Guide to the Papers of Eric Irvin

MS 8786

National Library of Australia

Collection Summary

Eric Irvin
Papers of Eric Irvin
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 8786
4.42 metres (16 boxes, 16 folio boxes)
Language of Materials
National Library of Australia


Scope and Contents

The papers relate mainly to Irvin's writings about early Australian theatre, but also include transcripts of ABC broadcasts that Irvin gave in the last years of World War II relating to poetry.

Included in the collection are: correspondence; transcripts of broadcasts, interviews and talks; manuscripts and typescripts of Irvin's writings; newspaper cuttings; transcriptions of articles from magazines, newspapers and other publications; biographical files; indexes and registers of performers and their performances, plays, operas, musical works, and references in newspapers; photographs of early theatres, performers and playwrights; and photographic copies of various etchings, engravings and playbills.

Conditions Governing Access

Please refer to the collection's catalogue record for the access conditions (

Conditions Governing Use

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of Eric Irvin, National Library of Australia, MS 8786, [box number and series and/or file number]'.


The papers were purchased by the Library from Margaret Irvin in 1994.


The material in Series 2, files 14-34 was kept together in suspension files and has been maintained in its original order. Many of the performers listed are discussed by Irvin in his manuscript 'Crowned with applause ten actors remembered for virtue's cause'. Irvin also worked on a volume entitled 'Register of musical works for the stage performed in Australia 1789-1918.' Irvin published an article in Australian Literary Studies (1975) entitled 'Marcus Clarke and the Theatre'.

Biographical Note

Eric Irvin was born at Newtown, Sydney in 1908. He attended Bondi Public School. In 1922 he was apprenticed to a chemist in Bondi and attended night classes at Waverley Grammar school. He later gained employment in various department stores while studying art and window display at East Sydney Technical college. It was during this period that he began to write. His work, comprising articles about commercial art and window display, was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and other news publications, often accompanied by his own illustrations.

During the Depression years Irvin found work hard to obtain. He wrote some short stories but was not able to get them published. He was much more successful with his poetry, much of which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald. In the mid 1930s he obtained employment as an art teacher in Catholic girls schools.

In 1940 he enlisted with the 7th Australian Divisional Signals. While in the Middle East he wrote poetry, much of which was published in The Bulletin. In 1942 his Division was brought back to Australia for training before being sent to Papua New Guinea. Angus and Robertson had by this time accepted his first book of poetry, A solders miscellany, for publication. Due to paper shortages this was not published until 1945. It included poems written in Syria and Papua New Guinea where Irvin fought on the Kokoda Trail, Buna and Ramu Valley campaigns.

After the War Irvin worked as secretary of the Wagga Wagga School of Arts. In this position he produced various plays also designing and building the sets. After 18 months he obtained a position as a reporter at the Wagga Daily Advertiser. He went on to become the paper's sub-editor in 1961. During this time he continued to write poetry but became increasingly interested in Australian history. He self-published three booklets on Wagga Wagga and the surrounding region, Place of Many Crows; a brief history of the foundation of Wagga Wagga, NSW (1953), The Murrumbidgee Turf Club: its early history (1960), Early inland agriculture: farming in the southern districts of New South Wales (1962), and edited a series of articles of anonymous contributors to the Wagga Wagga Advertiser and Riverine Reporter in 1875 entitled Letters from the river (1959).

Seeing little future for his children in Wagga Wagga, Irvin decided to return to Sydney after obtaining a position as sub-editor with the Sydney Morning Herald, where he remained until his retirement in 1973. He published another book of his poetry, A suit for everyman in 1968. He found, however, that the pressure of work was not conducive to writing poetry so turned to another interest, the theatre. He became interested in the man who established the first theatre in Australia, Barnet Levy, and wrote Theatre comes to Australia (1971). At this time he also wrote many articles on the theatre which were published in magazines in America and England. (See appendix A for further detail)

In 1972 he applied to the Australian Council for an Arts grant to do research for another book on Australian playwrights. After his retirement he wrote four further books, Gentleman George: the theatrical life and times of George Darrell 1841-1921 (1980), Australian melodrama: eighty years of popular theatre (1981), Dictionary of Australian theatre: 1788-1914 (1985)and one on architecture, Sydney as it might have been: dreams that died on the drawing board (1974). He also edited Colonial Experience, a play by Walter Hampson Cooper.

In his last years he completed an unpublished biography of Luscombe Searelle, who was a well known actor in Australia in the 1870s and who later achieved fame in Britain as a composer of opera. Irvin died in Brisbane in 1992, aged 83.

