State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 16 October 1975


Henry Squires: An American Tenor in Australia

Henry Squires first saw Melbourne from the deck of the Achilles on the evening of March 1, 1861. His Australian stage debut came twenty-four days later at the 1855–72 Royal as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor. Over the following eight years, William Saurin Lyster's grand opera company gave some 1,300 performances to Australian and New Zealand audiences, in the great majority of which Squires and Lucy Escott, the company's prima donna di forza, sang the leading roles (and, as far as can be judged, commendably well). Such vocal stamina seems miraculous today, and that Squires should preserve his voice until the age of eighty almost an impertinence; but then though never quite the star of the company — that honour belonging unmistakably to Lucy Escott — it is clear that he was a singer of great natural gifts, and that he had enjoyed an especially fortunate musical apprenticeship. Between them, aided by Lyster's promotional flair, Escott and Squires created an audience for opera capable, on occasions at least, of packing the 3,300 seat Royal, and came as close as anyone apart from Melba has ever done in Australia to making it a form of mass entertainment.
Squires was born on 7 May 1825 in Ben-nington, Vermont, the son of Buckley Squires and Lucretia Squires nee Norton,1 and became a professional singer under the guidance of a church organist, George William Warren of Troy, N.Y. He appeared at least once on a New York concert programme with Jenny Lind during her American tour of 1849–52, and in 1851 participated with Lucy Escott (born Lucy Evans Grant) in a programme at Tripler Hall, New York, in aid of refugees from the Hungarian uprising.2 In 1852 he went to Italy, making his operatic debut at Naples in 1853. This should have secured him the honour of being the first American singer to achieve a career on the Italian stage, if it had not also been claimed for Escott, who had an opera composed especially for her by Mercadente the director of the Naples Conservatorium. Presumably they knew between them which had the priority.
Squires next crossed to Sicily where he sang principal roles in operas by Verdi, Donizetti and Moscuzzi. Lucy Escott did even better and between July 1855 and July 1856 had two long seasons at Drury Lane as prima donna of J. H. Tully's National English Opera Company before retiring with it to the provinces. On 15 July 1857 the Tully company was joined for the first time by ‘Mr. Henry Squires, the popular tenor, from the principal theatres of Italy’, his arrival having been foretold in a series of advertisements beginning in the previous December. The Times, reviewing his Manrico sung to Escott's Leonora, praised him as ‘a young tenor of much promise’ possessing ‘a chest voice of great compass’, but felt that ‘his proficiency as an actor was not equal to his accomplishments as a vocalist’ (20/7/1857) — a complaint that was to be repeated in Australia
Next came an energetic tour of the provinces ending on 31 May 1858 at Plymouth. In October the pair returned to New York where the Lucy Escott English Opera Company with Mr. Henry Squires, tenor ‘from the German [?], Italian and English Operas’ mounted an abortive season at Burton's New Theatre, after which Squires understudied Pasquale Brignoli in a season at the Academy of Music starring Maria Piccolomini, the first Violetta.3 In February 1859 he appeared in Chicago singing opposite Cora de Wilhorst in a Strakosch season at McVicker's theatre, at which time his voice was described as ‘a sweet, high tenor or counter tenor, elegantly cultivated’.4 Escott followed at the same theatre in December as the star of an English opera company which also included the tenor David Miranda who sang in Melbourne during the 1870's. Escott and Squires came under Lyster's management in New Orleans where other members of the troupe had been performing as an annex to a drama company at the Gaiety Theatre.5 Immediately before leaving for Australia they mounted a successful sixty-three night season at Maguire's Opera House, San Francisco.
The group that made the voyage consisted of Squires, Escott, William Lyster, Fred
