Florrie Forde: her early life, in Australia

Image of Florrie Forde by Talma of Melbourne, 1897
Florrie Forde, c.1896 (detail)6
Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia

Her immediate families

Her mother

Florrie's mother, Phoebe SIMMONS (though later Phoebe Rosetta SIMMONS) was born c.1846 in New York, USA to Barnett Joseph SIMMONS and Susannah SOLOMONS. On 19 July 1853 she arrived in Melbourne with her parents and elder brother, Joseph, on board the Amphitrite from Liverpool, England. Phoebe died suddenly on 1 April 1892 at 38 Bourke St, Melbourne, aged 46 years.

The children of Florrie's mother are as follows. Note that some of this information has been derived from the indexes to registrations of births, marriages, and deaths, and consequently may not be completely accurate; to get a more detailed picture it would be necessary to get copies of the relevant register entries.

    14 April 1861: Daniel James CAHILL and Phoebe SIMMONS were married at Ararat, Victoria.

  1. 1862: birth of Bernard Simmons CAHILL at Ararat.
    He died on 1 March 1916 at Auckland Hospital, Auckland, New Zealand.
  2. 1864: birth of John Simmons CAHILL at Ararat.
  3. 1865: birth of Louis Simmons CAHILL at Ararat.
    He died in 1867, one year old.

    Phoebe now got together with Francis Lott FLANNAGAN.

  4. 1867: birth of Eliza (or Elizabeth) Susanna FLANNAGAN at Williamstown, Victoria.
    She died at 3 weeks of age.
  5. 1868: birth of Emily Susannah FLANNAGAN at Williamstown.
  6. 1870: birth of Flora May (or Mariani) FLANNAGAN at Williamstown.
    She died on 30 November 1874 at Gertrude St, Fitzroy, Melbourne.
  7. 1872: birth of Francis Victor FLANNAGAN at (probably) Fitzroy.
    He died on 29 March 1931 in Lewisham private hospital, Lewisham, Sydney.
  8. 1874: birth of Hannah FLANNAGAN (nicknamed Nan) at Fitzroy.
    She died on 21 November 1912 at Plympton, Devon, England.
  9. 16 August 18751: birth of Flora FLANNAGANFlorrie FORDE – at Gertrude St, Fitzroy.
    She died on 18 April 1940 at 21 Albyn Place, Aberdeen, Scotland.

    1 November 1876: Francis Lott FLANNAGAN and Phoebe CAHILL were married at Moor St, Fitzroy. Both claimed to be widowed.

  10. 1876: birth of Joseph FLANNAGAN (a twin) at Fitzroy.
    He died when 3 weeks old.
  11. 1876: birth of Samuel FLANNAGAN (a twin) at Fitzroy.
    He only lived for 16 days.

    Phoebe now associated with Thomas Henry SNELLING, though he also used his step-father's name, FORD.

  12. 26 February 1878: birth of Phoebe Rosetta Snelling FORD at 201 Gertrude St, Fitzroy.
    She lived for 2 months.
  13. 1879: birth of Henry William SNELLING at Melbourne.
    He died in 1957 at Manly, Sydney.
  14. 1880: birth of Louis Thomas FORD at Melbourne.
    He died on 19 June 1954 at Sydney.
  15. 8 September 1882: birth of Herbert FORD at A'Beckett St, Melbourne.
    He died in 1940 at Sydney.

    20 February 1883: marriage of Thomas Henry SNELLING FORD and Phoebe CAHILL at the Registry Office, Carlton, Melbourne.

  16. 1884: birth of Harold FORD at Fitzroy.
    He survived for only 3 weeks.
  17. 15 May 1885: birth of Dolly May SNELLING at Fitzroy.
    She died on 2 August 1954 at Elwood, Melbourne.

Her father

Florrie's father was Francis Lott FLANNAGAN, or Lott FLANNAGAN, though later the surname was spelled FLANAGAN, and may originally have been O'FLANNAGAN. He was born c.1843 at Limerick, Ireland, and arrived in Melbourne on 30 December 1854, with his parents and siblings, on board the Fulwood from Liverpool. Francis Lott died on 11 April 1907 at 12 Newland St, Waverley, Sydney, aged 64 years.

