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Westmacott, Charles Babington (1864–1934)

by Gillian Fulloon

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

Charles Babington Westmacott (1864-1934), by May and Mina Moore, 1910-13

Charles Babington Westmacott (1864-1934), by May and Mina Moore, 1910-13

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38782/1045

Charles Babington Westmacott (1864-1934), actor-manager, was born on 5 February 1864 at Mayfair, London, son of Augustus Frederick Westmacott, gentleman and elocutionist, and his wife Hannah, née Lyons. Educated at Westminster School, Charles learned of the theatre from his father's friends. He arrived in Australia in 1884 and worked as a jackaroo near the Lachlan and Bogan rivers, New South Wales; on losing his job, he turned to the stage. Impressing George Rignold with his 'resonant public school voice', Westmacott made his stage debut in Held by the Enemy at Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney, on 29 October 1887. He continued to play bit parts for the company until engaged in May 1889 by Williamson, Garner & Musgrove. In 1890 he appeared in Melbourne with Kyrle Bellew and Mrs Brown-Potter in Romeo and Juliet and Camille.

Visiting London, on 3 August 1893 Westmacott married Rosa Butler (d.1927) at the register office, Kensington. Back in Sydney next year, he played in a series of Rignold's melodramas and in 1895 joined L. J. Lohr's company at the Criterion; his portrait of Freddy in The Guv'nor was considered his best role. Organizing his own company in December, he opened at Sydney's Theatre Royal with a musical comedy, Pat, or the Bells of Rathbeal, which Ellen Todd regarded as one of his 'happiest inspirations'. The company played to packed houses in Melbourne from March until June 1896. In September he was joint manager with Henry Walter Barnett when Marius Sestier opened Salon Lumière in Sydney. Forming another company, Westmacott leased Her Majesty's Theatre and opened with a pantomime in December. He moved to the Theatre Royal in February 1897 and, when his season ended abruptly early in April, was given a farewell benefit.

Unable to pursue his career because of his wife's ill health, Westmacott eventually visited New Zealand with C. R. Standford's company in 1901, arranging the advance bookings and winning audiences with his infectious laugh. Hired by Musgrove in 1903 to manage Nellie Stewart's New Zealand appearances and her farewell season in Sydney, Westmacott performed with her in A Country Mouse. In 1909 he managed Cosens Spencer's Theatrescope Co. in Adelaide before conducting (Sir Rupert) Clarke, Meynell & Gunn's tour there and in Western Australia. He also managed tours for Oscar Asche and Lily Brayton (1910, 1912), H. B. Irving (1911) and Beaumont Smith (1915).

Succeeding E. J. Tait, Westmacott was general manager for J. C. Williamson Ltd in Sydney from 1916 to 1934, with a stint (1917-19) in the Melbourne position. He was commissioned temporary lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, Australian Military Forces, in 1918 and served as transport officer at Richmond, Melbourne. An energetic worker for the Red Cross and Australian Comforts Fund, he was appointed O.B.E. in October and, in 1919, was secretary of the Theatrical Managers and Proprietors' Association.

Known for his tact, 'Westie' (or 'Sir Charles') was portly, affable and charming, with 'amazingly expressive eyes'. He coached newcomers to 'the Firm' in rum-and-milk sessions at the Australia Hotel and related his reminiscences in radio programmes and newspaper articles. A regular churchgoer, he belonged to the English Public Schools Association, the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, the Millions Club, Sydney, and the Athenaeum Club, Melbourne. Having retired in January 1934, he died on 21 October at Darlinghurst and was cremated after a service in St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral.

Select Bibliography

  • Mrs R. H. Todd, Looking Back (Syd, 1938)
  • E. Reade, Australian Silent Films (Melb, 1970)
  • C. Kingston, It Don't Seem a Day Too Much (Adel, 1971)
  • New Zealand Illustrated Magazine, May 1901
  • Bulletin, 3, 10 Apr 1897, 24 Oct 1934
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 May 1899, 24 June, 18 July 1919, 25 Nov 1933, 20 Jan, 22 Oct 1934
  • Australasian, 12 Oct 1918
  • Sydney Mail, 31 Jan 1934
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 22 Oct 1934.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Gillian Fulloon, 'Westmacott, Charles Babington (1864–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/westmacott-charles-babington-9053/text15953, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 18 July 2019.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

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