The Fuller Family Fortunes

The Fuller Fortunes 1899 to 1904

The beginning of 1899 was marked by a decision to take the Fuller Myriorama Company to Australia, and Melbourne was picked as the first destination for the family. Ben and John were more business minded that Walter who was happy to let other members of the family make these decisions. He was a gentle and gifted musician who just wanted to play music and direct an orchestra. His brothers on the other hand were more ambitious and took on their father and his ideas to further the family business.

Portrait of Ben, John and Johnny Fuller, Otago Witness, 29 March 1905

An interesting article appeared the Australian newspaper at the end of January 1899 describing the entertainment business in New Zealand as overflowing with touring entertainment companies. It may well have been this reason that the Fullers decided to suspend their activities and initiate another area for their enterprise.

Sunday Times, 29 January 1899

John Fuller’s Myriorama Company had returned to Auckland at the end of September 1898 and had been performing for the city audiences for about three months. John and his family probably had discussions about what to do next.

The Fuller Family purchased a set of historical wax models from Kreitmeyer of Melbourne, and immediately set them up in Auckland where they would be displayed in the foyer of the theatre. It was another way of extending the interest of their audiences. There was a huge amount of interest in English and European figureheads, Prime Ministers, famous explorers, historical characters, celebrities and even criminals. These life-like wax models were a great draw card for the Fullers, who were intent on keeping at the forefront of the entertainment business.

Auckland Star 3 January 1899

New Zealand Herald, 6 February 1899

John Fuller was using every ploy he could think of to keep his audiences amused and interested. Dancing, mouth organ competitions, an elocutionary contest, wax models and crystal mazes contributed to the merriment. It was well received and reviewed.

New Zealand Herald, 8 February 1899

By March the Fuller’s were touring again, this time I found clippings for the family in Nelson and Christchurch, and in June they were to take this show to Australia. Interestingly, this was the first time that the Fullers diversified with Ben Fuller staying behind in New Zealand touring with the waxworks models and other comedy and musical acts.

Ben took Fuller’s Waxworks to Dunedin and Wellington in 1899.

Nelson Evening Mail, 30 March 1899

Star Christchurch, 27 May 1899

Christchurch Evening Star, 31 May 1899

Otago Daily Times, 7 June 1899

Melbourne Age, 26 June 1899

Punch, 29 June 1899 Fuller’s Myriorama Advert for Melbourne Town Hall

Punch, 6 July 1899 Fuller’s Myriorama Ad for Melbourne Town Hall

Prahran, Telegraph 8 July 1899

Note Hettie’s name is misspelt as Harden instead of Warden.

The Age, 12 July 1899

Sportsman, 18 July 1899

The Age, 15 July 1899

The Age 29 July 1899

The Age, 31 July 1899

The Age, 7 August 1899

Bendigo Independent, 12 August 1899

I could see from the reviews that John Fuller Senior was accompanied on the tour to Victoria by Hettie Warden and Walter Fuller, however there was no mention of Lydia, Johnny or Ben Fuller. I felt certain that Johnny was there as he would have been manning the Myriorama. I could also see that the Victorian newpaper critics were warming to the Fuller’s entertainment, as time went on. It was interesting to see how they had to make a name for themselves, not only with the press but with their audiences.

It was not until the Fullers arrived in Ballarat that I was able to finally capture a newspaper review including John Flora, who was described as a Mechanician and who received good applause for his clever behind the scenes work. See the article following the Bendigo Independent review.

After Melbourne, the Fullers took their show on the road to Bendigo, Ballarat, Williamstown and Castlemaine, Portland and Hamilton.

Bendigo Independent ,16 Aug 1899

Ballarat Star, 18 August 1899

Ballarat Star, 25 Aug 1899

Bendigo Independent, 28 August 1899

It was wonderful to capture this Letter to the Editor of the Bendigo Independent show Johnny’s keen interest in all things financial. It was also interesting to see how he had included his stage to accompany his letter. The next article from the Williamstown Chronicle, 18 August 1899, is most interesting as it calls into question the taste of the time and the realisation that minstrel shows should be a thing of the past, however Australian audiences were still entertained by them, when there was a more superior form of entertainment which the author recognised as that from John Fuller and Sons.

