Charles du Val

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Charles du Val (1846 or 1854-1889) was a 19th century Irish born elocutionist, performer and journalist.

Also found as Charles Du Val, Charles Du-Val and Charles Duval


Born Charles Henry Du Val in Manchester on 27 October 1846, and baptised in Manchester Cathedral on 29 January 1847. He was called Charley in the family.

Abandoning the study of law, he went into theatre, joining the Oldham Repertory Theatre in Lancaster. He became one of the most popular solo entertainers of his day. Living in Dublin for many years, making his debut there and giving the first of his famous female impersonations. He also travelled widely in Ireland and England with it, before moving to London.

He wrote his own material, including the music, and in the winter of 1865 – 1866 he wrote the first version of his one-man show that he called Odds and Ends. The opening night drew little notice, but by the end of the first week the audiences grew large enough for him to exceed his costs and the show went on to several long seasons in London’s West End, even being commanded to appear before the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) and later international tours.

As a journalist he wrote for many journals, including the Weekly Irish Times and the Pall Mall Gazette.

Married Mary Dorcas Burke (known as "Minnie") in 1877, they had two children.

Having commenced a world tour with his performances in 1880, he and his wife, arrived back in England from his overseas tour in February 1886, when the press announced that "Mr. Charles Duval, having returned from his tour through South Africa and India, will make his reappearance at the Prince's Hall, Piccadilly, on Monday, August 2nd, when he will give his popular entertainment of Odds and Ends".

At this time he and his wife had given up their house in Dublin and settled in Blackheath in London. He announced a new book called Punkah Waftings : A Journal of Eastern Experiences, though no copy seems to exist.

In 1887 the show had to stop when Charles Henry Du Val became ill with laryngitis. Fearing that his voice would be damaged, his doctors advised a prolonged rest from performing on stage. He continued to write, producing press reports and fresh songs and sketches for his show with new characters, and by the end of 1887 he was well enough to return to the stage.

In 1888 Du Val began planning another enormous worldwide tour, after which there was to be another London season. The tour started in South Africa, and was then to go on to Madagascar, Mauritius, Ceylon, India, Burma, Malaya, China, Japan and the United States. He arrived in South Africa in March 1888 and travelled till the end of the year, when he left for Ceylon. There he abandoned his tour and committed suicide on his way back to England by jumping overboard in the Red Sea on 23 February 1889. His body was never found.

Du Val in South Africa

According to D.C. Boonzaier (1923), Du Val was most admired in South Africa as a transformation (quick-change) artist and female impersonator, but was also a fine singer, dancer, reciter and mimic.

In 1870 Charles du Val visited Port Elizabeth and, with the Scarelso and Verdi Opera Companies from Italy, performed at the Theatre Royal. Soon after, the Amateur Opera Company was formed and over the next few years two popular Gilbert and Sullivan operas, The Pirates of Penzance and Trial by Jury were produced.

He and his business manager and long-time associate, Arthur Fry, arrived in Cape Town at the end of 1879. He was in South Africa when the 1st Boer War broke out in 1880 and decided to join a British volunteer unit in the Transvaal. He became the editor of The News of the Camp during the siege of Pretoria. He also wrote With a Show Through South Africa which was republished several times. They toured South Africa until 1881, with his one-man show Odds and Ends, claiming to have visited every "dorp" (= town) in the process. Twenty two of the shows were done in Cape Town, then they travelled to Kimberley for 20 performances in the Theatre Royal. On to Bloemfontein, Middelburg, Senekal, reaching Pretoria at the start of the first Anglo-Boer war in 1880, where he was asked to perform in the camp and they joined the Pretoria Carabineers, also known as D’Arcy Horse.

On 25 December 1880, a thrice weekly news-sheet called The News of the Camp was published, with Du Val as editor, was distributed thrice weekly and the last edition was printed on the press of De Volksstem and published on 9 April 1881. Du Val also took part in the skirmishes at Sesmylspruit, Swartkoppies, and Elandsfontein during the siege of Pretoria by the Boer commandos.

In April 1881, the company departed for Kimberly where they resumed their performances after an interval of five months. He also performed in Durban and later came to Tarkastad and Port Elizabeth, before they headed for home in 1882.

Before Du Val’s return to England in 1882, he lectured in Cape Town on the war. Once home he wrote a two volume chronicle of his journey called With a Show Through Southern Africa, and personal reminiscences of the Transvaal War (London : Tinsley Brothers), which remains a valuable source of information about South Africa, the war and the siege of Pretoria.

His second visit to South Africa occurred in 1888. He arrived in March, and travelled to the Rand to open at the Theatre Royal, Johannesburg, on 4 April. Thereafter he apparently travelled extensively in the country toil the end of the year.

Boonzaier (1923) gives a full description of a performance by Du Val in the Old Mutual Hall, Darling Street, Cape Town, in November 1888.


Southern African Dictionary of National Biography by Eric Rosenthal. Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd, London, England, 1966.

Vivien Allen. 1990. Du Val Tonight! The Story of a Showman

Maryna Fraser. 1985. Johannesburg Pioneer Journals, 1888-1909, The Van Riebeeck Society[1]

Charles du Val. 1882. With a Show Through Southern Africa. And Personal Reminiscences of the Transvaal War (Volume 1) London : Tinsley Brothers.(Facsimile version, HathiTrust Digital Library)[2]

Charles du Val. 1882. With a Show Through Southern Africa. And Personal Reminiscences of the Transvaal War (Volume 2) London : Tinsley Brothers. (Facsimile version, HathiTrust Digital Library)[[3]

Charles du Val from South African History Online (SAHO), [4]

D.C. Boonzaier. 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1923. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: p. 396.

Go to the ESAT Bibliography

Return to

Return to ESAT Personalities D

Return to South African Theatre Personalities

Return to The ESAT Entries

Return to Main Page

Return to ESAT Personalities D

Return to South African Theatre Personalities

Return to The ESAT Entries

Return to Main Page