“An Evening’s Entertainment” with Thomas Stewart

By Ashley Smith 

These slightly battered cards, both from 1885, were donated to the RHSV after being found in a house at Rowena Parade, Richmond. Both promote “An Evening’s Entertainment” by a Mr. Thomas Stewart for the price of 1 shilling. The 2nd July  show was held at the Oddfellow’s Hall (or Manchester Unity Hall), which sat next to where the Swan Hotel at the corner of Church and Swan Street’s now stands. The October show (stamped as the 22nd) was at the Richmond Town Hall at Bridge Rd (opened in 1869). Instead of a theatre production or opera however, the entertainment mentioned is a series of lectures on the subject of Scotland, “it’s National Characteristics, Music and Poetry”. The pink card, for the Town Hall show, curiously features the Oddfellow’s Hall’s stamp on the back, which could signify a purchase from the latter site as a ticket. Otherwise it’s unclear if these cards were tickets or pocket-sized advertisements.

Thomas was from Queensland, and had already toured country Victoria prior to these shows. The Richmond Guardian on July 4th 1885 gives praise to his skill as an orator, claiming “his elocution is perfect, voice, gesture, and action being in perfect harmony with the character he is portraying.” The same article also gives insight into the show itself, describing how Thomas “in an interesting and graphic manner, sketched the principal phases in Scotch life and manners, and succeeded in riveting the attention of a large and enthusiastic audience for about an hour and a half.” He recited poetry from Scottish poets such as Robert Burns and music (including, naturally, the bagpipes), whilst members from the Melbourne Caledonian Society performed songs (including ‘Auld Layne Syne’) that accompanied the show. A newspaper advertisement in The Argus (October 22nd 1885) for the October 22nd show appears to indicate the first show’s success warranted an encore as they mention in brackets “(By Request.)” An Richmond Guardian advertisement for the Oddfellows Show (June 27th 1885) promotes 1 shilling for admission or 2 shillings for a reserve seat. Tickets could be bought across the street from the Oddfellows Hall at W. H. Ellingworth’s stationers store at 139 Swan Street (located on the block between Dickerman Street and Church St).

These shows however were more than just entertainment, as every shilling spent on attending these lectures went into the Richmond Tabernacle Building Fund. The building referred to here was a church building that the Richmond Tabernacle Church were planning to build on the corner of Lennox and Gipps Streets. One of the evangelists running the church was Thomas’ brother A. J. Stewart, who helped run services at the Oddfellows Hall during the 1880’s. After initially placing a gospel tent on Gipps and Lennox Street corners for services as a temporary stand-in, the tabernacle building had its foundation stone rested in July 18th 1885, and was completed by 15th November  of that year.

Upon opening, the Tabernacle was made of red and white brick, with an octagonal hall, opened timbered roof, and could seat up to 600 people within its 66 square foot space. Its religious use would only last until the late 1890s, and it later became the office/printer for the Richmond Guardian newspaper. Today it’s occupied by a café. 

As for the Oddfellows Hall, it was a building erected in the 1870s that was associated with Richmond’s Loyal Industry Lodge (or branch) of the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows. The organisation (now known as Australian Unity) was a friendly society initially from Manchester, but later established its Melbourne branch in 1840 with the goal of aiding the health and wellbeing of any members or communities going though hardship. The Hall survived at its Church Street location until the early 1970s.