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Source: Australian Variety Theatre Archive
E. J. Carroll E. J. Carroll i(A126353 works by) (a.k.a. Edward John Carroll)
Born: Established: 28 Jun 1868 Gatton, Gatton area, Rosewood - Laidley - Gatton area, South East Queensland, Queensland, ; Died: Ceased: 28 Jul 1931 Lewisham, Marrickville - Camperdown area, Sydney Southern Suburbs, Sydney, New South Wales,
Gender: Male
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Businessman, company director and co-owner, manager, film exhibitor, producer, tour manager.


Edward Carroll’s entrepreneurial career began in 1906 when he bought the Queensland exhibition rights to J. and N. Tait’s moving pictures. He and his brother Dan promoted theatre, film and skating Brisbane before establishing a chain of regional Queensland theatres with George Birch (their partnership with T. V. Coyle in 1912 eventually became Birch, Carroll and Coyle). Carroll began expanding into artist management and film production in 1913, and in 1920 he co-founded a theatrical firm with George Musgrove. He remained active as an entrepreneur until his death.

Detail Biography

1874-1908: The second son of John Carroll (schoolteacher) and his wife Mary (née Dwyer), both from County Cork, Ireland, Edward Carroll was educated at Redbank Plains State School, where his father was head teacher from 1874 to 1909. In 1883, Carroll joined the Queensland Department of Railways as a clerk. Some two years later, he joined former variety theatre manager James Bell in setting up a fruit-merchant business in Gympie and later in Brisbane. Between 1901 and 1907, Carroll, Bell, and another businessman, Charles Stewart, held the catering contracts for railway refreshment rooms at Ipswich, Landsborough, and Gympie. Carroll and Stewart also leased the Albion Hotel in Brisbane between 1905 and 1922 and bought the Criterion Hotel, also in Brisbane, in 1914.

Carroll's career as a theatre and cinema entrepreneur began in 1906, when he acquired the rights from J. and N. Tait to exhibit that firm's films in Queensland. In addition to documentary-style bio-pics such as Living London, Scotland and Ireland and boxing 'kinomatograms' such as the Burns v Squires and Burns v Lang fights (Truth 6 Sept. 1908, p.4), the deal included the rights to several locally made films. Arguably the most popular were The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906) and Robbery Under Arms (1907). The success of this venture led Carroll to establish an open-air film circuit round Brisbane suburbs. By 1908, he had secured leases at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground and South Brisbane Cricket Ground. In the hotter months, he opened his Summer Night Continentals at these venues, providing audiences with the best of local, Australian, and even international variety acts. That same year, Carroll co-produced, with Charles MacMahon and Messrs. Gunn, Osborne, and Jerdan, the classic Australian silent film For the Term of His Natural Life. He was also joined by younger brother Dan, who had worked for E. Rich and Co. Ltd in Brisbane since 1903.

1909-1917: In addition to touring side-shows and vaudeville acts, the Carrolls built several skating-rinks in Brisbane and in rural centres. These were also used in summer for picture shows. Over the next few years, they gradually built up a chain of theatres throughout the state. By 1909, the Carrolls' North Queensland interests included a partnership with George H. Birch, previously associated with the British Biograph Company (aka London Biograph Company). Together, they established a permanent base of operations in Charters Towers, taking over the lease of the Olympia Theatre (see, for example, Northern Miner 4 Oct. 1909, p.1). One of the Carrolls' more popular establishments in Brisbane around 1909 and 1910 was Earl's Court, where Carroll's Continentals presented live variety shows in combination with the latest films.

By 1912, the Carrolls, in partnership with George Birch, controlled most of the film exhibition halls in the major centres along the Queensland coastline. At the same time, they maintained an active interest in variety theatre. An advertisement in Australian Variety in 1913, for example, reads 'Birch and Carroll (Queensland). Theatrical and Picture managers, Playing Pictures and vaudeville in all the Principal Centres from Toowoomba to Charters Towers. Tours of legitimate companies managed over this route appearing in all the principal theatres of which we have the booking control' (15 Oct. 1913, n. pag.). Vaudeville managers such as Ted Holland and Brennan-Fuller Ltd had also begun leasing their acts to Birch and Carroll, rather than undertaking the tours themselves.

