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Dramatic couple’s legacy knows no bounds

April 27, 2019

The annual trip to Sorrento has its genesis in the early 1900s when Old Colonists were given free tram tickets by the Melbourne Tramway Board to travel to Port Melbourne where they boarded the s.s. Ozone to the Coppin’s’ home in Sorrento.

The 1922 trip to Sorrento was rather different. Residents travelled to Sorrento on 10 March but this time were entertained by celebrity acting couple Joseph and Florence Bland Holt, as well as Lucy Coppin to lunch at the Sorrento Hotel followed by tea at The Anchorage.

The luncheon was described by Matron Wijndblah as the ‘most enjoyable outing’ she had attended in all her years at the Homes.[1]

This tradition continued until 1941. Joseph Bland Holt died in June 1942 and with his death, the Sorrento visits stopped.

Their generosity to the Old Colonists’ continued, however. Funds left in their wills went towards two cottages being built in 1954.

Joseph and Florence Bland Holt

Joseph and Florence Bland Holt were a celebrity couple in the early 1900s, and strong associates with the Coppin family.

Joseph ‘Bland’ Holt was born in Norwich England and came to Australia with his father, Clarance, an actor/manager in 1857. It was Clarance’s second trip to Melbourne. He first came in 1854 at the suggestion of George Coppin.

The Bland Holt family returned to England when Bland was 14.  Bland went on to become a professional actor, playing roles in England, the United States and New Zealand before returning to Australia in 1876.

Over the next 30 years, Bland produced the main melodramas of the time, dividing his time between the Lyceum theatre, Sydney, and Melbourne’s Theatre Royal. His plays had record runs, possibly because of the spectacular productions. In one play, there was a hunting scene with horses, dogs and a stag; in another several horses finished a race across the stage; in another a circus ring was realistically presented with the regular acts being done. Holt introduced the first motor car on stage.[2]

In 1883 after the death of his first wife – stage-name Lena Edwin – Bland returned to England and stayed for almost four years.On his return to Australia he married actress, Florence Anderson, whom he had employed in England. For the next twenty years Bland and Florence became Australia’s favourite stage comedians.

It was during the 1880s that Bland and George Coppin[3] jointly produced several pantomimes, and so the association with the Old Colonists began. Lucy Coppin, daughter of George, became Bland’s private secretary. She travelled with him and Florence to the Continent, the USA and New Zealand.

Bland was successful in management and was said to be a good boss. He retired in 1909, living between Kew, East Melbourne and Sorrento. He died at Kew on 28 June 1942 aged 89. He is buried in the Boroondara (Kew) Cemetery.

Florence Griffiths Anderson (aka Mrs Bland Holt)

Florence was a beloved comedy and dramatic actress, pushing traditional boundaries on stage by performing male roles dressed in trousers. Florence was known as vivacious, welcoming and generous. She retired from the stage in 1909. Florence died in 1946.

Illustrations suggestions: Old Colonists, July 1942, available from Picture Collection.  Not digitised.  Accession no(s) H31491

[1]Minute Book, 23 February 1917, 27 March 1918.
[2]Dennis Shoesmith, ‘Holt, Joseph Thomas (Bland) (1851 – 1942)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, MUP, 1972, pp 413-414.

Illustrations suggestions: Old Colonists, July 1942, available from Picture Collection.  Not digitised.  Accession no(s) H31491

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