Lyster, Georgia Hodson (Mrs. William Lyster), Rosalie Durand (Mrs. Fred Lyster), Ada King, Frank Trevor, Anton Reiff (conductor) and. W. Lloyd (stage manager). It seems unlikely that they brought much in the way of scenery, which was available in the well-equipped theatres of Melbourne, or of costumes, apart from the personal stage wardrobes of the principals; however, they did bring numbers of San Francisco printed libretto books, examples of which are in the La Trobe Library's collection.
Squires' finely produced bel canto voice and handsome stage presence made him an immediate favourite with Melbourne audiences, although once again there were complaints about his acting, a department in which Escott set an invidious standard of passion and energy. Commenting on his performance as Fra Diavolo on 7 April 1861, the Argus noted that ‘Mr. Squires sang with his usual taste and finish’, but felt constrained to add: ‘If this gentleman would occasionally infuse somewhat more animation into his acting, he would be far more effective. Of his rank as an accomplished singer, or of the quality of his voice, there can be no question.’ The Age of the following day reviewing a performance of Maritana found that ‘The only fault with that gentleman's rendering of Don Cesar was the too apparent, and in this instance, particularly inconsistent tameness of his acting.' By 1863, however, he seems to have overcome this fault, as well as an earlier reliance on falsetto, the Ilustrated Melbourne Post declaring ‘Mr. Squires’ voice is a pure tenor, which is gradually increasing in power; he seldom has recourse to falsetto, relying principally on his middle notes which are really fine. He is a great favourite in this city, and the wonderful improvement in his acting which has lately been noticed, will tend materially to the perpetuation of his popularity.'
And this in spite of what the Argus of 3/11/1862 called ‘the terrible wear and tear of six nights’ performance in the week’!
The improvement in Squires' acting was probably due to Lyster's introduction of the intensely theatrical operas of Meyerbeer into the company's initial repertoire of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Balfe, Wallace and early Verdi, beginning with an extraordinary eighteen night season of Les Huguenots which began in Melbourne on 17 November 1862.6 Squires' parts were Raoul in Les Huguenots, John of Leyden in Le Prophete (his ‘finest character’ in the opinion of the Sydney Morning Herald of 12/1/1867), Roberto in Roberto il Diavolo, and Vasco in L'Africaine—though this last was soon relinquished to the Australian Armes Beaumont, who showed his gratitude by sporting a beard and moustache exactly in the style of Squires.
Squires' popularity was put to a severe test in the new year of 1862. On 11 March 1861, only ten days in Australia, he had written to a friend in California: ‘I like this shore. Melbourne is a fine city, but everything and everybody are “blawsted English”.’ The letter found its way into the San Francisco Evening Bulletin of 11/6/1861 and thence via a very irate gentleman signing himself ‘An Englishman’ into the Argus of 4/1/1862. The correspondence which followed was a lively one, but contained a telling testimonial in a letter from ‘A True Lover of Music’ to Squires’ firm hold over one part at least of his public:
‘I, on behalf of the ladies of Victoria, whom I know to be intense admirers of Mr. Squires, beg, to trespass on your valuable space … The idea of one solitary individual endeavouring to enlist the antipathies of the Melbourne public against one of its brightest ornaments, is in itself absurd; and I feel sure … that any one who has any soul for music must have been enraptured when listening to our talented vocalist warbling forth such music as he alone has wafted to these shores …’ (6/1/1862).
Squires' own contribution was a conciliatory epistle pointing out that ‘ “blawsted English” has much the same meaning as “darned Yankee”. As it happens a process of de-yankification seems already to have begun: a letter of Lucy Escott written in the exhausted aftermath of the Huguenots season describes him as inspecting a book of heraldry for the Squires arms so that he could have them engraved on his watch.7 In any case, he was henceforth to be on the very best of terms with his Australian public. When in March