Francis Lott FLANNAGAN's children are as follows. As above, some of the details are taken from the register indexes and so are not necessarily accurate.

    1861: Francis Lott OFLANNAGAN and Fanny SMITH were married in Victoria.

    Francis Lott got together with Phoebe CAHILL (née SIMMONS).

  1. 1867: birth of Eliza (or Elizabeth) Susanna FLANNAGAN at Williamstown, Victoria.
    She died at 3 weeks of age.
  2. 1868: birth of Emily Susannah FLANNAGAN at Williamstown.
  3. 1870: birth of Flora May (or Mariani) FLANNAGAN at Williamstown.
    She died on 30 November 1874 at Gertrude St, Fitzroy, Melbourne.
  4. 1872: birth of Francis Victor FLANNAGAN at (probably) Fitzroy.
    He died on 29 March 1931 in Lewisham private hospital, Lewisham, Sydney.
  5. 1874: birth of Hannah FLANNAGAN (nicknamed Nan) at Fitzroy.
    She died on 21 November 1912 at Plympton, Devon, England.
  6. 16 August 1875: birth of Flora FLANNAGAN – Florrie FORDE – at Gertrude St, Fitzroy.
    She died on 18 April 1940 at 21 Albyn Place, Aberdeen, Scotland.

    1 November 1876: Francis Lott FLANNAGAN and Phoebe CAHILL were married at Moor St, Fitzroy. Both claimed to be widowed.

  7. 1876: birth of Joseph FLANNAGAN (a twin) at Fitzroy.
    He died when 3 weeks old.
  8. 1876: birth of Samuel FLANNAGAN (a twin) at Fitzroy.
    He only lived for 16 days.

    1877: Francis Lott FLANNAGAN married Mary Elizabeth Ann FALLOON (née HARDY) in Victoria.

    c.1878: Francis Lott FLANNAGAN moved to Sydney.

    11 May 1882: death of Elizabeth FLANNAGAN.

    25 October 1882: marriage of Francis L. FLANNAGAN and Margaret SHIELD at St Peter's, Sydney.

  9. 1883: birth of John Lewis FLANNAGAN at Sydney.
    He died in 1939 at Sydney.
  10. 17 February 1886: birth of Francis Lott FLANNAGAN at Sydney.
    He died on 1 November 1937 at Sydney.
  11. 1890: birth of Vera Elizabeth Isabella FLANAGAN at Waverley, Sydney.
    She died on 19 March 1928 at the Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington, Sydney.
  12. 1893: birth of Phyllis Jeanette FLANAGAN at Waverley.
    She died on 22 April 1917 at Sydney Hospital, Sydney.
  13. 1895: birth of Mary Isabella FLANAGAN at Waverley.
    She died late July the following year at Waverley.
  14. 1905: birth of Lillian Margaret FLANAGAN at Randwick, Sydney.
    She died on 21 March 1976 at Sydney.

F.L. Flanagan, as a monumental mason, was responsible for at least two funeral monuments to members of the theatrical profession at Sydney's Waverley Cemetery – Arthur and Amy Dacre (Arthur Calbert James and Amy Roselle), and Sadie MacDonald. He maintained Sadie MacDonald's grave, at least, and on the anniversaries of her death decorated it with flowers.

SNELLING and FORD

Thomas Henry SNELLING, Florrie's step-father, was born on 15 November 1846 at Sydney, the first of four children of Henry Joseph SNELLING and Catharine GOLDEN. Henry Joseph SNELLING died in 1853 at Sydney, and in 1857 Catharine married William Henry FORD. (And Catharine and William Henry had at least 8 children.) W.H. FORD was a theatrical costumier, and after running his business in Sydney, by 1873 the family had moved to Melbourne.

