Performing Arts Collection
J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd
J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd

Company History

James Cassius Williamson (1844-1913) was an American comic actor, particularly acclaimed for his role in the comedy-melodrama Struck Oil, in which he starred with his first wife Maggie Moore during the 1870s. An astute businessman, Williamson turned to theatrical management and, in 1882, formed a partnership with two of his business rivals, Arthur Garner and George Musgrove. Known as 'The Triumvirate', the company lasted until 1890 and laid the basis of what was to become the most important theatrical management organisation in Australia, dominating for almost one hundred years.

With a number of partnership changes over the years the company continued to absorb its competitors, and eventually owned the Theatre Royal, Comedy, Her Majesty's and Princess Theatres in Melbourne, and the Theatres Royal in Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane.  The Williamson organisation became renowned for presenting a vast range of performance types including drama, opera, operettas, ballet and musicals.  Throughout its history it produced high quality theatre, showcasing imported overseas artists such as George Rignold, Dion Boucicault, Sarah Bernhardt, Pavlova and, later, Dame Sybil Thorndike, Sir Louis Casson,  Evie Hayes and Cyd Charisse.  It also encouraged Australian performers, such as Nellie Stewart, Ada Crossley, Nellie Melba, Oscar Asche, Madge Elliot, Cyril Ritchard, Gladys Moncrieff, Don Nicol, Jill Perryman and Nancye Hayes.

From 1907 Williamson's financial stake in the company gradually diminished as he sold portions of his shares.  In 1911 the proprietary company was formed with Williamson as governing director in name only.  Williamson died two years later in Paris but his company, under various structures, became the dominant theatrical management in Australia and New Zealand. Between the 1930s to the 1950s the organisation was managed by the Tait Brothers, and became known as The Firm.  The company experienced great success after World War II with the staging of American musicals such as Annie Get Your Gun, Oklahoma!, Kiss Me, Kate and Paint Your Wagon.  It was during the 1960s however that Williamson's, now lead by Sir Frank Tait and John McCallum, presented their greatest musical success, My Fair Lady.  This was followed by productions such as Hello, Dolly!, Funny Girl, Fiddler On the Roof and Man of La Mancha.  John McCallum retired in 1967 but was not replaced until 1971 when Michael Edgley became Managing Director of Williamson-Edgley Theatres.  Following a series of major losses in the early 1970s, The J.C Williamson conglomerate finally came to an end in 1977.

Collection Holdings

When the curtain finally came down on J.C.Williamson Theatres Ltd, it became apparent that a repository was required for a century's worth of company records. With the support of Lady Viola Tait, thousands of documents were recovered and donated to the Performing Arts Collection in 1980.

The JC Williamson Theatres Ltd Archive includes programmes, photographs, posters, personnel and production contracts, scripts, musical scores, set books, stage designs and plans, press books, correspondence, financial records and a card file which lists every show staged by Williamson's.

The collection contains a number of highly significant items, such as the original script for the stage production of For The Term of His Natural Life, set books containing photographs of stage designs and contracts with performers such as Adeline Genee, Oscar Asche, Edouard Borovansky and Roy Redgrave.

The collection represents almost a century of socio-economic change in Australia and allows for allows for a vast cross-referencing system to all companies, actors, artists and theatres across our principal collecting areas - circus, dance, music, opera, theatre.

View catalogue records for the collection


J. C. Williamson Design Collection