Disney Roebuck

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Disney Roebuck (1819-1885) was a British actor-manager who had a great influence on theatre in South Africa.

He was usually referred to as Captain Disney Roebuck or simply as Captain Roebuck.


Born Francis Algernon Disney, he originally followed a military career. Roebuck joined the British army in 1837 and was promoted to Captain in the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers. During these years he was active in garrison theatre. Whilst in the army he organised garrison amateur theatricals. Roebuck and his actors were great favourites and were always welcomed by Port Elizabeth audiences. He initially performed and toured in England as an amateur, but eventually became a professional actor-manager. After an initial tour to South Africa in 1873, with a company formally known as the United Service Dramatic Company, he would regularly take companies on tour to Australia and South Africa, often with an extensive repertoire that included a number of his standard roles, including many Shakespearean works, till his last production in Cape Town on 7 August 1882. The companies had various names over the years, including the aforementioned United Service Dramatic Company, Captain Disney Roebuck's Dramatic Company, Captain Roebuck's Company, and so on.

Contribution to South African theatre and performance

He arrived in Cape Town with his theatre company in 1873 and toured with a production of Robertson's David Garrick (1873). In 1875 the company traveled inland, one tour to Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown and King William's Town, the other to Kimberley. He also performed in Durban e.g. Hamlet in 1876). The first company included, besides Roebuck himself, Fanny Enson, E. Palmer, John Brougham, Bessie Cranston and Seymour Dallas. He on occasion also made use of local amateurs or professionals. In 1876 he returned with an augmented company which also included Maggie Duggan,William Elton, W. Foulis, Henry Harper, Mrs Harper, James Leffler, Georgina Robertson, Hilda Temple, W. Thorne (scenic artist) and Sutton Vane.

In June, 1876 he also sent C.E. de Jocelyn Harvey out to tour with an Italian ballet and opera troupe consisting of Signor Setragni, Mrs Setragni, Signor Bossano, Signor Bossi, and the pianist Signor Nulli, ending with three concerts and a benefit in Cape Town at the beginning of November.

Another recruiting trip in 1879 saw him return on the Royal Mail Steamship Balmoral Castle, with a strong new company that seems to have included Mabel Hayes, Bella Murdoch, Julia Sydney, T.G. Warren, T. Morton, Wilfred Bayley, Sidney Beltram, Mr McRedie, Mr Towers, Mrs Towers, Miss R. Towers, Miss F. Conliffe, W.H. Wallace, R. Eckhardt and H. Branscombe. W.H. Wallace apparently acted as Stage Manager and R. Eckhardt as Musical Director. On the way out from England they gave shipboard performances in a theatre designed and erected by the Chief Stewart of the ship. One of the works performed was Leap Year, or The Ladies' Privilege (Buckstone) on 28 November, 1879, in aid of the Sailor's Orphanage and the Dreadnought.

From April 20 – 21, (Possibly circa 1880-82????): Captain Roebuck's Company presented G R Sims' latest London comedy in three acts, Crutch and Toothpick! From April 24 till April 25, (Possibly circa 1880-82????), his Company announced the upcoming production of Jacques Offenbach's three-act comic opera, La Fille Du Tambour Major (The Drum-Major's Daughter), first performed in Paris in 1879, at Port Elizabeth's New Theatre.

In Cape Town he leased and ran various theatres between 1873 and 1883/4, renaming some for his purposes. Among the venues used were the Mutual Hall, the Oddfellows Hall, the Bijou Theatre, the Athenaeum Hall, the Good Hope Gardens and especially the Theatre Royal. This latter theatre burnt down in 1884 and Roebuck returned to London while it was being rebuilt, returning to re-occupy it in 1885, but unfortunately died in Sea Point, Cape Town in 22nd March 1885.


Among his other major productions in South Africa were:

Caste (1874) The Octoroon (1876), Hamlet (1876), Pygmalion and Galatea (1876), Othello (1877), Our Boys (1877), ** . **


Jill Fletcher 1994

Stopforth 1955, pp. 96-7




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, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.304-380, 404

Original Theatre Royal theatre program, dated April 20th and 21st, but with no year stated.

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