The Harrie Ensor Scrapbooks
Australian magician, and one of Australia’s earliest magic collectors, Harrie Ensor, left behind a remarkable set of thirteen loose-leaf scrapbooks containing photographs, programme notes, biographical information and promotional material about magicians from the late 1800s to the 1960s. These books, carefully preserved but unseen since Ensor’s death in 1967, are now reproduced here, to be shared with magicians worldwide.
The Ensor Scrapbooks
The Harrie Ensor scrapbooks are made up of thirteen volumes of loose-leaf heavy card, each card approximately 25.1cm x 17.7cm. Each volume holds around 60+ double-sided cards and the folders are cloth covered boards secured with a string tie. Each volume is marked on the spine and there is a general grouping of topics in alphabetical order, though this is not strictly followed, and over time there has probably been some mixing of the page order; the pages are not numbered.
Almost everything once owned by Harrie Ensor has been marked with a metal stamp, “L. Ensor” – this was presumably done after his death, and is it unclear whether the stamp refers to his wife, Lorna, or to his daughter who, in 1982 was Mrs L.Ferguson . The scrapbooks were passed to the magical fraternity in Sydney by Mrs. Ferguson in 1982, with a request that they never be sold. Magician Allan Sullivan preserved them at his home, until his passing in 2017; the books are now under the stewardship of Kent Blackmore with an undertaking to publish the full set.
The scrapbook contents are pasted-in news clippings, magic and theatre magazine cuttings, photographs, handbills, notes on performers’ programmes, and biographical commentary about both overseas and Australian magicians. The earliest material comes from 1855, and the latest is from 1962. Not all the items are of great scarcity; many clippings are from common “Sphinx” magazines and there are some [clearly marked] facsimile posters of John Henry Anderson. However there is a great deal of interesting commentary and some rare photographs, and Ensor was a stickler for recording biographical details of some little-known magicians. Perhaps the highlight of the books is an extensive set of photographs around the family of the descendants of Alfred Silvester, the “Fakir of Oolu”.
Ensor clearly owes a debt to the work of one Steve Barrington, who performed as both ‘Du Barrie’ and ‘Professor Calbert’, and was a key member of the Barrier Society of Magicians (Broken Hill). There are many programme descriptions and notes which Ensor credits to notebooks belonging to Barrington. Unfortunately the whereabouts of those notebooks is not known with certainty, but as the Alma Conjuring Collection, held in the State Library of Victoria, holds a number of images inscribed by Ensor to Barrington, it is likely that Alma acquired the notebooks. Barrington is also well represented in the Ensor scrapbooks, with multiple photographs of his stage act.
Collectors may be shocked at the treatment which Ensor gave to his ephemera, by cutting and pasting pieces of programmes and in some cases, original lithographs, to fit the size of his cards. It is a matter for regret, but in Ensor’s time posters were not regarded as valuable, and even the concept of being a “collector” was something of a novelty. The scrapbooks are simply a valuable accumulation of one man’s interest in the magicians of his time.
Harrie Francis Ensor
Harrie Francis Ensor was born on September 30, 1901, to Agnes and Henri Ensor in Nannine, West Australia (once a gold town of the Murchison goldfields, now a ghost town in central W.A)
Henri Ensor is said to have been a “high class magician of the old school”; he apparently toured in 1905 with the original Wirth’s Circus. (1) The parents associated with many magicians when they passed through the Western state, including Charles Bertram who was their house-guest. Harrie had two older brothers.
In 1905 he moved to Perth, where his parents entertained the likes of Servais Le Roy, George Stillwell and Howard Thurston. Harrie was still too young to remember these in detail, but he had excellent recollection of many of the performers from that time onward, including Leipzig, Hassan, Fasola, Jansen, De Villiers, Gascoigne and more. As a result, he wrote a series of articles for “The Imp” magazine (Independent Magical Performers of Sydney) between 1945-1951, titled “Magical Reminiscences”. This vital piece of Australian history includes stories of many of the big and small performers of Ensor’s time and, in 2004, it was compiled into a paperback book by Sydney historian Brian McCullagh, and published as ‘Magical Reminiscences’ in a relatively small collectable print run.
Ensor was a member of the IMPS, the Wizards Club, Sydney Ring 102 of the I.B.M, and the Australian Magicians Club. He performed professionally up until the early 1920s, then semi-professionally. His main career was as a police officer in locations such as Parramatta, Broken Hill and Newcastle. On October 3, 1928, he married his wife Lorna in Enfield (Sydney) and had a daughter (Lottie?).
Around the same time he had instituted a libel suit against the Barrier Daily Truth, which alleged that he had both assaulted a person he was arresting, and then perjured himself by denying that a blow was struck. Ultimately, in 1929, Ensor lost the suit (there seems to be some implication that because the newspaper was controlled by a powerful mining union in Broken Hill, some influence was exerted) and court costs of £458 were imposed against him, resulting in bankruptcy from which he was not discharged until late 1931..
Throughout his life, Harrie Ensor was a dedicated collector of magical books and ephemera, often going to great lengths to track down details about a particular performer. He was an active performer and sometimes assisted visiting magicians in their acts, including offstage assistance to Werner Dornfield. Ensor was also used as the promotional ‘poster boy’ for the publication of the 1930 Herbert Holmes Course in Magic, though he was not its author.
He died on May 21, 1967 in Brisbane, Queensland. Lorna had the task of disposing of Harrie’s collection and it may be that apparatus and some parts of the collection were sold or given away before Allan Sullivan came into the remainder. She later moved to South Australia.