Signor Recanati and the Royal Lyceum Theatre


Charles Waller, in briefly mentioning Signor Recanati, quotes the pompous wording of the advertisement shown here (March 26, 1855).

WHO IS HE? Recanati
S-age Man!
I-talian Magician!!
G-rave Preceptor!!!
N-ecromantic King!!!!
O-h! Mighty Wizard!!!!!
R-eign thyself alone!!!!!!


R-enowned Logician!
E-ccentric Illusionist!!
C-onjuror Mysterious!!!
A-ustralia’s Star!!!!
N-ature’s son of Science!!!!!
A-ll great Philisopher!!!!!!
T-hour’t wondrous wise!!!!!!!
I-‘ll never look upon thy like again!!!!

“Recanati never came to Melbourne”, wrote Waller; “perhaps they killed  him in Sydney!”

Oddly enough, Sydney was Recanati’s swansong, though not because of his preening advertisements. He was entangled in the demise of one of Sydney’s early theatres.

“Wizard” Signor Recanati was advertised, from March 22, 1855 to appear at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, York Street, Sydney,  from at least Monday March 26. “Recanati puzzles the wise – confounds  the ignorant – mystifies the sensible …” He was a brave man indeed, for in direct opposition to him, at the Royal Victoria Theatre, Pitt Street (1838-1880) was the juggernaut known as Wizard Jacobs.

Whether Recanati was his true name is a matter for speculation; Recanati is a town in the central West of Italy. However, Shipping information for February 25, 1855 shows a Mr and Mrs Recanati arriving in Sydney on the ‘Scotia’ from Madras. In two later newspaper advertisements he is mentioned as  C RECANATI on March 31, and E RECANATI on April 2, giving a confusing but useful clue as to his possible real name. The “E Recanati” appears more likely as it is used twice within the text.

On March 27, advertisements proclaimed the Great Triumph of Recanati, and offered “Physical, Mathematical, Mechanical, and rapid illusions, together with a great exhibition of Dissolving Views, Comical,  Astronomical and Natural History.” Up until  Friday Marcy 30, newspaper advertisements continued to proclaim “Crowded Houses! – Great satisfaction at witnessing the Wizard Recanati’s wonderful magic.”

However, on Saturday March 31 and April 2,  a sudden and mysterious notice appears, under the wizard’s own name:-
ROYAL LYCEUM THEATRE – Signor RECANATI will not appear any more in this theatre, for reasons that will be explained to the public in Monday’s newspaper, and shall be decided by the law.

From this time onwards, Signor Recanati appears lost to history, being seen in no part of the country again, and with no departure by ship discovered. However, the mystery of his sudden demise takes us into interesting theatrical territory.








Demise of the Royal Lyceum Theatre

No explicit explanation is to be found in the newspapers of early April but an intuitive leap takes us to the truth. Recanati’s advertising included the name ‘A. Leopoldt’ as ‘Sole Lessee’ of the Royal Lyceum Theatre.  A closer examination of the Lyceum’s history is made below, but the Sydney Morning Herald of April 2 reports from the Insolvency Court:-

ESTATES SURRENDERED – Augustus Leopoldt, of York-Street, Sydney, publican. Liabilities 2066 12s. 2d.   Assets: value of real property 500; value of personal property 1495; outstanding debts, 8 6s; total assets 2003 6s. – Deficit 63 6s 2d.  Mr Morris, official assignee.

Mr Leopoldt had gone bust, and Signor Recanati, in all likelihood, was left unpaid and in the lurch.

Augustus Leopoldt, a native of Germany  (1) had been in Australia only since early 1854, when he applied for, but was refused, the license of the Rose of Australia public house.  However, by September 6, 1854 he had taken over the lease of the Adelphi Hotel, York Street, from circus entrepreneur, John Malcom (2).

As will be seen from the complex history of the Royal Lyceum Theatre, the Adelphi Hotel was also the site of a theatre and circus; by
mid-October 1854 the theatre had been renamed as the Royal Lyceum Theatre.  It is difficult to separate the operations and management of the Hotel versus the Theatre, but through early 1855, the Theatre produced various dramas and farces, and in advertising  A.Leopoldt was shown as the Sole Lessee of the Theatre, with Mr. Boam Orchestra Leader and F. Belfield Manager. Adelphi

In January 1855, two men were brought before the courts (3) on a charge of robbing from an employer, to wit, coins worth 50. Mr Augustus Leopoldt, publican of York Street, had employed the men to clean out the cellar of the Adelphi Hotel, when they discovered a canvas bag of coins previously hidden by Leopoldt in a wall crevice. One of those charged, James Blizzard, was discharged since he had been the person who advised Leopoldt of the bag’s discovery. The other, George White, was remanded for trial although no property was discovered in his possession.

This loss, though severe, is probably not the only catalyst for insolvency. The previous theatre owner,  John Malcom had made an initial success of the venue but apparently tried unsuccessfully to sell it in 1854; and it is likely that competition from other, larger, theatres, contributed to a decline in profits.

By April the assets of the Adelphi Hotel were listed for sale on the 23rd, (4) including bar fittings, alcohol, furniture, bedding and kitchenware;  also “Theatrical wardrobes, Equestrian dresses, and Wardrobe various dresses.”

Adelphi Sell Off 1855 Apr 23Insolvency meetings continued over the next several months. In May (5) Leopoldt was proceeded against for “abandoning his licensed house (the Adelphi) as his usual place of abode.” Leopoldt did not put in an appearance, and the court cancelled his publican’s licence.

An attempt to apply for a certificate of discharge, in July (6), was refused on the grounds that Leopoldt had been entering into further debt with no reasonable expectation of being able to pay it.

Finally, at the end of August, the insolvent estate declared a first dividend of 10s. 11d. on the pound (less than 10% of the value of the pre-sterling Pound).

Meantime, the Royal Lyceum Theatre had ceased to advertise, and it was only on December 21, 1855 that the re-opening of the theatre was announced (7) for the following week, Dec.26. “… the most powerful and talented company ever seen on any stage in the  colonies. Extensive alterations and improvements are now in progress, under the superintendence of the great contractor, Mr. Randle”.  Eventually the “Royal” Lyceum would take on the title “Our Lyceum” with a grand opening season starting on July 19, 1856. There would follow several more name changes before the final demolition of the theatre in 1882.


Mr. Leopoldt’s name vanishes from the newspapers and another sad theatrical tale comes to an end.


In researching this tale, and finding a number of facts either missing from the standard reference works, or difficult to compile, I have put together a Short History of the Royal Lyceum Theatre, summarising the history of the site, its hotels and theatres, from 1833-1882.