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Alfred Dampier (1843–1908)

Alfred Dampier, so long one of the most esteemed actor-managers of the Australian stage, passed away at his residence at Paddington on Saturday night, at 11 o'clock. The veteran artist, whose age is stated by his family to be about 60 years, was not dangerously ill until the last few days, but on Saturday morning he became unconscious, owing to hemorrhage of the brain. The funeral will take place this afternoon, when the burial service will be read at Waverley by the Rev. G. North Ash, of Neutral Bay.

The death of Alfred Dampier removes from the Australian stage a scholarly actor of sterling talent, who was also an author of some distinction. Indeed, he wrote, or adapted, a number of the dramatic pieces with which his name has been identified for many years. At the same time, all who met this genial artist in private life will sadly pay their tribute of respect to him as a model husband and father, and as a man of the highest moral character. His public appearances on the Australian stage in star parts, and almost always as actor-manager, in a company which latterly included his wife (Miss Kathleen Russell), his daughters, Lily and Rose Dampier, his son Fred, and his son-in-law, Mr. Alfred Rolfe, covered a period of about 30 years. Though melodrama was the recognised line of the Dampier Company, yet much has always been owing to the deceased for his devotion to Shakespeare. Indeed, for several years, at no little cost and trouble, he instituted Friday night performances of plays by the poet, in order to keep himself, his company, and his special audiences in touch with the highest forms of dramatic art. Alfred Dampier on one occasion quoted 1873 as the date of his first engagement by the late H. R. Harwood, during a season at Manchester, for a starring tour of Australia. In Mr. F. C. Brewer's record of the Australian stage, Alfred Dampier's debut is quoted as at the Victoria Theatre, Sydney, February 10, 1877, in "Hamlet," supported by Adelaide Bowring and Bartlett; which date may have been the occasion of a second visit to Australia. The writer adds:–"There could be no more careful student of the higher drama, and throughout his many impersonations there was evenness of acting which ensured an intellectual treat, though it were wanting in brilliancy." Probably Dampier's best classic part was Macbeth, to which his trumpet tones, thoughtful elocution, and robust method better suited him than the character of Hamlet. It was, however, in parts admitting of character acting that Dampier won deserved popularity. He will always be remembered as Captain Starlight in his play "Robbery Under Arms," and as Joan Valjean in his own dramatisation of "Les Miserables." In connection with the latter he treasured a gracious letter from Victor Hugo, containing the sentence "With all my heart I associate myself with your success."

During his long stay in this country Dampier twice visited England in order to tour. The last occasion was in 1898, when he staged "Robbery Under Arms" at the Princess's Theatre, London, and was favourably reviewed, his acting reminding several critics of the style of Henry Neville. He was appearing in his old part at his favourite theatre, the Sydney Criterion, towards the end of 1905, since which date his absences from the stage through slowly failing health have been frequent, but it was not until lately that it was feared that the end could not longer be delayed. A handsome and singularly young-looking man, it is probable that this warmly-esteemed artist would have lived to a remarkable old age but for a fall down a trap in New Zealand many years ago. From the dire effects of this terrible accident he never fully recovered, though his indomitable courage concealed the true state of the injury from all but a few intimate friends.

In his youth Dampier, like so many gifted artists, owed his first successes to the amateur stage. He became the shining light of the Ellistonians, an ambitious London club, that occupied the Gem Theatre (afterwards the "Echo" office), except on special occasions, when it blossomed forth at the St. James's Theatre. There Dampier played Othello, and Captain Hawkesley, and was teased and congratulated by old John Ryder and by Fechter, the great Hamlet of the hour. Ultimately young Dampier filled the then well-recognised position on provincial circuits in England of an actor "playing lend in the absence of stars" when, naturally, he took the second part. He used then to see a great deal of Henry Irving, who had a great name in the provinces for years before he appeared in London, making his hit as Hamlet in 1864 at the Manchester Theatre Royal (Lyceum 10 years later). When Irving moved to London in 1866 his place at the Manchester Theatre Royal was taken by Dampier, and the two kept in touch with one another, renewing their intimacy on the occasions already alluded to of Dampier's visits to the old country.

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'Dampier, Alfred (1843–1908)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Alfred Dampier, n.d.

Alfred Dampier, n.d.

State Library of Victoria, 49345379

Life Summary [details]


28 February, 1843
Horsham, Sussex, England


23 May, 1908 (aged 65)
Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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