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Jeffries, Maud Evelyn (1869–1946)

by Diane Langmore

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Maud Evelyn Craven Jeffries (1869-1946), actress, was born on 14 December 1869 at Willow Farm, near Lula, Mississippi, United States of America, daughter of James Kenilworth Jeffries, cotton planter, and his wife Elizabeth Field, née Smith. At Miss Higbee's school at Nashville, Tennessee, she took part in amateur theatricals. In 1889 she went to New York where she played bit parts at Daly's Theatre for a year. On 4 December 1890 she made her London début in Wilson Barrett's production of The People's Idol. With a speed that she found disconcerting she became his leading lady. Returning to U.S.A. she created the part of Mercia in Barrett's melodrama, The Sign of the Cross, at St Louis on 28 March 1895 and next year took it to London where her 'grace, … spiritualized beauty and … air of youthful innocence' were admired.

Barrett's company visited Melbourne and Sydney in 1897-98 for J. C. Williamson. Maud Jeffries starred in such established favourites as Claudian, The Manxman, Virginius, The Silver King, Othello and a production of Hamlet that divided the critics. On her return to London she played two more seasons with Barrett before joining Herbert Beerbohm Tree's company.

By an arrangement between Williamson and Tree a company headed by Julius Knight and Maud Jeffries visited Australia in 1903-06. In their first production, a dramatization of Tolstoy's novel Resurrection, which opened at Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne, on 12 September 1903, her performance as Katusha was described as 'a very great triumph', 'an excellent combination of realism and restraint'. It was followed by a romantic drama, Monsieur Beaucaire, and The Eternal City, a melodrama in which she played a courtesan.

After a short Sydney season the company returned to Melbourne with a new play, The Darling of the Gods, followed by revivals. From June 1904 to February 1905 the Knight-Jeffries company toured Australia and New Zealand. At Papanui, Christchurch, on 25 October 1904, Maud Jeffries married James Bunbury Nott (1878-1934), fifth son of Pat Hill Osborne; he was a pastoralist who had recently joined the company after admiring Maud across the footlights. Despite rumours of her imminent retirement Maud Jeffries completed her touring engagements with Williamson in Melbourne and on tour. When Knight contracted typhoid fever in Sydney in May 1905, Maud's husband played Monsieur Beaucaire to her Lady Mary Carlyle, a partnership which drew repeated curtain-calls. The company gave its final performance in Adelaide on 4 May 1906 and disbanded, to the regret of its large audiences.

A tall woman with fine features, expressive eyes and long brown hair, Maud Jeffries was acclaimed by critics for her versatility, grace, sincerity, good taste and restraint. Such was her popularity by 1906 that an English company selling mortuary statuary offered photographs of her in the role of Mercia for the embellishment of gravestones. She visited U.S.A. before settling on her husband's property, Bowylie, Gundaroo, New South Wales, where she chose a secluded life, devoted to her garden and her son born in 1908; a daughter died in infancy. She returned to the stage only once in a charity performance of Pygmalion and Galatea in Sydney in August 1910. She died of cancer at Gundaroo on 26 September 1946 and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • Home Queen, 18 Jan, 18 Feb 1904
  • Times (London), 5 Dec 1890, 6 Jan 1896
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 11 Dec 1897, 4 June 1898, 6 Oct 1900, 16 Apr 1904, 1 July, 14 Oct 1905, 3 Feb 1906
  • Bulletin, 7 Apr 1904
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 June 1905, 2 Oct 1946, 18 May, 7 Sept 1963
  • private information.

Citation details

Diane Langmore, 'Jeffries, Maud Evelyn (1869–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jeffries-maud-evelyn-6834/text11829, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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