Professor James Eagle, the Gold Rush Wizard
‘Professor’ James Eagle was a prime example of the Wizard who toured the Australian gold-rush regions from the mid-1850s. No mere fly-by-night, Eagle was in Australia for at least twelve years. We speculate in this story that he was, at times, a prospector himself, using his performances of magic to bolster his income while searching for the elusive big strike.
Disposing of Barnardo Eagle
Before pursuing this story further, it is necessary to correct an error which has crept into the published history of magic in Australia.
Charles Waller, author of the research manuscript published as “Magical Nights at the Theatre”, identifies “Prof. Eagle” as Barnardo Eagle, a minor British magician whose main claim to fame was being a thorn in the side of his more famous rival, John Henry Anderson, the Wizard of the North. “Barney” Eagle stole Anderson’s repertoire and almost everything else of Anderson’s publicity that he could use. It is possible that because Anderson toured Australia in the late 1850s, that Waller made a connection between the two.
Unfortunately, Barnardo Eagle is not the magician who came to Australia in 1856, nor, as far as we know, did he ever venture down under. All of Waller’s paragraphs are based on an incorrect assumption, easily made since “Professor Eagle” is only mentioned by his first name, James, on a handful of occasions. While the Australian press did speak of Barnardo Eagle in 1847, it was only to reproduce articles from the British press. According to a genealogical researcher (1) and a news article of May 1858 (2), Barnardo Eagle died, onstage, on May 5, 1858 at St Peter's Port in Guernsey, Channel Islands. Our Professor was still in Australia as late as 1868.
Will Alma, in his historical writings, sticks to the known facts and makes only a brief attempt to identify Professor Eagle.
The reverse situation also occurs; attempts to locate Professor Eagle in British records are hindered by the difficulty of distinguishing and excluding Barnardo Eagle.
Professor James Eagle Arrives
For the purposes of this story, our Professor is James Eagle. Whether this was his real name or a professional title is not yet clear.
The vessel “Royal Charter” was a steam-auxilliary ship, capable of operating by steam power when the wind was inadequate, which created history by departing from Plymouth on February 17, 1856, and arriving in Melbourne barely 60 days later, on April 16. On board was man who would shortly advertise his show as “Professor Eagle”; but an examination of the published passenger list reveals nobody of that surname. There are a Mr and Mrs John Eales, at least four passengers with the first name of James, and a further twenty unnamed passengers from second cabin and steerage.
From his arrival, and in almost all his advertising, the performer is named only as “Professor Eagle”. It is not until August 15, 1861, that the Professor indicates his name in print as “James Eagle” (3), through a brief letter to the Mercury announcing two charity performances. In March and July 1862, he is also referenced as James, in the Wahgunyah and Corowa Herald (4). Pending an inspection of the Colonial Secretary’s licensing records, these are the only concrete statements of his first name.
Eagle arrived in Australia just as Wizard Joseph Jacobs, the most celebrated and successful performer of his time, was supposedly preparing to depart (his ‘farewell’ performance at Coppin’s ‘Olympic’ was on April 26). As it eventuated, Jacobs continued to tour around for another couple of years, with a brief trip over to California in late 1857, returning to Australia and finally departing on November 6, 1858. He would return in 1865.
Almost immediately upon his arrival (5), Professor Eagle, under the all-encompassing title “The Wizard of the North, South, East and West”, advertised an impending season of ‘magnificent entertainments in the Art Magique, on a scale of unrivalled splendour, never before attempted in the colonies, and embracing various novelties of the most interesting description.’ The season, for one week only, was to open at the Royal Amphitheatre (later redeveloped to become the site of the Princess Theatre), Melbourne, on April 28, 1856.
However, he was obliged to advertise that in consequence of “the serious illness of Professor Eagle” the entertainment would be unavoidably postponed.
Fortunately, Eagle made a swift recovery and was soon able to announce that ‘having at length completed all necessary arrangements’ he would open on May 5 at the Amphitheatre, where he began to attract fair houses. “He is not by any means so clever a rhetorician as Mr. Jacobs”, said the Argus, making an inevitable comparison, “but many of his tricks are novel and exceedingly clever.” The season continued until May 10, and then Eagle moved to the Assembly Rooms, Richmond, for May 13 and 14, and the Grand Junction Hotel at St. Kilda on 17th, before heading to the Crown Hotel in Geelong, announced to commence May 29, though no further mention is made of a performance there. The use of assembly rooms and hotels as venues for entertainment was commonplace in the absence of established formal theatres.
