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Australia's first recorded conjuring performance:
Monsieur Du Pree, "The Wizard Of The South"

In the search for the first recorded performer of theatrical magic in Australia, the Salamander Act of Sydney Smith in August 1826 may well claim pride of place. However, the first definitive performance of conjuring must currently be given to Monsieur Du Pree, The Wizard Of The South in 1836. Du Pree's career also appears to have lasted longer than that of Powell Courtier and, if his 1837 advertisement is to be believed, there may be an earlier history of performance in Britain.
 

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Thursday December 29, 1836

“Other portions of the colony besides Sydney, appear determined to keep up Christmas with a spirit. The good folks of Parramatta [nowdays just a suburb of Sydney] have got up an entertainment at Mr. Wood’s Long Room, Church Street on the subject of Diablerie. A Monsieur Du Pree twice a week exhibits his wonderful feats in legerdemain or the ne pul ultra [sic] of the Cabalistic Art in which some surprising illusions are introduced, such as catching a bullet between his teeth, discharged from a pistol, which may be loaded by any one, dancing a figure blindfolded among nine eggs placed at certain distances; Ventriloquism &c. &c. &c. - The audiences have been numerous.”

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Thursday January 5 and Saturday January 7, 1837

GREAT NOVELTY.
On Saturday, January [unclear - 7th or 14th?]
Under the immediate Patronage of [unclear]
Distinguished Families.
MONSIEUR du PREE, late of the Theatres, Manchester, Liverpool and Dublin,
begs most respectfully to inform the Inhabitants of this Town and Vicinity, he purposes [exhibition]
At the Edinburgh Castle, Mr. Browne's Pitt-Street, opposite the Cottage of Content, his Wonderful and Unrivalled Performance, when he trusts such as shall be brought before the eye of the Public will meet with that approbation and success which has ever been his greatest study to deserve.
dupreejan1837

Du Pree advertisement, January 7, 1837


The Evening's amusements will commence with
The Art of Legerdemain
or, the
Ne Plus Ultra of the Cabalistic Art,
in which he will introduce many wonderful Illusions, with Money, Cards, Balls, Knives, Rings, Fire, Patent Apparatus, &c. However, to prove how far his talents may have arrived in the Art, merely states one as for consideration viz - He will allow any gentleman in the room to load a Pistol with powder and ball, and upon discharging the same towards his (the performers mouth) catch the Ball between his Teeth.

---

A Waltz in Character between Nine Eggs Blindfold.
Also, a Variety of Comic and Sentimental Singing.
Balancing, &c. &c. &c.

In the course of the Evening

A RECITATIVE ON LOGIC,
pointing out the Elementary parts of Elocution, as regards [unclear - steps?], emphasis &c, well adapted for the hearing and improvement of Youth.

After Which,

TOMMY, THE VENTRILOQUIST,

Will introduce his juvenile Feats, throwing his Extraordinary Voice in different parts of the Room,
also

Frying a Pancake in some Gentleman's Hat!

Equal in flavour to any cooked on the fire.
The whole to conclude with the laughable interesting,
and pantomimic scene, entitled, the
SALAMANDER FEAST

OR THE

HOT SUPPER!

IN WHICH HE WILL

SWALLOW SEVERAL KNIVES!

ALSO,

EAT A QUANTITY OF FIRE!

Together with one and a half pound of Flax, spinning the same from his mouth to the length of about one hundred yards, sufficiently strong to suspend at least
ONE HUNDRED WEIGHT.

Doors open at half-past Seven, to commence at
Eight o'Clock precisely.

Front Seats, 3s. ; Back Seats, 1s. 6d.

N. B.-Private Families attended on the shortest notice at One Guinea per Performance.



Apparently the magician had some talent, as the Sydney Gazette (January 10) reported that “Monsieur Du Pree’s feats in the Cabalistic art, came of at the Edinburgh Castle, on Saturday evening, the audience mustered about fifty who left fully satisfied with the evening’s amusements.”

Regrettably, Mons. Du Pree's Australian career did not get off to a very respectable start!

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser Tuesday March 7, 1837

Monsieur du Pree, alias [unclear text - either "Amutt" or "Amott” or “Arnott” ] who was astonishing the native a few weeks since, both here and at Paramatta, with his extraordinary feats of slight of-hand and legerdemain was surprised at his celebrated salamander feast, in Windsor, last Wednesday week, and was accommodated with apartments in H.M. gaol at that township, at the Special request of Mr. Wood of Parramatta, whose long room Monsieur engaged to exhibit in, and left without troubling himself to make the necessary pecuniary arrangements for its use. Monsieur du Pree will now have leisure to adjust his affairs, which, if report speaks truly, are in rather a disordered condition.

