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Adventures in nineteenth-century gender-bending: Lady Emilia Don in Tasmania, 1862 and 1865
journal contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by Nicole Anae
Many leading ladies of the nineteenth century stage have attracted significant biographical attention from scholars in the field of theatre history. Lady Emilia Don, however, remains largely forgotten, even though evidence of her Australian tours suggests she was a highly acclaimed figure of the stage during the 1860s. Her two visits – first with her husband in 1861, and then again as ‘name’ star in 1864 – were widely publicised for a variety of reasons, and examining her Tasmanian publicity in 1862 and 1865 offers a valuable point of entry for analysing the reasons behind this fascination. A number of important events occurred in Tasmania that coloured perceptions of Emilia as a public figure and these, in turn, influenced her engagement with colonial audiences and her relevance to community culture. It is the aim of this article to shed new light on Emilia’s significance by examining why aspects of her tours were reported by Tasmanian media men in such sharp detail. Revisiting the content of these colonial artifacts offers a rare glimpse into the professional life of one of the most popular visiting actresses of the 1860s, as well as addressing a longstanding gap in scholarship acknowledging Emilia’s remarkable performances of gender.