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Oscar Eliason - The Original ‘Dante the Great’

Chapter 5 - Death in Dubbo

"The world is full of pawnbrokers, jingoes and bad poets who could be spared, but the gun that goes off promiscuously almost always shoots someone who is everybody's friend." - The Bulletin, December 1

Dante poster,
Performing Arts Museum, Melbourne


Dante's tour was to have taken him into Queensland to appear in Brisbane, then homewards to the United States via India or South Africa, and England. In the meantime he worked up through New South Wales, managed by Edwin Geach.

November 20: Mechanic's Hall, Albury
21: Oddfellows' Hall, Wagga Wagga
22: Town Hall, Young

The next venue was Dubbo in central New South Wales, where the season opened on Friday November 24 at the Masonic Hall, followed by two shows on Saturday.

Sunday 26 - A shooting party made up of Oscar, Edmunda, Frank, Mr Reeves-Barker (Stage Manager), a Mr Taylor and George Ernest Jones (orchestra leader for Dante) went to the residence of Mr W.Samuels a few miles from Dubbo. As the day progressed, Jones' gun fired accidentally several times, possibly because he had little experience with guns.
Towards 6 o'clock the party was returning to their carriage when Jones' gun discharged and Oscar fell to the ground, hit. He was at once brought back to the Royal Hotel. (Another news story from the Dubbo Liberal suggested that he had heard the reports of other guns drawn while firing at some soldier birds, and assumed that his own gun had been discharged.)

Monday 27 - Doctor Tressider removed a bullet from Oscar's abdominal cavity, and Dr. McCormack, a surgeon, was despatched by special train from Sydney, arriving at 9:45 p.m.

Tuesday 28 - At 8:30 a.m., McCormack operated, but Septic Peritonitis had set in. Despite the knowledge that there was now no hope, Oscar remained optimistic and had to be persuaded to sign his will.

Wednesday 29 - After a restless night Oscar, still fully conscious, said farewell to his wife, his little girl, Ethel and to his brother, Frank. Shortly before 2:15 p.m. he took a glass of champagne, urged his friends to "keep the show going, boys", and died.



Masonic Hall, Dubbo, in 2012



The same afternoon a Magisterial Enquiry was held, taking evidence from Frank Eliason and George Jones, who was in a state of collapse. A verdict of accidental shooting was brought down. The body was brought to Sydney on Thursday, and the following day the funeral procession left from Messrs Wood & Co. in George Street, to Waverley Cemetery. It was a very hot day, but over three hundred people attended the service, among them Louis Lohr, Edwin Geach, Paul Cinquevalli, Harry Rickards and other representatives from the theatre.

In a letter to his family back home, Frank Eliason wrote:-
"It is said there never was a death so universally regretted. It was necessary for an extra carriage to carry the floral offerings to the grave. The street was blocked with people at the funeral. As the hearse passed, everyone, from the lowest vagabond to royalty in carriages, respectfully raised their hats. Schools were drawn up in bodies along the line of march to pay their last respects to the beloved 'Dante.'
When we left Dubbo with the remains to go to Sydney, every shop in the town was closed, and it was necessary for us to go out of the hotel the back way to avoid the crush. At the station the crowd was so great the funeral train was delayed fifteen minutes in leaving, and during the whole night's ride every station we passed was crowded to see the train that was taking 'Dante' on his last journey."

In Waverley cemetery today, down the hill towards the sea, (1) past the large monument to the Irish dead, stands a tombstone reading:-
"In loving memory of Oscar Eliason (Dante the Great) who died 29th Nov. 1899, aged 30 years. Deeply regretted."

Oscar Eliason Portait in book SLV

Eliason portrait, from a Photograph album of Australian actors and actresses, ca. 1870 - ca. 1900, State Library of Victoria.

ref: -

Oscar Eliason Portrait
















(1) The grave can be found by starting at the monument to the Irish martyrs and walking down the hill. Look on the right-hand side for the monument with a column and wreath, two graves in from the path.


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