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 or Mr Parker's Theatre of Mechanics 1837-1839

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 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.

Parker's Cape Town career as manager 1847-1851

Parker as manager

According to Broom's reminiscences (Cape Illustrated Magazine, 1899; cited in Bosman, 1928: p. 419) he saw Parker, who was once more in Cape Town, in 1847 and 1848. Parker had apparently moved into more formal theatre by leasing the newly renovated Drury Lane Theatre for one season as manager, 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. Bosman, however casts some doubt on the above dates, stating that his research shows that Parker was definitely in Cape Town in 1848 with his "Theatre of Mechanics", and at that time could have taken the Drury Lane Theatre, and that he definitely did present plays in 1849, with the company playing on and off till 1851, sometimes in the Drury Lane Theatre and at others in the Hope Street Theatre. After that they seemed to disappear from the scene.

As manager parker seems to have hqads some problems with the drury Lane Theatre, for accorind In January 1849 it received much praise from the Cape Town Mail for its production of Luke the Labourer (Buckstone), but Sam Sly responded with a harsh critique of the theatre and the company, suggesting that the Cape Town Mail review displayed "exaggerated and false colouring" , for he had found the space noisy and that "the ventilation was abominable and ...the acting was no good..". (quoted in Bosman, 1928: p. 419). Apparently this caused the company to close down temporarily.

In 1850 they performed once more, this time at the Victoria Theatre (Hope Street Theatre), though the year after they were back at Drury Lane Theatre, after which they seemed to disappear from the scene.


The company played on and off in Cape Town from then till 1851, playing in the Drury Lane Theatre and the Hope Street Theatre. They apparently performed inter alia Luke the Labourer (Buckstone), Victorine (Buckstone) , The King's Command (Thompson) and Damp Beds (Parry).

[TH, JH]


Bosman, 1928;

Du Toit, 1988;

Fletcher, 1994



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