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Oscar Eliason - The Original ‘Dante the Great’

Chapter 4 - New Zealand and Australia, 1898 - 1899


The following itinerary is as complete as can practicably be researched. It will be appreciated that the touring company must have had an enormous task to transport and perform a full evening show, staying as they did for sometimes only one night before striking out for a new town.


The company arrived in Wellington, New Zealand, prior to August 6. Due to bad weather conditions and illness, a move was made to Christchurch where the first show opened before the 11th.

August 11 - 17: Alhambra, Dunedin
18 - 20: Theatre Royal, Invercargill
22 - 23: Princess Theatre, Dunedin
29 - 30: Opera House, Wellington

About September 17, Louis John Lohr passed through Auckland to see Dante perform in Napier. Shortly afterwards Dante was signed to appear in Sydney, Lohr to act as Australian Manager, M.B. Curtis as Touring Manager.

September 26 - October 1: Opera House, Auckland
October 3: Departed for Sydney, Australia
October 8: Palace Theatre, Sydney

The Palace Theatre, on the site where now stands the Sydney Hilton Hotel, was not known for its prosperity. It was noted in the press that: 'the writer can't remember when that house was an unadulterated success for even one whole week before." Dante opened in Sydney with his posters staring out from every shop window. Within two nights he was pulling in packed houses, with the papers predicting a highly popular season.

The weeks passed…. (Sydney Mail, December 3): 'Dante celebrated his 50th consecutive show at the Palace on the 23rd, and will have performed for the sixtieth time by the date of this issue. This is an absolute record for a one man show in Australia … that one man could hold audiences in Sydney for so long at all, and especially in a theatre hitherto associated with "frosts" would have been laughed at if advanced as a proposition…'

Collectors of magician's coins will be interested to note that at some matinees every child received a medallion of Dante, although no surviving examples are known.

After nine weeks at the Palace, the season finished on December 9.

December 12 - 20: Royal Theatre, Hobart.
24 -27: Gaiety, Zeehan. The opening night was poorly attended, not only because it was Christmas Eve, but because bad bushfires were burning around the area.
31: Appearing in Queenstown



George Reid Cartoon, The Bulletin, November 12, 1898

The Bulletin, November 12, 1898
"Call for anything you like out of the magic teapot, ladies and gentlemen. Before I close my performance, I'll trouble somebody for a loan of 3,000,000 pounds or so."

New South Wales Premier, George Reid, does a political about-face by reintroducing protectionist duties on sugar and other foods, despite his declared policy against protection! Dressed in Dante's court attire, he holds an Inexhaustible Kettle with two spouts (labelled the Freetection Teapot), enabling him to pour either Free Trade or Protection as he chooses. Behind him sits the Sugar Duties bowl, and the famous skull from "The Beggar's Dream" illusion, now labelled 'Death Duties'!


The company sailed once more for New Zealand.

January 10: Theatre Royal, Invercargill
11: Opened in Gore
13: Opened in Dunedin
25 - 27: Royal, Christchurch.

An advertised season in Wellington on the 25th was cancelled because the theatre would not agree with Curtis over the issue of "Director's free seats", presumably the right of Curtis to admit guests free of charge. This may have seen the start of troubles which culminated in Wanganui. Before February 12, halls were hired for Stratford and New Plymouth, but may not have been played.

The sequence of events which follows is taken from affidavits made by Eliason in March. Complaints were being made that Curtis had not paid for halls booked for Stratford, New Plymouth or Hawera, On January 31, while playing in Wanganui, Os

Dante caricature by Arthur Valli, Magic Mirror magazine November 15, 1909

car was informed that Curtis and his wife were admitting people to the theatre, accepting cash, but not issuing tickets. When the cash failed to appear on the statement of takings, a man was set to watch Curtis on the night of February 1, in order to compare cash taken with that reported. An amount of 54 pounds difference was found. Curtis observed this and ordered the season stopped until he 'could be proven a thief' by Eliason.

Luggage which was due to be shipped to Hawera for February 2 and 3 was, on the morning of the 2nd, claimed by Curtis as belonging to him under the terms of the original contract signed in Vancouver. Oscar called in a police officer and had the luggage locked away in the middle of the town. Louis Lohr was summoned and arrived on the 6th. Although Curtis had not been seen for some days (his wife said he was sick in bed), it was proposed to rescind the contract, Oscar to pay 510 pounds as settlement. By the 9th, however, it was found that Curtis had left New Zealand for Sydney, allegedly under the assumed name of Prince.

Withdrawing the settlement offer, a lawsuit was instituted against Curtis for a breach of contract. Lohr took over as touring manager, and the New Zealand season continued on an altered schedule.

February 21 - 27: Opera House, Wellington
March 11: Opened second season, Palace Theatre, Sydney. An advertisement of March 11 gives tantalising details of some music specially composed for the show:-

The Dante March played every evening. The Herald says 'Messrs W. H. Paling and Co. publish the Dante March by George E. Jones (conductor of the Dante Orchestra at the Palace Theatre); a clever and dashing example of its class, sure to prove popular.'

