Thursday, January 31, 2013

Leonida Maude Vickery (1855-1950)

Wow, I can't believe it has been a year since I last wrote in this blog - well, not really, I have made some edits to previous stories. I get busy with so many things but that is no excuse. Yes, I have been researching my family history a lot but just haven't had the incentive to write much. However, I signed up for the Family History Writing Challenge during the month of February (good thing February is a short month). The challenge is to write 250-300 words about your family each day for a month. So, here is the first (yes, it is a day early but that means I can miss a day and not feel guilty).

St. Heliers, 1865
Leonida Maude Vickery is my wife's 1st cousin 4 times removed. She was born 6 May 1855 in St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands to George and Louisa (LeBouef) Vickery. She was baptized on 27 May 1885 with Mr. Leon Bouniol and Mary Ann Vickery, her aunt, as her godparents. However neither one of them were present for the baptism so her father and aunt Mary Ann LeBoeuf stood in for them as proxies. As a child, Leonida went by her middle name, Maude.

As a reference, for those who are unsure where Jersey is located, it is one of the Channel Islands located in the English Channel between England and France. St. Helier is a town located on the southern coast of Jersey on St. Aubin's Bay. The community's location made it a major port for worldwide trade and many members of Maude's family had careers associated with shipping. The picture above is of St. Helier in 1865. The language spoken in the area, known as Jersiais, was a combination of French, from the early Norman settlers, and English.

The first census that I have found Maude listed was the 1871 Channel Islands Census for St, Helier, Jersey. During that census she is 15 years old and living with her father (age 46) and mother (age 46), sister Adala (age 19), brother George (age 13), and their servant Mary Fitzgibbon at 11 St. Marks Road. The strange thing is that she and her sisters are not listed in the 1861 census (yes sisters, she also had a sister Augusta, born 1853, who is not found on either census). In 1861, the family was living at 203 Famworth Terrace Cottage Street. The household consisted of George (age 35), Louisa (age 32), George (age 3), sister-in-law Mariann LeBoeuf, and servants Eliza and Eleanore Quirot. Maude didn't spend too much time in her hometown since by 1873 she had migrated to Australia to further her career in the theater. It has been fairly easy to track her time in Australia and New Zealand through the many theatrical announcements and reviews in the local newspapers there.

Theater photo of Maude Vickery, 1878
In the 5 June 1873 edition of The Argus from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia there is a theatrical notice which states "The Director has the honour to announce that he has made arrangements for an English and Opera Bouffe Season, to commence on Monday, June 9, during which he will have the pleasure of introducing several new artistes, in addition to those who have already made themselves favourites with the musical public, a number of New Operas will be added to the repertory, and no expense or trouble spared to make the season successful." The article lists Mdlle. Andree Navaro and Mdlle. Salange Navaro as members of the theater troop. You may be asking who Andree and Salange Navaro are. They are Augusta and Maude Vickery.

The sisters enjoyed early success in the theater as evidenced by a review in the 17 June 1873 edition of The Argus. The review complemented their acting skills stating, "The production of a French operette with French performers was a notable experiment last night. There was a large attendance, and the audience were very polite and encouraging towards the two young ladies who represented the personages upon whom the action of the piece devolves. The sisters Salange and Andree Navaro are not wholly new to the Melbourne audience, having recently made an appearance in the same work at the Apollo-hall. In this they gained the good opinion of those who went to see them, and last night at the Opera house they renewed that impression amongst those who had seen them before, and gave the same kind of modified satisfaction to those who witnessed their performance for the first time, as we had occasion to describe in a former notice of M. Poise's little work. We have no need to alter our opinion concerning these young ladies. They have very slight claims to be considered vocalists in the sense in which we use that word as applied to singers on the operatic stage. As actresses their performance is very pleasing to witness, and their voices for colloquial purposes are singularly clear and musical. The innocent little comedy between the young cabinetmaker Charlot (Mdlle. Salange Navaro) and the young workwoman Louisette (Mdlle. Andree Navaro) was played by them in such a manner as to secure abundance of applause, and one or two points were specially worthy of notice. The duet, "C'en est fait, je prends mon parti! " was an instance of the kind we mean, and so also was the pretty berceuse, "Dormez encor," sung by Louisette. These young ladies have every reason to be satisfied with the reception they met with. They will probably repeat this performance several times during the current week, and this will give the general audience an opportunity to become acquainted with them, and to say to what extent they like this bijou edition of a French play. For our own part, we are anxious to hear them perform in English, and we are glad to know that they are thoroughly conversant with the language. They were not by any means well supported by the orchestra in the matter of accompaniment. On the conclusion of the piece both singers were honoured with a recall."

