James Edward Neild 1824-1906
James Edward Neild
Neild was born in Doncaster, Yorkshire, on 6 July 1824.
In 1853, aged 29, Neild surrendered to the lure of the gold rush, working his passage to Australia as a doctor on board Star of the East.
Dissector of the Theatre – and bodies as well
‘Dr J.E. Neild has been a central figure in Melbourne society for the last fifty years,’ said his
obituary in The Argus, the paper for which he had written hundreds of dramatic and musical reviews. ‘In private life he was one of the most lovable of men. Courteous and obliging on all occasions, he invariably reminded those who came in contact with him of the typical “good old English gentleman, one of the olden time.” In personal appearance he was short of stature, with a lithe and very active figure, and eyes whose brightness indicated the keen, sharp nature of the man.’ The Bulletin described him as a man who for about 40 years had spent thousands of the best nights of his life in the ‘bad’ atmosphere of a theatre – which proved that ‘the atmosphere for all is foulness, can’t be nearly so deadly as it appears in scientific discussion of the subject.’
For three decades, under a variety of colourful pseudonyms, James Edward Neild documented colonial theatre in hundreds of informed, detailed reviews in the Melbourne press – yet this was not his ‘real job’. He was also a respected medical practitioner and forensic pathologist.
Neild was born in Doncaster, Yorkshire, on 6 July 1824. His enthusiasm and love for the arts developed early, but his mother insisted that he pursue a more stable career. He served an apprenticeship with his uncle, a Sheffield doctor, studied surgery, and worked as house surgeon at the dispensary at Rochdale, near Manchester. In his spare time he contributed drama reviews and verse to local papers.
In 1853, aged 29, Neild surrendered to the lure of the gold rush, working his passage to Australia as a doctor on board Star of the East. He walked to the diggings at Castlemaine, where he contrived to combine fossicking with a makeshift medical practice. In 1855 he and David Long established ‘Long and Neild’ to take over a busy Melbourne pharmacy that had been established by Long’s father. Situated on the corner of Bourke and Exhibition Streets, the pharmacy was in the heart of the city’s entertainment district. In more recent years, with an extra storey added, the building housed Thomas’ record shop; it continues to provide entertainment as the Elephant and Wheelbarrow Hotel. Again, Neild discharged his pharmaceutical duties while writing drama and music criticism. Usually signing himself ‘Christopher Sly’ he contributed to the dailies The Age and The Argus, and the weeklies The Examiner and My Note Book, which for a while he also edited. Somehow Neil managed to juggle his dual careers for the rest of his life.
Joseph Johnson: Laughter and the Love of Friends, Melbourne Savage Club, 1994
Bryan Gandevia: ‘James Edward Neild’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 5
Harold Love: ‘James Edward Neild’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Harold Love: James Edward Neild, Victorian Virtuoso, Melbourne University Press, 1989
Nellie Stewart: My Life’s Story, John Sands Ltd, 1923