By August, Eagle had ventured to Portland, 350 kilometres from Melbourne on Victoria’s south-west shore, via the “Champion” where he promoted Grand Entertainments on August 11, 12 at “Mr Crouch’s New Store in Gawler Street”. George C. Crouch, an early Portland settler, in 1856 constructed a large iron building to accommodate his auctioneering business; this was at 35 Percy Street, close to Gawler Street. (7) A few years later a new stone building was built on the same site, and that address is now occupied by the historic “Portland Club”
The Portland Guardian of August 13 spoke well of him (‘well worth witnessing and afforded very great entertainment’), indicating that he was accompanied by the Virginian Minstrels with singing and dancing. His tricks included the magical transposition of a borrowed handkerchief into a box. He destroyed a borrowed finger ring and, together with a currency note, fired the pieces from a pistol at a candle onstage, whereupon the note was found inside the candle. An empty box produced a live bird with the ring tied to its neck. Several borrowed handkerchiefs were damaged and restored again. A number of selected cards rose from the deck standing in a glass. And “not the least remarkable feat was that of a young child suspended by an arm on a pole, and stretching its body out horizontally in the air.” (Robert-Houdin’s ‘Ethereal Suspension’ had already been presented by Wizard Jacobs). An interesting recreation of this illusion (1966) can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cI0Zacc2JFw
The Professor then goes missing for a few months, though it is noted that several unclaimed letters were awaiting him in Adelaide, South Australia. On March 13, 1857 he resurfaced back in Melbourne at the Black Bull Hotel, Bourke Street, with his ‘talented company’ for seven nights. Thankfully, Eagle had begun to let go of his clumsy “Wizard of the N/S/E/W” by-line and gradually became instead “The Wizard of the World”. Since Professor John Henry Anderson was now reported to have been engaged to travel to Australia, it made sense to stay away from the term “Wizard of the North”.
Support for the notion that Eagle was, if not a prospective gold miner, at least a performer interested in capitalising on the wealth generated by the gold rush, is given by his next move, to the “Ovens” region of Beechworth, by late August 1857. Since the townships of Eldorado and Beechworth are a considerable distance from Melbourne, and close to the Victoria / New South Wales border, Eagle had presumably spent the intervening months travelling towards Beechworth, possibly working at other things (gold?) besides his magic. There had been a brief mention of his presence in Branxholme, presumably as he worked up from Portland.
Peter M. Shea, in his social history of the Beechworth region during the gold rushes (6), quotes eyewitnesses:
It would hardly be surprising that Eagle might have been drawn to Australia along with the staggering numbers of hopefuls throwing themselves at the goldfields since 1851. In the ten years following the discovery of gold near Ballarat and Bendigo, the population of the newly-declared (1851) colony of Victoria grew from 76,000 to 540,000 people. At any rate, having made his way to the upper north of that colony, Eagle opened a season at the El Dorado Hotel, Beechworth on September 1, “and every evening during the week”, supported by a concert troupe of five.
Said the Ovens & Murray Advertiser, “The Wizard Eagle … is a magician of skill and dexterity … he may want the magic power of charming by the eye or voice, but it is amply compensated for by the extreme cunning of the hand.” – a second reference in the press indicating that Eagle’s showmanship and speech may not have matched the talents of others.
From September 16 to 18, the Professor was seen at the Freemason’s Arms Hotel in High Street, Beechworth, supported by his comic assistant, named “Sprightly” in a direct heist from Wizard Jacobs’ show. From September 24 to 26 he was at John Wallace’s Star Hotel, Nine Mile Creek (Stanley), for what he termed his last appearance in the district.
The hotels were not of any marvellous quality, as these histories relate:-
(8) “At Reid's Creek, where the Welcome Inn and Freemasons Arms were opened, there was also eight refreshment (grog) tents. These old hotels, mostly nondescript weatherboard and slab structures, were crowded with diggers, who, in the winter of 1854, 'preferred the warmth of hotel parlors to their chilly tents'.”
