Mary and Elsie Kingwell

by | Jan 18, 2023

Elsie and Mary Kingwell in Wally and The Widow 1907, Victoria Theatre, Newcastle
In 1907, young Newcastle sisters Elsie (b1894) and Mary (b1896) Kingwell were receiving some very positive press as young actors.

Daughters of Edwin Kingwell, born in Geelong in 1862, and Mary A Rodgers – married 1884.

This promotional postcard was for their performance at The Victoria Theatre on 30 July 1907 before heading to England.

In June, Elsie and Mary performed at St James’s Hall in Sydney in ‘the first of three musical and dramatic entertainments’.

Article re The Kingwell Recitals - Sydney Morning Herald 5 June 1907

The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate reported on 10 July 1907:

‘Elsie and Mary Kingwell, the talented child actresses of Newcastle, will appear in the Victoria Theatre on Tuesday, 30th instant, under direction of Mr A Bertram Flohm. Since they first attracted attention in elocutionary competitions in this district, the little Misses Kingwell have appeared with great success in Sydney and are about to undertake a tour of the world. The programme for their coming recital includes the comedy ‘Wally and the Widow’ and a scene from ‘King John’.

Victoria Theatre – The Little Kingwells (Review)
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocated, Wednesday 31 July 1907
Newcastle, which has long been noted for the excellence of its juvenile talent, tendered a fitting farewell to its two clever child actresses, Elsie and mary Kingwell, last night, when a crowded audience gathered at the Victoria Theatre to hear those gifted young artistes prior to their embarking on a professional tour of the Commonwealth.
In a district such as this where the standard of development in juvenile work is admittedly high, there is always the danger of exceptionally gifted children not receiving from the public that attention which is so helpful. In this respect, credit must be given to Mr A Bertram Flohm, of Sydney, who, in his position as adjudicator at the Wallsend Eisteddfod, recognised the latent merit of the two little girls. Mr Flohn regards them as worthy successors of his clever pupil, Wanda Radford, the eleven-year-old child now famous in Europe.

The programme last night was opened by Miss Mary Kingwell who, daintily attired in a pretty pink frock, recited with much natural charm a neatly arranged prologue from the pen of Miss Mildred Scott Holland. Miss Mary’s other item was the humorous sketch “Just ‘Afore Christmas” in which, attired in boy’s costume, she related the pranks and escapades of a youngster who is ‘as good as he can be’ at the merry season suggested by the title. The impersonation was distinctly clever.
Miss Elsie Kingwell has a sweet voice and a pleasing stage appearance, free from any artificiality. She was heard in several recitals of a varied character. her sketch, “Poor Little Joe”, showed her as a shoeblack in tatters carrying home to her attic a few flowers for her little pal who expires in her arms. The pathos was admirable. She was later heard in some stories of a brother and more cheerful kind, “Little Boy Blue”, “The Butterflies’ Fad” and “Charlotte Russe” (a tragedy of an Easter dinner), in each of which she proved herself inimitable in the portrayal (sic) of child life.

The sisters joined in giving, in appropriate costume, a scholarly interpretation of the “Hubert and Arthur” scene in the play “King John”, the emotional excellence of Miss mary Kingwell’s acting being fine indeed. The start item of the night was, however, the comedy “Wally and The Widow”, Miss Elsie, as a widow of 35, taking her part with grace and ease. The rebellious boy “Wally”, who rules the home, is cleverly impersonated by Miss Mary. The comedy is only a brief one, but is full of fun.


There are quite a few mentions of Elsie and Mary Kingwell in the newspapers of the day, including a fundraising concert for the Newcastle branch of the Missions to Seamen in June 1911 in which they performed a scene from Romeo and Juliet.

Death of their father, Edwin Kingwell

The achievements of young Elsie and Mary are even more significant when seen in light of their father’s death in 1906.

Edwin Kingwell, a butcher, was found dead in the water at Warners Bay with a ‘superficial’ wound to his throat. The inquest into Edwin’s death, held at Speers Point Hotel, found his death was likely by suicide.

Edwin Kingwell was buried at Teralba Cemetery and his death notice in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate reads, ” … in his 43rd year, interred in Teralba Cemetery February 2nd, 1906. Oh! God, that men could see a little clearer or judge less harshly where they cannot see.”


Did Elsie and Mary go on to tour the world? We know they certainly did performances in different parts of NSW.

A quick look at records shows that Mary Kingwell (1896 – 1985) married Norman Wortley Burley (1891 – 1970) in 1919 in Mosman, NSW. Their infant son, Bruce McLean, b1920 – d 27 January 1921.

Elsie Kingwell married Francis B Harrison in Hamilton in 1919. It is possible they had twin sons in 1922.

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