W.F.H. Parker

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A puppeteer, magician and impresario from England.

South African Performances by Parker and his company

The Automata

In 1837 he impressed Cape Town audiences with his huge, life-size Automaton figures - his presentations described as "Mechanical and Picturesque Theatre of Arts" (Bosman, 1828: p. 231). It “worked automatically through wires, ropes, steam” or someone inside the huge puppets. It was one of the first recorded puppet displays in Cape Town (a M. Decanis preceded Parker, showing only one Automoton figure in June 1837).

The first performance by the Automata 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")

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.

Cape Town career as manager

In 1848 Parker leased the Drury Lane Theatre for one season as manager, intending to present the New English Theatrical Company (also referred to as Parker's Company in some sources) in a season of light dramas and operas. However, they only performed Luke the Labourer in January 1849 before harsh critique by Sam Sly caused the company to close down. In 1850 they performed at the Victoria Theatre (Hope Street Theatre) and the year after they were back at Drury Lane Theatre, after which they seemed to disappear from the scene. [TH, JH]


Bosman, 1928;

Du Toit, 1988;

Fletcher, 1994



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