Difference between revisions of "W.F.H. Parker"

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A puppeteer, magician and impresario from England.

He was the owner of a theatrical company (sometimes referred to as Mr Parker's Theatre of Mechanics), which toured internationally showing huge, life-size Automaton figures. They “worked automatically through wires, ropes, steam” or through someone inside the huge puppets.

Cape Town career as puppeteer 1837-1839, 1849-1851

In 1837 Parker arrived in Cape Town and impressed audiences with the Automaton figures, billed as the "Mechanical and Picturesque Theatre of Arts" (Bosman, 1828: p. 231). It was one of the first recorded puppet displays in Cape Town (a M. Decanis preceded Parker, showing only one Automaton figure in June 1837).

The first performance by the Automata - or as they were billed "Mr Parker's Theatre of Mechanics" was on 5 December 1837 and consisted of Polander , The Enchanted Turk, Children in the Wood (Morton) and Joey Grimaldi's Trip to Brentford (possibly their version of the classic comedy riding act called "Billy Buttons or the Tailors Ride to Brentford")

The company apparently performed daily from November 1837 till January 1838 in a space described as "The Mechanical and Picturesque Theatre of Arts", Long Street (opposite Mr Bam's.

Later he also showed the Automata in The Enchanted Witch, or Mother Shipton, along with scenes from London life, including the Vaux-hall Gardens, the "Ascent of Mr Sadler's Balloon", etc.

Another presentation by the company was The Battle of Navarino, between the British, Dutch and French fleets.

In 1838 the company took their show on the road to Stellenbosch, Worcester, Swellendam, George and Uitenhage, finally ending in Cape Town again.

In 1839 they were in Grahamstown.

In 1847 or 1848 he was back in Cape Town with the Automata, and apparently continued showing them till some time in 1851.

Cape Town career as manager 1847-1851

With his second period in Cape Town, Parker apparently also moved into more formal theatre by leasing the newly renovated Drury Lane Theatre for one season as manager, to present the semi-professional New English Theatrical Company (also referred to as Parker's Company in some sources) in a season of light dramas and operas. (There are some doubts about the exact dates. According to Broom's reminiscences in the Cape Illustrated Magazine of 1899 (cited in Bosman, 1928: p. 419), he saw Parker in 1847 and 1848, but Bosman, expresses some doubts about the 1847 date, stating that his research shows that while Parker was definitely in Cape Town in 1848 with his "Theatre of Mechanics", and at that time thus could have taken the Drury Lane Theatre. There is evidence however of performances in 1849, and of the company playing on and off till 1851, sometimes in the Drury Lane Theatre and at others in the Hope Street Theatre (by then known as the Victoria Theatre). After that they seemed to disappear from the scene.

As manager Parker seems to have had some problems with the Drury Lane Theatre, as may be seen from Sam Sly's harsh critique of the theatre and the company in his review of their production of Luke the Labourer (Buckstone) in January 1849. besides the acting, Sly found found the space noisy and that the ventilation abominable (cited in Bosman, 1928: p. 419). Apparently this even caused the company to close down temporarily.

Listed among the company members by were H. Hughes (who was both actor and stage manager), Mr Miller, Mr Etton, Mr Rogers, Mr Herbert, Mr Tilbury, Mr Hill, Mrs Parker and Mrs Hughes.

The company apparently performed inter alia the abovementioned Luke the Labourer (Buckstone), as well as Victorine (Buckstone) , The King's Command (Thompson) and Damp Beds (Parry).

[TH, JH]


Bosman, 1928: pp. 417-423.

Du Toit, 1988;

Fletcher, 1994



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