Mabel Hayes

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Mabel Hayes (1848-1892) was a British born actress and manager.

As a manager she was apparently known as Mrs R.J. Hall.


Much of the following is extracted from a more comprehensive biographical notes kindly supplied to ESAT by Megan Hall, a great granddaughter of Mabel's second husband, Robert John Hall.

She was born Eliza Hernage on 21 November 1848 in Nottingham, England, the daughter of a druggist (later a surgeon), according to her birth certificate attached, but later used Mabel Hayes as her stage name. She had three brothers: Henry JW Hernage (b 1853), Alfred HO Hernage (b 1854), John A Hernage (b 1858). Her mother Caroline died in 1860.

On 30 May 1865, when she was 16 years old, she married Mountiford David Hay, in London, England, according to the marriage certificate attached. Their son, Mountiford Henry Hay, was born the following year, 10 June 1866.

In the ensuing period she is mentioned as an actress (using the stage name of Mabel Hayes) in a number of plays produced at various theatres, including the theatre in Cambridge, the Prince of Wales Theatre in Rochdale, the Theatre Royal in Great Yarmouth, and in London, the Royal Princess' Theatre, the Royal Alfred Theatre and the Adelphi Theatre. Among the plays specifically named for this period are Married Life by John Baldwin Buckstone (put on by Mrs Pitt's Company, Cambridge, 1869), Aladdin (1872), Mr and Mrs White by R.J. Raymond (as "Widow White"Mr and Mrs White at the Adelphi from 18 December 1876 till 2 February, 1877).

She seems to have worked only a little (at least in England) in 1876, but was back in Brighton in the second half of 1877. Perhaps she was in South Africa with Disney Roebuck (who apparently went out there in 1873) for part of 1876-1877 (and perhaps that's when she first met Robert John Hall). She doesn't seem to have worked much in England for several years after 1878, possibly travelling with Hall in England and France between May and November 1880, the couple living together in Cape Town therearfter.

In February 1881, Mountiford Hay sued his wife Mabel for divorce with her co-respondent being Robert John Hall, alleging that Mabel and Robert had been having an affair. Before the case could be finalised however, Mountiford Hay died of cirrhosis of the liver on 20 June 1881, leaving Mabel and Robert free to marry, which they did a year later on 30 June 1882, in London. (The marriage certificate gives both her stage name - Mabel Hayes - and her name from her first marriage - Eliza Hay.

She would afterwards sometimes also be referred to as Mrs R.J. Hall, often in her more formal role as a company or theatre manager.

After her professional sojourn in South Africa (see section below), she returned to England in 1884. She seems to have been "seriously ill" for a while, but she took on the Theatre Royal at Scarborough, apparently successfully, though she didn't renew her lease in January 1885. She doesn't seem to have worked much (at least in England) for most of 1886, but was evidently quite busy in 1887-1889, at least, and was still working in 1890. In January 1891, however, there was a report in The Era that she's been suffering from a long and severe illness, "resulting in hemorrhage of the lungs, [which] necessitates her giving up all business." She passed away on January 26th, 1892, and was buried at Brompton Cemetery.

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

She is first mentioned as a member of a strong new company that Disney Roebuck had recruited in England for his next season in South Africa. The company, that also included Bella Murdoch, Julia Sydney, T.G. Warren, T. Morton, Wilfred Bayley, Sidney Beltram, Mr Branscombe, and others, arrived on the Balmoral Castle arrived in Cape Town in 1879. Besides its season in Cape Town and other towns and cities, the company offered some entertainment on board ship, among other pieces a performance of Leap Year, or The Ladies' Privilege (Buckstone) on 28 November, 1879.

She is next mentioned, now as the leader of her own company, by D.C. Boonzaier (1923). They arrived in Cape Town from England on 24 August, 1882 and she soon leased the Theatre Royal in Burg Street, Cape Town, for a season sometime between May and September, taking over from Disney Roebuck and managing it under the name of Mrs R.J. Hall, though the company was known as The Mabel Hayes Company. She brought together a large company that consisted of Dora French, Augusta Stuart, Georgie Leighford, Rose Brandram, Ellie Elliston, Mrs Eburne, Mr Veovide, Walter J. Brooks, Robert Bolder, Brittain Booth and W.F. Clitherow. The company was later strengthened by the addition of Tom Morton, Harry Siddons, the local musician and performer Henry Harper (who helped out with musical matters, and later became a manager himself), and others.

They opened there with a Christmas pantomime (Cinderella) in 1882, with a season lasting till July 1883. Their repertoire was diverse, including both drama and opera. Among the operatic pieces mentioned by Boonzaier for example are Iolanthe (Gilbert and Sullivan), Manteaux Noirs (Scribe/Parke and Paulyon) and Olivette (Chivot & Durn)/Farnie). The dramas included The World (Meritt, Pettitt and Harris), Taken from Life (Pettitt), The Lights of London (Sims), The Squire (Pinero), Queen's Evidence (Conquest and Pettitt)), It's Never too Late to Mend (Reade), Little Nell (Dickens/Brougham or Halliday), Poor Little Jo (Dickens/), Little Emily (Dickens/), Guy Mannering (Scott/Terry), Pygmalion and Galatea (Gilbert), Moths (Ouida/Hamilton) and Peep o' Day (Falconer).

In July of 1883 she left Cape Town for Port Elizabeth with the core of her company.

Binge (1969: p. 33) mentions performances by The Bob Bolder-Mabel Hayes Company in Johannesburg and Pretoria during August of 1888, drawing some attention with an Aladdin in which they satirized local issues such as "Oom Paul" Kruger's chances in the election, speculation, gold shares, and the like. (Rather oddly Binge misspells Bolder's name as "Holder" in the text of his history, though he has it correct in his Index - but then proceeds to get the page reference wrong in the Index...)


Royal Adelphi Theatre (formerly the Sans Pareil Theatre) 1806-1900. Calendar for 1876-1877[1]

Various articles in the London journal The Era (October 1882, April 1883, January 30th, 1892)

Ludwig Wilhelm Berthold Binge. 1969. Ontwikkeling van die Afrikaanse toneel (1832-1950). Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: p.33

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, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 354, 375-7, 384.

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