Guide to the Papers of Sir George Tallis


MS 9522

National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Collection Summary

Sir George Tallis
Papers of Sir George Tallis
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 9522
2.4 metres (12 boxes + 1 folio)
Language of Materials
National Library of Australia


Scope and Contents

The collection was transferred to the Library after the death of John (‘Jack’) Tallis, youngest son of Sir George Tallis who lived in the Tallis home ‘Beleura’, Mornington, Victoria. John Tallis died in December 1996 and the papers came to the Library in 1999. Michael Tallis, a grandson of Sir George Tallis, and co-author with Joan Tallis of a biography of him, was also involved in negotiating the transfer of the collection to the Library.

The largest category in the collection covers Tallis’ involvement in the management of J.C. Williamson Ltd. Although the total span of the papers is from 1889 to 1948, the strongest concentration is in the years 1910-17. These are crucial years which encompass the death of Williamson (1913) and the assumption by Tallis of key managerial positions in the ‘Firm’ as it was known. The collection includes documentation regarding complex share negotiations and bargaining for positions on the management board. There is also a small but important group of Tallis family letters, and a significant group of photographs of Sir George Tallis , his family, close friends and colleagues, both at home and on overseas trips.

In 2003 Michael and Joan Tallis presented some compilations of theirs on Tallis, radio broadcasting and J.C. Williamson. These items were added to Series 8.

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Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions.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 Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.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 Sir George Tallis, National Library of Australia, MS 9522, [box number and series and/or file number]'.

The Tallis home ‘Beleura’ near Mornington on the Mornington Peninsular was bequeathed to the State of Victoria. It contains furnishings, art works, and memorabilia collected by, and relating to, generations of the Tallis family, as well as personal archives relating to the most recent occupant, Jack Tallis. The house is now open to the public.

Biographical Note

George Tallis was born on October 28, 1869 in the small town of Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland. He was the youngest in a family of ten born to John and Sarah Tallis. The family ran an off-licence store which kept food on the table and provided an early training in business for the maturing children.

John Tallis died when George was seven. Fortunately his mother, Sarah, had always been the driving force behind the Tallis family, and she maintained that control until 1883 when the children dispersed. In order to try their luck two of the boys sailed to Australia. George on the other hand joined the Kilkenny Moderator as a cadet reporter, thereby learning not only shorthand and typing but also how to write. These skills would serve him well in later years.

By 1886 the two brothers who had migrated to Australia had fared very badly. One had died, and the other was ill. Later that year a family decision had George and one of his sisters on their way to Australia on a mercy mission. In November 1886 the pair arrived in Melbourne and George, at the age of 17, immediately applied for a job with the already large theatrical partnership of Williamson, Garner and Musgrove, known as the Firm. J.C. Williamson, an American actor/manager, was impressed by the young man’s keenness and clerical skills, and hired him.

There followed immensely busy years. George started at the bottom as a general factotum, but within a few years he had risen to business manager in charge of theatre companies touring Australia and New Zealand. In 1904 he was promoted to a financial partnership with J.C. Williamson, then appointed managing director in 1910 when the partnership became J.C. Williamson Ltd. Ultimately Tallis became Chairman of Directors upon Williamson’s death in 1913, a position he held until 1931.

The period of Tallis’ chairmanship was one of immense growth and change. The 1914-18 War coincided with early attempts to expand the Firm into South Africa and London. At home the war placed strains on live theatre as the flow of overseas plays and touring companies dried up. On the other hand, the 1920s was an era of hope, great expansion and popularity of the Australian stage. Nevertheless, the Firm was challenged by an expanding Tivoli circuit, films, and finally radio. J.C. Williamson Ltd countered by investing in the Tivoli business, becoming the largest screener of films throughout Australasia, and investing in and controlling radio stations 3LO and 3AR, thereby becoming the most influential element in the developing commercial radio industry. The most profitable part of this industry, which included 3LO and 3AR, was subsequently nationalised by the Australian government to become the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) in 1932.

In 1928 Tallis made a second major tilt at the London live theatre scene with some considerable success. However, the looming Great Depression of 1929 made thoughts of more expansion untenable. George retired due to ill health in November 1931, having completed 45 years of continuous service with the Firm in all of its guises. However, he remained associated with it in one way or another until 1942.

George Tallis married actress Amelia (‘Millie’) Young in 1898, and the couple had four children: G.C. (‘Mick’) 1901, J.A. (‘Pat’) 1904, S.M. (‘Biddy’) 1907, and John (‘Jack’) 1911.

George was knighted in 1922 ‘as head of the theatrical profession in Australia’. He died in August 1948 at Wagga Wagga, NSW.

Reference: Supplied by Michael and Joan Tallis, January 2004.

Item Descriptions

Series 1. Correspondence (loose)

The category includes correspondence and telegrams received by Tallis from colleagues, particularly J.C. Williamson, Hugh Ward, Arthur Allen, Ted Darbyshire, the Tait brothers (particularly John and Edward [‘Ted’]), and Harold Ashton (from South Africa and London). Other correspondents include J.A.E. Malone, Clyde Meynell, George Musgrove, and actress Maisie Gay.

