Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry Bracy (1841–1917)

by Tony Mills

This article was published:

Henry Bracy (1841?-1917), tenor and stage-director, was born at Maestag, Glamorganshire, Wales, son of an ironworks manager. He began his theatrical career at the Plymouth Theatre in 1866 where he remained for three seasons. In 1870 he made his London début at the Gaiety Theatre and in 1873 was engaged as a principal tenor with the Opéra Comique.

In September Bracy sailed for Australia with his wife Clara Thompson, and on 6 December they made their first appearance at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, in Offenbach's operetta Lischen and Fritzchen. After a series of small parts he and Clara were engaged by W. S. Lyster for his English opera company. They opened in Offenbach's Princess of Trebizonde with Armes Beaumont; Bracy was also stage-manager and Clara delighted audiences with her 'mercurial vivacity'. The Bracys toured the United States of America then settled in London in 1879. Among other successful performances Henry was principal tenor with Florence St John in the comic opera Madame Favart, which ran for 502 consecutive performances. In October 1881 he sang Frittelini in La Mascotte and his song, Love is Blind, became the rage. At the Savoy Theatre in January 1884 he created Hillarion in Princess Ida under the direction of Gilbert and Sullivan. He then turned to management and lost heavily.

Late in 1888 the Bracys returned to Melbourne. In June next year Henry directed John Solomon's English and Comic Opera Company in Sydney and Melbourne. The Australasian critic found Bracy's voice mellower and richer: 'his solos were delivered with a directness and a purity of tone most refreshing'. In October 1890 he produced The Gondoliers for J. C. Williamson's Royal Comic Opera Company, and from that time produced almost all Williamson's Gilbert and Sullivan performances. Clara also sang in many of the operas. Bracy's productions were set in the Savoy mould, with replicas of the original costumes and sets, and he took no liberties with the text.

Williamson and George Musgrove disbanded the company in 1896. Lacking an engagement, next March in Sydney Bracy formed and toured with his own troupe who cheerfully 'shared his risks', until some nine months later he disbanded it. In September 1898 he voluntarily sequestered his estate and was not released from bankruptcy until 1900.

Re-engaged by Williamson, Bracy managed the concert tours of Madame Albani in 1898 and Ada Crossley in 1903, and was stage-director for the Bel Sorel season of grand opera. He 'developed into a splendid all-round man … operatic artist, stage-director, producer and business manager in turn. Never was there a cooler and more unperturbable stage-boss'. His last role was as Colonel Fairfax in The Yeomen of the Guard in 1908. Bracy was also Williamson's chief adviser in the selection of vocalists. He retired with a special pension in 1914, then visited his wife who 'had for some time been identified with the moving pictures' at Los Angeles, California. In 1913 Williamson had left him 500 shares in his company.

Survived by his wife and two sons, Bracy died, aged 75, of cerebro-vascular disease at Darlinghurst, Sydney, on 31 January 1917 and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery: twelve choristers from J. C. Williamson's sang Sir Arthur Sullivan's The Long Day Closes at his graveside. As a singer Bracy was 'mechanical, sweet-voiced, unimpassioned' and he remained wooden as an actor; however he was very successful as a producer and director.

Select Bibliography

  • V. de Loitte, Gilbert and Sullivan Opera in Australia (Syd, 1933)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 8 Dec 1873, 3 Jan, 23 June 1874, 19 Apr, 7 Oct 1875, 23 Sept 1879
  • 'Princess Ida', Times (London), 7 Jan 1884, p 7
  • Bulletin, 10 Aug, 14 Sept 1889, 8 Feb 1917
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 28 Sept 1889, 3 Feb 1917.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Tony Mills, 'Bracy, Henry (1841–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Maesteg, Glamorgan, Wales


31 January, 1917 (aged ~ 76)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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