All the world’s a stage,
And all men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts.
Those immortal words from the Great Bard, William Shakespeare, from As You Like It, act 2, scene 7. And they could be utilised in encapsulating my own time upon this mortal coil.
For I was to play many parts, foremost among which was as a tragedian, an actor of some repute. Indeed, I was described by critics as ‘ the greatest tragedian in the Southern Hemisphere’ which was not strictly correct, for I also worked in northern climes to much acclaim. But allow me to tell you my story in brief, condensed fashion.
I was born in the, ahem, the early 1800s, in Manchester, England, where my father, who was a military officer, had been stationed. Shortly after, he was transferred to Ireland, where I was educated with a view to becoming a medical surgeon. However, I found this calling to be far too humdrum for a man of my looks and talents – so I left to pursue a profession upon the stage.
(The actor then went up to a female tourist) You know, Madam, it is the lot of those successful in a thespian career to become inevitably attractive to those of the opposite gender.
It is almost natural for the glamour of those in the limelight to draw attention from younger, star- struck females. Especially if they are good-looking and talented.
So it was with the beautiful young Mistress Annie Mills, with whom I fell hopelessly in love and who was similarly enamoured with my own persona.
I was, at the time, in my prime of the age of umm.. 32, but this was approximately double that of my beloved, and her father, who thought of himself as a powerful farming identity, approved neither of myself, nor my profession.
So it was that Annie and I were to marry in secret in Dublin, then leave immediately for the colonies, arriving in Sydney in 1841.
I was an instant success on that city’s stages, where I was billed as ‘Mr Nesbitt from the Theatres Royal, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool’. The critics were almost unanimous in their praise for what they termed ‘my noble and commanding appearance, my full, rich and mellow voice, my graceful, appropriate and expressive actions…’ I was a huge success as Richard III, as Shylock, as Othello and as both male leads in The Scottish play. I filled theatres in Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Launceston and Adelaide. I was as appreciated as Lear, as I was William Tell – but in truth, I rarely produced a poor performance. Most of the adverse criticism I was to attract came from my non-appearances, or from my occasional slurring of an inappropriate word due to an excess of medication.
For I did not always enjoy good health, due to the rigours of my performances and the many and frequent distractions that fame puts in one’s path.
My wife Annie was to sometimes join me on stage, under the name of Mrs Anna Mills, for she retained her looks despite bearing five children, two of whom tragically died in infancy.
We discovered that the men attracted to goldfields made a ready audience for our talents and with that in mind, we accepted an offer to tour a number of theatres on the west coast of America where we met with much acclaim and standing ovations. But unfortunately, we were then pressured to return due to the anti-Australian sentiments of the time.
On our return, Annie chose to stay in Sydney with the children while I continued to tour. I should note that touring as a solo performer was not always the best life for a married man as temptations are many and frequently the rewards are not always as expected.
Anyway, so it was that I accepted an offer from Mr George Coppin to appear at his Royal Theatre in Malop St, Geelong, in March, 1845. Opening night was, as ever, a triumph, but the following night I was unwell and unable to take anything but liquid sustenance.
And the following day I died, stiff and alone in my hotel room. The excellent man, Coppin, not only paid for my burial here, but he put on a benefit performance and sent the money to my wife and children in Sydney.
He also brought my fellow tragedian, Gustave Brooke, here in tribute when he came on tour. It was Brooke who erected the monumental stone that you see, marking my spot, with that fitting bust of Shakespeare.
So, we all have our exits and entrances, Ladies and Gentlemen, and my exit was to be buried at the age of (ahem) 42, here in calm quiet solitude under the bust of the greatest playwright the world has ever seen. Quite fitting, really, I suppose. And, I might add, this is the only such headstone in the Antipodes.
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