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Carroll, Edward John (1868–1931)

by A. F. Pike and Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

This is a shared entry with Daniel Joseph Carroll

Edward John Carroll (1868-1931) and Daniel Joseph Carroll (1886-1959), theatrical and film entrepreneurs, were born on 28 June 1868 at Gatton, Queensland, and on 28 June 1886 at Redbank Plains, second and seventh sons of John Carroll, schoolteacher, and his wife Mary, née Dwyer, both from County Cork, Ireland. The boys began their education at Redbank Plains State School where their father was head teacher in 1874-1909; Dan went on to St Edmund's Christian Brothers' College, Ipswich.

'E.J.' joined the Queensland Department of Railways as a clerk in 1883. By the mid-1890s with James Bell he had set up as a fruit-merchant at Gympie and later in Brisbane. In 1901-07, with Bell and Charles Stewart, he held the catering contracts for railway refreshment rooms at Ipswich, Landsborough and Gympie. On 14 February 1906 at St Stephen's Cathedral, Brisbane, he married Jessie Dee. In Brisbane in 1905-22 he and Stewart leased the Albion Hotel and by 1914 owned the Criterion.

Meanwhile in 1906 Carroll acquired the Queensland rights for the first Australian feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, and screened it so successfully that he established an open-air picture circuit round Brisbane suburbs. He also owned touring side-shows and vaudeville acts and later built skating-rinks in several rural centres which were used in summer for picture shows. He gradually built up a chain of theatres.

In 1908 E.J. was joined by Dan, who had worked for E. Rich & Co. Ltd in Brisbane since 1903. When E.J. moved his interests to Sydney about 1913 Dan remained in charge of his Queensland enterprises. They began to bring British and American plays to Australia and had a major success in 1914 with a tour by the Scottish entertainer (Sir) Harry Lauder, who became a close friend.

In 1918 the Carrolls invested in their first film production, The Lure of the Bush, starring R. L. 'Snowy' Baker, and it proved highly popular. They also undertook distribution in Australia and overseas of Raymond Longford's film, The Sentimental Bloke (1919), and following its enormous commercial success, decided to enter production themselves. In partnership with Baker and with the South Australian firm, the Southern Cross Feature Film Co. Ltd, they formed Carroll-Baker Australian Productions in 1919 with capital of £25,000. To attract overseas distribution of their films, the company arranged for a team of Americans from Hollywood to form the nucleus of the production staff. Three 'Westerns' starring Baker were made, including The Man from Kangaroo, and released in 1920 with commercial success. The Carrolls also formed a production association with Longford and Lottie Lyell and made three films including On Our Selection (1920).

During 1920 E.J. travelled widely overseas to market the films and to manage a world tour by Lauder. Late in 1921 the Carrolls withdrew from film production because of disagreement with the Americans over their expensive production methods, and because of difficulties in ensuring adequate exhibition of their films in Australia and abroad.

In 1920 the brothers had formed Carroll Musgrove Theatres Ltd to build the Prince Edward Theatre in Sydney which, from its opening in 1924, became one of Australia's leading cinemas. In 1923 they set up Birch, Carroll and Coyle Ltd to control and modernize their extensive theatre circuit in northern and coastal Queensland. Their other cinema interests, often in association with the Tait brothers and Stuart Doyle, included the Wintergarden Theatre, Brisbane. The Carrolls remained active in live-theatre management and arranged Australian tours by major performers such as the Sistine Choir in 1922 and the violinist Fritz Kreisler in 1925.

Handsome, with a military moustache, E.J. was always impeccably dressed. In 1926 he took his sons to England to be educated and established himself in London. He returned to Sydney in March 1931 and died of cancer at Lewisham Hospital on 28 July, survived by his wife and two sons. He was buried in the Catholic section of South Head cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £19,236 in Queensland and £17,461 in New South Wales.

Dan was managing director of the family companies until 1959 and chairman of the Motion Picture Industry Benevolent Society in 1932-59. A 'real Beau Brummell', he had an Irish wit and was a devout Catholic. Survived by his wife Muriel Ruby, née Treble, whom he had married at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, on 28 April 1928, he died in Sydney of cardiac disease on 11 August 1959, and was buried in South Head cemetery.

The brothers were famous in the entertainment world for their boldness as entrepreneurs and for their integrity as businessmen: their name carried a certain guarantee of professionalism.

Select Bibliography

  • Commonwealth of Australia, Royal Commission on the Moving Picture Industry in Australia: Minutes of Evidence (Canb, 1928)
  • H. Lauder, Roamin' in the Gloamin' (Lond, 1928?)
  • Redbank Plains State School (Queensland), Centenary, 1874-1974 (Redbank Plains, 1974)
  • E. Reade, The Australian Screen (Melb, 1975)
  • Picture Show, 6 Sept 1919, 1 Apr, 1 Nov, 1 Dec 1920
  • Theatre Magazine, 1 Oct 1919, 1 Feb 1920, 1 Dec 1921
  • Everyone's 2 Nov 1921
  • Film Weekly, 30 July 1931, 13 Aug 1959
  • Showman, Oct, Dec 1950, Mar 1953
  • Australasian Exhibitor, 20 Aug 1959
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Sept 1919, 26 May, 19 July 1921, 29, 31 July 1931, 4 Dec 1934, 14 Dec 1944
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 16 Aug 1928.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

A. F. Pike and Martha Rutledge, 'Carroll, Edward John (1868–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/carroll-edward-john-5513/text9385, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 19 October 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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