Friday, September 18, 2009

Amelia Bailey -Part Four

September was a new beginning. Whilst Smythe was doing battle with the French in South Australia, the “Great Britain” arrived in Melbourne carrying a new stock of passengers and goods. Amongst the sea-legged populace was James Marquis Chisholm (1835-1872) a pianist of no mean skill, having trained with the pyrotechnic fingers but rigid control of Thalberg and Miss Margaret Edith Aitken who was the only daughter of a Glaswegian Doctor, so she said, but in reality was the daughter of James Aitken, the Scot’s actor, who had settled down to the giving of elocution for want of work and his wife, Mary Smith, a shipboard hostess with P&O oriental in the days when hostess meant a female concierge of a floating Hotel, who disappeared for months on end. Miss Aitken styled herself a elocutionist whose primary granting of entertainment was the reading of poetry and prose, usually of the heavy Scot’s kind. Both of them had formed a kind of ship board duo that entertained the officers and crew and did a good job of it as well.

When Smythe had returned they were struggling along at concert giving when he offerred a contract as manager. Amelia got back into the Philharmonia work which always occupied her in last three months of the year and had done since 1858-9. She performed with Henry Farqhuarson (Smith) and Armes Beaumont, now also a cog in the Philharmonia machine.

In October, Amelia signed up as the vocal dish in the Chisholm-Aitken Company. Smythe knew that Melbourne had a large population of Scot’s as did Tasmania, in particularly Launceston so he concentrated his campaign there. James was to dazzle with his scottish tunes and popular song, Margaret was to rolls her R’s and bash people about the head with thick slabs of Robbie Burns, the oratorical equivalent of haggis, and Amelia was to sweeten the deal with her pretty face and sentimental songs. Aitken was a good ‘actress’ in her readings of parts but she wasn’t pretty by any slap of an artists brush. But, in concert, each of them provided a distinct texture to an evening of entertainment, each catering to what we call nowadays a ‘demographic’.

On the 5th of November on Amelia’s 18th Birthday, still under the chaperonage of Mr. Smythe she concerted a confection of Mr. Chisholms called the “Dead Heroes” which was a moving music tribute (read pastiche) to two explorers who were not well equipped in brain nor limb and payed the ultimate price. But national heroes being hard to come by, Australia claimed them and grieved, and where there is grief there is emotion and emotion means ticket sales, if harnessed. Just whose idea it was is not sure but on that night at the Hobart Theatre Royale, a house draped in black crepe and fully decorated with all the indulgent emotion that such swathes can provide, a tableau vivant was offered, with music by Chisholm, readings by Aitken and spooky vocals from Amelia ( in the basement, keeping time with he man hired by Smythe to beat away the rats). The evening was a total failure; they hired two drunkards from the local police lock up to play the dead explorers, who then got into a fisticuffs, the smoke machine burned too much celluoid and caused the small boy manning the machine to scream for mummy and the prisoners turned thespians embraced in mid-fight, and plummeted over the footlights like Holmes and Moriaty over Richenbach falls. The house broke into laughter and the company cancelled any fantasies about repeating the performance and left town shortly thereafter.

She had just turned 18 and Robert was 29.

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