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Monsieur Philippe De Barr

Two resources for researchers of Australian magical history are essential starting points. Will Alma’s “Magic Circle Mirror” magazine contains many historical articles based on his own research and an extensive collection of  original material which is now held in the State Library of Victoria ( http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/search-discover/explore-collections-theme/film-performing-arts/magic/wg-alma-conjuring-collection  )

The other is the book, “Magical Nights at the Theatre” , written by Charles Waller, and published by Gerald Taylor Productions Melbourne in 1980.

Both works are somewhat Melbourne-centric, and Waller’s reminiscences are not published as closely-researched history;  there are many incorrect details, but the material is invaluable. Alma’s research is remarkable for the resources available to him at the time.  Now, with online searches, the net can be cast far wider and with less effort than in the past. It is by standing on the shoulders of such writers that we can build and extend the historical record.

In the case of our current subject, Mons. Philippe De Barr, both Waller and Alma have not possessed sufficient information to do justice to a man who appears to have been quite a remarkable talent.  As a result he has been passed over as a “lesser light” and one about whose repertoire little is known.  In fact, some of the most detailed descriptions of a performance are given in the reviews below.

The “Argus” stated in 1858 that  “M. De Barr is, beyond doubt, the best conjuror that has hitherto set foot in this colony”; a significant statement considering that the Wizard Jacobs had preceded him in 1855.

The Magic Circle Mirror, April 1972 (Will Alma, Victoria)
“The Lesser Lights” – During May, 1858, Monsieur Phlliipe De Barr, each Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, provided new and astounding tricks” at Hocking’s [sic] Assembly Room. [De Barr was principally in Melbourne during April 1858 at Hockin’s Assembly Room.]

Magical Nights at the Theatre
Phillipe De Bar, French Wizard. Hockin’s Hall, Melbourne 1857 [sic – should be 1858]
He was really a Frenchman. Following this tour he appeared for many years in his native land, where, if not actually famous, he was at least of good repute. I have no knowledge of what he worked as he did not advertise his effects, and the press did not go into details with regard to his performances. Perhaps he was identical with the Mons. Theo who had appeared in Sydney a little earlier?
Hockin’s Hall was attached to Hockin’s Hotel and this was in Elizabeth St., close to Lonsdale St.
Despite the rise of a theatre or so, many performances still took place in these hotel halls or big rooms. Sometimes the hall was incorporated in the hotel itself. Sometimes it formed an  adjoining building which might be engaged by any entertainer. In some such hotels there was a little gallery for the accommodation of the ladies. There, the fair ones might sit and whilst enjoying the harmony, watch the doings of the dominant males below. It is probable that there was no objection to the ladies ordering refreshments for themselves.
 

Philippe De Barr in Australia
debarr Singapore

Singapore Free Press
November 20, 1856

Having played in the Far East since at least 1856, De Barr arrived in Hobart (Tasmania) on January 22, 1858, on board the ‘Bentley’ from Melbourne.

As “Mons. Philippe De Barr, the great professor of Natural Magic”, he announced a season of a ‘few nights’ from  February 2 at the Theatre Royal. His advertising lacked the usual bombastic claims though,  in what may have been a first for conjurors in Australia, a pictorial advertisement showed De Barr standing on the stage of a very large theatre.

The press, in making mention of the coming performances, referred to earlier good reports coming from Calcutta – “a really wonderfully clever conjuror. His tricks were all performed with greatest sang froid and most perfect confidence, and so neatly that they well merited the applause they met with.”

Apparently the caution of Hobart audiences towards unknown performers was overcome, as Mons. De Barr performed through until February 15, on which night his Benefit performance was announced. Said the Hobart Town Daily Mercury, “we hope it will be extensively patronized, and that the Temple of Mystery will be crowded with spectators. This clever artist is a man of undoubted ability, and his legerdemain is performed with so much skill as to defy discovery. On Saturday an unfortunate contre tempe  occurred by the accident of the heavy shower which deluged the city at the time notified for the Juvenile Performance, and thus deprived our youngsters of the amusement prepared for them. We sincerely hope that Mons. de Barr will not leave our shores impressed with any notion of our want of patronage of the eminent ability of so clever and entertaining an artiste.”