Topics covered include negotiations on share transactions and membership of the management board , discussion on the success (or not) of shows being staged, opinions on shows being considered, and development plans for theatres in various Australian cities.

Of note are a series of letters from Hugh Ward as manager of companies touring Australia and New Zealand in 1910 and 1911, and groups of handwritten letters from J.C. Williamson during tours of Europe in 1910 and 1912. There is also one handwritten note (undated) from Dame Nellie Melba to Tallis’ daughter Biddy advising her on shopping in California, a signed letter (1920) from Enrico Caruso declining an invitation to tour Australia, and a letter from Keith Murdoch to Lord Northcliffe introducing George Tallis (1922).

1889-1910 (File 1) - Box 1

1911-14 (File 2) - Box 1

1915-32 (File 3) - Box 1

Undated (File 4) - Box 1

Series 2. Correspondence (bound)

The bound volumes contain copies of letters and cables sent from the Sydney and Melbourne offices of J.C. Williamson Ltd. Whilst most letters are not signed or initialled, the topics covered and the few signatures that occur indicate that most come from managing directors at the time, including J.C. Williamson, George Tallis, Hugh Ward and Clyde Meynell.

The large majority of letters and cables are detailed discussions of all aspects of the daily business of managing a large theatrical firm, such as theatre takings and the success of shows, as well as matters of policy, public relations, share negotiations and membership of the management board.

Please note: The 1909-1910 volume is on very flimsy tissue paper and letters are sometimes difficult to read.

Dec. 1909-Dec.1910, outwards from Melbourne office (one volume) (File 1) - Box 2

1916 ‘Managing Director. Inwards. First Half’ on spine, i.e. inwards from Sydney office (one volume) (File 2) - Box 2

1914 ‘Sydney to Melbourne. 1st half’ on spine (one volume) (File 3) - Box 3

1914 ‘Melbourne to Sydney. 2nd half’ on spine (one volume) (File 4) - Box 3

Series 3. Financial, notes and miscellaneous

There are copies of agreements between Williamson and Tallis and Ramaciotti (1904, 1910) and J.C. Williamson Ltd and the Taits (1920), which detail share transfers and the composition of the Williamson management board. There are a small number of financial records including bank statements and royalty deposits from 1911 and a few salary records from the 1920s.

A file of notes includes a seven page document in George Tallis’ handwriting discussing writers of farces, the high cost of London theatres, and comparing English and American musicals. This document appears to be incomplete and is undated but references in it suggest the early 1920s.

Agreements, (1902, 1906, 1910) (File 1) - Box 4

Financial statements, 1890s-? (File 2) - Box 4

Cheque book stubs (File 3) - Box 4

Notes (File 4) - Box 4

Miscellaneous (File 5) - Box 4

Series 4. Diary/scrapbooks

The diary of 1902 covers Tallis’ trip to the USA and Europe and comprises 19 pages of short handwritten daily entries on shows seen, appointments, and general impressions. It also contains 25 pages of programs and cuttings pasted in to the bound notebook. The scrapbooks all contain newspaper clippings, mainly from Australian and New Zealand newspapers.

Tallis’ trip diary, 1902 (File 1) - Box 5

Scrapbook - includes knighthood of Tallis (1922), reports on overseas visits, and retirement of Tallis (1931). Original scrapbook and photocopy. (File 2) - Box 5

Scrapbook - theatrical clippings, (1925-28) (File 3) - Box 5

Loose newspaper clippings about J.C. Williamson Ltd attractions and operations, 1906, 1911, 1912 (File 4) - Box 5

Series 5. Printed material

Two published plays; issue of Theatre magazine (Sydney,1922) including interview with Hugh McIntosh; book of sketches for production of ‘San Toi’ (File 1) - Box 6

Souvenir programs - opening of Regent Theatre Melbourne, 1928; opening of Comedy Theatre Melbourne, 1929; 100th performance of ‘Florodora’, Melbourne, 1901; Gala Performance for Prince of Wales 1920; Gala performance for Ross Keith Smith, 1920 (File 2) - Box 6

Souvenir program for ‘Performance in aid of Distressed Actors Fund, Princess Theatre, Melbourne, December 1899, NB cover photo of George Tallis; program for Sheridan’s The rivals, New York, 1896; cast portraits all autographed including Joseph Jefferson (File 3) - Box 6

Memorandum and Articles of Association of J.C. Williamson Ltd - copies for, 1929, 1936, 1938 (File 4) - Box 6

Three reproduction posters of J.C. Williamson Ltd attractions (Item)

Series 6. Photographs - albums and loose

The photographs depict the Tallis family at home (notably at ‘Beleura’ on the Mornington Peninsula), extensive coverage of trips by Sir George Tallis and family overseas and in Australia, and signed portraits of prominent theatrical personalities.

