State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 78 Spring 2006


Mimi Colligan
‘That window has a history’:
The Shakespeare Window at the State Library

The State Library of Victoria owns one of the earliest stained-glass windows made in Melbourne. A portrait of Shakespeare, more than three metres high, showing the bard displaying the text ‘All the world's a stage’, it had its origins in popular entertainment when it was installed in the Bourke Street façade of Coppin's Apollo Music Hall in 1862. George Selth Coppin (1819-1906), a comedian, was also one of the most active theatrical entrepreneurs in colonial Australia: building and leasing theatres and importing stars of the British and American stage to an increasingly prosperous Melbourne during and after the gold rush period.
Theatre management is a notoriously precarious profession and it is difficult to track the various builders, lessees and managers who were prominent in Australian theatre in the nineteenth century. For example, Coppin had made and lost money in theatres in Adelaide and Geelong in the 1840s and early 1850s before he established himself in Melbourne. From 1855 to 1872 he was involved in the building and management of many Melbourne theatres. As well as importing and building the prefabricated Olympic, he rebuilt and refurbished Astley's Amphitheatre, an equestrian circus building in Spring Street, by 1857 creating the first Princess's theatre. Coppin also continued the development of Cremorne Gardens, Richmond, and helped run the small theatre, the Pantheon, which was located there.
In 1862 he built the Haymarket Theatre at 172 Bourke Street next to the Eastern Market,' opening the Apollo Music Hall on the building's first floor front in July and the Haymarket the following month.1 From time to time throughout this period he managed the Theatre Royal (and famously rebuilt it within six months of the March 1872 fire which destroyed the 1855 building).2 From 1858 he found time to become a municipal councillor in the nearby Melbourne suburb of the Richmond and a Member of Parliament, first for the Legislative Council South-Western Province and then as member for East Melbourne in the Legislative Assembly in 1889.3
At the opening of the Apollo Music Hall the Age noted ‘a very handsome stained-glass window, which is the production of colonial workmen, and does credit both to them and the enterprise which suggested the employment of native talent.’4 It seems that the Shakespeare Window remained in the Apollo Hall until about 1870. After being moved to Coppin's private homes it was left to the Trustees of the Melbourne Public Library and Museum by Coppin's daughter, Lucy Coppin (1873-1960).5 Miss Coppin had at first offered the window to the Mitchell Library in Sydney, hoping that it could be installed in that library's Shakespeare Room, well known for its stained-glass windows. This offer, however,

Geoffrey Wallace, photographer. Shakespeare Window after restoration.