On February 17, De Barr gave a performance in aid of the Indian Relief Fund, raising nearly 8 pounds although the attendance was not a great as hoped. By February 20 he was on his way North, where performances were announced for the Cornwall Hotel at Launceston ‘before leaving for Sydney’. These performances nearly coincided with those of Professor Bennett Clay, also at the Cornwall Assembly Rooms; however Clay appears to have finished by the 24th, and De Barr was to open on Monday, March 8, for three nights only.

Cornwall Chronicle, March 3, 1858
Monsieur De Barr.  This gentleman, who we believe will prove himself to be the monarch of modern magicians, will commence his series of astonishing, instructive, and highly amusing entertainments in the Cornwall Assembly Rooms, on Monday evening next. Some idea may be given of the magnitude of Monsieur De Barr’s grand operations by making known the fact, that his chemical, optical, electrical, magnetical and mechanical apparatus weighs upwards of five tons!! So that the erection of his ‘temple of magic’ must be a work of time, but when completed it forms one of the wonders of the world.De Barr

M. de Barr has recently arrived from India. The Bombay, Seindan, Persian and other papers contain accounts of his wonders.
The following we reprint from the Bombay Telegraph -:
“Monsieur De Barr gave his first entertainments in Bombay, in the Town Hall, on Monday evening. The attendance was not so numerous as could have been wished; but it was nevertheless satisfactory considering that it was a first performance, and that the greater portion of the European community are out of town enjoying the holidays. The hall was beautifully lit up, and the stage which had been erected really seemed, what in fact it was, a temple of magic, so brilliant was its appearance, and so artistically was it arranged. Of the performances we cannot speak too highly; they were wonderful; and the quiet and easy manner in which M. De Barr executed even the most difficult, enhanced their value still more. His passes were beautiful, and some of his mechanical tricks perfectly marvellous. The Mysterious Clock and the Diabolical Bell especially please and astonished the audience, and the excellent punch which he served out to the gentlemen, and [?] to the ladies, all made in an instant by the aid of his magical wand, shewed that M. De Barr, sorcerer as he is, understands the peculiar weaknesses of both sexes. The performances terminated a little after eleven, and we are quite sure all went home pleased with the wonders they had witnessed. We have never seen any entertainments given in Bombay in a style at all to be compared to that of M. De Barr. So beautifully is everything arranged, that  you may fancy yourself in a drawing-room rather than a stranger catering for your amusement.
The Bombay public have been so often deceived by quacks and pretenders, that when real talent does come amongst us, we are somewhat tardy in recognizing it. M. De Barr has however overcome this difficulty; he has passed the Rubicon, and we are quite sure that his next performance on Monday evening will be given to a crowded audience.”

TDe Barr 1858 Feb 10he wizard’s first performance clearly lived up to expectations:-

Launceston Examiner, March 9, 1858
M. De Barr’s Entertainment. – M. de Barr the French Wizard, or as he is styled “Professor de physique amusante,” gave his first “entertainment” at the Cornwall Assembly Room last night. The audience was just such an one in point of number as we usually see in Launceston on the first night of a new thing; our townspeople being as fearful of “sells” in this respect as they are liberal in their support of proved talent. The performance witnessed last night, however, was such as to banish all fear of disappointment, though it cannot be denied that in one sense the tricks perpetrated by M. de Barr were most undeniable “sells” for everybody. But in such exhibitions the more successful the “sell” the more certain the forgiveness and the applause that follow; and so it was last evening.

Of all the extraordinary things accomplished by the wonderful magician, not one failed to elicit laughter or produce (with many at all events) a feeling of wonder. Before the performance commenced the audience sat for some minutes gazing at a white curtain stretching across the hall, and the imagination was at liberty to picture to itself the mysteries it concealed. At last it rose, and revealed the Temple of Enchantment, or as the Professor himself modestly styles it, his “little cabinet” occupying nearly a third of the area of the room, full of all sorts of curiosities, bright wit colors, and sparking with light falling on ten thousand shining points; a fairy palace! Space and descriptive power might fail us if we were to attempt to narrate all that the magician who lives in it did. Nothing seems too difficult for him; the very elements appeared to obey him, for having poured into one vessel the contents of two separate glass, one containing wine and the other water, he poured them out again and they were separate as before, the wine in one glass, the water in the other.

