Mr Hall, Wizard of the South, and Signor Blitz
The career of Mr. Hall is somewhat representative of many of the magicians featured in my research. He springs into the limelight on the public stage as a fully-formed entertainer with the appearance of being a full-time professional. His work was well regarded. It is difficult to dig into his personal life. He moves around different localities but often there is no continuity to his tour. His billing as the “Wizard of the South” lends itself to confusion with other “Wizards” of the time such as Berkley Lennox and H.Benson Lees. And after a certain number of years he fades from public view almost without trace.
Mr. Hall’s story may begin in January 1853, when newspapers reported the addition of legerdemain to the repertoire of the “Howard’s Serenaders” minstrel troupe. Though the conjurer is not named, Hall was certainly associated with the troupe shortly afterwards. See the heading “Signor Blitz and the Serenaders”, below.
Howard’s Serenaders were led by brothers Charles V. and George B. Howard. Originally engaged in England (1849) by Henry Burton to work with the Blythe Waterland Serenaders, they broke away in 1850 and toured in competition to Burton, through New South Wales and Victoria. With a small cast, and performing mainly in the saloons of hotels, they were early examples of the evolving Minstrel show in Australia, and their repertoire was principally polite versions of Afro-American songs and humour. The Howard troupe eventually struggled to find a regular audience, working with the circus at Astley’s Amphitheatre, eventually disbanding, though they reformed in 1856 with limited success. (1)
It was an attempt to widen the appeal of the Serenaders that led to the introduction of Mr. Hall. Prior to April 11, 1855, Hall had appeared at the Theatre Royal, Port Adelaide, South Australia. He was promoted as a pupil of Mr. Anderson and listed the Magic Bottle within his repertoire.
By August 1, 1855 Mr. Hall’s performance for the first part of the Howard’s Serenaders entertainment at the Fitz Roy Hotel, Maitland, NSW, then moving to nearby Raymond Terrace and Hexham. Later that month the troupe was in Dapto on the South Coast of NSW. Hall was advertised to appear at Howell’s Hotel in Wollongong on September 3 and October 23, with no mention of the minstrels, but with “new tricks, new music … and Uncle Tom’s statues”.
Returning some months later for three successful nights in Maitland in December 1855, the magician appeared to be the main feature of the entertainment, the Howards being reduced to a mere mention of “his serenaders”.
Relatively little is heard of Hall during 1856, though it is highly likely that he may have toured some of the gold-rush areas where his entertainment would be well received. Certainly on March 15, 1856, he was at Bathurst under the title “Professor Hall” with featured magic including the Watch in the Loaf, Flying Ring, and Inexhaustible Bottle. There is no mention of the Serenaders, and he was supported by “The Sable Brethern, Messrs. Brenni, F.Harrington, and Felix Germone” who also were advertised to appear with him in an April performance at Moreton Bay, Queensland. In late May the group was at Mr. Buckler’s Inn, Armidale NSW.
On November 24 (Illawarra Mercury) we gain a small clue to Hall’s identity, where he is referred to as “Mr. J. P. Hall, a professor of the Cabalistic Art, and the Messrs. Howard’s and Reading’s serenaders.” Unfortunately, even this small advance is negated by the Maitland Mercury of March 17, 1859, which refers to “Mr. Wm.Hall, the Wizard of the South”.
The Serenaders, by 1856, were comprised of Mr Hall, Charles Howard, Mr Reading and Mr Brenni, but as previously stated, the troupe’s lack of success would soon lead to its dissolution.
Hall was back in the Wollongong area by May 1857, his regular visitation of which seems to indicate that he may have lived in the region. He struck up an acquaintance with a Professor George Parker, resulting in a joint tour; Parker being the more prominently billed, but both receiving good press.
Mr. Hall and Professor Parker
Professor Parker (2) , not to be confused with the handcuff artist of 1900, was an acclaimed swordsman and boxer. Born around 1829, he was an emigrant to Australia in the early 1850s, and died in 1871 after a fall from a horse. Parker conducted a “School of Arms” at various locations in Sydney throughout the mid-1850s. His entertainments consisted of dramatic feats of swordsmanship including severing a sheep’s carcass in half with a single stroke of the sword.