Williamstown Chronicle, 18 August 1899

Mount Alexander Mail, 19 August 1899

The Fullers had hired a new business manager, Mr A. W. Batiste, for their Australian tour and the following page from The Portland Guardian, 20 September 1899 prints an interesting article, whereby Mr Batiste goes ahead of the tour readying the halls for the Myriorama, giving a more detailed idea of their day to day life.

Mr John Flora is described as a myrioramic expert. In other newspaper articles, I have seen him described as an electrinoptician.

The Portland Guardian, 20 September 1899

The Hamilton Spectator, 28 September 1899

The Christchurch Star, 9 September 1899

This article from The Christchurch Star was so informative and helpful in identifying that Ben had indeed remained behind in Dunedin, New Zealand to run the Fullers Waxworks Vaudeville Company, whilst Johnny and Walter Fuller took the Myriorama Company on the road in Australia.

By the beginning of 1900 the Fullers had a new company, The Waxworks Bijou and Bijou Minstrel Group, and had diversified their entertainment companies. I believe that this was indeed the very beginning of their entertainment and theatrical empire. Good management and diversification was critical, and who better to do this than the Fuller family themselves.

Auckland Star, 19 July 1900

Auckland Star, 20 July 1900

Auckland Star, 30 November 1900

It has been interesting for me to work out from the newspaper clippings from New Zealand what Ben Fuller’s was up to. Missing from the Australian Tour, it turns out that Ben Fuller was in Dunedin showing his Waxworks and Bijou Company, and had struck up a friendship with George and Jessie Burton. George and Jessie Burton owned and managed the Imperial Hotel in Princes Street, which was conveniently just a few doors away from the Alhambra Theatre. I believe that Ben and his company of actors, humorists and singers were living at the Imperial Hotel during the six months the Company were playing in Dunedin.

 

New Zealand Electoral Record, Dunedin 1896, for George and Jessie Burton

The Burtons six young children were born during the 1890’s, however, in late September of 1899 George Burton tragically died at the young age of 34 years from a heart attack. He is buried in Otago General Cemetery (Lot 14, Block 12B).

It must have been a terrible shock and a difficult time for the newly widowed Jessie Burton, but from all accounts she was an incredible organizer and a very beautiful and much admired woman.

Just a year later on 6 October 1900 Jessie Burton nee McDonald and Ben Fuller married at St Matthew’s Church in Stafford Street, Dunedin.

Alistair Duncan who wrote about Fuller’s Theatres in his book Actor’s Blood explains some of the circumstances:

“ Perhaps, it’s somewhat cynical to wonder why. Quite simply, it could be that he came to love her, and by all accounts she was a lovable as well as a remarkably capable woman. It was unusual though, for a man in those days to marry a woman older than himself. Ben was 25, Jessie 30. And part of her dowry was the baggage of six children.

Perhaps Lily Thompson had something to do with it. A pianist of concert platform standard, Lily was also an excellent accompanist, and before Ben removed himself to Dunedin, often appeared on stage in this role with his father in Auckland. Naturally, she became acquainted with the rest of the family and Ben soon found himself much smitten, so much so that he contemplated marriage. When this reached the ear of Lily’s father he immediately suggested that Ben get this idea right out of his head. It was one thing for the apple of Mr. Thompson’s eye to gain practice and stage presence and social confidence by playing the piano for a theatrical person; it was quite another to marry one.

MISS LILY THOMSON

New Zealand Illustrated Magazine, 1 June 1901

Possibly Ben proposed to Jessie on the rebound, but an equally valid motive, and typical of him, would have been that he decided it was time to marry, and therefore set out to put this aspect of his life in order. Never a man to do things by halves, he may well have considered that if he were to marry he might as well be much married, and his blazing confidence that there was little or nothing he could not handle would have convinced him that if Jessie and her brood needed someone to look after them, he was just the man to do it. Whatever the motive, in October, as well as changing Jessie’s name to Fuller, Ben inherited William 11, Gladys 9, Hilda 8, Jessie 7, Lionel 5 and Alex 4.”