(9) Many of our early hotels could only be described as family dwellings, where the owner and his family lived. They obtained licences to sell beer, wine and spirits. Some hotels provided meals and entertainment as well. As the mining population of the district fluctuated so did the hotel business, and as the number of miners in the area decreased, numerous houses in the hotel trade had to cease business too.
It should not be thought, however, that the gold regions were dull or backwards. Teeming with life, the townships’ diggers demanded entertainment and recreation. In September 1857, as Eagle played in Beechworth, the papers also advertised Ashton’s Royal Olympian Circus, the Chinese Brothers gymnastics, a singing concert by Mrs. Vincent, and four dances and Grand Balls.
Eagle moved across to the Star Hotel at nearby Three Mile Creek, for October 9 and 10, and then made his way to Bendigo, 270km to the west. Somewhere within this period he was at Maryborough, as will be seen by the following chapter on James Bodell.
At the Haymarket Theatre on December 21, “the attendance was moderate, and the audience seemed well pleased with the efforts of the Professor cheating them out of their seven senses.” Advertising on December 26, Eagle lists the names of some of his feats as ‘Le Chancelies Cabilistiques, Mysterious Lavatory, Devil’s Punch Bowl, Rifle Gallery, Inexhaustible Bottle, Half-an-hour with the Spirits, and placing one of his audience in the Mystic Sleep.’ He finished out the year from December 29-31 in the Assembly Room of the Gum Tree Hotel at Golden Square, Bendigo.
James Bodell and the Magic Show
We come now to what may be the most detailed exposition of a magic show of its time.
In the book “A Soldier’s View of Empire” edited by Keith Sinclair (10), the reminiscences of James Bodell include a lengthy reference to a magic performance given by himself, under the instruction of Professor Eagle. Bodell (1831 – 1892) had travelled throughout Ireland and China with the British Army, and would later fight in the Waikato War in New Zealand, had settled for a time in Australia.
Having set himself up in the hotel business, he met up with Professor Eagle, probably between October and December 1857. His recollections of becoming, temporarily, a magician, are accurate if a little convoluted, and it is clear that the magician’s assistant “Sprightly” did most of the secret work. Both the Inexhaustible Bottle and the Punch Bowl trick are mentioned in Eagle’s advertising, as they were standard fare of the time, as was the Cannon Ball routine, producing a host of tiny articles of clothing from a hat. Most likely Bodell borrowed the props from him.
Speaking of his Hotel in Maryborough, 1857, James Bodell writes in a distinctive fashion which is repeated here verbatim :-
“On Saturday 10th October 1857 I opened the Commercial Hotel having engaged the Cornish Band from Chinamans flat (here I may say Chinamans flat is turning out good gold this day April 1885). That day I took between £20 and £30 and the following six Months I had cleared over a £1000, and expended lots of money in altering and improving the Building.
I had a large Room directly behind the Bar, this I furnished and altered making 3 Rooms into one, and opened the Theatre Royal, Maryborough. I did well for some months out of this Theatre. On one occasion I had Professor Eagle the Wizard of the South and he learnt me several tricks. On one occasion I agreed to do several conjuring tricks for the Benefit of the Local Hospital, and it was announced that a local Gentleman would perform on the Stage of the Theatre Royal Commercial Hotel for the benefit of the local Hospital. I was to do the inexhaustible Bottle trick, and give 200 Drinks out of a common Porter Bottle, and 6 different drinks, also the Ladies Punch Bowl and other tricks.
This brought a crowded house, and I commenced operation about 9 o’clock after the Professor had done several tricks, my man Sprightly being the principal means of the tricks being properly done. First I commenced the Bottle trick. Several days before I had been drilled by Professor Eagle. The inexhaustible Bottle is a bottle made for the Purpose in fact there is two Bottles really. You take the bottle in your right hand and there is small Valves for each finger and thumb, and by Pressing them on the Valves, you can turn the bottle upside down and nothing will come out, but directly you take your finger off the Valve the liquor you require will appear, Brandy, Rum, Gin, whisky, Port and Sherry Wine. Gin & whisky are mixed. When you are ready Sprightly will appear with a large tray, with 2 to 3 dozen of small thick glasses, each glass looks large but they are so thick they hold very little. When you ask the Audience what you will have the Pleasure of serving them with, about 100 drinks are asked for, and Sprightly holds the tray whilst I filled the glasses and off he goes amongst the People giving them the Drinks. Sprightly knew when the first bottle was getting empty. He came on the Stage and by his humorous talk kept the Audience’s attention off me, whilst I changed the Bottle in the Slips. Directly he saw I had the Bottle I again wanted to know what drinks they wanted and so it went on the Professor having a bottle ready filled. I gave nearly 200 drinks this way.