Photo album – GeorgeTallis and party in Europe (File 1) - Box 7

Photo album – George Tallis and party in Europe (File 2) - Box 7

Photo album – family, schools, homes (possibly compiled by Jack Tallis) (File 3) - Box 8

Photo album – titled ‘A musician in Switzerland’ - Jack Tallis and friends. (File 4) - Box 8

Photos loose – homes, with printed auction catalogue for sale of ‘Grosvenor’ (File 5) - Box 9

Photos loose – Lady (Millie) Tallis, including portraits (File 6) - Box 9

George Tallis – portraits (File 7) - Box 9

Group portraits – George Tallis and others (File 8) - Box 9

Tallis family portraits (File 9) - Box 9

George Tallis – caricatures (File 10) - Box 9

Four small portraits, three unidentified, one identified of Theodora Holloway 1875 inscribed to J.C. Williamson (File 11) - Box 10

Theatre personalities - actresses (Marie Tempest, Gertrude Forbes-Robinson, Margaret Bannerman, Dorothy Brunton), and dancer Anna Pavlova. (File 12) - Box 10

Male portraits (Cyril Maude, E.J. Tait, Norman Lindsay) (File 13) - Box 10

Series 7. Correspondence, business records, etc. (Additions 2001)

The material acquired in November-December 2001 includes correspondence and share certificates, which add to the business records of Sir George Tallis and J.C. Williamson Ltd.

On a more personal level, there is one letter by Tallis about treatment in hospital, and three articles by Tallis on various topics. There is also an album of theatre programs from the early 1890s in Melbourne, including many J.C. Williamson Ltd. attractions.

Copies of seven letters on J.C. Williamson business matters, one personal letter from Tallis and three typescript articles by Tallis, ranging from 1910-47; added November 2001; source - M. J. Tallis, Adelaide (File 1) - Box 10

Six letters to Tallis from members of J.C. Williamson management (1910-32), Memorandum of Agreement with Lady Forbes Robertson, and original typescript of three articles by Tallis; some of these are the originals of copies included in Series 9, File 4; added November 2001; source – Tallis Bequest (File 2) - Box 10

Twenty six items including share certificates, correspondence re loans, and financial statements concerning Tallis and J.C. Williamson Ltd. (1912-35); added December 2001; source – Tallis bequest via A. Knight, ‘Beleura’ (File 3) - Box 10

One exercise book containing 66 loose programs and cast lists for theatre events in Melbourne 1891-1893; includes early J.C. Williamson attractions with Tallis listed as ‘Treasurer’ on some programs; added November 2001; source – Ms S. Bowler, East Malvern, Victoria, via M. J. Tallis, Adelaide (File 4) - Box 10

Series 8. Biographical and historical compilations (Additions 2001-03)

Scrapbook (ca. 42 pages) chronologically tracing Tallis’ career. Complied by Tallis’ son George. Includes photographs, letters, cables, extracts from theatre programs, bills of sale, newspaper cuttings, invitations, passport etc; added March 2002; source – M. J. Tallis, Adelaide (File 1) - Box 11

Photocopy of scrapbook above. NB Photocopy not in same internal sequence as original; added November 2001; source – M. J. Tallis, Adelaide (File 2) - Box 11

‘The memoirs of Sir George Tallis’, compiled by M. J. Tallis; spiral-bound account of Tallis’ life (12 pages); added in 2003 (File 3) - Box 12

‘Radio articles, 1924-32’, compiled by M. J. Tallis; spiral-bound transcripts of articles in newspapers, mostly The Argus (40 pages); added in 2003 (File 4) - Box 12

‘Some penetrating interviews and perceptions of J.C. Williamson during the period 1891-1913’, compiled by M. J. Tallis (33 pages); added in 2003 (File 5) - Box 12

‘Articles concerning the professional life of Sir George Tallis’ compiled by M. J. Tallis (219 pages); added in 2003 (File 6) - Box 12

Series 9. Memoirs, correspondence, etc (Additions March 2002)

The material acquired in March 2002 includes important Tallis family letters and Sir George’s own memoirs. There is also a group of letters about censorship problems experienced by J.C. Williamson Ltd in 1917-18. Source for these additions, M. & J. Tallis, Adelaide.

Sir George Tallis’ memoirs, handwritten, 1948; ca. 26 sheets; covers early history of Williamson organisation, to about 1920; original and photocopy (File 1) - Box 11

Ten Tallis family letters, 1888-1938; correspondents include George Tallis, his mother, Sarah Tallis, sisters Charlotte and Anne (File 2) - Box 11

Photocopies of Tallis family letters – see File 2 (File 3) - Box 11

Nineteen letters (1917-18) between members of managements of J.C. Williamson Ltd, concerning censorship problems with plays, and financial matters; originals and photocopies (File 4) - Box 11

Series 10. Photographs - large

Portraits of theatre personalities (Colonel de Basil, Marie Burke, Feodor Chaliapin): photographs of the interior and audience at a gala performance of Kid Boots at His Majesty’s Theatre; : large caricature of George Tallis; framed newspaper article by George Tallis (File 1) - Folio-Box Folio Box (No. ?)