Invitation of Mr J. Fuller Jnr. to the marriage of Mrs J. E. Burton and Mr Ben Fuller, which I found in Johnny’s scrapbook.

It would seem to have been a formal affair, and also very planned with invitations to the wedding sent out well in advance of the marriage.

Marriage of Ben Fuller and Jessie Burton, St Matthew’s Church.

Dunedin Evening Star, 6 October 1900

Wedding Portrait of Mr Ben Fuller, Otago Witness, 10 October 1900

Wedding Portrait of Mrs Ben Fuller, Otago Witness, 10 October 1900

The Ben Fullers were on the move the following month, whether it was this proposed move that spurred Ben’s marriage proposal, we shall not know, but clearly Ben Fuller’s life without his new love, Jessie, was not something he contemplated. The following month Ben and Jessie Fuller had moved to Wellington.

 

Wellington Referee, 7 November 1900

 

Sydney Sportsman, 12 March 1901

Sydney Mail, 16 March 1901

Australian Star, 13 March 1901

Wellington Evening Post, 27 May 1901

The Colonist, 31 May 1901

Whilst Ben Fuller is in Sydney, with his father John Fuller Snr., John Fuller Jun. is in New Zealand, performing in Fuller’s Empire Vaudeville Company, and also undertaking presentations on behalf of the Fullers. The newspaper article above, from The Colonist, shows Johnny presenting a diamond ring to Mr. Petherick, retiring manager of the Choral Hall in Wellington. Two months later Johnny is in Sydney.

Australian Star, 20 July 1901

“Stage Chat”, The Otago Witness, 14 August 1901

I love the fact that John Fuller Snr is down at the docks keeping an eye on his precious theatrical scenery. It gives an insight into the thoroughness and earnestness of their business. John Fuller had an excellent reputation as a fair businessman and also as a jovial, talented and friendly personage. He was not forgetting his humble beginnings, nor that fact that he would not countenance money wasting. By turning up at the docks, he would have impressed his workmen.

This article is also important because it shows that a decision had been made to withdraw from New Zealand, put their theatres up for good rents and move to open theatres in Australia. Sydney in particular must have been seen as a good entry for the Fullers, it had been the centre of a Bubonic plague scare in early 1900, the disease had been spreading from Asia, through Malaya, the Philippines, Japan and even San Francisco and South America. In New South Wales 303 people caught the disease and 103 people perished. It was enough to dull the enthusiasm for Sydney-sider’s need for entertainment. A theatre was considered a dangerous place in times of plague and disease, health authorities must have worked hard to ensure patrons safety, however, just the mention of the word plague was enough to create panic, and the ensuing empty theatres in Sydney may have sent some business to the wall. Timing is everything, and by March 1901 the Fullers had obviously decided to take advantage of this temporary lull in the entertainment business in Sydney. They would have been looking for reduced rents under the circumstances.

Australian Star, 13 December 1901

Arnold Denham bought a breach of copyright case against the Fullers for two hundred pounds. There was a lot of hearsay in the case, much dissention in regarding to the originality of the play, including much “borrowing” of scores and songs. It sent the judge into a temper, due to the fact that the parties could not settle the dispute out of court, and in the end the judge settled an amount of twenty-one pounds in favour of the plaintiff.

The Fullers turned their interests away from the courts to stage a pantomime, their first, called Robinson Crusoe, which opened on Boxing Day of December 1901. It was popular with the audiences, with sailors, pirates, cannibals apparently played by a group of beautiful women. The wreck of Crusoe’s ship was enthusiastically applauded.

On the 6 January 1902 Jessie gave birth to Alfred Benjamin Fuller, known to the family as A. Ben Fuller in Sydney, New South Wales, with the birth being registered in Waverley.

Australian Birth Index 1788-1922:

Name: Alfred B Fuller
Birth Date: 1902
Birth Place: New South Wales
Registration Year: 1902
Registration Place: Waverley, New South Wales, Australia
Father: Ben Fuller
Mother: Jessie E
Registration Number: 8227

Birth notice for A Ben Fuller, Australian Star, 18 January 1902

Tasmania was also an area of interest to the Fullers in 1902 and their Easter concerts were well covered in the local newspapers.

