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C. Haddon Chambers C. Haddon Chambers i(A10825 works by) (a.k.a. Charles Haddon Spurgeon Chambers)
Born: Established: 22 Apr 1860 Petersham, Marrickville - Camperdown area, Sydney Southern Suburbs, Sydney, New South Wales, ; Died: Ceased: 28 Mar 1921 London,
United Kingdom (UK),
Western Europe, Europe,

Gender: Male
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Arguably Australia's most successful playwright on the international stage during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, C. Haddon Chambers wrote at least eight society plays (generally referred to at that time as 'well-made' plays). A number of his works were also staged in America, Europe and Australia.

One of five children, Chambers was educated at Sydney's Fort Street School in Marrickville and Petersham. His father was civil servant who spent some twenty-five years with the Sydney Lands Department, and was there that young Charles spent the first four or five years of his working life. Although there is no indication that he had any interest in a literary career, it has been claimed that Chambers won a competition in high school with an essay on cruelty to animals (Theatre Magazine October 1909, p3). After leaving the Lands Department he found employment for a time as a canvasser for the Commercial Insurance Union, before travelling to England and Ireland courtesy of a small inheritance left to him by an uncle in Ireland. While on his way back Chambers by chance struck up a friendship with members of the Annis Montague Opera Company, then on its way to tour Australia and New Zealand. Although he returned to selling insurance upon arriving back in Sydney (this time with the A.M.P. Society), this was short-lived as he eventually took up an offer from Miss Montague to be her manager and in that capacity returned to England around 1882.

It was while travelling by train in England that Chambers had his second important chance meeting, this time with novelist Outram Tristram. Fascinated by the Australian's stories of home, Tristram urged Chambers to try his hand at writing. Among his first published works were contributions to Truth, The Hawk and The Century Magazine (Theatre Magazine October 1909, p4). His first attempt at writing for the stage was a curtain-raiser, The Open Gate. This was followed by Devils Caresfoot, a dramatisation of H. Rider Haggard's Dawn. It was Captain Swift (1888) however, that established Chambers' reputation as an emerging dramatist. Although set in England, as were all his theatre works, the central character in this play is a Queensland bushranger who has returned to England to escape the law. According to Chambers he only managed to get the play staged after cornering producer Herbert Beebolm Tree in a Turkish bath and reading him the first act. Tree himself appeared in the title role (Theatre 1 October 1909, p4).

Among Chambers' other known works to be staged, many of which were unpublished, are : The Tyranny of Tears, The Idler, John A' Dreams (aka John-a-Dreaming), The Honourable Herbert, The Queen of Manoa, The Golden Silence, Boys Together and The Fatal Card (both staged at London's Adelphi Theatre), A Modern Magdalene (ca. 1902), The Younger Mrs Parting (ca. 1905) and The Impossible Woman (ca. 1914). Chambers's translation of the French play Le Voleur (The Thief) is said to have been staged to much success in New York, with Kryle Bellow in the lead role (Brisbane Courier 16 November 1907, p13).

Most Referenced Works


  • Chambers's The Fatal Card was staged in Australia by Bland Holt's Damatic Company. Holt also reportedly secured the rights to Boys Together for £400.
  • One of Chambers's two sisters, Agnes, became a well-known actress, dramataist, pianist and music director. Among her known works are : The Love Affairs of Mr Boyd (ca. 1909), Bad Mrs Bennett (with J. Clarence, ca. 1910).

    A brother, Harry K. Chambers, who for many years was a journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald and several other Australian newspapers, established himself as a journalist in New York before also attempting a career as a dramatist. Two of his plays, written under the name Kellet Chambers, are : Abigail, staged at the Savoy Theatre, New York (ca. 1904/1905), and A Case of Frenzied Finance (ca. 1905). Chambers was married to Kate Carew, well-known in America for her illustrations and caricatures (Sydney Morning Herald 27 May 1905, p14).

  • In Australia on the Popular Stage Margaret Williamson refers to Chambers as the author of eight plays (p277). While the number of actual published works appears to be in that vicinity, his total output of staged works was clearly much higher.

  • 'An Underground Tragedy', listed in Miller and McCartney entry on Chambers' (under 'Fiction') is not a separately published book, but one of three stories by the author included in the anthology, In Australian Wilds and Other Colonial Tales and Sketches (1889), edited by Philip Mennell.
  • A discrepancy appears in relation to the listing of Chamber's place of birth: ADB lists Petersham, Sydney; Miller lists Stanmore, New South Wales. (Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography Online; Miller, Australian Literature from its Beginnings to 1935, 1940)
  • See also the full Australian Dictionary of Biography Online entry for Charles Haddon Spurgeon Chambers, (1860-1921).
Last amended 22 Oct 2009 14:20:00
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