George Musgrove 1854-1916

George Musgrove

George Musgrove

Broken by ill health and money worries, George Musgrove died at his home in Sydney on his 62nd birthday, 21 January 1916

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In 1908 Musgrove foolishly turned down a film franchise and missed out on a potential fortune, though he did produce a successful film version of Sweet Nell of Old Drury in 1911. Sadly, no copy exists. He lost any profits in a disastrous scheme to build a theatre restaurant at Darlinghurst, and his last production, Belasco’s Du Barry, failed because it coincided with the outbreak of the Great War. J.C. Williamson’s bought his mountains of scenery and costumes for a mere £1000. Broken by ill health and money worries, George Musgrove died at his home in Sydney on his 62nd birthday, 21 January 1916. Nellie Stewart called him ‘a great and good man’. She was inconsolable.

George’s brothers continued the family tradition. Harry Musgrove (1858-1931) was treasurer for the Triumvirate. When the partners separated, Harry remained with Williamson, but later joined George. His diplomacy was largely responsible for the reconciliation between Williamson and Musgrove. A keen cricketer, Harry managed of the Australian XI tour of Britain in 1896. He managed Williamson’s Theatre Royal, Melbourne, until 1924. Arthur Musgrove (1864-1904) served as treasurer for J.C. Williamson at Her Majesty’s in Sydney. The fourth brother, Frank (1872-1915), was lessee of the Criterion Theatre, Sydney, and the fifth, Charles, was a well-known figure in United States theatrical circles.

From the next generation came two more theatrical Musgroves: Harry’s son Henry George, and Arthur’s son Jack. Henry (1884-1951) was popularly known as Harry G. Musgrove to distinguish him from his father. He spent his youth largely in the Princess Theatre offices of his uncle George, and then joined the pioneering film exhibitor T.J. West. By 1910 Harry was a director of West’s, which evolved to become part of the Union Theatres and Australasian Film companies. In 1920 Harry combined with E.J. and Dan Carroll to form Carroll-Musgrove Theatres, builders of Australia’s first picture palace – the Prince Edward in Sydney. Harry also established Musgrove’s Theatres Pty Ltd, which took over the Tivolis in Melbourne and Sydney and converted them into cinemas. The venture was not successful. Harry’s empire crashed spectacularly in 1924. He died in Sydney, penniless and forgotten.

Harry’s cousin Jack Musgrove (1893-1956) was christened with the middle names William Lyster, after his illustrious great uncle. His early grounding was with Fullers’ vaudeville, first at the National in Sydney and then at the Melbourne Bijou, where his brother George was also employed. By the time he was 25, Jack was in control of all Fullers’ vaudeville activities in Victoria. In 1921 he joined his cousin Harry at the Tivoli, which he managed until the circuit collapsed in 1929. He worked for a while for Hoyts then, in 1936 he was chosen to revive the fortunes of the ailing Sydney Trocadero dance hall. He stayed there for 20 years. With his death in 1956, after an 80-year contribution to virtually every facet of Australian entertainment, the illustrious Musgroves took their final curtain.

Frank Van Straten, 2007

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Biographical references

Ian Bevan: The Story of the Theatre Royal, Currency Press, 1993
Jean Gittins: ‘George Musgrove’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 5, Melbourne University Press
Claude McKay: This is the Life, Angus & Robertson, 1961
Nellie Stewart: My Life’s Story , 1923
John West: ‘George Musgrove’, in Companion to Theatre in AustraliaCurrency Press, 1995