Curtis now took counter action against Eliason to restrain him from performing, since the original contract gave Curtis absolute control over the outfit. Arguments followed in the Equity Court. Both parties accused the other of insobriety, and both sides denied the claim. Curtis denied having taken cash in the manner described, or having used a false name when leaving New Zealand. However Lohr supported Eliason's story, stating that he also was suing Curtis for 104 pounds in unsettled tour accounts.

A temporary settlement was effected whereby the manager of the Palace acted as receiver of profits until the suit was finalised, and the show was allowed to continue. American reports say that the case was settled by Oscar paying Curtis $7,000 in spot cash. It seems the case was settled out of court, for in early April Curtis left for America, where he engaged a minstrel troupe, 'Hogan's Unbleached Coons', which appeared at the Sydney Criterion in July 1899 and townships until early 1900. (Headed by Ernest Hogan, the Unbleached American, and author of ‘All Coons Look Alike To Me’ ...)
Having lost a highly profitable act in Dante, Curtis took a measure of revenge; one of the performers in the show was named "Black Carl Dante" and performed Growth of Roses, Spirit Writing, Beans to Coffee, and the Inexhaustible Bottle.'The fact that a white rat is afterwards found in the bottle', wrote the Bulletin, 'is discounted by the fact that the rat is quite dry - and sober.'

Meanwhile the crowds continued at the Palace until Dante's final performance on April 8. Over his two seasons in Sydney Dante had chalked up 101 performances and made the Palace a success for the first time. On his last night the theatre employees made a gift to him of a magician's wand, gold mounted.

April 12 - 13: Oddfellows' Hall, Wagga Wagga

Dante in his Mephisto costume.
From a souvenir postcard.

April 15 - June 10: St.George's Hall, Melbourne.
Here the story was the same. The crowds flocked to see the man about whom they had been hearing since the previous year. Dante's name was now cropping up in the most unusual places:-
(Advertisement) "Those people who had drinks from Professor Dante's marvellous bottle were somewhat surprised when the conjuror smashed the vessel, to see a guinea pig issuing therefrom. One surprised gentleman in particular is Mr. Carl Mont McCroy, of 204 George St, Sydney, who was absolutely astounded at the beneficial effects he experienced from Doctor Williams' Pink Pills for Pale People ..."

June 12: Recreation Hall, Kew
13: Town Hall, Hawthorn
14: Big Town Hall, Prahran
15: Royal Hall, Footscray
16: town Hall, St.Kilda
17: Mechanic's Institute, Williamstown
19 - 24: Her Majesty's, Ballarat

Following the first Victorian season, the company sailed for Western Australia, on board the ss. 'Coolgardie'.

July 1: Opened at Town Hall, Albany
3 - 14: Cremorne Palace of Varieties, Perth. “Packed from floor to celing”, reported the Perth Western Mail on July 7
15 - 20: Town Hall, Fremantle

Prior to sailing to South Australia, a brief tour was made of the gold mining towns of Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Boulder, Menzies and Kanowna. Only three years earlier, Carl Hertz had visited the same towns, travelling by camel, and he later devoted a full chapter of his autobiography to the difficulties of performing in such isolated regions.

August 15 - 25: Theatre Royal, Adelaide
26: Bijou, Adelaide
29 - September 2: Crystal Theatre, Broken Hill (New South Wales)
4 - 6: Port Pirie (South Australia)
7 - 8: Wallaroo
9 - 10: Moonta
11: Town Hall, Gawler
12 - 13: Town Hall, Port Adelaide.

Between September 6 - 9 a Minstrel troupe, "Hudson's New Surprise Party', appeared in Adelaide with promotions for 'The Black Dantes, who perform and expose the Growth of Flowers, the Egg Mystery, the Dancing Spoon and Bottle, the Chicken Taken from Mouth, the Dagger Pierced in the Man's Brain etc. and in full view of the audience!' Not surprisingly this billing was hastily dropped upon Eliason's return to the city!

16: Masonic Hall, Dimboola
18: Morton
19: Mechanic's Hall, Hopetoun
21: Town Hall, Stawell
22: Protestant Hall, Ararat
23 - 25: Town Hall, Maryborough
26: Town Hall, Castlemaine
27 - October 3: Royal Princess' Theatre, Bendigo
6: Mechanic's Institute, Kerang
13: Echuca
16: Victoria Hall, Charlton
18: Town Hall, Dunnolly
19: Town Hall, St. Arnaud
20 - 23: Her Majesty's, Ballarat (2nd season)
25 - 26: Mechanic's Institute, Geelong
27: Town Hall, Warrnambool
30: Town Hall, Hamilton
November 1 - 2: Shows in Camperdown and Colac were cancelled due to influenza in the company.
4: Opened for return season, St.George's Hall, Melbourne

For the Melbourne season, a new wonder was introduced - the Theatograph, purchased from England, which caused excitement with its animated pictures of the Australia vs. England cricket test, and Australia's retention of the Ashes.

By this time Dante was seen as the measure of a magician's ability, and he had his own crop of imitators. The Bulletin wrote in a prophetic statement, 'Dante is only beginning to make a name for himself. Fifteen years hence he will be living on his name (if he hasn't died meanwhile) and younger rivals will have to beat him hollow as an illusionist before they can hope to prosper.'

Dante now had authority from the Governors of New Zealand, New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria to advertise his show under their official patronage. On Friday, November 17, he gave his last Melbourne show and set out northwards; he was never to return.

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