1906 Back to Britain and the theatre strike
In one of their later posters of 1906 press notices are recorded for their time in Australia. The first in 1903 was I believe the opening night at the Perth Theatre on 19th November and was reported in “The Western Australian” newspaper.From 1903 to 1904 there are recorded visits to Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Freemantle and many smaller venues in between. On the 22nd of June 1904 the Sydney Herald reports that “Mr Nelson Illingsworth completed his studio bust of Vulcana the strongwoman who has attracted attention here during her engagement at the Tivoli Theatre” So we know she was still in Australia.
In that year 1904 the Adalaide newspaper “The Advertiser” and the Melbourne “Argus” reported a “Fiasco” involving Atlas and a German strongman that caused an uproar in the Opera House Theatre when Herr Pagel of Wirths circus challenged Atlas to a contest of strength. Pagel said Atlas had challenged any man to lift his barbell. But the challenge required a deposit of £50 each to be put up first to assure that if Atlas won he would get the challenge money. Atlas becomes very angry when Herr Pagel refuses to put the money down and the dispute becomes very heated. Vulcana had to intervene but eventually the police were called to break it up and restore order. In this account it also mentions that Vulcana was getting ready for her “Tableaux” This may have been poses of “Human Statues” under blue light that was a craze at this time. It is said that the performers copied famous statues from Greek and Roman times with very little clothing. This was allowed to happen on stage as long as it was a blue light that they posed under which made them look like marble. This way it would not offend public decency because it did not look like warm bare flesh.
This was also the case in Britain but one London hall is said to have managed to do this as “the Palace arranged adult entertainment by featuring apparently nude women in tableau vivants, though the concerned LCC (London County Council) hastened to reassure patrons that the girls who featured in these displays were actually wearing flesh-toned body stockings and were not naked at all.”
I am not sure of the exact date of their return to the Northern Hemisphere. The last newspaper comment on her performance was the Sydney Morning Herald of January 25th 1905. “Vulcana is a woman of handsome and commanding presence and so graceful are her movements that the lifting of heavy weights appears to be a mere pastime to her.” Their tour in Australia was from 1903 to 1905 and appears to have been a great success. They heralded their return to Britain with a poster portraying pictures of them above the horizon of the earth and included a motor car and airship. They obviously wanted to appear to be up to date with modern inventions. It said “The Return of Atlas and Vulcana – The Society of Athletes” Atlas and Vulcana was written with some kind of apparatus that look similar to flails but I have no idea what they are. They are pictured with globes behind them in the bar-bell suspended above the globe.
I have a copy of the poster which you can see below sadly it cuts off the bottom of the poster which says something to the effect of “After a triumphant tour of the Southern Hemisphere”
After what was probably an equally horrendous voyage home for Vulcana with her severe sea sickness they were back home and performing for the British public again.
Music Hall unrest.The next story my father told me about is the time in her career of the 1907 Music Hall artistes strike.
The way he recounted it it fitted in with some later research I did and the author R.A.Baker’s account of the same story written much later in his book “Marie Lloyd – Queen of the Music-halls” I will recount it as it has a bearing on a later story and it is amusing in its own right.
Apparently discontent had been brewing among the music hall artistes as the managers of the halls were demanding as many as ten performances for the price of seven. This hit the “small turns” worse than the stars, who just refused to do the extra matinees. The bigger names supported their fellow performers and joined the strike for a living wage.
By the start of the 1900’s music hall artistes had been in an unofficial dispute with theatre managers over the poor working conditions. Other factors included poor pay, lack of perks and a dramatic increase in the number of matinee performances. This culminated in the 1907 strike!
“We (the stars) can dictate our own terms. We are fighting not for ourselves, but for the poorer members of the profession, earning thirty shillings to £3 a week. For this they have to do double turns, and now matinées have been added as well. These poor things have been compelled to submit to unfair terms of employment, and I mean to back up the federation in whatever steps are taken.”— Marie Lloyd, on the Music Hall War.
My father said that Vulcana joined the picket line with stars such as Marie Lloyd outside one of the theatres. Vulcana’s friend, a second rate singer whose stage name was Belle Elmore tried to push through the pickets wanting to get in to the theatre. When some tried to stop her Marie Lloyd called out “Don’t be daft. Let her in. She’ll empty any theatre” I thought this was amusing when he recounted it but it was also recorded for posterity and it was heartening to have the story I heard when I was so young verified by Richard Bakers book.
Two pictures of Belle Elmore in stage costumes.
The strike ended in arbitration, which satisfied most of the main demands, including a minimum wage and maximum working week for musicians.