Having obtained a hat from a gentleman in the audience, to the great delight of the spectators he drew from its apparently boundless stores a variety of articles consisting wearing apparel, a wig, and then at last there fell from the hat on to the floor something that looked and sounded like cannon balls, or as they were called in the programme “Sebastopol pills.” M. de Barr seems to possess the secret of the philosopher’s stone, for he produced a number of sovereigns in a mysterious manner, some being drawn forth from the sleeve of a young gentleman who went on the platform at his request. A ring and handkerchief were obtained from a lady in the audience and both were afterwards found to have got into the interior of a loaf of bread, but how they got there must ever remain a mystery. “An African gentleman”  (or rather the head only, for the rest of his person was not forthcoming) was next introduced on the scene, and from his gigantic mouth issued a voice in response to the magician’s queries; and from the same obliging aperture were ejected three cards selected by persons in the audience.

The next trick displayed M. de Barr’s talents in a thing which alone ought to make him very popular in Launceston, which suffers so much at present from a scarcity of fresh eggs. From an empty bag (and the professor was particularly careful to let his audience see it was empty) he drew forth about a dozen and a half of eggs in succession. A duck which possessed in a remarkable manner the power of understanding the professor’s broken English, was next produced, and then another hat was obtained amongst the audience, and an interesting conversation took place between it and the professor, in the course of which the hat informed the professor that it cost 20s. when new; its present value is estimated at 9s. It stated it learned dancing before it emigrated from England, and at the request of the professor favoured him and the company with a specimen of its skill by dancing a polka performed by Mr. Sharp’s band. M. De Barr next proved he could best Christopher Columbus into fits at the “egg trick”, for whereas the celebrated discoverer of America made an egg stand on one end by breaking the shell, M. De Barr (who is of course a far greater man than the old sailor) caused an egg to stay on the concave surface of  hat without falling – a phenomenon which is only equalled by the appearance presented by ships in works on navigation when making a voyage around the world.

The next trick which M. de Barr performed would almost make on believe he knew how to get rid of the “aphis” and all other evils which have recently produced much havoc in the vegetable kingdom, for by his magic touch an apple tree was made to bud, to blossom, and to bear fruit – fruit, too, rivalling that which grew in the garden of the Hesperides, for a lady having lent Mr. De Barr a gold ring, he commanded an apple to fall, and in it was found the golden circlet! The magician proved that he could impart life to things inanimate by causing some paper figures to dance to the music of the band – figures that like the visionary heralds in “Marmion” seemed to  ‘Gibber and sign, advance and fly, While nought confirmed, could ear or eye, Discern of sound or mien.’

The last exhibition was the well known experiment of the clairvoyant, the patient being a lad who travels with professor, and with his eyes bandaged and his back to the audience he answered correctly every question put to him respecting articles handed to the professor by the audience. But we must conclude; our notice is longer than we intended. Our readers will think we have said enough.

Terrores magicos, miracula, portenaque Thessala rides?  Then go and see M. de Barr.
[Do you laugh at dreams, miracles, magical terrors, Witches, ghosts in the night, and Thessalian portents?  — Horace. Ep. ii. 3, 208.]
 

The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston) March 10, 1858
The renowned Wizard gave his first entertainment on Monday evening to an audience not numerous but very select. Without a doubt M. De Barr , as a magician and professor of natural magic, excels in wonders all who have yet preceded him in these colonies. His “temple” which occupies one third of the Cornwall Assembly room is [thronged] with curiosities, to attempt to enumerate would occupy more space than a newspaper by any possibility could. But when we state they were the contents of six tons of luggage some estimate may be formed. Nor by any description could we do justice to the entertainment to which he treated his audience. We strongly recommend every one to visit M. De Barr’s Temple of Magic this week, or an opportunity will have passed away not again to be obtained.

 

Launceston Examiner, March 16, 1858
M. De Barr’s Entertainments. -  There was a very good attendance last night at the Wizard’s exhibition; and the usual amount of wonder and laughter was evoked by the professor’s startling tricks. Perhaps the most startling was the following:- The magician obtained about a dozen pocket handkerchiefs from the audience. Out of two – one white, the other figured, he cut a circular piece in the centre of each; placed both in a globe which he called a sewing machine, and immediately drew both the handkerchiefs, when the white patch was found to have been inserted in the colored handkerchief, and the colored patch in the white one. All the handkerchiefs were then put into a bucket apparently containing water; it certainly contained a fluid of some kind, with which the handkerchiefs were wetted; they were then placed in another vessel; some chemical compound was poured on and ignited, and the magician having discharged his pistol at the vessel, the whole dozen of handkerchiefs were found to be neatly folded up, separately, and as dry and smooth as if they had been ironed by a laundress. The two handkerchiefs that had been cut were found to have been restored to their original condition; and all were returned to their owners. The magician completed the affair by throwing amongst the audience the contents of the bucket in which he had immersed the handkerchiefs; and when everybody thought that water was being thrown over them nothing but leaves issued from the bucket. A final exhibition is announced for Wednesday evening; when those who have not seen M. de Barr’s extraordinary performances will have an opportunity of doing so.