When the bottle trick was over I commenced the Ladies Punch Bowl. This Article is a large brass Bowl with a Stand fully one foot long. As I take the bowl from the back part of the Stage which is filled up with all the Wizard’s professional implements gorgeously arrayed, I approach the front of the Stage asking the Ladies whether they will take a glass of hot Punch. I get many orders and before I fill the Glasses I turn the bowl bottom up to show the Audience the bowl is empty. Although the bowl appears large it is so thick and hollow that the space inside would not hold above a quart. When you want the liquor to appear, holding the bowl with the left hand and the Ladle with the right hand, you press the Thumb of the left hand on a Valve. This raises a small round Portion of the bottom of the bowl and out comes the hot Punch. Sprightly standing alongside with the Glass and dozens of Glasses of reeking hot Punch is served out, amidst the applause of the Audience.
The third and last trick, was the Cannon Ball trick. On the rack back of the Stage [is] a Ball about the Size of a 20 lb Shot made of leather and hollow in appearance like a cannon Ball. After telling the Audience what you are going to do Sprightly rolls the Ball across the stage and you pick it up making believe it is very heavy. You ask for a Belltopper hat and fortunately there was one amongst the spectators. Doctor Laidman[‘s] hat I got and introduced the Cannon Ball into it and after Sprightly had amused the Spectators with some Jokes, he introduced myself and in a few minutes I had Part of the Stage covered with feather down fully 3 feet high and several suits of clothes (tiny ones) and the last Article is a tiny Pair of Ladies drawers. This caused amusement, and as you hand the hat back, just as the Gentleman is going to take it you suddenly draw it back, and you discover the Ball which you roll on the Stage and sprightly runs away with it. I should have said the Ball is not seen by the Spectators till the last, as Sprightly gets the Ball into the Hat, unobserved by the spectators they thinking of all the stuff you take out of the empty hat. The ball has a spring and by pressing the spring it opens in two Parts and when you have emptied it you close it again then it is taken out and rolled across the Stage. 28 years since is a long time to remember. The Audience left well satisfied with the Entertainment. Next day we handed over £60 to the Hospital Committee.”
Robbery by a Rival, and a Sprightly Goblin
Back near Bendigo, Professor Eagle commenced 1858 at the Albert Hotel on January 15, where “he will open his mysterious, mystical and never-to-be-sufficiently admired magic budget of incomprehensibilities.” The interesting association with this appearance is that his agent, named in the Mt. Alexander Mail’s advertisement, is one Charles H. Rignold , himself a Wizard, though not long out of gaol for theft.
Also in conjunction with the thieving business, William Gordon, one of Professor Eagle’s party, was charged with stealing a coat, the property of George Townsend. Caught, when he made the rookie mistake of wearing the coat in public, Gordon was sentenced to two month’s imprisonment.
Eagle drew a ‘tolerably good house’ and ‘amused the audience tolerably well’ at EagleHawk in late January, but then proposed to make a huge leap by crossing the straits to Launceston, Tasmania.
He advertised in late March and through to April 14 of his impending arrival, and would (in 1861) later advertise that he had performed there, but there is no sign that this season ever took place. Perhaps he had been discouraged by the knowledge that both Bennett Clay and Philippe De Barr had recently performed in Launceston.
A ‘Wizard of the North, South, East and West’ appeared at McGowen’s Concert Hall in Melbourne ‘every evening’ over several months, with the inexhaustible bottle and the Gun trick; and the Professor offered lessons in the Art of Legerdemain, but the wizard is not named, and was probably just someone capitalising on the impending arrival of John Henry Anderson in June. Professor Eagle is next noted, still around Bendigo, near July 8 at Forest Creek, July 30 at the Eagle Tavern on Campbell’s Creek, and on August 7 and 8; prior to which the Mount Alexander Mail, in unfriendly tones grumbled, “While the people of Melbourne are delighted with the wonderful feats of the Wizard of the North Mr. Anderson, the inhabitants of Forest Creek are favoured with the presence of an artist of perhaps only inferior accomplishments.”
