Professor Horace Sidney at the Royal Hotel, 1854
Horace Sidney is of interest for a number of reasons, some concerning the interesting side-stories of his time in Sydney, Australia. His season at the Royal Hotel in Sydney is generally given as the earliest performance by a magician in Australia, as documented by previous researchers; though it is now known that a number of significant magicians pre-dated him.
Though it is not known when he arrived in Australia, Professor Sidney began advertising his first show to take place on April 5, 1854 (1) In a rather understated manner, and giving due acknowledgment that his magic was ‘taken from the repertoire of M. Robin (6), Herr Dobler (7), and the celebrated Wizard of the North, Mr. Anderson’, Sidney listed an impressive series of tricks, not the least of which was “The Invisibility of Charles Sidney”, presumably his brother. Frustratingly, the lives of neither Horace nor Charles can be penetrated further than their onstage appearance. The relative modesty and refinement of Sidney’s promotions stands in contrast to so many of the other bombastic performers who were to come.
The venue for Professor Sidney’s shows was the Royal Hotel. The Royal Hotel was located in George Street between Market and King Streets, where the Dymocks building now stands, and is significant for being an early player in the long and distinguished history of the Theatre Royal in Sydney (2), right up to the present time. The original venue, a hotel with a dedicated theatre attached, was developed by theatrical pioneer Barnett Levey and opened in 1832. It was, at five stories high, the tallest building in the colony at that point, and in its early life had a large windmill on top. Levey, though he had a licence to perform theatrically, did not have proper permission to build his hotel/theatre, and he was soon facing bankruptcy.
Sadly, Levey appears to have suicided in 1837 after a long battle with the Establishment at a time when theatrical entertainment was regarded as scurrilous and not to be countenanced; his widow was unable to keep the theatre going, and by 1840 the building was ‘conveniently’ burned to the ground. A new hotel was built within a year, becoming a social hub for the city’s businessmen. The hotel was demolished in 1923, and replaced by “The Block” or the Dymock’s building, itself now a stately historic city building.
So Horace Sidney would have been performing in rebuilt Hotel, not in Levey’s original theatre. He titled his show the “Saloon of Magic”. However, in his advertisement of April 6, he notes that ‘a handsome stage has been fitted up, and every preparation made for the comfort of those who may honour him with their presence.’
In a rarity for that time, the Illustrated Sydney News (3) published an illustration of Professor Sidney performing on that stage. Also on the bill were Mr Moss the ‘celebrated Pianoforte Player’, and Mr. Fairchild, singer.
On a regular basis throughout April and May, Sidney advertised his shows, including an invitation to fathers and mothers to bring their children to “Professor Horace Sidney’s Magic Temple” for an hour’s pleasant recreation and amusement. He included, on occasion, a “gift show” in which cigars, dolls, and toys were given away. In the routine “The wondrous cup of hot coffee”, Sidney turned coffee beans into coffee, Indian Corn into sugar, peas into milk, and coffee cups into spoons.
Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer (April 22) commented:
April 22 also saw the introduction of a trick titled ‘The Patent Magic Strong Box’ for the first time. So often the titles of trick give little clue as to the effect being shown; it might be speculated whether the Strong Box was Robert-Houdin’s “Light and Heavy Chest” in which an audience member was unable to lift a box, at the performer’s whim.
Through April, Horace Sidney continued to advertise his ‘marvellous Plum Pudding’, ‘endless distribution of Cigars’, and ‘Diabolic Punch Bowl Trick’. “Those really fond of a good Cup of Coffee (as made in Paris) should go this evening to Professor Horace Sidney’s Magic Temple, where it can be obtained to perfection gratis, with the addition of a good cigar to walk home with.”
On a side-story, Sidney’s manager was Mr. Charles T. Sandon, a stationer, music dealer and pictorial art seller of 171 George Street near the Empire newspaper office; he was also an occasional music publisher and violinist. On May 3, 1854, he advised the public that he no longer had any connection with the Magic Temple, nor was he connected with Mr. H.Sidney from that date; the reason is not known. His name continued to appear under Sidney’s advertisements for a few more days.