 

Mons. De Barr was still at Launceston on March 22, when he gave a performance in support of the Mechanic’s Institute Building Fund. On March 27 he departed on the steamer ‘Royal Shepherd’ for Melbourne, listing two servants amongst his retinue.

It was not until April 20 that the wizard started promoting his first appearance in Melbourne, on April 26 at Hockin’s Assembly Room, two doors down from the Commercial Hotel (later Hockin’s Hotel) on the corner of  Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets.

The Argus, April 27, 1858
M. Philippe De Barr’s Entertainment – We were agreeably surprised last night, on paying a visit to Hockin’s Assembly Room, to notice, in the first instance, such a brilliantly decorated stage as was presented to our view, and, in the next place, to discover that the entertainment was one of a superior character. M. De Barr is, beyond doubt, the best conjuror that has hitherto set foot in this colony. His tricks are many of them new, and all are executed in a finished gentlemanly style, bespeaking the utmost confidence in his own skill and success. His ventriloquism is as excellent as are his feats of magic; and the performance altogether, partaking as it does more of the drawing room than of the theatrical character, is one which cannot fail to become popular in Melbourne. M. De Barr’s exhibition is to alternate with the operatic concert which we have already announced, and the first of which is to be given this evening.

 

De Barr played at Hockin’s Room (at the same time as Professor Bushell was exhibiting at the Mechanic’s Institution in Collins Street) until May 14. The Herald, on May 15, said, “We have already spoken in high terms of the attractiveness of M. de Barr’s entertainment, the success of which is owing not more to the excellence and ingenuity of the tricks themselves, than to the extreme neatness with which they are accomplished, the beauty of the apparatus, etc., also, we may add, to the polite manners of the Wizard.

From this time, Mons. De Barr’s name vanishes from the Australian press, obscured only by a stream of advertisements from one “M. De Barr” of Goulburn, who turns out to be Madame De Barr, a chemist of that town who some years later died under suspicion of being poisoned.

There is no indication that the wizard visited Sydney as previously stated. In 1865, a “Herr De Barr” appeared in Adelaide, South Australia, with a troupe of Court Minstrels, but there is little likelihood of any connection between the gentleman conjuror and his namesake.

 

Other references to Philippe De Barr

Throughout, I have used the spelling ‘Philippe De Barr’ as this appears in his own advertising. However, other newspaper advertisements spell the name ‘Phillippe’.
The Bibliographie de la France, 1851, lists him as ‘Philippe Debarr, professeur de physique amusante.’
An Anglicised version of the name, ‘Philip Debar’ is used in the references below.

 

From "My Magic Life" by David Devant

“Professor Charles Field, another veteran, had a stall in the Royal Aquarium. He was born in 1835, and continued to conjure until he was 73 years of age. Then there was De Caston, a Frenchman; a couple called the Stacey Brothers, who imitated the Davenport Brothers; and the two Duprez, one of whom appeared at the Piccadilly Hall, London, in 1888. There were Courtois, Philip Debar, and Heymann, also Nicholay - all competent performers.”

 

The Annals of Conjuring (Sidney Wrangel Clarke) – [referring to French performers] – “Courtois, a Belgian, and Philip Debar and Haymann, both Frenchmen, were other well-known performers.”

 

Secrets of Conjuring and Magic [translated by Louis Hoffmann from ‘Les Secrets de la Prestidigitation et de la Magie’, published by Robert-Houdin in 1868] in the chapter "Conjuring and its Professors":- "In other countries, the representatives of the magic art are Anderson, Bamberg, Philip Debar, Herrmann, Jacob, Lynn, Macalister, Rodolph, Colonel Stodare and Vell."

 

 

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