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Music Research

Newcastle’s first theatre

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The first theatre known of in Newcastle was opened by James Croft, owner of the Commercial Hotel. The Commercial hotel stood on the corner of Watt and Hunter streets and Croft there converted a vacant wooden building into a small theatre. In Historical Records of Newcastle, 1797-1897, J. Windross, a journalist with the Newcastle Morning Herald, quotes the recollections of first impressions from an unnamed resident who arrived in Newcastle in 1857:

I stopped at Mr Croft’s hotel, which stood on a site now occupied by the A.J.S. Bank at the corner of Watt and Hunter-streets. At the back of the hotel there was a theatre (the first one, I believe, opened in Newcastle), where I was present at an entertainment in which Mr Clarence Hannell took the part of Hamlet, and other local men also appeared.”[1]

Described as ‘the spirited proprietor’ by the Northern Times in 1857, Croft hosted two comedies in April of that year – “Helping Hands” and “Laughing Hymns”. The company included Edward Faning, musician, bandleader and comedian ‘certainly fitted to excel’ in low comedy. This theatre was known first as the Newcastle Theatre, later taking the name “Victoria”.


[1] Cited in J Windross Historical Records of Newcastle, 1797-1897 (Newcastle: Federal Printing, 1897).

Author: helenenglish2013

Senior Lecturer in Music, University of Newcastle, Australia Helen English, AGSM, MPhil, PhD Helen English is a Senior lecturer in music at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Her research interests are Australian music, music and social justice, gender and music and the sociology of music. Her creative work includes the soundscape The New Adventures of Mark Twain: from Coalopolis to Metropolis (New York, 2007) and performed soundscape Forgotten Composers of the Hunter Valley (Newcastle, 2013). Helen English is currently a PHD candidate in History and Sociology, researching music making in 1870s Newcastle, NSW. In 2013 she was invited to present a paper at the inaugural Newcastle/Hunter studies symposium. Recent publications include a book chapter: “Musical Entertainment in Newcastle, NSW, 1875-1877” (2102) and articles “Re-Viewing history through sound – fact or fiction?” (2013), “Newcastle, NSW, in the 1870s: Audience Identity, Power and Cultural Ownership” (2013) and “Music Making in the Colonial City: Benefit Concerts in Newcastle, NSW in the 1870s” (forthcoming, 2014).

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