was refused on the grounds that the window would not fit in the room. After contemplating leaving it to the new Wilson Hall at the University of Melbourne, she finally left it to the ‘Public Library where it will be seen by so many people.’6
From the 1960s to the 1990s it was displayed against a window in one of the Museum stair wells. During the refurbishment of the State Library it was put in storage in Abbotsford. In 2005 it was extensively restored by stained-glass artist Geoffrey Wallace of North Caulfield and installed in the La Trobe Domed Reading Room.
Among the Coppin Papers7 in the La Trobe Manuscript Collection there is a transcript of an interview with Miss Coppin by her father's biographer, Alec Bagot. In this extract, dated 20 August 1955, Lucy Coppin claimed that the window had been made in Stratford-upon-Avon in England and given to Coppin by his creditors; that he had put it in the Theatre Royal, Bourke Street, and that ‘when the theatre had burnt down the window was in the only wall left standing’. Later, according to Miss Coppin, it had been installed at the Coppin residence, Pine Grove, in Lennox Street, Richmond, and when the family moved out of that house after Coppin's death in 1906, it was taken to their seaside home, The Anchorage, at Sorrento.8 When Coppin's friend and fellow actor-manager Bland Holt returned to live in Melbourne the family gave the window to Holt who, about 1920, installed it in his own house, Sunning Hill, 228 Cotham Road, Kew.9 Lucy Coppin lived with Holt and his wife as companion-secretary and was the beneficiary of their estates. The window is specifically mentioned in Holt's will: ‘I direct that after the death of my wife Florence Griffith Holt the Shakespearian window in my residence is to be removed and become the property of Miss Lucy Coppin’.10 It was not, of course, removed during Lucy Coppin's lifetime, as she inherited Sunning Hill from Mrs Holt on the latter's death in 1947.
The window's provenance file in the SLV Picture Collection contains a story about the window's origins, similar to that of Lucy Coppin, from Coppin's grandson, George S. Anderson. ‘That window has a history, as it was imported from England and presented to the Hon. George by his one-time creditors, as a mark of appreciation of his having returned from America and given them a banquet … [and] an envelope containing a cheque for the amount they were owed plus interest’.11 Some of this story appears in the weekly Leader of 24 April 1920, together with a photograph of the Shakespeare Window.
I would, however, question these claims about its being part of the Theatre Royal building, let alone surviving a fire. There is no mention of a Shakespeare window in the various descriptions of the Theatre Royal (which had been built in 1855), either at the time of Coppin's return from America in January 1866, or after the 1872 fire. Further, there is no sign of fire damage on the window — one would expect melted lead and broken and fire-damaged glass. Admittedly, some of the stained glass from Wilson Hall, University of Melbourne, survived the 1952 fire of that building and is now exhibited at the Ian Potter Gallery, University of Melbourne.12 But other evidence about the Shakespeare window's true provenance would refute the various Coppin family stories.
It is clear that the window was installed in Coppin's Apollo Music Hall built adjacent to Coppin's new Haymarket Theatre (otherwise known as the Royal Haymarket and also as the Duke of Edinburgh Theatre). Situated next to the Eastern Market and opened in 1862, the building designed by architect Peter Thomas Conlon (c. 1830-1871) contained what was claimed to be Australia's first purpose-built music hall, the Apollo. As well as the 2,000 seat Haymarket Theatre there was also a hotel in the building.
The first entertainment venue to be opened in this complex was the Apollo Music Hall. Newspaper descriptions of the opening in July 1862 describe a concert hall and a gentleman's lounge. Bell's Life in Victoria, 12 July, commented:
The new room, or rather rooms — for there are two of them — are at right angles with each other, and form two sides of a parallelogram, the stage being erected in the corner to both. This plan has its advantages and disadvantages. The peasant's toe does not gibe upon the courtier's heel … the shilling and the two shilling audience are not placed in unpleasant juxtaposition … On the other hand, the innovation necessitates the performers singing to two audiences, a task of no ordinary difficulty.
The Apollo was on the first floor facing Bourke Street (the theatre itself was further back on the site, behind a hotel and an open courtyard). There was a balcony over the Apollo's hall section and a Saloon at right angles to the hall. Admission to these parts was two shillings while the hall cost one shilling.13
The first performance reflected Coppin's claim in advertisements that the Music Hall would present only ‘respectable entertainment’.14 Local singers Madame Marie Carandini and Walter Sherwin and the Missies Royal performed excerpts from the opera Ill Trovatore, to the accompaniment Mr Loder's orchestra. Catering for other tastes, Mr R. Barlow, a popular minstrel-show singer, sang ‘The Blue Tailed Fly’.15
Much was made in the Melbourne dailies and in the weekly Examiner of the beautiful Shakespeare stained-glass window set in the centre of the Bourke Street façade. Some remarked on the lovely effect at night when the window, lit by three gasoliers, was seen from the street.16 The reviewers admired the huge central window showing a portrait of the bard himself, but were less enthusiastic about the two narrow side windows devoted to the Shakespearian characters, Hamlet and Lady Macbeth and Beatrice. All had been made at the new factory of Ferguson and Urie of Curzon Street, North Melbourne.17 The design for the middle window was based on a statue created about 1745 by London-based French sculptor, Louis François Roubiliac (1702-1762). The statue was commissioned by David Garrick, the great actor and reviver of Shakespeare's plays, for his country house garden temple showing Shakespeare ‘in the act of inspired composition’. Garrick left the statue ultimately to the British Museum and it is now owned by the British Library.18 (It is said that the face of Shakespeare is really a portrait of Garrick). An Argus article of 6 August emphasises the ‘brilliant and transparent’ beauty of the upper sections and borders of the window but disparages the use of ‘Roubillac's[sic] faulty statue’ as a model for the figure.
The well-known print in the Melbourne Album by Charles Troedel of the Eastern

Unknown photographer. George Selth Coppin. Five vignettes of Mr. Coppin in various costumes. ca. 1864. Albumen silver carte-de-visite. H9470. La Trobe Picture Collection

