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Maggie Moore (1851–1926)

by Richard Refshauge

This article was published:

Maggie Moore, by Timothy Noble, 1870s

Maggie Moore, by Timothy Noble, 1870s

State Library of Victoria, 49220556

Maggie Moore (1851-1926), actress, was born on 10 April 1851 as Margaret Virginia Sullivan in San Francisco, daughter of James Edward Sullivan and his wife Bridget Mary, née Whelan, who had migrated to Sydney and then to California. Starting early as an actress, she became a local favourite. At 20 she met J. C. Williamson. Together they were earning up to £200 a week, and married on 2 February 1873 at St Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco.

In September G. Coppin engaged them for an Australian tour. They sailed in the Mikado on 27 May 1874 with a new play Struck Oil, in which they had succeeded in California. The Williamsons, Maggie's brother Jim and a whole company played in Honolulu and Fiji, and arrived in Sydney on 1 July and Melbourne on the 8th. On 1 August they opened with Struck Oil with Williamson as John Stofel and Maggie as Lizzie at the Theatre Royal, supported by The Fool of the Family. The critics were lyrical, specially praising Maggie. The season included other plays and ended on 21 December, Struck Oil having played for fifty-seven nights. The Williamsons' share of the profits was £6000.

After success at Ballarat, Geelong, Castlemaine and Sandhurst the company left on 1 March 1875 for Sydney. Opening at the Queen's Theatre with Struck Oil on the 10th, it drew large crowds and played for forty-four nights. In Adelaide from 28 August they had 'crowded houses and enthusiastic applause'. After the season closed on 2 October they played in India, Egypt, Italy, France and Germany, opening in London with Struck Oil at the Adelphi Theatre on Easter Monday 1876. Critics praised the Williamsons' acting and the season ran for a hundred nights. They had added to their repertoire Boucicault's Arrah na Pogue, which with Maggie in the title role was almost as successful as Struck Oil. After two years in America they returned to Melbourne on 15 August 1879 with the sole Australian rights to the Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas.

Threat of legal action prevented piracy of the Gilbert & Sullivan operas and, as the first authorized performances of a Savoy opera, the Williamsons presented H.M.S. Pinafore in Sydney on 15 November, Melbourne on 14 February 1880 and Adelaide on 15 May. Maggie created the role of Little Buttercup but her favourite part was Josephine. Among other operas Maggie played Ruth and sometimes Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance, Lady Jane in Patience, Katisha in The Mikado, Fairy Queen in Iolanthe and the Duchess of Plaza Toro in The Gondoliers. On 24 November 1883 she created perhaps her best operatic role as Bettina in La Mascotte, in which Nellie Steward played Fiametta. In 1890 Maggie was brilliant as Meg in Meg, the Castaway. In 1887 on a visit to her mother in San Francisco she won great success in her performances; with Williamson in 1891 she toured India but he was then turning to organization.

Relations between Williamson and Maggie became strained, and she formed her own company. In 1894 she defeated an injunction by Williamson who tried to prevent her production of Struck Oil. From May 1897 Williamson lived with Mary Weir and on 29 May 1899 Maggie divorced him. She continued to travel but her 1900 season in San Francisco failed. On 12 April 1902 in New York she married Harry R. Roberts.

In 1903-08 Maggie travelled in North American and Britain. She returned to Sydney and under J. C. Williamson Ltd starred in seasons from 1908 to 1912, sometimes reviving Struck Oil with Roberts. In 1915 she joined the Royal Comic Opera Company as Mrs Pitt in After the Girl, and toured Australia with it, crowning her career as Mrs Karl Pfeiffer in Friendly Enemies in 1918; she also played Lizzie Stofel in the Pugliese Enterprises film of Struck Oil, with Roberts as Stofel. In July 1920 she had success with Roberts in Gregan McMahon's production of Charles Kenyon's Kindling at the King's Theatre, Melbourne.

For the fiftieth anniversary of her first Australian appearance, a lavish testimonial jubilee was staged at Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney, on 1 August 1924. Maggie played the second act of Struck Oil, Nellie Stewart appeared and Dame Nellie Melba attended; the proceeds exceeded £1500. Next year she retired to California to live with her sister. On 16 March 1926 she was run over by a cable car in San Francisco. Her leg was amputated but she died at noon.

Vivacious and ebullient, Maggie was a national favourite. Her acting was better than Williamson's and is reputed to have made his fortune. Extremely versatile, she had a fine voice, a perfect sense of comedy, much skill at dancing and a charming personality. An animal lover, she kept a menagerie at her Rose Bay home. Most significantly she retained her popularity with audiences to the end of her theatrical life.

Select Bibliography

  • F. C. Brewer, The Drama and Music in New South Wales (Syd, 1892)
  • E. Soldene, My Theatrical and Musical Recollections (Lond, 1897)
  • N. Stewart, My Life's Story (Syd, 1923)
  • J. B. Fowler, Stars in My Backyard (Ilfracombe, 1962)
  • A. Bagot, Coppin the Great (Melb, 1965)
  • V. Tait, A Family of Brothers (Melb, 1971)
  • P. J. F. Newton, ‘The firm. The story of J. C. Williamson and his firm’, Masque (Syd), 1969, no 8
  • Australasian, 8 Aug, 26 Sept, 26 Dec 1874, 23 Jan, 6 Feb, 6, 27 Mar, 1 May, 28 Aug, 9 Oct 1875, 15 Jan 1876, 9, 23, 30 Aug, 27 Sept, 25 Oct, 22 Nov 1879, 21 Feb, 10 Apr, 22 May 1880, 26 July 1890, 12 Dec 1891, 31 Mar 1894, 18 Mar, 3 June 1899, 31 May 1902, 10 July 1920, 19 July, 9 Aug 1924, 20 Mar 1926
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 30 Aug 1875
  • Times (London), 24 Apr 1876
  • Argus (Melbourne), 26 Mar 1894, 30 May 1899, 2 Aug 1924
  • New York Times, 17 Mar 1926
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Mar 1926
  • Maggie Moore's manuscript (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Richard Refshauge, 'Moore, Maggie (1851–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 30 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Maggie Moore, by Timothy Noble, 1870s

Maggie Moore, by Timothy Noble, 1870s

State Library of Victoria, 49220556

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Sullivan, Margaret Virginia
  • Williamson, Maggie
  • Roberts, Maggie

10 April, 1851
San Francisco, California, United States of America


16 March, 1926 (aged 74)
San Francisco, California, United States of America

Cultural Heritage

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