This is the fascinating story of Monica's theatrical family.

 

Joseph Frederick "Clarance" Holt (1826 - 1903)

 

Clarance Holt was a cousin of Monica's great grandfather but led a rather different life to the Lancashire miners and mill workers who make up most of her ancestors. He was variously described in his younger days as actor, acrobat and comedian and eventually adopted the stage name of Clarance. He married an actress, Marian Browne (sometimes named Marian Vaughan), in 1847 and in 1850 he became manager of the Theatre Royal,Norwich under the name Joseph Clarance. In July 1854 the couple left for Australia and appeared throughout the country including in Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart and the towns of the gold fields ofVictoria. They performed on 330 nights and then returned to England in August 1857 where they assumed the management of the Marylebone Theatre in London and performed a season there which included Shakespeare and new plays. In 1858 they performed inNew York and then were back in Australia where they managed the Prince's Theatre in Melbourne. In 1862 they moved to Dunedin,New Zealand and established a successful theatre there before returning to England in September 1863. Clarance went into partnership with Charles Wilmot and they managed a number of theatres including the City of London Theatre, The Duke's Theatre, Holborn, The Islington Theatre and the Lyceum Theatre,Sunderland. He also created a successful one man touring show - "A Night with Shakespeare and Dickens" and in 1870 he wrote, produced and starred in an adaptation of Les Miserables - "The Barricade". He married again in 1883, to another actress, Alice Hayes, and retired from the stage in about 1893.

Clarance and Marian had three children, all of whom became actors: Nellie, May and Bland.

 

Ellen Elizabeth (Nellie) Holt (1848-1879)

Nellie acted with her parents from a very young age. She went on the trips to Australia and New Zealand where she acted with the family but remained in Dunedin when her parents returned to England. She married Thomas Edward Harris in 1865 when she was just 16 but continued to act. She had three children before she was 21. Her husband died in 1871 and she remarried in 1874. She died in 1879. Her oldest son was named Clarance Edward Holt Harris and all his nine children bore the name Holt Harris.

Elizabeth May (May) Holt (b.1849)

 

May also acted with her parents from a young age - both girls were in a production of "Children of the Castle" in 1857 when they were 8 and 9 respectively. May toured with the family throughout the world and was already receiving top billing in her late teens - playing Ophelia at the age of 18 and starring in "The Barricade" at 19. She was noted for her singing and dancing in many newspaper reviews and appeared in the Music Halls as well as the theatre. In 1880 she married Reginald Fairbairn; she was 30 and he 24. Her father was rumoured to be writing a play about the affair.

Reginald Fairbairn was the youngest son of Sir Thomas Fairbairn, Baronet of Ardwick and the grandson of the famous engineer, Sir William Fairbairn. He was educated at Eton andTrinityCollege,Cambridgeand was a barrister.

May continued to act after her marriage and also wrote several plays in the 1880s.These include: "False Pride" (1883); "High Art, a new farce" (1883); "Jabez North" (1881); "Men and Women, an entirely new and original drama in seven tableaux" (1882); "Sweetheart, Goodbye" (1881); "Waiting Consent" (1881).She also continued to perform and made at least two trips to Australia.

Joseph Thomas (Bland) Holt (1851 -1942)

 

Bland Holt was educated at the Church of England Grammar School,Brighton,Victoria, and at the Otago Boys' High School,Dunedin. At 6 he had made his first stage appearance at the Royal Theatre,Sunderland. At 14 he became a professional actor and for the next nine years toured the United States and England. In 1871, at the age of 20 he described himself as actor and author. He went toSydney in 1876 with the rights, bought from his father, for Paul Merritt's play 'The New Babylon' and established himself permanently inAustralia. Dubbed the 'King of Melodrama', he became famous for his spectacular effects: in one play he used horses, hounds and a stag; in another, horses galloped outside the theatre to make their last run on the stage of the Theatre Royal; and in others he introduced balloon ascents, trained pigeons, a human bridge, diving scenes and the first motor car used on stage. Bland played in many of his own productions as a fine comedian, a capable dramatic actor and a superb pantomime clown. In 1877 he was described as "the best clown in Australia". Many of the plays he produced he revised substantially and despite highly-qualified assistants he managed almost every detail of his productions himself. He leased the Lyceum Theatre in Sydney and the Theatre Royal in Melbourneand his plays had record runs. His first wife, known on the stage as Lena Edwin, died in June 1883 after collapsing on stage. On 29 September 1887 in Adelaide he married another actress, Florence Griffiths Anderson. She appeared with him in many of his plays. He retired in 1909.