With ship travel being the predominant mode of travel during this time period, we are able to track the sisters as they make their way through the theater circuit. On 11 May 1874 the sisters arrive in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia aboard the ship Rangatira. On 4 December 1875 we find they were aboard the ship Edina departing Sydney and arriving in Brisbane on 8 December. On 21 January 1876, after a short stay in Brisbane they were on their way aboard the Lady Bowen.

Solange and Andree Navaro performed the operetta "Love and Music" near Melbourne at the Masonic Hall in Wagga Wagg during March 1874. During a performance there Andree had a fall. It is described as follows in The Argus newsapper on 28 March, "During the temporary absence of the attendant at the curtain, Mr. Farley went under the stage for the purpose of lowering it, leaving the trap open. The Mdlles. Navaro were at the point of going into the wings, and Mdlle. Andree, not observing the trap, unfortunately slipped down. The shock of the fall was such that the young lady remained insensible for some time, but we believe that no serious injury has been sustained."

The sisters performed at the Queensland Theater in August 1875. While there, they performed the farce of "The Irish Tiger" and the burlesque on "Fra Diavolo". Solange played the bandit while Andree played Zerlina in the latter piece.

In February 1879, Solange Navaro announced her retirement from the stage at the age of 24. The news of her retirement was taken with sorrow by the press. An article in The Australian Journal stated, "After the conclusion of her present engagement with Mr. George Darrell that excellent actress, Miss Solange Navaro, intends giving up the stage once and for ever. Lovers of the drama, both here and in Australia, where she is such a great favourite, will be sorry to hear it. Miss Navaro is the making of a grand exponent of high-class tragedy." During this retirement she married Fred H Digby. It is believed that Mr. Digby was a sports reporter in New Zealand. Mr. Digby died in the Sunnyside Lunatic Asylum in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1886 at the age of 45. The couple had one child, Claude Digby born in 1881 in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Solange's retirement was short lived. In 1882, shortly after the birth of her son, she is in Canterbury, New Zealand preparing to perform in "Jo" at the Princess Theatre. During May 1885, she is performing the comedy "Pink Dominoes" at the Theatre Royal in Adelaide, South Australia. "Pink Dominoes" had previously been performed in Sydney and caused great controversy there as it was the first translation from the French stage. The play was described in the South Australian Register as "a play which will be remembered for its compromising situations as well as for the excitement which it caused in the old country when it was first produced." Solange continued her stay at the Theatre Royal in June 1885 co-starring in the comedietta "A Happy Pair" as the wife of the character Mr. Honeyton. The governor was present for this performance.

In August 1885, she is performing in the play "The Sunny South". The review of this play in the Otago Witness isn't as good as her previous plays but the reviewer seems to like her performance. The review states, "'The Sunny South' is drawing mild houses at the Opera House, and Mr George Darrell's manly impersonation of a manly part is received with much favour. I should have been better pleased if Mr Darrell had a greater slice of fortune this time, for he is really beginning to act. Some years ago he was of an extremely amateurish type, but experience has taught him some lessons. He is at his best in the fourth act, the most exciting one of the five. Miss Emma Fischer, who plays Bubs Berkeley, suffers from a hoarseness which appears to be chronic and grates upon the ear. She is at her best also in the fourth act. Miss Fischer is a Colonial actress of medium ability, who might, under proper tuition develop a considerable amount of talent. Miss Solange Navaro is effective, - she always is - as Clarice Chester. Miss Navaro is a native of Jersey, and made her first appearance in Melbourne with her sister, Miss Andree, in a little French vaudeville, "Bon Soir Voisin," at a place of amusement known as the Apollo Hall. That was more years ago than Miss Navaro will care to recall. She played then in French, and she has since, by dint of perseverance and study attained a prominent position on our stage. In character parts, such as Hortense in "Jo," she is unexcelled."

Later in August of 1885 she is again performing at the Theatre Royal in Adelaide. This time it is in the play "The Squatter".

In the 1891 Channel Island census, her son Claude H. Digby, is found  living with Leonida's brother George Vickery and his wife Alice. Claude is 10 years old and going to school.

Leonida and Claude are back together in the 1911 England census. Leonida is going by her middle name, Maude and is listed as an actress. She is 55 years old. Claude is 30 years old, single and employed as a bank clerk.

The last mention I have found of Solange Navaro is in the Brisbane Courier in Queensland, Australia. This article is dated 31 May 1924 and is a retrospective looking back 50 years on the theater with a short note on the play "Cox and Box" where Solange played Martha Mary Cox, a milliner, and her sister Andree played Mary Martha Box, a telegraph clerk.

It appears that after Leonida returned she settled in Epping, Essex, England where she died at the age of 95, during the fall of 1950. Our search is now to find details for Leonida Maude Vickery, otherwise known as Solange Navaro and Mrs. F. H. Digby, for the time between the death of her husband in 1886 and her death in 1950.