It would be reasonable to assume that Professor Eagle continued to perform in the assembly rooms of regional hotels; but perhaps he was out of range of the usual newspaper advertising, as he fades from view for almost nine months. When next noted by the press it is with a single mention at Ararat in central Victoria, March 1859, after which no more is heard of the Wizard that year.
ARARAT - “The [gold] rush is not devoid of amusements; the votaries of Terpsichore [dancing] may enjoy themselves at the saloon of Mr. Marriott of the Star. Professor Eagle astonishes his audiences nightly with his conjurations, at Mr. Jones’s, whilst the Empire Serenaders will make their bow on Saturday next at Mr. White’s. The Theatre at Pleasant Creek is to be brought down and will be erected upon a convenient spot for the especial delectation of the patrons of the drama.” [Geelong Advertiser, March 9, 1859]
Within that decade, there were numerous other Wizards in the region, including Jacobs (1865), Bennett Clay, Professor Ericksen, John Henry Anderson, Professor Kohler and Charles Rignold; also one W. Montague Murray, who in 1857 was promoting himself at Silver Creek, Bendigo, as a “Scottish Comedian, Comic Humorist” but soon became a regular magician, “Professor Montague Murray”. However, before arriving at this point in his career, he had a serious run-in with Professor Eagle and the law.
Inglewood Advertiser, August 3, 1860 - "A rather amusing case was heard at our police court on Tuesday last, concerning an 'inexhaustible bottle' and other magic articles, the property of Professor Eagle, the Wizard of the World. It appears that after the conclusion of a Saturday night's performance by the Professor, at the Dunolly Hotel, he left his magic properties upon the stage, and on returning to them on the following Monday, found that an inexhaustible bottle, a magic pistol and vase, and a canister were missing. Suspicion was soon around against Professor Montague, another wizard who, in company with Mr. Wallack, was performing at Kingower, and a warrant was issued for their apprehension. On receiving the warrant, the constable at one proceeded to the place where the entertainment was just then commencing, and going on to the stage, arrested the Professor and Mr. Wallack on a charge of stealing the articles with which he was then performing. The result was, the entertainment was brought to an untimely end, the audience being disappointed of their nobbler from the inexhaustible bottle, became clamorous, and the money taken at the doors was returned to them, and the prisoners taken to the lock-up. On their appearance at our police court, the articles were produced, and a great amount of curiosity was evinced by the legal gentlemen at the table to inquire into the magic of the prolific bottle, much to the fear and annoyance of Professor Eagle, who was evidently expecting to see the secret of his magic exposed to the public gaze.
The charge against Montague was proved, and he was committed for trial, but the evidence against Wallack was not so conclusive, and the magistrate dismissed him."
For stealing the apparatus (specially crafted in Birmingham ten years beforehand), Professor Montague received a sentence of twelve months imprisonment with hard labour.(11) It was not the end of his career; in 1862 he performed “The Boy that Sleeps in the Air” (presumably the Robert-Houdin suspension trick), went insolvent in 1870, and continued to perform magic as late as 1872, when in Hay, New South Wales, he presented the ‘Wonderful Bullet Gun Trick’.
The most odd aspect of this tale is that the released man, Charles Wallack, apparently the lessee of the Pavilion Theatre, is said to have changed his name to Charles Sibree, and then joined Eagle in his tours, under the guise of “the Goblin Sprightly”. He must have been a slippery character, as newspapers from New Zealand (12) in 1879 state that he later became Charles Stanley, posed as a doctor at Stringer’s Creek, moved to New Zealand where he was accused as “Yankee Charlie” of fraud in relation to a supposed quartz reef discovery, assault in 1876 for which he was gaoled for two years, and in early 1879 was turned in to police by his own wife, on the accusation of having murdered a man named Thomas Costello some seven years earlier. He had in fact been charged with the murder back in 1872, but released for want of evidence. Ultimately there was some suggestion that the wife, whom Sibree had been assaulting, had made a false accusation to police; in either case she would not appear in court, and the charge was dismissed. A newspaper search reveals that the same Charles Wallack was also charged in 1854 with armed robbery, and in 1865 with sexual assault on a drunken woman. Sprightly … indeed. He died in February 1880.