The Newsletter (Aust), 15 March 1902

The Newsletter (Aust), 22 March 1902

TASMANIAN LEASE OF THE BIJOU THEATRE

The Daily Telegraph, 29 March 1902

The Bijou Theatre in Launceston, Tasmania is extensively renovated and later renamed The Empire Theatre.

Daily Telegraph (Launceston), 27 March 1902

Daily Telegraph, 24 April 1902

Johnny Fuller had fallen in love with the beautiful Gertie Fraser from Newcastle. Gertie was a child star of the stage, a dancer and singer of some note. Her parents John Fraser and Annie Heath would have been very happy with the forthcoming marriage for their daughter to a member of the Theatrical Fuller Family. The Fraser family were well immersed in show business. Annie Heath’s sisters Jane and Elizabeth had married two brothers William and Edwin Wynne who had taken the stage name Deglorian, they were performers, agents and trapeze artists. Gertie had performed since she was a child in Newcastle at various venues. She had the voice of an angel and a face to match. I am sure Johnny Fuller was completely spellbound by her beauty. During a stint working for Fullers Theatres that Gertie met Johnny. Gertie was employed by Ben Fuller to work at his newly opened theatre, The Empire, Sydney in September 1901.

Evening News, 14 September 1901

Evening News, 18 September 1893

Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Dec 1897

Sunday Times, 21 April 1901

Ballarat Star, 20 April 1898

Australian Marriage Index 1788-1950:

Name: John Fuller
Spouse Name: Alice Gertrude Mary Fraser
Marriage Place: Tasmania
Registration Place: Tasmania
Registration Year: 1902
Page Number: 0288

Hobart Newsletter, 28 June 1902

New Zealand Herald, 26 July 1902

Earlier I had found a small snippet from the Launceston Examiner 7 July 1902, entitled Orange Blossoms. Trove Digitised Newspapers is continually adding more regional titles to their website, more recently the Tasmanian News was added. It wonderful now to have such a full description of Johnny and Gertie’s marriage from the Tasmanian News, with detailed information about the marriage, reception and honeymoon.

Tasmanian News, 5 July 1902

The year 1902 was to be a landmark year for the Fullers with three siblings marrying by the time the year is out. Firstly, Johnny Fuller, then Walter Fuller and finally Lydia Fuller were all married.

Walter and Dolly were married in the same church that Johnny and Gertie Fuller had been married in earlier that same year. Dolly Cameron was the stage name of Walter’s wife and in her married life she was actually known as Jessie Fuller.

Otago Witness, 10 September 1902

New Zealand Herald, 18 October 1902

Newsletter, 1 November 1902

Daily Telegraph, 20 October 1902

The article from the Daily Telegraph 13 December 1902 was entitled Fullers Set Record in Tasmania shows the tremendous success of the Fullers in Tasmania, and it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. The idea to move their shows from district to district, state to state, country to country meant fresh faces and keen audiences were maximized.

Fullers Set Record in Tasmania

Daily Telegraph, 13 December 1902

Clipper, 13 December 1902

This article from the Clipper, above, on the same day as the Daily Telegraph article from the previous page has the very precious mentioning of Lydia’s wedding back in Wellington, New Zealand to Tudor Boddam, who was the detective in charge of the city. Tudor had been born in India where his father was part of the English Army stationed there. In fact his entire family traditionally served in India, often the children were sent back to England for their schooling.

It was also wonderful to get the information that John Fuller was back in New Zealand. It was just incredible how I could pick up snippets from the newspapers to track the Fullers nearly every move. Their public and private lives had definitely captured the interest of the press and their readers, so much so that they had become quite famous, today they would be known as celebrities.

Baptism of Welby Tudor Balfour Boddam, son of Welby Wroughton and Eliza Henrietta Boddam Annarkuuller, Lahore, India, 27 October 1861

There is so much information on this baptism, including Tudor’s birthdate 6 September 1861, and the fact that his father’s occupation was District Superintendent of Police. Thus, it was no surprise that Tudor followed in his father’s footsteps. An offer for a month’s world subscription to Find My Past allowed me to capture Tudor’s entire family from the Baptism, Marriage, Military and Census records in India.