Mr. Henry Sqlires, Primo Tenore, Theatre Royal, Melbourne

1868 the Lyster brothers became the target of anti-American demonstrations due to their alleged sympathy with the would-be assassin of the Duke of Edinburgh, neither he nor Escott was affected. Indeed, faced with a potentially hostile audience in Ballarat, they proceeded to give one of their finest performances ever as Valentine and Raoul.8
The continuing popularity of the Lyster company with Australian and New Zealand audiences drew out what had been intended as a six month tour into an eight year residence. A round of farewell seasons in 1867 failed to break the spell, and it was not until 10 July 1868 at the Prince of Wales Opera House in Sydney that Squires took his last benefit, a mammoth programme, beginning with a performance of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, following this with a Grand Concert of nine items, to which Squires' contribution was ‘The McGregors’ Gathering’ and concluding with the coronation scene from Le Prophète in which he appeared as John. The company then left for America. San Francisco ‘half shaken down by an earthquake’ and with a smallpox epidemic on its hands was not as appreciative as its old favourites had expected.9 (Perhaps ‘the terrible wear and tear of six nights’ performance a week’ had left its mark after all!) Squires took a benefit on St. David's Day 1869 shortly after which the company broke up. William Lyster returned at once to Melbourne to commence a second, even grander decade of operatic enterprise and by December was in Italy recruiting a new company. Squires, after giving ‘a few concerts in the country’ with Escott,10 joined the concert tour of Carlotta Patti, the sister of Adelina. By April, the Patti Troupe, augmented by the violinist Sarasate, had reached New York, where The New York Times of 10/4/1870 praised Squires' ‘sweet and cultured voice’ and ‘faultless’ expression.
On 10 April 1870, the forty-four-year-old Squires made his last ascertainable professional appearance in Carlotta Patti's farewell concert at Steinway Hall, taking as his solo Mendelsohn's ‘If with all your heart you truly seek him’. In the following month he was married to his stage partner of two decades, Lucy Escott, and the couple retired to live as leisured expatriates in Paris (avoiding, one hopes, too close a proximity to the invading Germans or the communards). Here Squires kept up his connection with the theatre by supervising the education of Joseph Jefferson's son Thomas, and numbered among his friends Dr. Evans who assisted in the escape of the Empress Eugenie. An American pine-tree shilling of 1652 in the museum at Bennington is said to have been picked up by Squires in a Paris street. Back in Australia their seasons of the sixties soon acquired a legendary air. ‘We never met such a pair of tigers for work as Escott and Squires’, recalled the Austral Review in 1878, ‘And really they have well earned repose in their quiet little home in Paris. Fancy the Huguenots for twenty-four nights night off, exceptions only Sundays!’11 After Lucy's death on 26 November 1895, Squires, having first burned his diaries (an incalculable loss to historians of the Australian theatre), returned to live in America, alternating between his sister's home in Bennington and a brother's in Burlington, Iowa. In Burlington ‘the handsome, well-preserved old gentleman who is always scrupulously polite, and who is kind and generous to all’ was a general favourite.12 It was also noted that even at the age of eighty his voice ‘retained much of its sweetness [the word seems to attend all accounts of Squires' performances!] and it was a rare treat to his friends when he consented to entertain them by singing one of the many ballads so dear to his heart’.13
On Thursday 10 January, 1907, Squires visited the imposing Grand Opera House at Burlington for a performance of George M. Cohan's Forty-five Minutes from Broadway, commending the playing of the orchestra and their leader ‘Professor’ J. Henri Fisher. Later the same evening he suffered a paralytic stroke, and died on 14 January at 12.30 a.m. Few Melbournians, and those elderly, will have remembered his name, but the tradition of musical theatre in this country which he had helped establish was still a living one — and remains so.
Harold Love


Information concerning Squires' earlier and later years comes principally from obituaries in the Bennington Evening Banner of 14/1/1907 and The Burlington Hawk-eye of 13 and 14/1/1907, from an undated obituary in a file on Squires in the New York Public Library, and from a summary of his career in the Illustrated Melbourne Post for 17/1/1863. The obituaries, which appear to derive from the muddled recollections of a sister-in-law in Burlington and a sister in Bennington, have been rectified where necessary from The Times, The Chicago Daily Tribune, The New York Times and Odell's Annals of the New York Stage (New York: Columbia U.P., 1927–49). I would like to thank Mimi Colligan, Anna Gelperowicz and John Spring for their help in assembling this material. Elizabeth Sloan of the Burlington Public Library, Frank C. Campbell of the Library and Museum of the Performing Arts, New York, and Charles G. Bennett of the Bennington Museum provided valuable guidance to the American sources.


Odell, VI, 93. I follow Oscar Thompson (The American Singer [New York, 1937], p. 40) in identifying the Mrs. Eastcott who made her first New York appearance on 11/9/1847 (Odell, V, 403) with Lucy Escott.


Odell, VIII, 157; Illustrated Melbourne Post, 17/1/1863.


Chicago Daily Tribune, 24/2/1859.


See Illustrated Melbourne Post, 17/1/1863 and John S. Kendall, The Golden Age of the New Orleans Theatre (New Orleans: Louisiana State U.P., 1952), p. 365, which lists Fred Lyster, Frank Trevor, Rosalie Durand and Georgia Hodson as members of the Gaiety company.


The Sydney Morning Herald of 15/1/1867 noted that ‘During the stay of the Lyster Opera Company in Australia, they have produced some forty operas [actually thirty-eight], but none which have been so successful in pleasing the public and attracting large houses as those of the great Meyerbeer.’


Mitchell Library MS 6–137A-6–7. The letter also refers to a Christmas dinner at the home of James Simmonds with the remarkable Joseph Jefferson whom Squires had first met in New York in 1858.


Ballarat Star, 17/3/1863.


The Australasian, 25/9/1869, p. 402.


Loc. cit.


Austral Review, I, 6 (31/3/1878), 127. Reference brought to my attention by Lurline Stuart.


Burlington Hawk-eye, 13/1/1907.


Burlington Hawk-eye, 14/1/1907.