Guide to the Papers of the Tait Family

MS 309, Acc10.006

National Library of Australia

Collection Summary

Papers of the Tait Family
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 309, Acc10.006
3.55 metres 19 boxes + 1 folio box
Language of Materials
National Library of Australia


Scope and Contents

This collection comprises photocopies of original material in the possession of Lady Tait. Further material belonging to Lady Tait was photocopied and has been included in the Library's J.C. Williamson (MS 5783), as it relates to the early years of operation of J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd.

The papers consist predominantly of correspondence between the Tait brothers, John, Nevin, Ted and Frank relating to their activities as theatrical entrepreneurs and, in particular, their work as directors of J.C. Williamson Ltd. There is also some personal correspondence of Sir Frank and Lady Tait. Scattered throughout the correspondence are typed extracts from letters that presumably were prepared by Lady Tait when writing her book on the Tait brothers, A Family of Brothers (Heinemann, 1971). Lady Tait's manuscript of the book is also included. In addition, there are some financial documents relating to the Tait Family and newspaper clipping about J.C. Williamson theatre productions and the Tait family. Other miscellaneous items relate to J.C. Williamson productions and include two cue cards and a table cloth embroidered with signatures from the production of The Runaway Girl.

Conditions Governing Access

Access conditions may apply to this collection, please refer to the collection's catalogue record for further information (

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Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions.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 Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.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 the Tait Family, National Library of Australia, [class number, box number and series and/or file number]'.

Finding Aid Source(s)

Please note: This finding aid may comprise or contain descriptive information provided by donors, researchers and/or volunteers.

Collection Retrieval Advice

Please note: each consignment in this collection has a separate box number sequence (i.e. there are multiple Box 1's). Please cite the relevant Class number as well as the Box number when requesting retrieval of material from the collection.

Biographical Note

The Tait brothers, Charles (b.1868), John (b.1871), James Nevin (b. 1876), Edward (b.1878) and Frank (b.1883), were born in Castlemaine, Victoria, the sons of John T. Tait, a Scot who migrated to Australia in the 1860s. As directors of J.C. Williamson Ltd, they dominated and influenced the Australian theatrical and entertainment world for many years.

Date Event
1884 Charles employed by Allan's Music Warehouse.
1900 Ted commenced work for J.C. Williamson, then managed by George Tallis.
1902 John and Nevin formed J. & N. Tait, to be later joined by the youngest brother Frank. The firm promoted concerts with artists whom Charles met through his job at the music shop.
1905 J. & N. Tait made the film 'The Kelly Gang' and, along with Millard Johnson and William Gibson, formed Amalgamated Pictures Ltd. Their success caused some dissension between Ted and J.C. Williamson's Board.
1915 After failing to secure an associate directorship, Ted resigned from J.C.W. and joined his brothers.
1919 Nevin travelled to London to direct the new London office.
1920 Financial difficulties prompted a merger of J. & N. Tait, Electric Theatres and J.C. Williamson Film Company.
1928 Tallis persuaded the Board that they should establish an office in London.
Late 1920s The Firm started to have financial difficulties.
1930 Nevin became sole managing director of London office.
1931 Sir George Tallis retired as Chairman.
1933 Charles Tait died.
1937 Tallis and Allen sold their 200000 shares to Sir John McKenzie who became chairman of J.C. Williamson. McKenzie owned a chain of stores in New Zealand.
Ernest C. Rolls was appointed to the board and made managing director and principal producer as a stipulation of the sale of shares by Tallis and Allen to John McKenzie.
1938 Australian and New Zealand Theatres was formed to run the theatre side of the business. Frank Tait was appointed to the Board.
J.C. Williamson Ltd was made solely a property and investment company. John, Ted and Frank Tait continued as managing directors of J.C. Williamson Ltd while Nevin Tait continued as the London representative of both companies. Frank had suggested that he, Ted and John should manage Australia and New Zealand Theatres until it was established, but his suggestion was rejected.
1939 Viola Wilson approached by Nevin Tait to sing as principal soprano in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas in Australia and New Zealand for 1940.
Rolls travelled overseas to choose shows and artists.
Australian and New Zealand Theatres suffered considerable losses.
1941 Frank married Viola Wilson.
1943 Australian and New Zealand Theatres Limited was re-registered as J.C Williamson Theatres Limited and became a subsidiary of J.C. Williamson Limited.
It was decided that John, Ted and Frank should continue controlling J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd, with one of them to be appointed annually as chairman. Nevin was to remain managing director in London.
1947 Ted's health deteriorated and he became ill after a trip overseas to buy new productions. He died on 12 July 1947, aged 69. After Ted's death the Tait brothers thought it necessary to look for younger men to take on the greater burdens of the business. The problem of succession was to continue for some time, without resolution.
1948 EDMAS was formed (Education in Music and Dramatic Arts Society) to assist in promotion of ballet and opera. J.C. Williamson placed all their resources at the disposal of the Society. Nevin was responsible for forming the opera company and spent six months in Italy in search of talent.
Nevin engaged 25 artists for the J.C. Williamson Italian Grand Opera season.
Nevin returned to Australia for the first time in 20 years.
c. 1950 Sir John McKenzie formed an investment company Rangatira Pty Ltd as a staff provident fund of 48000 shares. Half of the shares of J.C. Williamson Ltd were owned by Tarag Pty Ltd, which was owned by Rangatira Pty Ltd.
1949 John Tait went overseas to buy new shows.
1952 John was still actively writing to the New Zealand Directors about the threat of television.
Nevin undertook assembly of another Italian Grand Opera company.
The Firm lost heavily on the production of 'Coppelia' and Frank became concerned that the Borovansky Australian Ballet Company could not survive unless subsidised. He met and discussed with Dr Coombs, then Chairman of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust, the possibility of establishing a ballet foundation trust.
1955 Nevin returned to London after the Italian opera season finished.
1955 John Tait died on 23 September after a short illness.
1958 John McCallum accepted a position as assistant managing director to Frank.
1961 The Australian Ballet Foundation was formed and Frank was appointed chairman.
Nevin died on 7 March.
1965 Frank died on 23 August.