His possessions restored, Eagle continued to move around the gold diggings. A report from “Italian Gully”, south-west of Ballarat, noted that he had performed there in November 1860, but “our locality is so scattered that unless on Saturday evenings, there is but little chance of a house full.”
The Gully was established in 1855, but by 1874 the gold was gone and the little region fell into decline.
In early December, Eagle had performed at the Hamburg Hotel, Daylesford, about 100km north-west of Melbourne. He was certainly a hardy and determined performer to brave the hazards of travel.
1861 saw a sudden change of locale, when Professor Eagle announced that he would make his first entertainment back in Melbourne, introducing his ‘grand and astonishing experiments in natural magic’ at the Prince of Wales Theatre (formerly the Hippodrome, in Lonsdale Street), on January 18. His season ran through until the 31st, taking a Benefit performance on the 21st with support from Professor Ericksen and then was quiet for four months, until he surfaced at the Cornwall Assembly Rooms and then the Theatre Royal, Launceston (Tasmania), assisted by ‘Sprightly’ the celebrated Irish Comic Vocalist and Champion Dancer; also Mr. Gus Hatton of whom we shall learn more later.
Since he was now in a more salubrious hall, the press paid attention and wrote a review of his show:-
Cornwall Chronicle, July 10, 1861 – PROFESSOR EAGLE AND COMPANY made a very successful ‘debut’ at the Cornwall Assembly Room on Monday evening, and the whole performance gave great satisfaction to a very numerous audience. Professor Eagle though making less display than Professor Anderson, performed some feats on Monday evening which we considered far more surprising and unaccountable than anything we have ever previously seen in the legerdemain line. His aide-de-camp Sprightly scatters about choice witticisms with a liberal tongue, dances clog hornpipes in a style that will gain him the good opinion of all the frequenters of the pit, and sings Irish Comic songs in almost equal to Dominick Murray himself. Then there is Gus Hatton with his original local comic songs, smacking all over of the Australian bush and its squattocracy; or of Australian towns and [unclear] the eccentricities and oddities of their inhabitants. The whole forms an entertainment as novel as it is pleasing, and as varied as the greatest lover of variety could desire. this excellent Company appeared at the Theatre Royal for the first time yesterday evening, where they were even more successful in pleasing their audience than at the Cornwall Assembly Room. They perform again at the Theatre Royal this, and tomorrow evening, the latter being probably their last appearance there. The prices of admission are boxes 3s; upper circle 2s; and pit One shilling.
By July 24 the Chronicle reported that Eagle had been very successful in his tour through the Westward townships including Longford 22-24. Eagle was clearly intent on an extensive campaign with his troupe in Tasmania, as he started advertising his forthcoming schedule. It cannot be confirmed that all these dates were met, but he forecast:
Perth 25, Evandale26, Campbell Town 27 & 29, Ross 30, Oatlands 31 and August 1, Green Ponds 2 & 3, all en route south to Hobart Town where he would open on Monday August 5 with his “Drawing Room Entertainments of Legerdemain” at the Theatre Royal.
The Professor aimed to go to Brighton on August 7 & 8, Richmond on 9 &10, back to Hobart for final shows at Hobart on August 12 and 13. He made the interesting remark that this was “previous to his departure for India”, which seems never to have eventuated.
On August 15, our wizard wrote to the Mercury to inform them of two upcoming benefit nights; and for almost the only time in his public history, his letter was signed off as “Your obedient servant, JAMES EAGLE’.
For these performances at the Theatre Royal, the professor re-introduced his Extraordinary Suspension Feat of a boy ‘resting’ in the air, not mentioned in advertising since 1856; perhaps the close working conditions of his goldfield shows made this illusion impracticable.
Once again Eagle promoted his upcoming travels to the west of Hobart – New Norfolk Bush Inn, Hamilton, Bothwell and Richmond all in the course of a week, then at the ‘Albert’ in Hobart on August 28 & 29, Franklin Town, Victoria, and Brown’s River.
