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Catherine Clarissa (Kate) Howarde (1864–1939)

by Ina Bertrand

This article was published:

Catherine Clarissa (Kate) Howarde (1864-1939), actor, theatrical entrepreneur, playwright and cinema pioneer, was born on 28 July 1864 at North Woolwich, London, daughter of Edward George Jones, labourer, and his wife Harriett Hannah, née Payne. The family migrated to New Zealand, where Edward became a dealer. Kate claimed to have published stories in the Evening Post (Wellington) in the 1870s, written a pantomime when aged 10 and managed her own theatrical company at 17. Describing herself as an actress, she married William Henry de Saxe, musician, on 28 April 1884 in the registrar's office, Christchurch. Their only child Florence Adrienne was born at Christchurch on 5 December 1884, and de Saxe soon departed.

Adopting the stage name 'Kate Howarde', by the late 1890s she based her company in Australia and toured extensively through Australasia, performing mainly in country halls and tents. Kate wrote much of the material, including sketches, songs and pantomimes, and claimed to have also written several serious plays, including When the Tide Rises and Under the Southern Cross. The troupe included her two younger brothers Louis and Albert Howarde and one of her two sisters ('Billie', who later married Harry Craig, also in the company).

The Craigs kept the group touring in Australia when Kate went overseas. In 1906 she travelled to San Francisco, United States of America, then to New York and London; it may have been during this trip that she married Elton Black, who had been with the company from about 1904 and returned to Australia with Kate in 1909. From 1914 to late 1917, at a time when suburban theatrical companies were not common, Howarde successfully presented weekly-change repertory at the National Theatre, Balmain, Sydney. The fare included Kate's own melodramas, The White Slave Traffic (1914) and Why Girls Leave Home (1914).

She separated from Black about 1918, just before her greatest success—the bucolic comedy Possum Paddock, 'written, produced and presented by Kate Howarde'—which toured country areas before opening in Sydney at the Theatre Royal on 6 September 1919. Often compared with On Our Selection, it told of the financial and romantic problems of a bush family, mixed sentiment with farce and produced hilarity in the audience. The play's reception encouraged Kate to turn it into a film, which she co-directed with Charles Villiers—making her the first woman to direct a feature film in Australia. Many of the original cast participated, including Kate as the widow Nella Carsley, while her daughter, using the stage name 'Leslie Adrien', took the female romantic lead, originally played by Rose Rooney. The film was released successfully at the Lyric Theatre, Sydney, in January 1921.

The success of both play and film was sufficient to finance a ten-month tour for the whole company in 1922 to South Africa, the U.S.A. and Great Britain. On return, they resumed country tours, presenting revivals of Possum Paddock as well as imported plays and others written or adapted by Kate herself, with occasional city seasons. Kate's second bucolic comedy, Gum Tree Gully (1924), was only a moderate success, but by then she had moved on to more dramatic works, such as The Limit (1921), The Bush Outlaw (1923), Find Me A Wife (1923) and Common Humanity (1927). She presented The Judgment of Jean Calvert in Sydney in 1935.

Catherine Clarissa Black died of cerebral thrombosis on 18 February 1939 at the home of her daughter at Kensington, Sydney, and was buried with Anglican rites in Randwick cemetery. Despite the dramatic licence of some media reports, she was of importance to Australian theatrical and film history as a pioneering female writer and producer, and for bringing live theatre to generations of rural audiences.

Select Bibliography

  • Theatre Magazine, 1 Nov 1920
  • Australian Woman’s Mirror, 15 Jan 1929, pp 12 & 45
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Feb 1939, p 13
  • B. Garlick, Australian Travelling Theatre 1890-1935: A Study in Popular Entertainment and National Ideology (Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, 1994)
  • theatre programme collections (State Library of Victoria and Performing Arts Museum, Melbourne)
  • A/1336, items 12661, 16973, 7819, 9746, and 25752 (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ina Bertrand, 'Howarde, Catherine Clarissa (Kate) (1864–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Black, Catherine
  • Jones, Catherine
  • De Saxe, Catherine

28 July, 1864
London, Middlesex, England


18 February, 1939 (aged 74)
Kensington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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