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Brooke Cottage – a tribute to an actor and friend

May 13, 2019

Tragedy actor Gustavus Vaughan Brooke (1818-1866), was a friend and partner of founder George Coppin. As a tribute to the relationship, the G V Brooke cottage was built and opened by the Australasian Dramatic and Musical Association in 1876.

Brooke was engaged by Coppin in 1853 for an Australian and New Zealand tour. The company, consisting of Brooke and his wife Marianne Elizabeth Woolcott Bray, whom he had married in Birmingham on 17 October 1851, the leading lady Fanny Cathcart and Richard Younge, stage manager, sailed in the Pacific on 25 November 1854.

They eventually arrived in Melbourne on 23 February 1855. The tour opened on the 26th at Melbourne’s only theatre, the ten-year-old Queen’s. Brooke played Othello with Younge as Iago, Fanny Cathcart as Desdemona and Mrs Charles Young, a member of the Queen’s company, as Emilia.

Critics and audience acclaimed him although in an otherwise enthusiastic review the Melbourne Argus, 28 February, noted that ‘the sacrifice of Desdemona … was almost too painfully portrayed, and we suggest … that its fearful consummation should take place … out of sight’.

In1856, Brooke and Coppin went into partnership.  Together they leased Melbourne’s Theatre Royal and bought Astley’s Amphitheatre and Cremorne Gardens. In the same year, Coppin married Brooke’s sister in law, Harriet Hilsden.

In 1859, Brooke had lost most of his investments, and in 1860 was warned that ‘neither the public nor managers will much longer tolerate his eccentricities’; too many performances were advertised as ‘positively Mr. Brooke’s last appearances’ and he often was too drunk to play. His last Melbourne appearance came on 28 May 1861.

Brooke returned to England, and last appeared at Drury Lane in 1861. Nevertheless, he had always planned to return to Australia and on 5 January 1866 he sailed from Plymouth in the London which sank on the 11th. Brooke helped in rescue operations and stayed behind when the over-crowded boats left. His death caused genuine grief in Australia where the actor and his public had been saved unavoidable disappointment by his premature death.

H. L. Oppenheim, ‘Brooke, Gustavus Vaughan (1818–1866)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 7 May 2019.

Caption credit: Author / Creator
Burman, Frederick Charles, 1841-1927, photographer.

“Our home has always been a place where family and friends are welcome.  Our cottage at Rushall Park is no different and the community of friends here is important to us and that’s why their work is part of my art box,” Jennifer Barden said.

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