Inside the Collection

Edoardo Majeroni – Italian ‘red shirt’ and Australian actor

Portrait of Signor Edoardo Majeroni in Russian military costume 1876
H8504-8 Edoardo Majoroni, collodion / glass, part of a collection housed in wooden chest, Freeman Bothers 1876

This is a portrait of Signor Edoardo Majeroni who, with his wife, presented stage performances in theatres across Australia in 1876 and the 1880s. In this image he is dressed in a Russian military costume for his acclaimed role in a one-act play entitled ‘The Old Corporal’ The play was performed in Sydney in 1876 and the photograph appears to have been taken by the Freeman Brothers Studio while the performances were fresh in the minds of Sydney-siders.

Majeroni led an exciting life on and off the stage eventually becoming one of Australia’s best known nineteenth-century actors. He was born in Milan in 1840, where he studied to be become a civil engineer. But all this changed in 1850 when war broke out between Italy and Austria, and he took up arms and volunteered as a private soldier in the artillery brigade commanded by General Mezzacapo.

After two months’ hard service, which included gallant conduct under fire at the battles of Magenta and Solferino he returned to private life, not as an engineer but as a stage actor. In doing so he was the second in his family to tread the floorboards as his older brother was already an actor of some note.

In 1860 war broke out again and Edoardo was one of the first to enrol in the band of ‘red shirts’ organised by Garibaldi to fight against Austria. Again he took part in numerous engagements and won the Cross of Honour for his bravery. After the battle of Sadowa in 1866 the Italina and Prussian alliance gained the upper hand and at the end of the war Majeroni again returned to his acting career with a company organised by Madame Ristori. Soon after this he married Ristori’s niece Giulia Tessero and in 1874 the company began a world tour.

Working with this group the couple travelled the globe playing in Brazil, Buenos Aires, the West Indies, the United States, New Zealand and Australia. They arrived in Australia in 1876 and performed at six different locations: Sydney; Melbourne; Sandhurst; Ballarat; Geelong; and Adelaide. In Sydney Edoardo, and his wife, won over the Australian audience with their performance in a play entitled “The Old Corporal” which was staged at the ‘Theatre Royal’ on the 24th of April, 1876.

After this they travelled to New York to open their own production company but during the winter Majoroni fell so ill there were worries about whether he would survive. His wife continued to have success on the stage but Edoardo’s continued ill health led to their return to Australia in 1882, in the hope the climate would improve his health.

This appears to have had some impact for in September 1882 they opened at the Bijou with their first performance, “Jealousy”. This was followed by “Camille” and “Marie Antoinette” at the Opera House. Both of these saw Giulia in the main role so it seems likely that her husband may have still been unwell.

In 1886 they took over the management of the Bijou theatre, but after a series of performances found themselves in debt and had to give it up. To try and recoup their losses they travelled to India and China in 1889 but Edoardo fell ill again and Guilia lost her voice. As a result they were forced to return to Sydney, both in such poor health they were unable to return to the stage.

In October 1891 Signor Edoardo Majeroni died in Sydney. The Argus felt the Australian had ‘… lost one of its brightest ornaments’ as by this time Australians appear to have regarded Edoardo as an honorary Englishman and he along with his family had become an integral part of Australian theatre life.

Four years later on the 3 December Australian actors and actresses held a benefit concert at the ‘Princess Theatre’, Melbourne, for Guilia Majoroni who had fallen on hard times. On the 8 August 1903 Guilia died and was buried at Waverley cemetery, Sydney, where Edoardo had been buried 12 years earlier.

By Geoff Barker, Curatorial & Paul Wilson Archives

The Argus, Victoria, 23 October 1891
The Argus, Victoria, 30 November 1895
Sydney Morning Herald, 11 August 1903

One response to “Edoardo Majeroni – Italian ‘red shirt’ and Australian actor

  • A fine article and great photo. Suggested improvements: “Eduardo” is the better spelling, and “tread the boards” rather than “floorboards” is the usual expression.

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