lessees of the Yorkshire Theatre Circuit in 1854. Their first appearance in Melbourne was a disaster because the public was distracted by the Eureka Stockade in December 1854, and they soon made their way to California. Their first season at the American Theatre in San Francisco in July 1855 was a flop, and this seems to have been a recurring problem with Goddard, that audiences took a while to warm to her - maybe she was nervous with new audiences. She subsequently appeared at the Metropolitan Theatre October-November 1855, and then joined with Mrs Woodward in leasing the Union Theatre. (information thanks to San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum, but a lot more work to do for details of Californian tour) She and Caple were back in Australia for an extended visit May 1856 - July 1857. They then returned to resume their careers in the north of England and particularly Scotland. Caple died in 1860, and Goddard remarried a Scot who became her new manager. Goddard's strength was in heavy dramatic roles, and she premiered The Duchess of Malfi in Australia, as well as being known (post California)for her female Hamlet. Coming out on self-managed tours seems to have been a problem here in Australia at least, because they were competing with stars being imported by local theatre entrepreneurs, and had to fight for access to theatres and for promotion against entrenched interests.

-- Peter Freund (pfreund@hermaj.com), October 29, 2001.

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