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Mary Godsall

May 26, 2013

Mary Godsall (1844-1922), English actress, as she appeared as Meenie during the run of Dion Boucicault’s dramatization of Rip Van Winkle at the Adelphi Theatre, London, first produced there on 4 September 1865, with Joseph Jefferson in the title role
(Window & Bridge’s patent Diamond Cameo Portrait carte de visite, photos: Adolphe Beau, London, 1865)

The Cabinet Theatre, London, Wednesday, ‘The little building in Liverpool-street, King’s cross, which was formerly used as a lecture hall, &c., has been fitted up and licensed under the above name for dramatic performances by Mr. J. Dryden. On Wednesday night last was played a new drama by Mr. G. Wood in three acts, entitled The Sisters; or, The Rovers of Salee. both the piece and the acting were below the range of criticism of any kind. The most ordinary knowledge of the English language on the part of the author must have sufficed to have shown him the absurdity of the combinations of words in which the piece abounds. Anything more absolutely ridiculous and farcical than the parts intended to be serious it would not be easy to imagine. The repetition of the sentences by the actors and actresses, of whom there was a long list, was quite as bad, or worse, than the matter, in those cases where they knew what they had to say, which was a very rare occurrence. Consequently the stage was continually kept ”waiting.” We left at the close of the second act, when, after a ”wait” of longer duration than usual, the curtain descended on the emotional, impromptu exclamation of a father to the two sisters, ”Well, come my dears, we’ll be off.” It is just possible that with training and education Mr. Bingley and Miss Mary Godsall might learn to make a passable use of what natural qualifications they possess. The others have none… .’
(The Era, London, Sunday, 13 March 1864, p. 10c)

F.C. Burnand’s English version of La Belle Hélène, produced at the Adelphi Theatre, London, on 30 June 1866
‘Miss Godsall’s beauty of feature and remarkable grace of movement and expression make Glauce a very attractive personage.’

‘MISS GODSALL, of the Theatres Royal, St. James’s, and Adelphi, London, and New Prince of Wales and Theatre Royal, Liverpool, will be Disengaged at Easter, and will be happy to treat with responsible managers for Juvenile and Burlesque Business. Address, 98, Brownlow-hill, Liverpool.’
(The Era, London, Sunday, 31 March 1867, p. 1b)

From 1867 little or nothing appears to have come Mary Godsall’s way in the form of theatrical engagements. Instead she seems to have pursued a career as an artist, describing herself in the 1901 Census as an ‘artist, painter, sculptor.’ Long before that, however, she was commissioned by the British Museum to make drawings of certain ancient Roman coins in the Department of Coins and Medals, which were published as Autotypes in 1874. Miss Godsall’s painting entitled ‘Jacqueline,’ ‘a pretty, bright-eyed girl, in blue-trimmed mob cap’ was shown at the Dudley Gallery Exhibition, London, in 1877. (The Illustrated London News, London, Saturday, 3 February 1877, p. 118b). And at The Royal Academy Exhibition, London, 1879, ‘… Of the rank and file whose works seem especially worthy of notice we may mention ”Cinderella” (668), [by] Mary Godsall.’ (Nottinghamshire Guardian, London, Friday, 16 May 1879, p. 7c). This watercolour, wrote The Portfolio: An Artistic Periodical, ‘is tender in colour, the deep old-fashioned hearth, with its crouching figure of the melancholy maiden, make a charming picture.’ Another of her paintings, a ‘lifesize half-length of a little girl,’ was shown at the Dudley Gallery in 1880. (The Illustrated London News, London, Saturday, 28 February 1880, p. 203b).

On 24 October 1880, at St. Barnabas’s Church, Pimlico, London, Mary Godsall was married by the Bishop of North Queensland to Robert Christison (1837-1915), a native of Scotland, who had gone to Australia at the age of 15. The couple were together in Australia from about 1883 to 1887 but Mary disliked the country so much that she returned to England with their three surviving children (two girls and a boy) and subsequently enrolled to study with Charles Augustus C. Lasar (1856-1936) in Paris, who had opened his studio for students in 1886. Mr Christison finally returned to England permanently in 1910; he died at Foulden, Scotland, in 1915. For reasons unknown, Mary Christison returned to Australia where she died of heart failure on 14 November 1922 (The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, Tuesday, 14 November 1922, p.8).

A photograph of Mary Christison and her three children, taken in the late 1880s, is in the John Oxley Library at the State Library of Queensland.

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