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Tallis, Sir George (1869–1948)

by Mimi Colligan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

George Tallis (1869-1948), by Lafayette, c1928

George Tallis (1869-1948), by Lafayette, c1928

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3196886

Sir George Tallis (1869-1948), theatrical entrepreneur, was born on 28 October 1869 at Callan, Kilkenny, Ireland, son of John Tallis, shopkeeper, and his wife Sarah, née Nicholson. From the age of 16 Tallis worked for a local newspaper, the Kilkenny Moderator. Armed with letters of introduction to J. C. Williamson and the chief of staff of the Argus, he arrived in Melbourne in 1886 and was employed as an office-boy by the theatre-managers, Williamson, Garner and Musgrove. When Williamson found that Tallis could write shorthand, he made him his private secretary. Soon afterwards Tallis became treasurer at the Theatre Royal and the Princess Theatre. On 8 September 1898 he married Amelia Young (d.1933), daughter of an hotelier, at St Peter's Anglican Church, Melbourne. A sister of Florence Young, she had sung in Williamson's comic opera productions.

Surrendering his journalistic ambitions, Tallis was closely associated with the J. C. Williamson firm for over fifty years. In 1896 he bought a quarter share in the company; in 1904 Williamson accepted him and Gustave Ramaciotti as partners. As Williamson gradually relinquished his active role, Tallis took over 'the Firm' in Melbourne. While concentrating on the business side, he learned every aspect of theatrical management, from choosing costumes to handling temperamental stars. Sarah Bernhardt's tour of Australia in 1891 marked a high point in his early career and in 1911 he was involved in planning (Dame) Nellie Melba's opera season.

On Williamson's death in 1913, Tallis became a managing director of 'the Firm'. He was knighted in 1922 for services to the theatre and for wartime fund-raising. In 1926 he gave £2700 to the Melbourne University Conservatorium of Music for an additional wing which was named after him. His diverse interests during the 1920s included a directorship of radio station 3LO and an association with the film-maker F. W. Thring. Hoping to open an English outlet for 'the Firm', in 1928 Tallis leased the Apollo theatre in London for J.C.W.

Having retired in 1931 through ill health, he returned four years later to the board of directors. In 1937, with Arthur Wigram Allen, he sold a controlling interest in J. C. Williamson's to Sir John McKenzie, a New Zealand-based businessman who had little knowledge of the theatre. This impulsive action, the outcome of a long-standing feud with E. J. Tait, J.C.W.'s Sydney manager, weakened 'the Firm'. In partnership with the Taits since 1920, Tallis respected their concert management, but doubted their theatrical acumen.

After retirement, Tallis travelled widely and bred Ayrshires at his property, Beleura, on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. Immaculately groomed, he was undemonstrative in business, yet warm and impulsive within his family circle. He was a born manager whose talents blended creative perception, visual imagination, good taste, intuition and courage. He died at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, on 15 August 1948 and was cremated. A daughter and three sons survived him. His estate was sworn for probate at £163,460.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Kingston, It Don't Seem a Day Too Much (Adel, 1971)
  • V. Tait, A Family of Brothers (Melb, 1971)
  • J. Tallis et al, In Search of the Sun (Adel, 1988)
  • Punch (Melbourne), 2 Apr 1908, 27 May 1913
  • Herald (Melbourne), 17 Mar 1923
  • Age (Melbourne), 24 Dec 1926
  • private information.

Citation details

Mimi Colligan, 'Tallis, Sir George (1869–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tallis-sir-george-8744/text15313, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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