Thomas Henry adopted his step-father's surname, though as can be seen above he occasionally used SNELLING for his children by Phoebe SIMMONS. The name FORD was also adopted by (some of) Phoebe SIMMON's children by Francis L. FLANNAGAN, including Florrie. When she started her stage career Florrie used FORD as her name, but when she performed at the Gaiety Theatre in Melbourne late in June 1892 it had been modified to FORDE; for what reason is not known. But FORD continued to be used occasionally, and even FORD and FORDE in the same advertisement. By late 1893 advertisements for shows in which she performed had settled on the spelling FORDE, but the other spelling continued to appear from time to time in reviews in newspapers.

Thomas Henry SNELLING FORD died on 12 July 1914 at Phillip St, Balmain, Sydney.

Where was she born?

Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne according to her birth registration details, though no street number is given. There are three possibilities:
the United Service Club Hotel,2 run by her father, at 88 Gertrude St;
the home of her maternal grandparents, Barnett and Susannah SIMMONS, at 179 Gertrude St;
or her father's monumental mason business at 200 Gertrude St.
The most likely of these addresses is Florrie's grandparents', as it would almost certainly have been the least busy and noisy.

From Melbourne to Sydney

The standard story of Florrie's life states that she and some of her siblings were sent to a convent (school) following the death of their mother (on 1 April 1892), and that Florrie and a sister subsequently ran away to an aunt in Sydney. The source of this story is not known, but at least some of it is not true, because Florrie performed in Sydney 5 months before the death of her mother, and also sang on stage with a sister (named Carrie in a newspaper review) before April 1892.

A newspaper report7 from 1921 states that she recalled that she ran away from home (in Melbourne) to Sydney at the age of 14, which would have been late in 1889 or in 1890. And Charles B. Westmacott, in his memoirs,8 said that when she went to Sydney she worked as an under-housemaid at (New South Wales) Government House before she went on the stage. (This has not been verified.)

At this time her father was living in Sydney, remarried and with children by his wife Margaret née SHIELD, so it is possible Florrie (and sister) stayed with them. If she did stay with an aunt, this was a sister of her father, because her mother's only sibling was a brother.

Florrie's first pro gig

The earliest (currently) known published description of Florrie's professional career is in the Sydney newspaper The Referee of 23 January 1895: here it is stated that "she made her first appearance on any stage at the Polytechnic in the Imperial Arcade, Sydney, on February 1, 1892". But this is not correct: Florrie appeared at the Polytechnic3 from the time of its opening on Saturday, 19 December 1891. Moreover, she and her sister, named Carrie (though possibly it wasn't really her sister), performed as the Ford Sisters there, singing See Us Dance the Polka.

However, she had performed in public before this, though not on the "stage": on Monday, 9 November 1891, the Prince of Wales' Birthday public holiday, she took part in Arthur Gordon's harbour concerts aboard the S.S. Alathea during cruises around Sydney Harbour.4 This appears to have been a one-off pair of performances, as she is not named in advertisements for nor reviews of the usual Sunday cruises before or after.

Walter Emanuel Bew

Walter Emanuel BEW was born about February 1861 at Sutton, Surrey, England. On 23 October 1882 he married 18-year-old Eleanor Jane ROGERS in Chelsea, Middlesex (now London); he was then a police constable. Walter arrived at Melbourne (without Eleanor Jane) on 10 January 1888 on board the Murrumbidgee from London; he is listed as a traveller and his destination was Sydney, where he arrived on 16 January.

Bew was appointed a probationary constable to the Sydney police on 2 February 1888, but resigned on 28 February 1889. He was again appointed a probationary constable on 17 October 1890, became an ordinary constable on 1 February 1892, and resigned on 20 April 1896. He served with the water police in Sydney.

He and Flora Augusta FLANAGAN – Florrie FORDE – were married on 2 January 1893 at the Mariners' Church, Sydney. Florrie was only 17½ years old, and had her father's permission, in writing, to be married. (Florrie performed at the Gaiety Theatre on the night of her wedding.) How did this marriage come about, and what happened between them?