The poor quality of the newspaper typeface makes for frustration, as this is one of the few clues to the real name of our performer. The reference in his advertisement to “A Recitative on Logic” has interesting echoes to the performer Thomas Arnott mentioned in Robert Jordan’s book, ‘Convict Theatres of Early Australia’. It is hoped that further investigation might make a connection.

Du Pree next pops up on July 31, 1837, in the township of Bathurst, 150km west of Sydney, where he was billed to exhibit over six nights at Mr. Dargin’s Public House and Mr. Livingstone’s.

There now follows a period in which Du Pree's name is not to be be found for some years, until he re-emerged in South Australia in 1845. There was a single exception on August 7, 1844 when an advertisement appeared in the Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tasmania) challenging a rival conjuror, John Powell Courtier, to a magical duel:-

Having seen an advertisement some time past, in one of the Van Diemen’s Land Journals, challenging any person to surpass Mr. Powell Courtier as a Necromancer, in that deceptive art, for One Hundred Guineas, I respectfully answer the same, by either challenging himself, or any other PARTY  in the colony, for fifty pounds, and the same to be decided by umpires, or a public audience, the amount to be placed in the bank, or any other place of responsibility.   T. Du Pree, or The Wizard of theSouth, Campbell Town, August 1.

Save for a confident acceptance of the challenge by Courtier in the very same day’s edition, nothing further eventuated, leaving us with only a few small clues to Du Pree’s identity and whereabouts at this time.
 

By 1845, however, on August 2, Du Pree was advertising in the South Australian Register for Adelaide performances commencing on the 7th at Mr Allen’s Temple Tavern, Gilles-arcade. He continued there until announcing his final four nights on August 27.

 

"South Australian Register" August 9, 1845 -

'The Wizard of the South had a gathering on Thursday evening last, in the saloon attached to the Temple Tavern, Gilles-arcade, which we were happy to observe was honoured by many of the elite of our city; but we regret that the very inclement weather almost entirely prevented the ladies of Adelaide from witnessing the surprising feats of Monsieur Du Pree. The Wizard commenced the evening's entertainment by increasing and decreasing a number of pieces of tin placed in the visitors' hands, "at the word of command," and afterwards transmuting a sixpence into a shilling, and vice versa, &c.

His card tricks were varied, and extremely clever, the best, indeed, of the kind we ever witnessed. Robin Hood's cups next came into requisition, and the Southern necromancer's thimble-rigging elicited great applause. The illusion of destroying a watch was also well managed. When Mon. Du Pree danced a waltz blindfold between nine eggs, in the centre of which was a valuable gold watch, threading the mazes of the dance most admirably, always accurately avoiding either the eggs or the watch, the evident anxiety of the owner of the costly chronometer was a source of considerable merriment, as he was evidently balancing in his mind first the chances of its instant annihilation, and secondly the Wizard's probable means of paying for it. The lenders of hats were also agreeably surprised that their four-and-nine's (some of them by-the-way shocking bad ones) were returned scathless, after having had pancakes made in them.

The way in which the cabilist endeavoured to consult the appetite of his attendant, by producing sheeps' trotters and vegetables from beneath hats, under which nothing was an instant before visible, we consider no mere attempt to amuse as well as deceive. But we cannot further follow Mons. Du Pree through his clever tricks. They are well worth everybody's seeing, although seeing in this case, will hardly result in belief that he performs by no more questionable agency than sleight of hand.'
 

"South Australian Register" August 9, 1845 -

[Advertisement]. Refers to Du Pree as 'late of the Theatres Manchester, Haymarket, Dublin, Liverpool and Paris'. Performance to be repeated August 14, 'in the spacious saloon of Mr. Allen's Temple Tavern, Gilles-arcade … also, on Monday next, the 11th August, in the large billiard-room (fitted up for the occasion) of Mr. Harris's Gray's Inn Tavern Gilles-Arcade.'
'… to prove how far his talents may have arrived in this art, merely states one for consideration. He will allow any person in the room to load a pistol with powder and ball, and, upon discharging the same towards his (the performer's) mouth, catch the ball between his teeth!!
Part II - A Waltz, in character, between nine eggs blindfold!!! Also, Tommy the Invisible will introduce his juvenile feats of balancing, posturing &c, amongst which he will fry a pancake in some gentleman's hat, equal in flavour to any cooked on the fire.
Part III - To conclude with the laughable, interesting an pantomimic scene of the Salamander Feast, or Hot Supper!! In which the Fire-King, or Necromancer of the East, will swallow several knives, also eat a quantity of fire, together with five pounds of flax, spinning again the same from his mouth into twine to the length of seven hundred yards, and sufficiently strong to suspend at least one hundred-weight.'