All of the above tour dates give the impression that business was good and prospering. Yet, on August 30, Gus Hatton, the comedian of the show and a former proprietor of the Lonsdale Assembly Rooms in Melbourne, wrote to the Mercury to explain some recent behaviour. The only likely ‘theatrical speculation’ which seems to apply is Hatton’s recent travels with Prof. Eagle:
“PUBLIC NOTICE --- Seeing an advertisement from Mrs. Moore, a boarding housekeeper, addressed to me, and thinking the public might misconstrue its meaning, I feel called upon to place the facts of the case before them. [Mrs. Moore had advertised the impending sale of property left by Hatton in lieu of cash for board and lodgings].
We as many other people do and have done, were unsuccessful in our late theatrical speculation in Hobart Town, and must add resorted to no such mean subterfuge as declaring ourselves insolvent, but gave every farthing we possessed to pay our debts which we succeeded in doing except £4 for which I personally left Mrs. Moore £13 worth of my own private property to indemnify for the same, promising to release them as soon as our circumstances would permit.
Hoping this short explanation will convince the ladies and gentlemen of the town we intend visiting hat our conduct has been actuated by no mean or dishonourable intention. I remain, most respectfully, the public’s obedient servant, GUS. HATTON”
Hopefully that sombre story only applied to their Hobart shows, for their advertised schedule into September included Franklin Town 17, Victoria Wednesday, Hospital Bay Friday, Sorell Monday 24, Forster’s Half-Way House Jerusalem 25, Lamb’s Jerusalem 26. From there it seems the tour concluded, and Professor Eagle is next seen on March 8, 1862, this time venturing into New South Wales at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Bathurst.
News of Professor Eagle starts to become much less frequent in 1862. Unsighted news articles (4) in 1862 stated that Eagle had at some point “appeared with his company by command, before his Excellency Sir Henry Barkly at Toorak [Victoria]”; and that on November 20 and 21 he would be at the Albion Hotel, Rutherglen, just inside the Victorian border. Gus Hatton was still with the company, but there is no mention of Charles Wallack/Sibree. Certainly, by 1863, neither Wallack nor Hatton were travelling with Eagle; the new ‘Goblin Sprightly’ was J.S. Brice, a banjo player an Negro Oratory.
Eagle may have ventured into other business endeavours, but for July 18, 20 and 25, 1863 he was at the Olympic Theatre, Maitland (northwest of Newcastle). His first performance was to an almost full house, but the Maitland Mercury, July 30, gave Eagle the highest accolades, while noting a disappointing audience at the last show:-
“PROFESSOR EAGLE AT THE THEATRE – On Saturday evening, this very clever performer gave his last entertainment in West Maitland, to a very poor house indeed, considering the nature of the performance, the fineness of the night, and the abilities of the performer. According to a previous announcement, the Professor introduced some fresh and startling tricks, which were very neatly and cleverly performed; in fact, in one or two instances, so complete was the deception, and so wonderful the conjuring, that the audience was fairly taken aback, and scarcely knew to what source to attribute the magical powers of Mr. Eagle. Having witnessed the performances of Jacobs, Anderson, and other wizards of world-wide celebrity, we must say that in the execution of many of his tricks Professor Eagle excels them all. The most startling of the feats performed on last Saturday evening, was that in which the operator borrowed a ring and a five pound note from persons in the pit, and afterwards produced the former from the centre of a burning candle, and the latter from the middle of a whole and apparently uncut orange. Not the least interesting portion of the evening’s programme, was the capital comic singing and excellent jesting of the Professor’s assistant, “Goblin Sprightly.” His stump oration, however, could on be regarded as a failure, especially after the inimitable performance, in that line, of Mr. Norton of the Christy’s troupe. Altogether, taken as a whole, the entertainment entitled “Wonder, magic, mystery” is very good, and well worth going to see.”
August 5 saw the troupe at the New Assembly Rooms in Watt Street, Newcastle. For historians of theatre, the Newcastle Chronicle kindly described the rooms, adjoining the Caledonian Hotel, as capable of being used as a theatre or ball-room. “There are two entrances – one at the side, and another in the front; and the room itself, which is 60 feet long, exclusive of the stage, and 26 wide, is divided into three classifications – boxes, parquette, and pit – is 20 feet in height, and lighted with gas … the adaptation of the building has, we learn, cost the spirited lessee upwards of £300 …” [July 29]
Presumably Eagle remained in the Newcastle region, as he was been noted there in mid-September, and drawing large audiences back at Maitland in mid-October.