By May 1913, Birch and Carroll had joined in partnership with T. V. Coyle at the Theatre Royal, Charters Towers (see, for example, Northern Miner 3 May 1913, p.1). That same year, E.J. Carroll moved his interests to Sydney, leaving Dan in charge of the Queensland enterprises. Under Dan Carroll's management, the brothers soon afterwards purchased a frontage on Queen Street in Brisbane, where they planned to build an elaborately designed 1000-seat theatre at an estimated cost of £15,000 (Australian Variety 13 May 1914, n. pag.). In late 1915 and early 1916, following the deaths of Ted Holland (in 1914) and Percy St John (in 1915), the Carrolls briefly took over the management of the Empire Theatre, a popular variety theatre venue eventually taken over by Fullers Theatres Ltd. With Dan Carroll looking after the Queensland operations, E.J. Carroll began to bring British and American plays to Australia, as well as world-renowned artists. He had a major success in 1914, for example, with a tour by the Scottish entertainer (Sir) Harry Lauder. The pair became close friends.

1918-1925: In 1918, the Carrolls invested in their first film production, The Lure of the Bush, starring R. L. 'Snowy' Baker, and it proved highly popular. They also undertook distribution in Australia and overseas of Raymond Longford's film The Sentimental Bloke (1919) and, following its enormous commercial success, decided to enter production themselves. In partnership with Baker and South Australian firm the Southern Cross Feature Film Co. Ltd, the brothers formed Carroll-Baker Australian Productions in 1919 with capital of £25,000. To attract overseas distribution of their films, the company arranged for a team of Americans from Hollywood to form the nucleus of the production staff. Three 'westerns' starring Baker were made, including The Man from Kangaroo, and released in 1920 with commercial success. The Carrolls also formed a production association with Longford and Lottie Lyell and made three films, including On Our Selection (1920).

In 1920, the brothers formed Carroll Musgrove Theatres Ltd to build the Prince Edward Theatre in Sydney, which, from its opening in 1924, became one of Australia's leading cinemas. That same year, Carroll travelled widely overseas to market the films and to manage a world tour by Harry Lauder, but the brothers effectively ended their film production operations in 1921 after falling out with the Americans over their expensive production methods. The difficulties they had in ensuring adequate exhibition of their films in Australia and abroad was another contributing factor.

In 1923, they formalised Birch, Carroll and Coyle Ltd to control and modernise their extensive theatre circuit in northern and coastal Queensland. The cinema interests of E. J. and Dan Carroll, often in association with the Tait brothers and Stuart Doyle, included a chain of Wintergarden theatres.

The Carrolls remained active in live-theatre management and arranged Australian tours by major performers such as the Sistine Choir in 1922 and the violinist Fritz Kreisler in 1925. Handsome, with a military moustache, Carroll was always impeccably dressed.

1926-1931: In 1926, E.J. Carroll travelled to England, where he settled in London with his family. This also allowed his two sons the opportunity to continue their education there. He returned to Sydney in March 1931, but died of cancer at Lewisham Hospital barely four months after arriving back home. He was buried in the Catholic section of South Head Cemetery. Carroll's estate was valued for probate at £19,236 in Queensland and £17,461 in New South Wales.

[The above biography has been sourced in part from the Andrew Pike and Martha Rutledge entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (Vol 7), pp. 571-572.]

Most Referenced Works


  • Carroll married Jessie Dee on 14 February 1906 at St Stephen's Cathedral, Brisbane.

  • Entries connected with this record have been sourced from on-going historical research into Australian music-film, theatre and television being conducted by Dr Clay Djubal.
Last amended 12 Mar 2015 10:03:06
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