"South Australian Register" August 13, 1845 -

Advertisement for performance on August 14, Mr Allen's Temple Tavern.

"South Australian Register" August 16, 1845 -

Advertisement for performance on August 21, Mr Allen's Temple Tavern.

"South Australian Register" August 20, 1845 -

Advertisement for performance on August 21, Mr Allen's Temple Tavern, also on Monday August 25, in Mr Harris's Grays' Inn Tavern.

"South Australian Register" August 23, 1845 -

Advertisement for performance on Thursday August 28, Mr Allen's Temple Tavern, also on Monday September 1, in Mr Harris's Grays' Inn Tavern. 'Positively the Last Four Nights.'

"South Australian Register" August 27, 1845 -

Advertisement for performance on Thursday August 28, Mr Allen's Temple Tavern, also on Thursday September 4, in Mr Harris's Grays' Inn Tavern. 'Positively the Last Four Nights.'

"South Australian Register" August 27, 1845 -

Advertisement for performance on Thursday August 28, Mr. Allen's Temple Tavern, also on Thursday September 4, in Mr. Harris's Grays' Inn Tavern.
'Farewell Benefit to Monsieur Du Pree. Positively the last two nights of his public performances in this city prior to his departure for Port Phillip [Melbourne]. Monsieur Du Pree desires to make his most grateful acknowledgments to those ladies and gentlemen who have honoured him with their presence, and to intimate, very respectfully, that during the few remaining days previous to his departure, he will be happy to afford one or more repetitions of those entertainments which have been so much applauded at private parties.'

"Adelaide Observer" September 6, 1845 -

'THE WIZARD OF THE SOUTH had the honor of exhibiting his feats of Legerdemain last evening, before His Excellency and Mrs.Grey, and a large party, at Government House; his audience were highly delighted with his performances, and we understand His Excellency expressed the great satisfaction he felt at the amusement which the Wizard's sleight of hand tricks had afforded him. At the close of his performances he was greeted with three cheers.'

"South Australian Register" September 6, 1845 -

Advertisement for performance on Thursday September 4, Mr Allen's Temple Tavern, also on Tuesday September 9, in Mr Harris's Grays' Inn Tavern. 'Positively and without fail the two last Nights.' Also mentions 'Monsieur Du Pree (who had the honour of exhibiting before his Excellency the Governor last night)'.

"South Australian Register" September 10, 1845 -

Advertisement for performance on Thursday September 11, Mr Allen's Temple Tavern. 'Positively and without fail the last Night.'

Du Pree may well have passed through Melbourne but his next promoted appearance was in Hobart on February 17, 1846, and the newspapers announced him as having arrived from Adelaide. He took the Royal Albert Theatre initially, and must have had a successful season through to at least March 10. By April 7 he had moved to the saloon of the Royal Victoria Theatre, Hobart, advertising “One Hundred Wonderful Illusions most commonly termed The Art of Legerdemain or, The Cabalistic Art.” The Colonial Times was happy to report (April 14) that despite the weather causing a low turnout, the Wizard’s sleight of hand was ‘positively marvellDu Pree 1846 April 7ous, and the whole is worthy of witnessing’.

Mons. Du Pree’s Hobart season in the Albert saloon continued until Saturday June 13, on which evening he proposed ‘showing, also explaining, trick for trick, how each illusion is performed ...’

The frequency with which Du Pree is noted in Tasmania implies strongly that he may have resided there. Although his performances were fairly regular, they do not suggest that the Wizard was performing continuously, and it is likely that he followed some other profession away from his “Southern” nom-de-theatre of Du Pree.

