James Edward Neild 1824-1906
James Edward Neild
More than any of his contemporary critics, Neild encouraged the presentation of locally written drama.
Apart from his voluminous reviews, Neild, as ‘Cleofas’, wrote numerous articles for the Melbourne Herald, Melbourne Punch, The Weekly Review and Bell’s Life in Victoria.
In 1868 Neild was prominent among a clique of Melbourne bohemians who founded the Yorick Club.
More than any of his contemporary critics, Neild encouraged the presentation of locally written drama, though he was quick to lambast what he considered to be unsatisfactory. In 1870, for instance, he described scenic artist John Hennings’ attempt to depict a bush homestead as ‘something between an English barn, an Australian cow-shed, and the fancy abode of Robinson Crusoe.’ He was also quick to alert an unsuspecting public to managements’ propensity to pass off second-rate imported artists as international celebrities.
Apart from his voluminous reviews, Neild, as ‘Cleofas’, wrote numerous articles for the Melbourne Herald, Melbourne Punch, The Weekly Review and Bell’s Life in Victoria. He also wrote as ‘The Grumbler’ for The Victorian. He published a lecture, On Literature and Fine Arts in Victoria, in 1889 and, again as ‘Cleofas’, a theatrical novel, A Bird in a Golden Cage, in 1867. In 1866 he provided the lyrics for the March and Chorus that Cesare Cutolo composed for the opening of the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition. It was sufficiently popular to be published by Charles Troedel. Two of Neild’s short comic plays were produced on the Melbourne stage.
In 1868 Neild was prominent among a clique of Melbourne bohemians who founded the Yorick Club, operating initially from rooms in the Theatre Royal in Bourke Street. There he rubbed shoulders with Adam Lindsay Gordon, Henry Kendall, Marcus Clarke and Hugh McCrae. A lover of Shakespeare, he delighted in peppering his medical lectures with Shakespearean quotations and read a speech or two every day of his life. In 1884 he was one of the founders of the Melbourne Shakespeare Society (Neild’s preferred spelling was used initially). The Society encouraged public readings and the serious study of Shakespeare and for a while was acknowledged as the largest Shakespeare society in the world. It’s smaller now, but continues to flourish – it is one of Australia’s oldest literary societies.
For many years Neild was an honorary medical consultant for the theatrical fraternity. In spite of the respect he enjoyed in the theatrical and medical communities, his private life was far from sedate. He was prone to amorous adventures, particularly with attractive actresses, and he was frequently less than discreet. Sometimes his reviews would highlight an actress’s ‘exquisitely moulded bust’ or ‘well-proportioned, finely rounded figure’. In 1878 he found himself portrayed as the repulsive Dr De la Morte in Checkmated, a sensational romantic novel by Cecilia Padmore Hill, with whom he had been romantically entangled.
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