What became of Walter Bew is not known. He is mentioned in a newspaper article about the water police at the end of 1895. One report states that he went to Hong Kong and soon after died there, so that Florrie was a widow when she went to England; another report claims that they were divorced. When Florrie and Laurence BARNETT were married in London on 22 November 1905 she claimed that she was a spinster!

Late in 1917, Eleanor J. Bew died in England, aged 52 years: was this Walter's first wife, even though Walter claimed to be a widower at his marriage to Florrie?

The 1893 Melbourne Cup winner, Tarcoola

The Melbourne Cup of 1893 was run on the afternoon of Tuesday, 7 November; the winner was Tarcoola, ridden by Herbert Cripps. That day an advertisement for the Alhambra Palace of Varieties in Melbourne was published that stated: "During this scene the WINNER of the MELBOURNE CUP will be ridden on to the stage by Miss Florrie Ford, in the colours of the successful jockey"; the following day, when the race winner was known, this was modified to "During this scene the WINNER of the MELBOURNE CUP is ridden on to the stage by Miss Florrie Ford, in the colours of TARCOOLA."

Did Florrie ride Tarcoola on the stage of the Alhambra on 7 or 8 November 1893? Almost certainly she didn't.

Much the same advertisements were run prior to and after the 1893 Victoria Derby, which was run on the previous Saturday, 4 November; that morning the Alhambra advertised: "During this scene the DERBY WINNER will be ridden on to the stage in the colours of the successful jockey." Carnage won the Derby, and the following Monday the Alhambra advertisement now stated: "During this scene the DERBY WINNER is ridden on to the stage in CARNAGE'S colours." The Argus noted on the Saturday morning:

There will be a change of programme at the Alhambra Palace of Varieties to-night, a special feature being a presentation to the winning jockey in the Derby, ...
and the review of Saturday night's show included:
The chief item of the first part was Miss Bella Perman's jockey song and dance "Dandy Jockey," in which a happy hit was made by the introduction of the colours of the successful jockey in the Derby.
There is no mention of Carnage being part of the show.

Note that the advertisements do not say, for example, "During this scene Miss Florrie Ford will ride TARCOOLA on to the stage, in the jockey's colours".

For both the Derby and Melbourne Cup, if what is implied in the advertisements were to be true, i.e. that the winning horse were to go on stage, the manager of the show would have required the prior agreement of all the owners of the racehorses in each race to allow their horse, should it be the winner, to be taken on stage. This would not be impossible to accomplish, but it seems unlikely.

And after the shows on Cup night and the following day, there is no report of Tarcoola being presented on stage. (Though absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.) It seems highly unlikely5 that a valuable racehorse, such as a Melbourne Cup winner, would be taken onto the stage of a busy theatre; and especially so for the night of 8 November, when Tarcoola was to run in the Veteran Stakes race the following day. And would an inexperienced rider be allowed on a racehorse in such strange surroundings?

Sydney's The Bulletin of 11 November noted:

A "new first part" [at the Alhambra] has one great advantage over the legitimate drama in being open to receive topical allusions. Casual mention of the horse that won, incidental to a dance of jockeys or a grand bookmakers' chorus, elicits a double encore, [...]
Again, no mention of a horse on stage.

Did Florrie give the winning jockeys piggy-back rides on to the stage?! The advertisements would then state the truth! But again, prior agreements of all jockeys before each race would be needed. And again it might be expected that such an act would be reported.