At Mr. Russell’s Music Hall, Collins Street, Mons. Du Pree appeared on November 9 and 14 , 1846, alongside Mr. Russell’s Concert Band and an exhibition of lantern views, or ‘Cosmoramic Views with moving figures’. For the 25th Du Pree announced an entertainment at the Royal Pantheon Theatre, Collins-Street, comprising 100 Illusions, also Dancing, Ventriloquism, Balancing, Fire-Eating, Sword-Swallowing, Fantoccini &c. with Coming Singing, Instrumental Music &c.

There is a break during all of 1847, where Mr. Du Pree is not heard from.

Melbourne "Argus" June 2, 1848 -

'THE MAGIC ART - M. Du Pree, who has attained to great celebrity in the adjoining colonies as a professor of the magic art, has received the permission of the authorities to exhibit for a short period in the hall of the Mechanic's Institution.'

"Argus" July 25, 1848 -

'The Wizard of the South - M. Du Prie [sic] made his first appearance before a Melbourne audience yesterday evening but we may say the display exceeded general expectation and received universal approbation. M. Du Prie performs again this evening and again to-morrow evening.'
In the same issue, an advertisement for The Wizard Of The South shows that the Mechanic's Institution was in Great Collins Street, opposite the offices of The Argus. The Wizard's feats were to include dancing money, frying a pancake in a hat, dancing, balancing, ventriloquism, posturing, a performance of the bullet catch.

"Argus" August 1, 1848 -

'Magic - The Wizard of the South is still performing before crowded audiences in the hall of the Mechanic's Institution. We strongly recommend our young friends to pay the wizard's exhibition a visit, and judge for themselves of his magical feats.'
The same issue, while substantially repeating the advertisement of July 25th, adds the names of numerous respectable people for whom the Wizard had previously performed in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). This might lead to some speculation as to whether Du Pree hailed from this area, hence his Southern title.

 

"Argus" August 29, September 1, September 8, 1848

Advertisements for performances at the Mechanic's Institute, August 29-31, and September 5-7. 'For Four Nights Only. By desire of several private families.'

 

On August 25, 1849, having not been mentioned by the press for some months, a tantalising and frustrating snippet appeared in the Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tasmania). Referenced in the Police News of August 22, “The Wizard of the South was fined ten shillings, having pleaded guilty to a charge of indecent exposure preferred by Constable Durham.” Unfortunately the court record for this offence has not yet been located, and it seems inconceivable that the report should refer only to the “Wizard” instead of appending his real name. Given the locality, however, this would appear to be Du Pree, and might later lead to an identification of his off-stage name.

"Argus" June 4, 1850 - [news from the town of Seymour, Victoria]
'We have had the Wizard of the South, Monsieur Du Pree, amongst us, astonishing the Seymourians, by his feats of legerdemain, many of which are certainly very clever. The Wizard has promised the Township another visit during the wool season, when he is to be accompanied by a disciple of Terpsichore.' [in other words, a dancer!]

For almost four months, Monsieur DuPree then set up in the township of Geelong, South-west of Melbourne. Starting from September 30, 1850, he appeared at Mr. Olive’s spacious Saloon, with his one hundred illusions in the Cabalistic Art. Advertising lists his performances for private audiences in places such as Bothwell, Campbell Town, Prosser Plains (Buckland) and New Norfolk. All of these towns are located in mid-to-Southern Tasmania, adding strength to the suspicion that Du Pree’s main residence was in this region, and showing that he was performing in venues which might not normally be noted by the press.

A performance in late September at the Royal Hotel was described as “received with repeated and well deserved bursts of applause ... the room was filled with a respectable audience.’ Other performances in the Geelong area were at the Petrel Hotel and the Retreat Hotel and, finally, on January 7 and 9, 1851 at the Corio Hotel; a lengthy and successful season in an area of small population.

Until now, Du Pree had largely confined his activities to the Southern parts of Australia - Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart and surrounds. Between Wednesday June 29 and Thursday July 29, 1852 he is reported to have moved considerably further north, to the Hunter Valley of New South Wales where he gave several entertainments in the town of Maitland.

There is a brief mention in the Mount Alexander Mail (Castlemaine, VIC) that M. Duprez, Wizard of the South would appear at “The Theatre” around July 18, 1856. The theatre was presumably the new (1854) Castlemaine Theatre Royal which at that stage was not much more than a wood and canvas construction. It may suggest that Dupree was working the goldfields regions.

