Monday, 8 June 2015

The Great Diorama of Ireland (12)

Post 12

The Great Diorama of Ireland, and Ireland: it's scenery, music and antiquities, 1865.

For the full story on the Great Diorama of Ireland click on this link:

Kelly's store, Bank Lane, Belfast
Dr. T. C. S. Corry
Thomas Dudgeon
Ellen Stella Douglas Fawcett Dudgeon
Joe Devlin
Mr. Connop
New York Clipper Newspaper
The Great Diorama of Ireland
Ireland: in Shade and Sunshine
Ireland: it's scenery, music and antiquities
Royal National Diorama of Scotland
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Bishop Auckland
The Masons, Bishop Auckland


Belfast, Ireland in 1865,  and the moving picture scenes called Dioramas have become the fashionable entertainment to headline in theatres and halls. Thomas Dudgeon was one of a team of artists commissioned to create dioramas for the 1865 Christmas theatre  season in Ireland and travelled there to re-paint the Great Diorama of Ireland, later renamed Ireland: it's scenery, music, and antiquities for the new show.

The show opened at Victoria Hall, Belfast on Monday evening, November 13, 1865. Thomas was given full credit on the playbill as the eminent artist who entirely re-painted The Great Diorama.The diorama provided a magnificent moving display of Irish scenery as a backdrop to the performances of Mr. and Mrs. J.F. O'Neill, who performed "inimitable Hibernian sketches" and to other various performers who sang songs, duets, quartets etc. (Belfast Newsletter, Nov. 9, 1865.) Historical and descriptive handbooks were handed out at the hall. To celebrate this debut event, there were even fashionable mid-day performances on Fridays at 2.30pm at the cost of 2s. for Reserved Seats, 1s. for the Body of the Hall, and 6d. for the Gallery.

Dioramas had been around for sometime before 1865,but no-one had embarked on a diorama depicting Ireland and its spectacular scenery like Dr. Thomas Charles Stuart Corry. He took on this challenge and hired Mr. T.H. Connop to produce a diorama entitled Ireland: its scenery, music and antiquities. Connop produced this diorama in 1864 and had a private showing in the Victoria Hall, Belfast on Saturday 24th December, 1864. It opened to the public on the following Monday, 26th December 1864.

For the full story click on this link:

It can be surmised that due to the wear and tear on the diorama and Mr. Connop leaving the Victoria Hall, that Thomas Dudgeon had done a complete repaint  in readiness for the new show opening on the 9th November, 1865.  It is hard to imagine that Thomas could have repainted every scene attributed to this diorama because of it's enormity. However, he may have needed to as the painted scenes could only last for one season due to the rolling and unrolling of the painted canvas across the stage.

Thomas and Agnes Pollock returned to Belfast in late 1867. Agnes was pregnant with her second child. By February 6th, 1868, Ireland: It's Scenery, Music, and Antiquities, still billed as the Great National Entertainment, Ireland, had already been showing at the Victoria Hall for 6 weeks.

There has also been a birth. On 3rd February, 1868, Ellen Stella Douglas Fawcett Dudgeon, my Great Grandmother, was born to proud parents, Agnes Pollock "Dudgeon" and Thomas Dudgeon, in Belfast.

By October, 1870, Dr. Corry's Diorama of Ireland is showing at the Brooklyn Atheneum,New York, USA.

A common occurrence with dioramas at this time was that they were published as tourist guidebooks and this happened as Dr. Corry produced a small book called Ireland: its scenery music and antiquities.

Thomas impressed Dr Corry who employed him to produce a 2nd diorama called, Ireland: in Shade and Sunshine.

Royal National Diorama of Scotland

Whilst in Ireland, Thomas embarked on his third and most prolific piece of work, the Royal National Diorama of Scotland, presumably from photographs which he took over with him to Ireland. An excerpt from Granny's diary confirms that  Thomas sometimes painted scenes from photographs, and in those days all landscape artists were quite adept in this practice. Granny says:

'Well now I will go back to Chichester. After my father had painted the little picture he was doing he was asked to paint a large picture of Rooks Drift in Africa where the Prince Eugene had been killed. They brought him photos of it all and drawings too, so he undertook it and did it. Rooks Drift was a farm and the Prince Eugene was killed there. The front of the picture showed the farm as it was in all its beauty and the back was where it was set on fire by the Zulus. The flames looked so real. I can't describe it as I would like to but even though I was so young, I knew it was wonderful. In London there was a great deal of praise given to it in the morning papers."

Bishop Auckland, 1871

By 1871, Agnes Pollock "Dudgeon", Annie McIndoe Plunkett, and Ellen Stella Dudgeon are living back in Glasgow, at 332 Georges St., according to the 1871 Scottish Census. However Agnes is recorded as Agnes Plunkett, her assumed name in Scotland following her relationship with James Plunkett, before she met Thomas. Following the success of his Diorama paintings, which are now either en route or have arrived in America for the show "Ireland in Shade and Sunshine", Thomas has moved temporarily to Bishop Auckland, County Durham, England to work for the Masons. For more on the Bishop Auckland story, visit this link.
The Diorama called Ireland: in Shade and Sunshine travelled to Brisbane, Queensland and Melbourne, Victoria, Australia in 1880 when Granny was in Australia. She would have been totally unaware of that.

For the full story on the Diorama of Scotland click on this link

What became of the reams and reams of painted canvas after the touring of the Dioramas had finished? They were found in the loft of Kelly's Store, Bank Lane, Belfast by Joe Devlin and his mates, when Joe was Manager of the store at age 19, around 1890, only 6 years before Dr. Corry died.

"In our young youth, when our boyhood's friend, Joe Devlin was in charge of Kelly's Store in Bank Lane, we remember climbing with him to the loft above the shop to see and examine the great rolls of painted canvas, the rollers and the blocks and tacklings of all that was left of Dr. Corry's World-Famed Diorama. For many years it lay in the loft above the old store in Bank Lane, but what became of it we do not know." (Woodside, S.B. 1997-2008)

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