Market, c. 1863, shows the Haymarket Theatre and the shape of the Shakespeare portrait in the central window is quite clear. (See back cover.) It can also be made out in a carte-devisite photograph of the building around the same date.
If this is so, what is the origin of Miss Lucy Coppin's and her nephew's stories that the Shakespeare stained-glass window was a survivor of the March 1872 fire at the Theatre Royal? At the time of that fire her father was the uninsured lessee of the Royal.19 Lucy, his youngest child, was born a year later in 1873, so the stories are based on family hearsay only. It was also perhaps a way of obfuscating the true origin of the window and the controversy in 1870 surrounding its ownership and removal from the Apollo Hall to Coppin's private home.
The year 1864 was the tercentenary of Shakespeare's birth and there was much interest in things Shakespearian, so the Leader story published in 1920 — that the window given to Coppin by his satisfied creditors had been one of two prize-winning designs in Stratford—upon-Avon — is plausible. There is also evidence that, after a successful season managing the famous London-based actors Charles and Ellen Kean around south eastern Australia, he repaid his creditors in 1864 and that he was treated to farewell and welcoming banquets in 1864 and 1866. One was a banquet in 1864 where Coppin paid his unsecured creditors shortly before embarking on a tour of the USA managing the Keans. Soon after this dinner a group of his supporters presented him with a cheque for £300.20 However, in none of these post-1864 newspaper reports was there any mention of the presentation of a stained-glass window to Coppin.
In reality, such a window was already owned by Coppin as part of his Apollo Music Hall/ Haymarket Theatre property. How then to prove that the State Library Shakespeare Window is one and the same with that of the Apollo Hall rather than a survivor from the Theatre Royal? Although at the time not dealing with Miss Coppin's bequest to the Library, Anthony Horan, in his excellent 1982 unpublished undergraduate study of the Haymarket Theatre, has presented evidence in the form of newspaper reports that helps solve the mystery.21
During the years between 1862 and 1871, several managers and proprietors were in charge of the Haymarket complex. For example, during Coppin's tour of the USA with the Keans from 1864 to 1866 the Haymarket and the Apollo Hall were managed by James Simmonds and William Hoskins. On his return Coppin announced that he had engaged several new performers, among them ‘Professor’ Fuller and his roller skates.22 For several months the Shakespeare Window lit the efforts of locals trying the new craze of roller skates.
Neither the Haymarket nor the Apollo Hall were consistently successful. Theatre critic and medico, Dr James Edward Neild, noted after the fire that destroyed the building in September 1871, that the Haymarket was never ‘quite right’ as a theatre. There had been much trouble and litigation in management. As Horan discovered, there was, in April and May 1870, a complicated dispute between Coppin, his partners Henry Harwood, John
Hennings and Richard Stewart and various trustees over the lease of the Haymarket/Apollo buildings.23 Horan remarks that dissatisfaction with the theatrical monopoly held by Coppin and partners was the real reason for the dispute.24
An Argus report mentioned that some of the bondholders represented by a Mr Sullivan (not the actor Barry Sullivan) were threatening to sue Coppin for, among other things, ‘a stained glass window that was placed in the front of the Apollo Hall’. Sullivan said that ‘Mr Coppin had removed the stained glass window for which he [Coppin] had received [four] bonds, to his house in Richmond’. Sullivan had been given orders from the ground landlord ‘that the window must be returned to its place’.25 Trying to summarise the complicated issue the Leader of 23 April 1870 stated that:
This little episode has a nasty look about it, till the solicitor to the bondholders stated that the window would be returned as soon as Mr Coppin's lease of the Apollo Hall had expired.
Coppin had applied for a renewal of the lease in January 1870.26
Here we have evidence that Coppin had removed the window to his house, Pine Grove, in Lennox Street, Richmond; and, it seems, despite his promise to return it, he did not comply to the order. In one report he promises to return it when his lease of the Apollo Hall expires. In an effort to support Coppin's ‘ownership’ of the window, Peter Thomas Conlon, the building's architect and Coppin's friend, wrote to the editor of the Argus, stating that the window by Ferguson and Urie was partly paid for by Coppin during the construction of the building and thus owned by Coppin. Possibly to play down the value of the window, Conlon wrongly describes the window as ‘Ferguson and Urie's exceedingly beautiful system of imitating stained-glass’.27 Geoffrey Wallace and stained-glass historian Bronwyn Hughes agree that the window is definitely leaded and etched stained glass and not the cheaper type of window that relied on coloured transfers for effect.28
Less than a year after the arguments over the ownership of the Haymarket Theatre and the Shakespeare Window, the problem was solved by the destruction by fire of both music hall and theatre on 22 September 1871. After this Coppin and his family could enjoy the window on the stair landing of Pine Grove in suburban Richmond without any question.
As we have seen, roller-skating was to be another form of entertainment to be enjoyed in the hall when Coppin, in 1866, imported this latest entertainment craze after a successful tour of the USA with British actors Charles and Ellen Kean. In November 1869 Coppin engaged the popular American magician and pianist, Robert Heller, to perform in the hall in the show Heller's Wonders.29 This range of productions shows the eclectic nature of nineteenth-century amusements. Not exactly what serious twenty-first century theatregoers might expect of a room decorated by a fine depiction of Shakespeare.
Nevertheless, during the eleven-year history of the Haymarket Theatre Shakespeare's plays were produced and performed by many visiting London actors, including Charles Kean, Barry Sullivan, James Anderson and Walter Montgomery. Yet, as with the programmes