Arriving in Brisbane, Queensland, the pair gave a series of entertainments from early June 1857. Professor Parker led off with severing a bar of lead in two, the famous “Stick and Tumbler” feat (breaking a long stick balanced between two tumblers of water, without spilling a drop) and the “Saladin Cut” in which a delicate silk handkerchief was sliced in two with a single cut. Mr Hall’s repertoire included the Magic Punch Bowl and Inexhaustible Bottle, and the evening concluded with ‘Yankee Smith’ and his banjo delineations of Plantation Life. Later that month, in Ipswich, Mr. Hall is noted singing “several amusing songs, which were received with considerable applause … the performances were of a very satisfactory nature.”. The North Australian paper mentioned a continued tour route through Drayton, Warwick, Glen Innes, Tenterfield and Armidale (Horse and Jockey Hotel), all in the upper North of New South Wales.
Armidale papers, suffering a dearth of amusement, welcomed the “advent of the sheep demolishing professor of the noble art of self-defence and the clever Wizard with a hearty welcome and crowded houses.”
By March 1858, Hall was back in Wollongong, NSW, at Johnson’s Hotel ; but he returned North with “Yankee” Smith with a visit to Grafton in mid-July and apparently back to Queensland where, on November 9, the ‘North Australian’ noted that “the entertainment has been very popular in the districts Mr. Hall has been visiting.”
Travelling south once again, Hall moved through Kempsey and Port Macquarie where the “charge for admission is certainly too high” according to remarks in Port Macquarie on March 7. However he departed with a very high reputation after voluntarily giving a concert at the Court House for the benefit of the shipwrecked crew of the ‘Defender’, raising funds with his magic and banjo playing.
Mr. Hall and Professor Parker teamed up again for three performances in Queenbeyan and Cooma, southern New South Wales, Professor Parker including the feat of cutting an apple on his hand without injury. Mr. Hall was “more than usually successful in his tricks of magic, and his negro singing, and tales of plantation life, kept the audience in roars of laughter from beginning to end.” (Goulburn Herald, May 5, 1860). Ensuing performances were promoted for the gold-fields regions of Kiandra and Bombala.
It might be inferred that Hall toured extensively throughout the Eastern states and, in May 1861 he was due back at Armidale, but was prevented by flooding. Still with Professor Parker, he was at Rockhampton, midway up the Queensland coast, on March 17, 1862, the to Ipswich, Dalby and Condamine. The ‘Courier’ declared Hall to be “a thorough genius … he is a good serenader, a first-rate wizard, and a tolerable ventriloquist.”
From this date, Mr. Hall’s appearances in the press fade away, though he was performing in Goulburn in late May 1863, at Bendigo in late November 1866, and as late as February 22, 1867 was seen again in the Illawarra region at the School of Arts, Woonona, with a very well received performance.
Signor Blitz and the Serenaders
As a separate consideration, we raise the possibility that Mr. Hall might have joined with Howard’s Serenaders prior to 1855, under the guise of “Signor Blitz”.
The ‘real’ Blitz was an English performer, Antonio Blitz (1810 - 1877) who worked in Britain and America but never came to Australia. He was, however, famous and frequently mentioned in the press. (5)
In 1848 (Friday August 4, Colonial Times) a performer calling himself Signor Blitz performed at the Albert Theatre in Hobart. This may have been a one-off by an aspiring performer trading on Blitz’s name.
However on January 10, 1853, Howard’s Serenaders were appearing at the Royal Hotel, Sydney, and they announced a Signor Blitz in his first appearance. It was stated that he was a “Pupil of Anderson” [John Henry Anderson, Wizard of the North.] This was the Howard troupe’s first introduction of a magician, but there is no evidence to give us a certain connection to Mr. Hall. Whoever the performer was, his repertoire including cooking a pudding in a hat, and catching a bullet, and he was praised in the press, once mentioning that he was “a very young man”. The Serenaders remained in Sydney until mid-March before moving to Maitland, Singleton and Morpeth around April 16.
Then “Signor Blitz” is seen no longer with Howard’s Serenaders, and only makes a single appearance in early May at the Olympic Circus in Castlereagh Street with a Marionette theatre.
None of these dates clash with what is known about Mr. Hall, and it is speculated that he might well have been “Blitz” before re-engaging with the Serenaders in 1855. The most telling evidence is that both Blitz and Hall used the phrase “Pupil of Anderson” in their advertising.
(1) From Minstrel Show to Vaudeville / The Australian Popular Stage 1788-1914. Richard Waterhouse, New South Wales University Press 1990. ISBN 0 86840 100 5
(2) Article about Prof. Parker http://trove.nla.gov.au/list?id=59098
(3) Image, thought to be of Parker, from the William Dixson collection, State Library NSW.
(4) Illustration of Parker from June 11, 1855
(5) Blitz’s autobiography, 1871, is titled “Fifty Years in the Magic Circle”.