Item Descriptions

Series 1. Correspondence, 1969-91

The correspondence (c.200 letters), which dates mostly from 1985-91, was kept by Irvin in a concertina file. It relates mainly to business matters such as publishers, libraries, and the Copyright Council, but includes quite a lot of letters from other researchers. Correspondents include Peter Kirkpatrick, Harold Love, Ross Thorne, Elizabeth Webby and Hale and Iremonger. There are some copies of Irvin's letters.

File 1. A-C - Box 1

File 2. D, F and H - Box 1

File 3. K-NO - Box 1

File 4. PQ-R and S - Box 1

File 5. T, UV - Box 1

File 6. Correspondence with Hale - Box 1

File 7. Newsletter of the Schubert Archive, 1993 and issue of the Australian Author, 1989 - Box 1

Series 2. Manuscripts and Typescripts, 1944-91

File 1. Typescripts of ABC broadcast 'Our poets of this War', 1944 - Box 2

Transcript of ABC interview, ' New Australian voices' series, c. 1945

Transcript of ABC talk, 'Out of chaos comes beauty; some thoughts on the present poetic revival', 1945

File 2. Typescript of 'From Mutton to Music', concerning Kenneth Duffield, the "gay twenties" composer - Box 2

File 3. Bound manuscript, ' The Ungilded stage; Australia's theatrical beginnings' - Box 2

File 4-5. Typescript of chapters 1-7 of 'The Ungilded stage' - Box 2

File 6. Bound typescript, 'Little Luscombe; the strange career of William Luscombe Searelle, 1853-1907', 1987

File 7. Typescript, 'Around the world with music...Dudley Glass', 1987 - Box 3

Manuscript , 'George Crighton Miln (1815-1917), 1990

File 8. Review of Katharine Brisbane, Entertaining Australia, an illustrated history, 1991 - Box 3

File 9. Bound typescript , 'Crowned with applause: ten actors remembered for virtue's cause' - Box 3

File 10. Typescript draft of foreward to 'Crowned with applause' - Box 3

File 11. Typescript draft of chapter on Anna Maria Quinn, 1848-1920 - Box 3

File 12. Typescript drafts of chapter on Harold Bellew, 1855-1911 - Box 3

File 13. Bound manuscript and typescript , 'Australian dictionary of nineteenth century theatrical biography', incomplete but containing substantialentires on some actors such as Bert Bailey, George Gordon, Howard Vernon, Kenneth Duffield - Box 4

File 14. Biography Drafts - Box 4

File 15. Songs - Box 4

File 16. Register of Plays - Box 4

File 17. Musical Theatre - Box 4

File 18. Charles Young - Box 4



File 19. Marian Clarke - Box 5

Jane Thomson

File 20. Catherine Hayes - Box 5

File 22. Milns - Box 5

File 21. Walter Montgomery - Box 5

File 23. Pending - Box 5

Anna Marie Quinn

File 24. George Rignold - Box 5

File 25. Searelle - Box 5

File 26. Walter Bentley - Box 5

File 27. G. V. Brooke - Box 6

File 28. Crowned - Box 6

Helen Dauvray

File 29. Kenneth Duffield - Box 6

File 30. Social Security - Box 6

File 31. Early Theatres - Box 6

File 32. His Natural Life - Box 6

File 33. Opera - Box 6

File 34. Cuttings (These newspaper cuttings relate to mainly to the Sydney Theatre Company's production of George Darrell's play 'The Sunny South', in 1980 and Margaret Willaims book Australia on the popular stage) - Box 6

Series 3. Biographical Files, 1985-92

These files relate mostly to actors of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and contain manuscripts and typescript notes, typed transcripts and photocopies of newspaper and other articles and some correspondence.

File 1. Army (i.e. use of theatre by the British Army in the 18th and 19th centuries) - Box 7

