Jim the Penman

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Jim the Penman is a melodrama in four acts by Charles Lawrence Young (1839-1887)[1]

Also found as Jim, the Penman.

The original text

Called "a romance of modern society", it is a play about an attractive forger in Victorian Britain, who is eventually unmasked by a wife he had deceived.

Although it was originally believed that the subject of the play had been suggested by the case of the notorious forger James Townsend Saward, known to the public as "Jim the Penman", and convicted at the Old Bailey in 1857 of forging a cheque upon Messrs. Hankey and Company, according to a review in The Sydney Morning Herald of Thursday 2 Dec 1886[2], there is strong internal evidence that play was in fact based on Der Advokat (1885?), a German drama in five acts, by Felix Philippi (1851-1921)[3].

The same review mentions that the English play was apparently submitted to, and refused by, every manager in London, until it was eventually produced at a matinee with a scratch company and every manager in London realised his mistake. It was then performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, in April of 1886 and went on to become a great success, playing in the English provinces, in the United States, in Australia and South Africa.

Presented by A.M. Palmer at the Madison Square Theatre in 1886 and in Sydney at the New Opera House on 4 December 1886.

The Promptbook - interleaved with unnumbered pages of manuscript notes - was the first version printed by Samuel French in 188*, "

Published by the Comedy Theatre in 1912.

Translations and adaptations

Twice made into a silent film, in 1915[4] by Edwin S. Porter and in 1921[5] by Kenneth Webb with Lionel Barrymore.

Performance history in South Africa

1886: Performed as Jim the Penman in the Theatre Royal, Burg Street, Cape Town by Madame Pearmain's company, featuring Adolphus Ellis as "Baron Hartfeld" and Emily Levettez as "the wife".

1900: Performed by Herbert Flemming and his company, probably featuring Lionel B. Stent, as part of an extended season in the Opera House, Cape Town.

1914: Performed by the London Dramatic Company, based at the Palladium Theatre, Johannesburg, and featuring Dick Cruikshanks.


The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 2 Dec 1886[6]






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 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 383, 408

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