Item Descriptions

Class MS 309. Original Consignment Show allonly 1

Comprises business and general correspondence relating to theatrical ventures, 1905-1958; personal correspondence of James Nevin Tait, London, 1945-1950; letters to Rangatira Pty Ltd (Wellington, New Zealand), 1949-1954; weekly summary of attractions, 1918; J.C. Williamson performance contracts, 1910-1954; personal financial records of Sir Frank Tait, 1954-1967; correspondence of Sir Frank and Lady Viola Tait, 1960-1990; typescript draft of "A family of brothers" by Lady Tait, ca. 1970; and, miscellaneous clippings and objects relating to theatre productions.

Contained in 19 boxes.

Series. Correspondence Show allonly 1

File 1. Business and general correspondence, 1908, 1911-17 - Box 1 Show allonly 1
File 2. Business and general correspondence, 1920, 1924, 1926, 1927-29 - Box 1 Show allonly 1
File 3. Business and general correspondence, 1931-33 - Box 1 Show allonly 1
File 4. Business and general correspondence, 1934-36 - Box 1 Show allonly 1
File 5. Business and general correspondence, 1937-39 - Box 1 Show allonly 1
File 6. Correspondence and press clippings regarding Ernest Charles Rolls, 1920, 1926, 1931-38 - Box 1 Show allonly 1
File 7. Business and general correspondence, 1940-41 - Box 1 Show allonly 1
File 8. Business and general correspondence, 1942 - Box 1 Show allonly 1
File 9. Business and general correspondence, 1943 - Box 1 Show allonly 1
File 10-12. Business and general correspondence, 1944 - Box 2 Show allonly 1
File 13. Business and correspondence regarding Service Contract February to August, 1944 - Box 2 Show allonly 1
File 14. Business and general correspondence, 1945, 1949 - Box 2 Show allonly 1
File 15. Business and general correspondence, 1951-54 - Box 2 Show allonly 1
File 16. Business and general correspondence, 1955 - Box 2 Show allonly 1
File 17. Business and general correspondence, 1956-58 - Box 2 Show allonly 1
File 18. Personal letters of J. Nevin Tait, 1945-50 - Box 3 Show allonly 1
File 19. Personal letters to J. Nevin Tait, 1946-50 - Box 3 Show allonly 1
File 20. Letters to Rangatira Pty Ltd (Wellington), 1949-50 - Box 4 Show allonly 1
File 21. Letters from Director's, Melbourne to Directors, Rangatira, Wellington, 1954 - Box 4 Show allonly 1
File 22. Letters to Rangatira Directors, New Zealand, 1951-53 - Box 5 Show allonly 1

Series. Business Documents Show allonly 1

File 23. Weekly summary J N Tait's Attractions, 1918 - Box 6 Show allonly 1
File 24-29. Performance contracts, 1910-54 - Box 6 Show allonly 1

Series. Family Papers of Sir Frank Tait Show allonly 1

File 30. Balance sheet and profit and loss account for year ended 30th June 1954, J.C.Williamson Limited - Box 7 Show allonly 1
File 31. Income and Balance Sheets, Frank S. Tait, Iris O. Tait, Peggy E. Tait, Joan I. Tait - Box 7 Show allonly 1
File 32. List of Shares and debentures, F. S Tait and family, 1950's - Box 7 Show allonly 1
File 33. Deed between Lady Tait and Sir Frank Tait, G. E Barker, C.G Hooper (Trustees) re: Sally Wilson Tait dated 30th June 1967, Balance Sheet Kurrajong Assets Pty Ltd 1967 and Profit and Loss Account Fransom Investments Proprietary Limited, 1966 - Box 7 Show allonly 1
File 34. Inventory and Probate Valuation of furnishings of Sir Frank Tait, 1967 - Box 7 Show allonly 1
File 35. Personal correspondence of Sir Frank Tait, 1960-63, 1965 - Box 8 Show allonly 1
File 36. Correspondence with Yehudi Menuhin and family and newspaper clippings, 1935-69 - Box 8 Show allonly 1
File 37. Personal correspondence of Lady Tait, 1963-70, 1989, 1990 - Box 8 Show allonly 1
File 38. Correspondence of Lady Tait regarding the Royal Academy of Dancing 1957-63. Includes correspondence with Dame Margot Fonteyn - Box 8 Show allonly 1
File 39. Correspondence relating to death of Sir Frank Tait - Box 8 Show allonly 1
File 40. Draft manuscript of A Family of Brothers - Box 8 Show allonly 1

Series. MiscellaneousPapers Show allonly 1

File 41. Press clippings re Theatre productions and Tait family Show allonly 1
File 42. Cue cards for production of 'You're in Love', tablecloth with embroidered signatures relating to the production 'The Runaway Girl' Show allonly 1

Class Acc10-006. Consignment Added Show allonly 1

Comprises theatre programmes and related ephemera, news clippings, theatrical journals and research notes. Topics represented include actors, directors, instrumentalists, dancers, singers, circuses, colonial opera, theatres and theatre companies, including J.C. Williamson, Melbourne Repertory Club, Dame Clara Butt, John Farrell, Dorothy Hammerstein, Robert Helpmann, Yehudi Menuhin, Gladys Moncrieff, Maurice Moscovitch, Nat Madison, Anna Pavlova, John Charles Thomas, Lawrence Tibbett.

Contained in 1 folio box.