Again he disappears from view, to re-surface in late October 1858 at the Victoria Hotel, Percy Street, Portland (Victoria). “Professor du Pree”, said the Portland Guardian, “is well known to the older inhabitants of this town, and years ago has exhibited his various and wonderful feats with great applause before the public; and at private residences in this town.”

Du Pree's career was no flash in the pan, for in January 1859 he had moved across into South Australia for a lengthy stay, some twenty-two years after his first-known performance.
 

The South Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide), Sunday March 5, 1859

Mons. du Pree delighted a tolerably large audience here on Monday and Tuesday nights with his various tricks of palmistry and mechanism, and earned a great dela of applause, which I think he well deserved; he has a well-assorted stock of materials, and is indeed very clever and quick in handling them “to deceive the eye” ... he minutely explained and showed the secret arrangements and contrivances of his mechanical apparatus; but it is very clear that it wants a good deal of talent as well as practice to make proper use of them.

The South Australian Advertiser, Monday March 21, 1859

LEGERDEMAIN - A Monsieur du Pree has been amusing the Portonians for the last two or three evenings by the exhibition of feats of legerdemain. The deceptions performed, although generally simple, are cleverly executed, and are in these dull times well worth a visit if only for the sake of the laugh they occasion.

The South Australian Advertiser, Wednesday March 30, 1859

(GOOLWA - from a correspondent, Monday ) March 28
On Saturday evening, Mons. Du Pree, the fire-eater, obtained a large assemblage at the Goolwa Hotel, to witness his feats of "diablerie." The proceedings were given out as being under the patronage of the Hon. W. Younghusband, who, with his family, were present. From the truly masterly manner in which Mons. Du Pree performs his remarkable feats, we should judge that his popularity will be great, and we hope he will meet with the encouragement he deserves.

The South Australian Advertiser, Wednesday October 5, 1859

MONS. DU PREE.-This renowned Fire King and master of the Black Art will commence the exhibition of his marvels at the Exchange Hotel, Port Adelaide, to-night. His prowess in his profession is already pretty well known in those colonies, and we have no doubt he will be well patronised.
 

The South Australian Advertiser, Wednesday November 30, 1859 -

(GAWLER- from our own Correspondent, November 29 1859)
Monsieur DuPree, the Great Wizard of the South, has been giving a series of entertainments here during the last few days. The manner in which he performed the various tricks gave universal satisfaction. I believe he intends giving an entertainment at the Oddfellows' Hall shortly, and which, I have no doubt, will be well attended.

In later years we find further brief mentions that indicate Monsieur Du Pree was continuing to perform. On July 23, 1861 he was noted at the Camp Hotel, Ballarat, Victoria. And from October 9 to 14, 1863 he exhibited at Mr South’s Hotel, Mount Gambier (South Australia), still giving a performance which inspired the press to say that “M. DuPree is quite a master in the art which he professes, and his sleight of hand tricks are such as quite to surprise most of his audience.”

After this date our Wizard of the South fades from view, leaving us with the puzzle of his true identity, but satisfied that the first recorded performer of magic in Australia was a gifted and long-lived entertainer.



Information in the W.G. Alma Conjuring Collection

The W.G.Alma Conjuring Collection (State Library of Victoria) has no file on M.Du Pree. There is, however, a file on a Prof. [Louis] DuPrez. In this file is a photocopied page containing newspaper clippings from the South Australian Register for August 7, 9, 13,and 20, 1845, and these concern Monsieur Du Pree.
The remainder of the file concerns a Prof. Duprez, noted as touring England in 1890. There are three pages of an article by Frank E. Gerrard, describing Duprez' programme, and a reference from "Mahatma" magazine, May 1899, noting "the death of Prof. Duprez at Hastings, England. He inherited his talent from his father, and was a very original performer." Aside from this last comment, and Monsieur Du Pree's advertisements referring to British performances, there is no evidence at this stage to connect Duprez to Du Pree.
 

The Annals of Conjuring (Sidney W. Clarke)

Page 195 - "About 1863 a Frenchman named Duprez performed in England. Another Duprez, French by birth, English by education, started conjuring in 1873 and appeared at the Piccadilly Hall, London, in 1881. He made a provincial tour in 1883. His programme then included performing dogs and birds, a Dark Sťance, an imitation of Psycho, which also "talked,", the Flying Bird Cage, the Gun Trick, and the Growth of a Rose Tree. It has been said that he was the first to use a swinging houlette for the Rising Card Trick. He was at the Egyptian Hall in 1892."