Nellie Stewart 1858-1931
In 1880 Stewart starred for George Coppin in Sinbad the Sailor, the annual pantomime at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne.
Nellie Stewart had a beautiful soprano voice, ideally suited for light opera. In 1888, however, Musgrove persuaded her to try grand opera.
Stewart starred in Paul Jones for Musgrove in 1890.
In 1880 Stewart starred for George Coppin in Sinbad the Sailor, the annual pantomime at the
Theatre Royal, Melbourne. It was during its 14-week run that she met entrepreneur George Musgrove. Their professional and romantic relationship would last until Musgrove’s death in 1916, despite the fact that Musgrove already had a wife and family. Nellie’s own marriage, in 1884, to Richard Row, was a disaster; she described it as ‘just a girl’s mad act to repent of at leisure’.
Musgrove starred Nellie as the drummer boy in his lavish presentation of Offenbach’s La Fille du Tambour Major. Its success was enormous, and led to a string of starring roles in operetta and light opera, including Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe, and Princess Ida.
In 1886, as a token of thanks for her support of a fund to commemorate the death of General Gordon of Khartoum, Nellie Stewart was presented with 25 gold sovereigns. These she had made into a bangle which she wore for the rest of her life – a fashion swiftly emulated by thousands of women all over Australia.
Nellie Stewart had a beautiful soprano voice, ideally suited for light opera. In 1888, however, Musgrove persuaded her to try grand opera, and she appeared, to great critical acclaim, in his production of Gounod’s Faust at the Princess Theatre. It was on the first night of this season that the baritone Federici, as Mephistopheles, suffered a fatal heart attack as he descended to Hell through the stage trapdoor, and went on to immortality as the Princess Theatre’s resident ghost. Unwisely, Nellie Stewart sang Marguerite on 24 consecutive nights; this so severely strained her voice that she was forced in future to concentrate on lighter roles, and eventually on drama.
Stewart starred in Paul Jones for Musgrove in 1890. The couple went to London where, in 1892, she made her West End debut at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Blue-Eyed Susan and appeared in Incognita at the Lyric. Their daughter Nancye was born in London in 1893. Stewart headed a comic opera company that toured Australasia until 1895, and then returned with Musgrove to London. There, in 1897, she starred in The Scarlet Feather at the Shaftesbury, and played principal boy in two legendary Drury Lane pantomimes, The Forty Thieves in 1898 and Jack and the Beanstalk in 1899.
Ross Cooper: ‘Nellie Stewart’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 12, Melbourne University Press
Richard Lane: ‘Nellie Stewart’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Hal Porter: Stars of Australian Stage and Screen, Rigby, 1965
Marjorie Skill: Sweet Nell of Old Sydney, Urania Publishing, 1974
Nellie Stewart: My Life’s Story, John Sands, 1923
Frank Van Straten: ‘Nellie Stewart – Fated for the Theatre’, in Stages, June 1991