Sandon lived in various locations around Sydney including Surry Hills, Camperdown and Woollahra. His first wife died in 1863 of consumption at the age of thirty-one, and his new wife Mary, whom he married in 1865, had at least three children before 1870, though only one daughter survived as far as 1877. Charles Sandon was announced as the Director of the “Uncle Tom Gold Mining Company of Lucknow” in February 1877, but by April he had filed for insolvency with a debt of some sixteen thousand pounds. Again bankrupted in 1891, he applied for discharge in 1896. Sandon died on January 4, 1900.
After taking a Benefit night on May 13, Sidney announced an addition to his show – Mr. Scipio M. Clint, described as a ventriloquist but perhaps more accurately as a vocal impressionist, appeared before his audience in the roles of five separate characters, including Mr Antony Grumble, an old fashioned Gentleman, The Honourable Augustus Languish, a modern swell, and Miss Angelina Snowblossom, a very fascinating young lady; and it appears that Clint struck up a conversation with each of these remarkable characters, using the “remote voice” skill of the ventriloquist. According to the ‘Empire’ of May 18, ‘in this attempt the illusion is complete, the sounds being in each case precisely those which would proceed from the characters and the situations he imagines.’
Clint was an interesting personality in his own right (4); a painter and drawing teacher in addition to his vocal skills, his father was probably a medal maker to King William IV. Clint came to Melbourne from London in November 1852, moving to Sydney in 1854.
After his appearances with Horace Sydney, Scipio M. Clint gave some one-man performances at the Royal Hotel in September 1854, including an exhibition of his collection of pictures of Old English scenery. He gave other performances of his ventriloquial abilities, as late as November of 1854 in West Maitland. In 1855, Clint set up with Mr Edmund Thomas in a portrait and landscape painting business, also offering lessons in drawing and painting; Around April 1855 they also worked as scenic painters for the Royal Victoria Theatre, Sydney.
Professor Sidney continued to work successfully at the Royal Hotel, announcing his farewell Benefit on Thursday June 15, ‘on which occasion he will surpass all former wonders, and trusted that those who have so liberally supported him will honour him with a farewell visit.’
Although Sidney had effectively announced the end of his season in Sydney, Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer published a lengthy paragraph of witticisms in early July, implying that Professor Horace had ‘done a bunk’. [text is unclear in several areas]
“MAGIC EXTRAORDINARY - We have seen conjurations ordinary and extraordinary, from the conjuration, by a Professor, of a peacock in full bloom out of a pigeon's egg, to the conjuration, by a Professor, of a handkerchief out of a gentleman's pocket. With sleight of hand and every description of legerdemain we are as familiar as with our breakfast, dinner, and supper. We have a slight leaning towards mesmerism and electro-biology; and are [firm] believers in ghosts and hobgoblins. We do a little in ventriloquism occasionally - par ex. - "Where is Professor Horace Sidney?" and a [shrill voice] from the top of our study chimney echoes "Where?" We can vie with Rogers in the pip-squeaking and cock a-doodle-do business. We have moreover been victimised at the [unclear - 'game of'] prick in the garter, and other amusing recreations, and may therefore boast of having "taken lessons" in these accomplishments.
The writer was correct that Horace Sidney had moved south to Victoria, and until now this fact has not been noted in the standard histories of Australian magic. However, there are few signs of his whereabouts; a request on July 5 for him to contact Ferdinand Rosenstein [a pianist] in Melbourne, and an advertisement for a week’s appearance at the Geelong Hotel in Yarra-Street, with a dancer and a juvenile singer, starting on September 12.
From there on, Professor Horace Sidney and his invisible brother Charles are seen no more. Perhaps they went on to become gold prospectors, but for now we have no clues.