Florrie's Australian performances

Start date Finish date Venue Manager
1891-11-09 On board S.S. Alathea on Sydney Harbour Arthur Gordon
1891-12-19 1892-02-20 Polytechnic Music Hall, Sydney Duncan Macallum
1892-01-31
Port Jackson Pavilion, Chowder Bay, Sydney Steve Adson
1892-02-07
1892-02-14
1892-02-21
1892-03-13
1892-04-10
1892-04-15
Port Jackson Pavilion, Chowder Bay, Sydney
(Mostly Sundays; afternoon and evening shows)
H. Morris and S. Thompson
1892-04-16 1892-05-06 Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney: Dick Whittington and his Cat George Rignold
1892-04-17
1892-04-24
1892-05-01
1892-05-08
1892-05-15
1892-05-29
1892-06-05
1892-06-12
Port Jackson Pavilion, Chowder Bay
(Sunday afternoons)
H. Morris and S. Thompson
1892-06-05
1892-06-12
Centennial Hall, Walker St, North Sydney
(Sunday evenings)
J. Donnelly
1892-06-25 1892-08-20 Gaiety Theatre, Melbourne Dan Tracey
1892-09-10 ... Gaiety Theatre, Sydney Dan Tracey
1893-01-01
1893-01-15
1893-01-22
1893-01-26
1893-02-05
1893-02-12
1893-02-19
1893-02-26
Coogee Palace Aquarium, Sydney
(Mostly Sundays)
William Larmour
1893-03-04 1893-03-17 Opera House, Sydney Richard F. Keating
... 1893-04-01 Gaiety Theatre, Sydney Alf. M. Hazlewood
1893-04-03 ... Alhambra Music Hall, Sydney Delohery, Craydon, and Holland
1893-08-16 Tivoli Theatre, Sydney: benefit for Coghill brothers
1893-08-23 Oddfellows' Temple, Sydney: charity concert
... 1893-10-07 Alhambra Music Hall, Sydney Delohery, Craydon, and Holland
1893-10-08 Bondi Aquarium, Sydney (Sunday) Alfred Wyburd
1893-10-14 1894-01-19 Alhambra Palace of Varieties, Melbourne Frank M. Clark
1894-01-20 1894-02-09 Tivoli Theatre, Sydney Harry Rickards
1894-02-17 1894-05-26 Theatre Royal, Brisbane Lawton and Leslie
1894-06-16 1894-06-29 Gaiety Theatre, Melbourne Cogill Brothers
1894-06-30 1894-08-03 Bijou Theatre, Melbourne Cogill Brothers
1894-08-04 1894-10-01 School of Arts, Sydney Harry Barrington
1894-10-06 1894-12-07 Oxford Theatre, Melbourne Cogill Brothers
1894-12-22 1895-02-16 Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney: The House that Jack Built George Rignold
1895-02-18 1895-03-09 Her Majesty's, Sydney: Susan with Two Lovely Black Eyes George Rignold
1895-04-01 1895-04-27 Theatre Royal, Brisbane Edmund Cannon
1895-05-11 ... Bijou Theatre, Melbourne Frank M. Clark
1895-05-29 Exhibition Building, Melbourne: theatrical carnival
... 1895-06-14 Bijou Theatre, Melbourne Frank M. Clark
1895-06-15 1895-06-26 Oxford Theatre, Melbourne Frank M. Clark
1895-06-29 ... Tivoli Theatre, Sydney Harry Rickards
1895-09-10 Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney: benefit for George Rignold
... 1895-09-27 Tivoli Theatre, Sydney Harry Rickards
1895-10-05 1895-12-12 Opera House, Melbourne Harry Rickards
1895-12-21 1896-01-17 Theatre Royal, Sydney: Pat, or The Bells of Rathbeal C. B. Westmacott
1896-01-18 1896-02-21 Theatre Royal, Sydney: The Workgirl C. B. Westmacott
1896-02-22 1896-03-06 Theatre Royal, Sydney: The Enemy's Camp C. B. Westmacott
1896-03-13 Opera House, Sydney: benefit for George Dean Coghill Brothers
1896-02-14 1896-03-17 Theatre Royal, Sydney: The Work Girl C. B. Westmacott
1896-02-18 1896-03-20 Theatre Royal, Sydney: The Enemy's Camp C. B. Westmacott
1896-03-21 1896-04-02 Tivoli Theatre, Sydney Harry Rickards
1896-04-04 1896-04-17 Theatre Royal, Melbourne: The Enemy's Camp C. B. Westmacott
1896-04-18 1896-05-01 Theatre Royal, Melbourne: The Work Girl C. B. Westmacott
1896-05-14 ... Opera House, Melbourne Harry Rickards
1896-05-23 1896-05-25 Exhibition Building, Melbourne: annual theatrical carnival
... 1896-07-24 Opera House, Melbourne Harry Rickards
1896-07-25 1896-07-28 Academy of Music, Ballarat, Victoria Harry Rickards
1896-07-29 1896-07-31 Exhibition Theatre, Geelong, Victoria Harry Rickards
1896-08-01 1896-08-07 Royal Princess' Theatre, Bendigo, Victoria Harry Rickards
1896-08-08 1896-09-11 [Where was she?]
1896-09-12 ... Tivoli Theatre, Sydney Harry Rickards
1896-10-07 Lyceum Theatre, Sydney: benefit for children of Frank Cates
... 1896-10-15 Tivoli Theatre, Sydney Harry Rickards
1896-10-17 1897-01-22 Opera House, Melbourne Harry Rickards
1897-01-23 1897-03-19 ? Tivoli Theatre, Sydney Harry Rickards
<=1897-03-08 1897-03-17 Palace Theatre, Sydney Harry Rickards
1897-03-20 1897-03-26 ? Theatre Royal, Adelaide Wybert Reeve