Geoffrey Wallace, photographer. The restored Shakespeare Window being installed in the State Library, September 2005.

at the Apollo, and in line with nineteenth-century popular taste, Shakespeare could share the boards with later farce, comedy and melodrama.
The Shakespeare window is, then, a significant work of colonial craftsmanship. It did not have to survive fire as in Miss Coppin's romantic story. Instead, it survived disputes over ownership and many moves from its original location to the private homes of theatre managers and an obscure stair-hall in the old Museum. In September 2005 the Shakespeare Window was installed in front of a west window of the sixth-floor annulus of the domed La Trobe Reading Room, where the setting sun picks up the jewel-like colours of the etched glass. Being displayed in the grandiose and scholarly surroundings of the State Library is a far cry from the rowdy ambience of a nineteenth-century musical hall.30


The site is now occupied by what became the Eastern Arcade, built after the 1871 fire — rebuilt in 1894. Its Moorish façade, which dates from 1904, was revealed a few years ago by the removal of a hoarding. At present it houses Dimmey's Department Store.


Alec Bagot, Coppin the Great, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1965 p. 335.


Sally O'Neill, ‘George Selth Coppin’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 3.


Age, 7 July 1862.


Will dated 7 November 1960: Lucy May Coppin, Victorian Public Record Office, VPRS 7591/P2, Unit 1185, File 336/310. See also Will dated 23 July 1941; Joseph Thomas Bland Holt known as Bland Holt, VPRS 7591/P3, Unit 380, File 570/564.


Coppin Papers, MS 8827, Box 12/14 (a); Minutes of the State Library of Victoria, 1097/5060, 3 February 1961, bequest of the Shakespeare window. Lucy Coppin died at Kew, 28 December 1960.


Coppin Papers, MS 8827, Box 12/14 (a).


Pine Grove was demolished to become the site of the Pelaco factory.


The building is still there, much altered by subsequent owners. At one stage it was a reception venue, at present it is a Medical Centre.


See Joseph Bland Holt's will dated 23 July 1941 and Florence Bland Holt's will dated 15 June 1938.


Undated Typescript Address in Shakespeare Window Provenance File, SLV.


I am indebted to Terence Lane of the National Gallery of Victoria for this observation.


Argus, see advertisement, 5 July 1862.


Coppin might have been quite sensitive about respectability at this time, as his venture at Cremorne Gardens was failing, it was said, because of excessive drinking and prostitution among the visitors. He had to sell the Gardens the following March.


Argus, 7 July 1862.


Argus, 7 July 1862.


Argus, 6 August 1862.


Malcolm Baker, ‘Roubiliac, Louis Francois (1702-1762)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn. May 2006 []


See Coppin papers, MS 8827, Legal documents; Argus, 21 March 1872.


Argus, 17 May 1864.


Anthony Peter Horan, ‘A History of the Haymarket/Duke of Edinburgh's Theatre Bourke Street, Melbourne, 1862 to 1871. (BA Honours Thesis, November 1982, Monash University).


Argus, 29 January 1866.


Argus, 14 May 1870.


Horan, pp. 102.


Argus, 21 April 1870.


See VPRS 1411/P0: Index to Inward Registered Correspondence unit 24.


Argus, 22 April 1870. It is unlikely that somehow the ‘imitation window’ was replaced later by true stained glass as the image in the Troedel print seems to accord exactly with the shape of the present window.


Interviews in 2005.


Charles Waller, Magical Nights at the Theatre, Gerald Taylor, Melbourne, 1980, pp. 39–47; Argus, 18 November 1869.


It is unfortunate that the window is not as visible as it might be. Looked at from the floor of the La Trobe Reading Room only about one third of the window can be seen. Ideally, perhaps, it could be suspended above the balcony so that the entire image was revealed to all. Secondly, when viewed in the annulus the visitor is too close to the window.