From here, however, Eagle is almost completely lost to view. On February 4, 1865, in the upper north of New South Wales, the Armidale Express advertised a short appearance at the School of Arts on February 4 and 13 – “Professor Eagle, Prince of conjurors, Legerdemain and Magic”. Mr. Brice was again with him. It should be noted that both Maitland and Armidale were gold rush towns and it is tempting to speculate that Eagle was working at mining, but no direct evidence can be found up to this date.
Eagle the Gold Miner
The evidence becomes stronger in 1867. On July 22 Professor Eagle opened at Hansen’s Olympic Theatre (Clarendon Hotel) in Grenfell, about 400km due west of Sydney. The town, at this time, was beginning to produce more gold than any other town in New South Wales and would do so until the mid-1870s.
He conducted his ‘Temple of Enchantment, Wonder, and Mystery on July 27 and August 3, Princess’ Theatre Lauchlan’s Hotel), and on this occasion the Grenfell General Advertiser referred to him as “The digger-wizard, Professor Eagle”.
Finally, through an extract of the Weddin Mountain Gazette, Grenfell, of July 25 (13), comes proof that Eagle was occupied in a search for gold:-
“IMPORTANT DECISION – On Friday a case of considerable interest to miners was decided by Mr. Dalton at the One-mile Gully. A Mr. Eagle, generally known, we believe, as the Wizard of the South, in conjunction with two others, discovered some quartz leaders in working an alluvial claim in the early part of May. He then pegged out and registered, as abandoned ground, it would seem, a quartz claim for six men, which embraced areas held for alluvial mining by several other persons. Eagle and his party continued tracing the leader, but recently some of the others holding the alluvial claims came upon better leaders still, and within the past few days one of them came upon a large body of stone, believed to be valuable, and called by some the ‘Sons of Justice’ and by others ‘the Funny Dogs!’ The parties finding the reef, as well as the others resisting Eagle’s claim, were uninterrupted possessors, as alluvial miners, from a period prior to that on which he registered, and the Police Magistrate held, in the spirit of the Act, that the gold, no matter whether it was found in clay or quartz, belonged to them, so long as they had not abandoned their ground; and he very justly added that if it were otherwise, a man discovering a quartz vein, no matter how important, could, by taking up a quartz area along a lead of gully, dispossess and perhaps ruin a large number of alluvial miners. Subsequently he and the assessors called in to assist him had rather a heavy evening’s work in determining what was unoccupied ground and apportioning it between the different claimants.”
So Eagle might have retained some portion of his discovery. It is also interesting to note that his name is quoted directly as “Eagle” in a non-theatrical context, although to date there is no other clue as to the true identity of our Professor. He remained in the Grenfell area, giving an entertainment at the Victoria Theatre (Elliott’s Hotel) at Seven Mile Rush, on October 26, for which his advertising announced him to be “The Renowned Lancashire Wizard”. This new appellation was repeated on March 7, 1868, when Eagle performed ‘for a few nights only’ at the Alhambra Music Hall, Victoria Hotel, Pitt Street Sydney. Around May 14 he had moved southwards and gave two performances to poor audiences at the Lanterick Hotel near Kiama. Said the Kiama Independent, “his entertainments were very amusing and clever” but also “A disease of the eye is now prevalent, more especially among the juveniles … Diarrhoea is also among us … business is dull, and money very scarce.” Business apparently improved by June, when Eagle was attracting good audiences to his show at the Star Hotel but, wrote the Independent in a cranky tone, “considering the dullness of the times, these places are much too largely patronised. Would it not be for private and public good if these legalised haunts of vice were closed by law? The pauperism, dishonesty, blasphemy, cruelty and criminality following their advent, urge on all philanthropists their suppression.”
Professor Eagle visited Tumut, in the Snowy Mountains, at Simpson’s Assembly room on September 26, where again his audience was rendered small by the weather.
And, as with so many other magicians of his time, Professor Eagle, for now, slips gently into the mists of history. We are left with one hopeful last glimpse, from the township of Merriwa in 1874; years after his last known show. Either Professor James Eagle was still performing on occasion, or the people of Merriwa had a strong memory –
“The comic singing of Mr. W. Button was much admired … every time [he] returned with something fresh and funny, proving that his stock of the raw material is quite as inexhaustible as Professor Eagle’s magic bottle.”