I also found Tudor Boddam mentioned in New Zealand newspapers well before his marriage to Lydia.

Grey River Argus, 2 December 1886

Thames Advertiser, 24 January 1888

West Coast Times, 10 April 1901

Freelance, 20 December 1902

 

Hobart Mercury, 20 December 1902

This article shows that Johnny Fuller’s time managing Fuller’s Theatres in Hobart has been left now in the secure hands of his elder brother Walter. Jonnny has moved on to Geelong near Melbourne in Victoria.

Otago Witness, “Wellington Wing Whispers”, 7 Jan 1903

This above article was written by the aptly named Mr P. Rompter and is an amusing insight into the theatre critic who is sending up the business. Although Ben wrote his card from Hobart, he is now running the Empire Theatre in Launceston for the Fullers. The Empire Theatre was previously known as the Bijou Theatre.

I discovered that Ben’s stint in Launceston was just for the festive and summer season because by March Ben Fuller would withdraw from Australia to concentrate on the Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington Theatres in New Zealand. It would appear that by the end of March, Johnny had also withdrawn from Ballarat and had moved to Wellington to manage the Choral Hall.

Ballarat Star, 10 February 1903

Otago Witness, 4 March 1903

Auckland Star, 21 March 1903

Auckland Star, 21 March 1903

BURTON, FULLER AND JONES FAMILIES circa 1902/3

Back row, standing John A Jones 14yrs, William Burton/Fuller 14yrs, Arthur Thomas Jones 20yrs, William Frank Jones 13yrs, Jeannie May Jones 17yrs

Middle row, seated unless stated Olive Jessie Jones 12yrs (kneeling), Elizabeth M Jones 18yrs, Jessie Elizabeth Burton Fuller, Alexander John Burton Fuller (on Jessie’s lap), Sir Benjamin Fuller, Alfred Benjamin Fuller 15mths (on Sir Ben’s lap), Gladys Burton Fuller 13yrs, Albert George Jones 6yrs (on tricycle)

Front row, kneeling Lionel George Burton Fuller 7yrs, Jessie Elizabeth Burton Fuller 10yrs, Hilda Burton Fuller 11yrs

Chris Mathias supplied the caption information and the photograph to Virginia Rundle, Sydney Australia, from Auckland, New Zealand.

A short time after I started my Ancestry.com family tree in 2011, I had a message from Chris Mathias of Auckland and we corresponded on the connection, hers through the Burton family and mine through the Fuller. It was a most interesting experience and I became determined to visit Dunedin and see what was left of the Fuller theatres there.

Chris very kindly sent me a photograph of Ben and Jessie Fuller and their children, which must have been taken in 1903 as A. Ben looks about fifteen months old. It was fascinating to discover that Jessie and Ben were also living with Jessie’s sister Jane McNeil Jones nee McDonald and her large brood of children. I could see that the entire family was dressed in mourning clothes and it didn’t take me long to realize that another family tragedy had occurred when Jane’s husband John Jones had died, also at the relatively young age of 45 in 1903.

Tragedy strikes the McDonald family again on 27 May 1903, when Jessie Fuller dies of complications from influenza and leaves Ben with seventeen-month-old A Ben, and the Burton children to care for. I would think that Jessie’s sister and mother stepped in at this stage to care for the Burton children, I can hardly imagine that a busy man like Ben could cope with this sort of tragic situation, and as much as he felt he was their father figure, I don’t think it was possible for him to be their father figure, as these children would have needed mothering.

Evening Star 28 May 1903

I must at this point out some inconsistencies made by Alistair Duncan in his book Actor’s Blood, regarding Jessie dying in Sydney, Australia. At the time Alistair was researching, he didn’t have access to online newspapers, and on some occasions, he had to rely on family memoirs, which at the best of times can be unreliable. The placing Ben and Jessie Fuller in Sydney at the time of Jessie’s death was incorrect, however I have found a death notice stating that the Fullers had recently visited Sydney. I don’t have high regard for family “stories” for the good reason that they are often untrue, or at best partly true. I decided that the only way to resolve the confusion regarding Jessie’s place and cause of death was to order her death certificate.