File 2. Frances Alda - Box 7

J. H. Anderson

James R. Anderson

Judith Anderson

G. W. Anson

File 3. Charles Arnold - Box 7

Wilson Barrett

Dan Barry

John Barrymore

James Bartlett

File 4. Louisa Bayer - Box 7

File 5. Armes Beaumont - Box 7

Kyrle Bellew

File 6. Anna Bishop - Box 7

File 7. J. F. Cathcart - Box 7

S. and C. Cameron

Child Actors

William Creswick

Alfred Dampier

File 8. Edward Dyson - Box 7

Leon Errol

Sara Flower

File 9. Dudley Glass - Box 8

File 10. Edware Geoguegan - Box 8

Dolly Green

Dolores Drummond

File 11. J. L. Hatton - Box 8

R. H. Horne

William Hoskins

G. R. Ireland

M. D. Isaacs

Sir John Jamison

Fransisca Janauscher

File 12. Avonia Jones - Box 8

A. W. Junker

Julius Knight

Henri Kowalski

File 13-14. John Lang - Box 8

File 15. L. H. Laveru - Box 8

Marie Lohr

Mary Marlowe

Lola Montez

Maggie Moore

File 16-17. Ilma De Murska - Box 8, 9

File 18. Isaac Nathan - Box 9

Nance O'Neil

E. W. O'Sullivan

Cora Urquhart Potter

Roy Redgrave

Walter Reynolds

Adelaide Ristori

File 19. William A. Robins - Box 9

May Robson

Frances Saville

File 20. Edmond Samuels - Box 9

Edwin Lewis Scott

Fanny Simonsen

File 21. Arthur Sketchley - Box 9

Elsa Stralia

Sir Oswald Stoll

Barry Sullivan

File 22. Thomas Hillhouse Taylor - Box 9

File 23. George Titheradge - Box 9

J. H. Vinson

File 24. Eliza Winstanley - Box 9

Series 4. Research Transcripts and Photocopies

Folios 1-10 consist of typescript transcripts on theatre in Australia 1788-1976 (mostly 1788-1914), filed chronologically. The volumes contain extracts from newspapers and other sources on the opening and closing of theatres, reviews of performances and deaths of actors.

File 1. Bound typescript of autobiography of Howard Vernon, transcribed from Advertiser (Adelaide), 1923 - Box 10

File 2. Bound typescript of extracts from historical journals, magazines, cyclopaedias and other published works, with photocopied pictures and issues of Magazine of Art, 1881-1900 - Box 10

File 3. Notebook containing handwritten notes on performers - Box 10

File Folio 1. 18th century -1839 - Folio-Box 1

File Folio 2. 1840-1856 - Folio-Box 2

File Folio 3. 1857-1871 - Folio-Box 3

File Folio 4. 1872-1877 - Folio-Box 4

File Folio 5. 1878-1883 - Folio-Box 5

File Folio 6. 1884-1887 - Folio-Box 6

File Folio 7. 1888-1892 - Folio-Box 7

File Folio 8. 1893-1902 - Folio-Box 8

File Folio 9. 1903-1912 - Folio-Box 9

File Folio 10. 1913-1976 - Folio-Box 10

Series 5. Indexes

Biographical index of actors, listing performances and references in newspapers.

File 1. A - Box 11

File 2. B - Box 11

File 3. Bu - Box 11

File 4. Ci - Box 11

File 5. Cu - Box 11

File 6. D -Dam, Dar - Box 11

File 7. E - Box 11

File 8. F - Box 11

File 9. G - Box 12

File 10. H and I - Box 12

File 11. Ha-i - Box 12

File 12. J - Box 12

File 13. K - Box 12

File 14. L - Box 12

File 15. Ma-i - Box 12

File 16. M-N - Box 12

File 17. O - Box 13

File 18. P-Q - Box 13

File 19. R - Box 13

File 20. Sa-m - Box 13

File 21. S - Box 13

File 22. T - Box 13

File 23-24. The - Box 13, 14

File 25. U-V - Box 14

File 26. W - Box 14

File 27. X-Y-Z - Box 14

File 28. Handwritten index to publications - Box 14

File 29. Handwritten index to plays by title - Box 14

File 30. Typescript title index to publications in Irvin's theatre collection Vol 2 - Box 14

File 31. Typescript author index to publication in Irvin's collection Vol 1 - Box 15

File 32. Typescript title index to publications in Irvin's theatre collection Vol 3 - Box 15

File 33. Biographical index book - Box 15

File 34. Musical index book - Box 15

File 35. Biographical index containing performers birth and death details - Box 15

File 36. Index to performances of opera and operetta in Australia, c 1830-1920 - Box 15

File 37. Index of performers - Box 15

File 1 Folio. Card index of performers indicating dates of birth and death and containing references from newspapers Chronological card index to pantomimes, 1893-1892 - Folio-Box 1

File 2 Folio. Alphabetical card index to playwrights and plays, noting where they were performed and the date of performance - Folio-Box 2

File 3 Folio. Card index of operas, noting where they were performed and the date of performance - Folio-Box 3

File 4 Folio. Card index of songs, noting where copies of originals are held - Folio-Box 4

Card index of plays, indicating authors and where they were performed.

File 5 Folio. Chronological card index to plays performed in Australia, 1796-1925 - Folio-Box 5

File 6 Folio. Alphabetical card index to authors of books on the theatre, noting the publisher and date of publication - Folio-Box 6

Biographical card index of nineteenth century theatre.

Series 6. Photographs

File 1-3. Photographic prints mostly of early Australian actors, filed alphabetically in envelopes - Box 16

File 4. Photographic copies of playbills and engravings of theatres - Box 16

File 5. Photographic prints of engravings on 19th century Australian theatres - Box 16

File 6. Photographic prints for biography of Luscombe Searelle