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Akhurst, W. M.

Akhurst, W. M.

W. M. Akhurst

1822 - 1878

Name Variant(s): William Akhurst, William M. Akhurst, William Mower Akhurst

William Mower Akhurst was born in London in 1822.  By the time he emigrated to Australia in his mid-twenties, he had already staged two plays at Cremorne Gardens (a London music hall in operation 1845-77).  In Australia, he worked for both The Herald and Argus newspapers as a journalist and as their music and drama critic, but he is best remembered for his work as a playwright.
Theatre was a popular form of entertainment in the Austrailian colonies. In The Pattern of Australian Culture, A. L. McLeod writes that "[t]he outstanding feature of Australian theatre in the 1860's was the apparently insatiable appetite for Shakespeare . . . But coeval with this was its antithesis – crude melodrama and vaudeville.  Lavishly staged but devoid of art" (322).  These lavish performances were well attended by the predominantly male population, and audience participation was expected. The Argus review of Akhurst's 1855 play about their gold rush reported "pungent allusions to passing events, the greater part of which were heartily taken up by the audience" (quoted in Serle 60). Another feature of these presentations is suggested in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Australia:

the most popular way of avoiding censorship restrictions – and even baiting the censor – was with pantomime and burlesque, some adapting English pantomimes with local reference. ... The best-known authors of this genre were the British playwright and critic William Mower Akhurst … and Garnet Walch.  (Bambrick 317)
Add to that historian Geoffrey Serle's comment that "[t]he theatre in the early fifties was little more than a branch...

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