The passage below is quoted directly from Alistair Duncan’s book, Actor’s Blood:

One night in May of 1903 Ben and Jessie Fuller were due to attend an opera opening night. They were back in Sydney now; the plague having died down. Jessie had bought a fashionable dress for the occasion, and as they were about to leave for the theatre Ben noticed that, in spite of the coolness of the night, she was not wearing a wrap over it. He suggested that she do so, but Jessie’s response was that there was no sense in wearing a beautiful new gown if it could not be seen. Ben did not argue the point, and she left coatless. She contracted pneumonia and died soon after.

That is the story the family agreed on for public consumption, but most of them were aware that the cause of Jessie’s death was a bungled abortion. Ben might have shared the parenting of eight children. As things turned out, he was now solely responsible for seven.”

The death certificate clearly establishes that Jessie died from complications from a three-day infection of pleurisy and influenza. Jessie died in Dunedin, New Zealand on 27 May 1903.

Evening Star, 28 May 1903

Otago Daily Times, 27 May 1905

Evening Star, 28 May 1903

Otago General Cemetery Burial Record for Jessie Fuller

At this stage, until I can travel to Dunedin, and record the grave details, I am not sure if Jessie is buried nearby to her first husband George Burton.

Evening Post (Wellington), 6 June 1903

New Zealand Electoral Roll 1905-1906, Otago, Dunedin

Gertie is listed as living at 6 Stafford Street, Dunedin, which is the Imperial Hotel address, and Johnny is listed as living at 69 Rattray Street, which interestingly is the same address where Jessie Fuller died in 1903. Jessie owned the hotel and presumably it passed to her husband Ben Fuller upon her death. Jessie and her first husband George Burton had purchased the hotel and ran it as a successful business near the theatre district of Dunedin.

Oriental Hotel, Cnr Stafford and Princes Street, Dunedin, 2012

Formerly Princes Theatre, Princes Street, Dunedin, 2012

Johnny and Gertie welcomed their daughter Phyllis in November 1903, it must have been a joyous occasion for them.

New Zealand Birth Record 1840-1950:

Name: Phyllis Gertrude Fuller
Birth Date: 14 November 1903
Registration Place: New Zealand

Ben Fuller Interview – Evening Post (Auckland), 25 August 1904

The interview with Ben Fuller is entitled “Something about the Fuller Proprietary” and is a wonderful summary of the Fuller family, what they have been up to in the past and in the present. This seems to be a wonderful way to finish my chapter on the Fuller Fortunes 1899 – 1904. It is also the first time I saw the phrase “Fuller’s Earth” being applied to the Fuller family.

My next chapter will concentrate on Fuller’s Theatres and include Johnny Fuller’s World Trip in 1907, his contributions as a Wellington Councillor, which sadly also coincides with his divorce from Gertie. The divorce was a most salacious affair, which caught the attention of the New Zealand and Australian newspapers and the general public. Johnny and his family had become the equivalent of modern day celebrities, and the press and public couldn’t get enough of their private and public lives. The divorce was to prove to be a most traumatic occasion for both Johnny and Gertie, and not forgetting their poor daughter Phyllis, who was ordered into a convent by the presiding judge during their divorce case.

In a most interesting turn of events my cousin Scottie Fuller encouraged me to apply to the New Zealand Archives to try and find Johnny and Gertie’s divorce papers. He challenged my husband Geoff Rundle, a Sydney lawyer to research the New Zealand law archives in the hope that they still existed. Quite unbelievable the judge in the case had placed a “gag” order on the papers and stipulated that the divorce papers be sealed and that order had remained until 2017, when I made a successful application to the High Court of New Zealand to inspect the papers. In February of 2016 I received permission from the judge to open these sealed boxes and photograph the contents, however I would have to apply to the judge for further orders if I wished to publish them.

I can remember ringing both Scottie Fuller and my sister Lavinia Chrystal in the excitement of the court order, and told them I was off to Wellington, New Zealand a few weeks later. It was exciting when both of them decided that they would come too.

This incredible week in Wellington will also be covered in my next chapter on the continuing saga of the Fuller Dynasty.

Virginia Rundle

7 August 2017

 

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