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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kreitmayer, Maximilian Ludwig (Max) (1830–1906)

by Mimi Colligan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Maximilian Ludwig (Max) Kreitmayer (1830-1906), waxworks proprietor, was born on 31 December 1830 in Munich, Bavaria, son of Maximilian Ludwig Kreitmayer, artist. After studying anatomy in Munich, young Max visited Britain for further study and worked as a medical modeller at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London. Describing himself as an artist, he married Eliza Spong on 2 July 1856 in the parish church, Leeds, Yorkshire. They were to have four children.

Attracted by the gold rush, Kreitmayer reached Melbourne in December that year; Eliza joined him in February 1858. Not having much success at the diggings, in 1859 he opened an anatomical museum, a popular, if unrespectable, form of 'instructive' entertainment, which included wax models of sexual organs decayed by venereal disease. He toured the goldfields with his collection of anatomical items and by 1862 had opened a museum in Bourke Street, Melbourne. The collection was shown to segregated audiences, his wife lecturing to the women. He also opened anatomical and waxworks museums in Sydney, Adelaide and Hobart.

In 1862 Kreitmayer sold his collection of anatomical models to the government of Chile, for the Santiago medical school. He exhibited another collection at L. L. Smith's Polytechnic Institute, then in mid-1863 went into partnership with a phrenologist Philemon Sohier and his wife Ellen, proprietors of Madame Sohier's Waxworks of Melbourne and Sydney. Kreitmayer managed the Sydney business. On 31 January 1868 in Sydney, a widower, he married with Anglican rites English-born Emily Anne Waite, who had arrived in Melbourne in 1860, and had apparently already borne him three children.

Returning to Melbourne in 1869, Kreitmayer became proprietor of that city's sole waxworks. The Victorian government commissioned him to make figures for international exhibitions. Notable among these were figures of Aborigines for the Paris (1878) and Indian and Colonial (1886) exhibitions. Kreitmayer's waxworks museum came to be regarded by some as a 'gallery of reference'. It included historical and newsworthy figures such as the royal family, Dreyfus, Sarah Bernhardt and Melba. The Chamber of Horrors also portrayed a Kelly gang tableau (1880), the Deeming murders (1892) and Jimmy Governor and his victims (1900).

Kreitmayer ran the Bourke Street entertainment until shortly before his death but also employed managers and other wax modellers. His manager Phil Stuart had a theatrical background and from the 1880s the waxworks included vaudeville and music hall acts such as magicians, ventriloquists and chorus girls.

Emily died in 1879. On 29 March 1884, claiming to be a bachelor, Kreitmayer married Harriet Mary Watts at Launceston, Tasmania. He was elected to Collingwood council in 1887, and was mayor in 1893. He lost in mining ventures, however, and his business suffered a downturn during the 1890s, causing his insolvency in 1898. By 1903, with Harriet's financial help, the waxworks' yearly takings were more than £1000.

Kreitmayer died on 1 June 1906 at Collingwood and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery with Anglican rites. His wife and their son and daughter, and two sons and two daughters of his second marriage survived him. Despite his somewhat Bohemian life, he was remembered as 'a man of most loveable disposition'. His widow (d.1934) continued the business, incorporating a cinema in the building. Her projectionist was F. W. Thring who married Max's and Harriett's daughter Olive.

Select Bibliography

  • Our Local Men of the Times (Melb, 1889)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 4 Feb 1956, p 164
  • M. Colligan, ‘Anatomical Wax Museums in Melbourne 1861-1887’, Australian Cultural History, no 13, 1994, p 52
  • M. Colligan, ‘Waxworks shows and some of their proprietors in Australia, 1850s-1910s’, Australasian Drama Studies, no 34, Apr 1999, p 87
  • South Australian, 15 July 1862
  • Bell’s Life in Sydney, 16 Aug 1862, p 2
  • Argus (Melbourne), 25 May 1869, p 6, 20 June 1910, p 5, 10 June 1939, ‘Weekend Magazine’, p 3
  • Australasian, 5 June 1886, p 1098, 9 June 1906, p 1350
  • Age (Melbourne), 2 June 1906, p 11
  • insolvency files, VPRS 765/P, unit 283, file 90/3390 (Public Record Office Victoria).

Citation details

Mimi Colligan, 'Kreitmayer, Maximilian Ludwig (Max) (1830–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 19 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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