James Edward Neild 1824-1906
James Edward Neild
All through this busy period, from 1865 until 1890, Neild wrote theatre and music criticism for The Australasian, using the pen-names ‘Jaques’ and, later, ‘Tahite’.
In her autobiography, Melba proudly quotes Neild’s glowing review of her first public performance.
In 1857 Neild married David Long’s daughter, Susannah. Four years later he established a
medical practice and in 1864 the University of Melbourne granted him a medical degree. He lectured there in forensic medicine from 1865 until 1904. He was elected to the Medical Society of Victoria, served as its president in 1868, and edited the society’s Australian Medical Journal from 1862 until 1879. His journal articles were credited to ‘Sinapis’. He was one of the founders of the Medical Benevolent Association, was influential in establishing the Victorian branches of the British Medical Association and the St John Ambulance Association and was the first president of the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.
All through this busy period, from 1865 until 1890, Neild wrote theatre and music criticism for The Australasian, using the pen-names ‘Jaques’ and, later, ‘Tahite’. He approved of ‘naturalism’ in performance, where the role is more important than the person playing it. Thus he applauded Janet Achurch, G.V. Brooke, Walter Montgomery, Adelaide Ristori, G.H. Rogers and Nellie Stewart, and disdained the histrionics of Mrs Scott-Siddons, Barry Sullivan and almost all opera singers. In 1860 members of the Bianchi opera company, whose efforts Neild had described as ‘absurd and objectionable’, denounced him in posters and he was taunted from the stage of Coppin’s Olympic Theatre by a visiting illusionist, John Henry Anderson, ‘The Wizard of the North’.
Nevertheless, despite his frequent ‘frankness’, Neild was generally well respected by the theatrical profession. Many prominent players became personal friends, happy to relax at convivial get-togethers at his home at 21 Spring Street. In return, Neild often tried to explain to his readers the reality of their stage favourites, on- and off-stage: ‘A little corner of the curtain is sometimes raised, but the folds are never so completely pulled back as to show completely the real domestic dramas of actors’ and actresses’ lives through all their consecutive acts.’
Nellie Stewart warmly recalled Neild’s assistance and advice and his ‘genuine criticism, which was not to be bought.’ She credited his help in correcting ‘the restlessness and mannerisms that I showed in the beginning of my career, caused, I fancy, by too much vitality.’ Neild claimed to have been the first to recognise the vocal potential of young Mrs Charles Armstrong, advising her to abandon piano tuition in favour of the course that culminated in her emergence as Nellie Melba. In her autobiography, Melba proudly quotes Neild’s glowing review of her first public performance.
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