Grim demise for Gaiety Girl

1906, Kalgoorlie – Lilian Harcourt, 34, died a barmaid, but she had packed some excitement into her short life.

When pain and anguish hit the brow, a ministering angel thou, erected by one whom she tenderly nursed during a severe illness

She ‘breathed her last’ at the Shamrock Hotel, one of two hotels she had worked in for the majority of the past five years.

“Rheumatic gout, upon which supervened a wasting complaint, was the cause of death”.

 Despite her lowly role as a saloon barmaid, newspapers made much of her role in society, pointing out that she was the daughter of one Captain Harcourt of Birmingham, England.

One newspaper said she had come to Australia as a member of the chorus of the first London Gaiety Burlesque Company, while another said she became involved with the professional as a vocalist, at WH Jude’s organ recitals in Sydney, in 1892, and afterwards a chorister in  JC Williamson’s Opera Company.

The Burlesque company was famous for its music-hall derived shows, including musical  burlesque, pantomime and operetta.

The women of the dancing chorus, in particular were seen as “a symbol of ideal womenhood’’, as fashionable, elegant polite young ladies.

The Hobart Mercury claimed Lilian was a member of the chorus of the Burlesque Company when eight of its women invaded a suburban printing office while on tour in Dunedin, NZ, after a newspaper report cast aspersions on their morals.

They horsewhipped the editor (with prop whips), but the situation took a turn for the worse when a brawl ensure between office staff and company stagehands who accompanied the women.

There is no evidence that Lillian was one of the women who was present at the brawl  – but none that she was not.

Either way, she obviously was part of an exciting profession for a young woman of that era. And as respectable as that profession may have been touted, she died unmarried, living in the hotel she worked in.

The late Miss Harcourt was of a most genial and kindly disposition; not a few “battlers among the pioneer prospectors … having experienced practical proof of her kindness of heart.

said the Coolgardie miner

And one of those paid for Ms Harcourt to have a quite impressive stone erected at her grave, to perpetuate her memory.

Kalgoorlie, WA

SOURCES: Coolgardie Miner,  Wednesday 31 January 1906 p3

The Mercury  Tuesday 6 March 1906 p7

The Australian Star Saturday 17 June 1893 – P3

Gaiety Theatre London, Wikipaedia, viewed at,_London

Published by Sharyn Moodie

Travelling around Australia for work, I've found so many amazing headstones. But what is more amazing is the stories behind some of these deaths, and the way newspapers of the day reported them.

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