Mr W. Shakespeare and the Zulu War (1879)
An advertisement in the Amusements column of the Register for 6 December 1879 informed the public that they should ‘Coruscate with Electric Effulgence.’ Readers who consulted their dictionaries learnt that to coruscate was ‘to emit vivid flashes of light; to sparkle; to glitter;’ and that effulgence meant ‘a flood of light; great brightness.’ The advertisement then informed readers that ‘An original Electric-Light Panorama of Eighty Views’ of the great Zulu War would be opening at White’s Rooms on Monday, December 8th. A further attraction was to be the Zulu War Dance by ‘an original Kaffir’ from Natal in South Africa, with a lecture on the war by Mr D.C.F. Moodie, Esq. The titles of the eighty views were listed in detail and price of admission ranged from one to five shillings.
The slides to be exhibited were painted from the drawings of Mr Melton Prior, an artist for the Illustrated London News who had represented that journal in Zululand. Mr Moodie was well known as the author of a book on the battles in South Africa and was to act as an interpreter for the Kaffir native.
Although posters around the town had promised a programme presented ‘in a refined, unique, and praiseworthy style,’ the opening night was a dismal failure.When the gas lights in the hall were turned down the lecturer was left in the dark and could not read his manuscript, and the ‘so-called electric light’ was also ‘an utter failure’.
‘The views presented on a screen arranged across the stage were undoubtedly admirably painted, but the light thrown on them was so faint that only persons gifted with very strong vision could distinguish the details. The back seats objected to this and raised a medley of cat-calls, dingo howls, hisses, and sarcastic remarks, not at all calculated to reassure the lecturer …’ After offering an apology the management announced that the entrance money would be refunded and the audience left the hall. The failure was attributed to the electric light, ‘which not only showed very dimly, but the apparatus connected therewith kept up a constant fizzing which created somewhat uneasy feelings in persons sitting near it.’
On Tuesday night the operator, Mr W. Shakespeare, achieved satisfactory results by operating his apparatus with an oxy-hydrogen limelight instead of the electric light, and on Wednesday night there was a full scale rehearsal. Finally, when everything seemed to be in order the management advertised a Grand Reopening for Thursday evening.
However, after the ‘grand reopening’ the Observer reported: ‘Fatality and failure seem to dog the footsteps of the Zulu war… A somewhat undecided and wholly sceptical audience assembled at White’s Rooms on Thursday evening to see the panorama of the Zulu war, hear the lucid explanations of the views by Mr Moodie, and have the Zulu war dance depicted in all its muscular vigour by a "semi-civilized savage" hailing under the unpoetical name of "Jim;" but it was not to be.’ Instead the excellent views were spoiled because Mr Moodie had withdrawn his services due to ‘some misunderstanding on the subject of hard cash’ and had taken the Zulu with him. There was no war dance and the explanations of the views given by volunteer lecturers were ‘slightly vague’, with several scenes being ‘presented in rapid succession and in solemn silence.’ The programme finished early, at 9 pm, and the audience had their tickets returned for use on a future date.
But because carriages had been ordered for half-past 10, the advertised closing time, some gathered around outside where they ‘indulged in some sincere but unmusical noises expressive of their disapprobation.’
However, after two disastrous attempts, a successful showing was achieved on Friday night. Mr Moodie acted as lecturer, "Jim" the Zulu performed his war dance and, with only ‘two or three exceptions,’ the views were ‘excellently shown.’ Thus encouraged the management’s advertisement on Saturday morning was headed: ‘Victory Ours At Last,’ followed by the rather flowery quotation,‘I was borne on tides of people crowding unto my triumph.’
The Register agreed that the show had improved, reporting some days later that ‘the views were presented very clearly by an oxy-hydrogen light and apparatus, under the able management of Mr W. Shakespeare, and proved decidedly well worth seeing, as they were most artistically executed and clearly shown..’
An advertisement in the Register at the end of December said: ‘Fortune – Right Man – Zulu Panorama – Half or Whole Interest. By Tender until Wednesday, 31st inst. Ready for travelling. Highest not necessarily accepted. Address R.H.M., Advertiser office.’ By March 1880 the Zulu War Diorama was in the hands of a Mr Gale and exhibited in the Clare Town Hall where the local newspaper reported that ‘the scenes were highly interesting, being large and well brought out by the powerful light.’
I have a couple of Zulu War slides. I would loved to have seen this.