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Emélie Adeline Polini (1881–1927)

by Heather Radi

This article was published:

Emélie Adeline Polini (1881-1927), actress, was born on 24 March 1881 at Steyning, Sussex, England, daughter of Giovanni Marie Polini, theatrical manager, and his wife Harriett Frances, née Billings. She began her stage career playing at the Marlborough Theatre, London, and touring in companies directed by Mark Blow and Derwent Hall Caine. She was a star in London and New York before being spotted while playing in Yes or No? on Broadway by an agent for J. & N. Tait who engaged her for six months.

On board ship she met Lieutenant Harold Wilfred Ellis, returning home from service with the Royal Field Artillery. After appearing successfully in De Luxe Annie in Sydney, she played in Melbourne where on 16 July 1918 she married Ellis, giving her age as 31. She renewed her contract, starring in 1919-20 in productions including Kindling, Eyes of Youth, My Lady's Dress and revivals. Emélie was a vivacious actress of the emotional school.

When Ellis bought a property at Hartley Vale, New South Wales, Emélie retired, giving to him her savings of £1100 for the farm. A daughter Patricia Marie was born on 8 October 1921. In March 1922 Ellis, who had also borrowed from his parents and mortgaged the property, lost everything to the mortgagee.

Estranged from her husband by his deceit over money, Polini returned to the stage. After a Sydney season which included The Lie, in January 1923 J. C. Williamson Ltd staged her play The Flaw, written with Doris Egerton Jones. The Argus reported that, while playing in Melbourne for four months, 'she had never shown greater dramatic strength'. Emélie left Patricia with her mother-in-law, arranging to pay for a nurse. She continued to enjoy success in 1923-24—her performance in Eyes of Youth was praised by the Green Door for 'high intelligence, close study of her work, and keen insight'.

When Ellis refused his consent to Emélie taking Patricia to London where her sister Marie Nares lived, Emélie sought and was refused custody. Justice Harvey stated there was no suspicion of misconduct on her part and in such circumstances a mother of a young child normally received custody; moreover the husband had shown decided weakness of character and the separation was due to his untruthfulness. She had agreed to Patricia remaining with his mother on the understanding that he would surrender the child to her if she asked. Harvey concluded that Emélie thereby acknowledged the child was better left in her grandmother's care. The law, he said, did not put the wife's right to custody as high as the law did in England. The case became a cause célèbre when Millicent Preston-Stanley and other women campaigned to amend the Act.

Polini sailed in April 1924 for London to join her sister. She planned to write plays and expected after two years to return to Australia. She continued to act, playing in the United States in 1927. At Boston, on 31 July she died of cancer. She willed the residue of her estate, valued for probate at over £8300 in Australia, to her sister Marie Nares conditional on her having the care of Patricia. The will, however, was upset, and after litigation her sister was denied custody.

Select Bibliography

  • Green Room (Sydney), 1 May 1922, 1 Jan 1923
  • Argus (Melbourne), 2 Sept 1922, 19 Nov 1923, 24 Apr 1924
  • Bulletin, 13 Dec 1923, 24, 31 Jan, 21 Feb 1924
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Apr 1924, 3 Aug 1927
  • Attorney-General and Justice, special bundles: guardianship of infants, 1914-46 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Heather Radi, 'Polini, Emélie Adeline (1881–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Polini, Emelie Adeline
  • Ellis, Emélie Adeline

24 March, 1881
Steyning, Sussex, England


31 July, 1927 (aged 46)
Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.