Good-bye-ee to Australia

There was at least one false start to Florrie's leaving Australia: on 9 March 1895 she was given a benefit concert at Sydney's Her Majesty's Theatre "prior to her departure for England". She then went to Brisbane, and was there given a benefit concert on 26 April "previous to her departure for America and England". She was reported to have had an engagement arranged in America, but for whatever reason she did not leave Australia for another 2 years. (And she never went to the USA.)

Her departure from Australia was, somewhat surprisingly, unnoticed (or unreported). Nothing has been found about her following her engagement at Adelaide's Theatre Royal until 12 June 1897, when the Daily News (of Perth, Western Australia) announced that she was in London. As it took about a month to travel from the eastern Colonies to "Home" she would have left Australia by early May at the latest.

Notes

I thank Jeff Brownrigg and the editors of the Australian Dictionary of Biography for obtaining and allowing access to source material for some of the information above.

[1] 1875, not 1876.

[2] Previously the name of the hotel was the United Service Hotel.

[3] The Polytechnic was in the basement of the Imperial Arcade, Pitt Street, and was said to cover over an acre of space; it was divided into two large halls and a set of rooms. Originally its managers were Duncan Macallum and John Saville Smith; they finished with it on about 22 February 1892. It was reopened on 5 March, under the management of M. Hegarty. The venue closed on about 24 April 1892, the fittings being put up for sale at auctions on 29 April and 3 May.

[4] Arthur Gordon managed the Sydney Elite Marine Concerts Company, which, in the spring and summer of 1891-1892, gave afternoon and evening concerts, mostly on Sundays, on board the S.S. Alathea as the ship steamed around the harbour.

[5] It was not unknown for a living horse to appear on the stage of a theatre, but would a champion racehorse be allowed to do so? The closed environment of a theatre, with its strong lighting, confined space, and concentrated audience, would be foreign to a racehorse, and if it panicked it could easily cause injury to itself or people, or damage to property.

On 7 May 1862 it was advertised in Sydney that the horse Talleyrand, that had won three recent handicap races, would appear on the stage of the Royal Victoria Theatre that night. It was later reported that he had suffered from stage-fright:

Mr. Fawcett begged to apologise to the audience for the non-appearance of Talleyrand, who had been advertised as to be brought on the stage that evening. More than half-an-hour had been expended in endeavouring to get him there, but as the approach from the back of the theatre to the stage was up a steep rake or incline, as also the horse had become alarmed at the glare of the gas, and as he was naturally restive, and it was feared he might seriously injure himself if he were forced up the passage, it had been reluctantly decided to abandon the project.

[6] This photograph, by Talma Studios, Melbourne, is from page 28c of Melbourne Punch of 14 January 1897. It is captioned "MISS FLORRIE FORDE, Opera House."

[7] 5 March 1921, The Australasian, p.[25]: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140255389.

[8] 23 February 1929, Smith's Weekly, p.17, C. B. Westmacott, His Apologia, No. 5.

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