Robert Sparrow Smythe

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Robert Sparrow Smythe (1833-1917)[1] was an Australian journalist, newspaper editor/owner and a theatrical manager.

Also known as Robert S. Smythe or Robert Smythe


Born Robert Smith on 13 March 1833 in London, son of the unmarried Elizabeth Bridge, he trained as a journalist and in 1855 he emigrated to Melbourne to begin a career as reporter and for the first five years was a successful editor of various journals and newspapers.

In 1861 he started a new career in theatrical management, working with numerous visiting artists, including the French violinist Horace Poussard and the cellist Rèné Douay in 1862. Through them he met the local soprano, Amelia Elizabeth Bailey (usually billed Amelia Bailey), who was to become his "wife" and had three children with him.

In 1864 he and Bailey, who had been on a disastrous tour of the East, joined forces with violinist Horace Poussard and the "serio-comic vocalist" Florence Calzado‎‎, to found the Poussard-Bailey Opera Company, with which they undertook a 4-year tour of India and South Africa, giving more than 300 performances.

Having returned to Australia via England, Smythe continued in management, effectively retiring in 1906

He died in Deepdene, Victoria, on 23 May 1917

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

Arriving at the Cape from Mauritius in 1867, with the intent of merely stopping over on their way to England, Smythe and the company ended up remaining in South Africa for two years undertaking a tour of most of the large centres, even - against all advice - crossing the Vaal river and giving concerts in the Transvaal. 1868 Smythe and Poussard left for England just after their 150th concert and 'the Ladies' stayed at the Cape until June 1869 when they engaged to sail directly back to Melbourne. It was during this "Great Tour" of Inia, Ceylon and South Africa that Amelia Bailey gave birth to their three children, Bryan Bailey Smythe being born in Port Elizabeth.

Bedsides this initial visit, Smythe's theatrical management company, apparently run by himself and his son and his son Carlyle Smith, also handled a number of other tours to the country, including of Mark Twain's [2] famous tour around the world (as described in Following the Equator).


Robert Cooper. 2000. Around the World with Mark Twain. Arcade Publishing

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: pp.

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