On this day: The twirling Earl of Yarmouth in Mackay


George Seymour earl of yarmouth

On July 17, 1895, George Seymour, Earl of Yarmouth, contemplated starting afresh as a colonial planter in Mackay, North Queensland. The young hellraiser’s family exiled him from Britain hoping to avoid disgrace over his scandalous behaviour.

The 23-year-old Earl arrived in Australia late the previous year and immediately set about providing content for excitable newspaper reporters. His high-kicking, skirt-dancing drag act during a Hobart benefit made headlines across the country. Especially as he was currently a guest at Government House.

Brisbane’s Telegraph¬†described the event as “the most remarkable theatrical entertainment ever seen in the southern hemisphere.”

Organisers of the benefit advertised both the Earl of Yarmouth’s theatrical debut and ‘Mademoiselle Roze’ performing the latest European craze, the Serpentine Dance. Ticket sales soared when word leaked that Mademoiselle Roze was actually the nom de ballet of the English aristocrat.

George Seymour first appeared onstage as an injured wife waiting up her husband who’s stayed late at his club.

“When the Earl of Yarmouth appeared in a loose white wrapper, with blue ribbons, and a flowing wig of soft brown hair falling below his shoulders, there was something like a gasp in the dress circle.”

However, the audience applauded wildly every time George opened his mouth. Especially when ‘he alluded to himself as a poor ill-used mother’. Surely, a dramatic tour de force.

But the best was yet to come.

Whirling his drapery

“The stage was darkened. Then suddenly in the centre, the Earl of Yarmouth appeared in a circle of limelight.”

George Seymour now wore voluminous flowing white skirts.

“He also had golden-curls frilling down his back. His whole make-up equalled the best efforts of the most experienced female impersonator ever seen on any music hall stage.

“The limelight man was fully equal to the unprecedented occasion. His lordship, whirling his drapery, gyrated before the astonished throng in one wild blaze of kaleidoscopic colours, and danced with unabated vigour.

“Then the limelight man began to project pictures upon the whirling skirts of the noble earl.”

First, a copy of a popular painting, then portraits of various royals were projected onto the Earl’s skirts.

“Still the Earl of Yarmouth whirled his white silk skirts.

“Several large bouquets were thrown to the almost exhausted nobleman, who concluded with a quick pirouette and final bow.

“Responding to the inevitable encore, he gathered all his energies for one more effort, and the curtain fell upon the unique picture of a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen depicted on the dancer’s skirts.”

The climax of the Earl’s performance consisted of royal portraits projected onto his voluminous skirts.

Newspaper reports of the Earl’s performance were as typically servile and obsequious as one would expect. But George Seymour was ‘incensed’ by one particular article.

A Melbourne paper reported on the rapturous applause that greeted a question he asked during the course of the entertainment.

“Have I been making altogether an ass of myself?”

Mackay

Regardless, George Seymour decided to make a new life in Australia. He bought a sugar plantation near Mackay in North Queensland. People in the district whispered about the all-male parties held at the isolated farm.

George Seymour later returned to London and following a bankruptcy resumed his theatrical career in the US. However, he gave up the stage after inheriting a fortune after the death of his father. George Seymour became 7th Earl of Hertford, 7th Earl of Yarmouth, 8th Baron Conway of Ragley, 7th Viscount Beauchamp, 7th Marquess of Hertford, and 8th Baron Conway and Killultagh.

Read more of the Earl of Yarmouth’s exploits in Mackay and the US in QNews Magazine #526, out August 5, 2022.

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