Kate Rickards

Kate Rickards by Richard Wendel, 1885.png

Kate Rickards (born Kate Roscow; also known as Katie Angell and Kate Leete) (8 December 1862 – 17 September 1922) was an Australian trapeze artist and later musical theatre actress. She was the second wife of the Britsh-born vaudville performer and impresario Harry Rickards.[1]

Early life as a trapeze artist

Rickards was born in Melbourne where her father William Roscow was a publican. According to her obituary in the Sydney Evening News, she also spent part of her early childhood in Nelson, New Zealand. At the age of 11, she was apprenticed to the gymnast and trapeze artist Lottie D'Aste and her husband Victor Angell who ran the Royal Magnet Troupe. She performed with them under the name Katie Angell.[2][3] In 1873, the Brisbane Courier wrote

The petite debutante must certainly be congratulated on her first appearance, and Lottie had better look to her laurels, which bid fair to be disputed by her 'little sister'.[4]

A few months after Victor Angell's death by drowning in March 1874, Lottie, Katie, and the rest of the troupe troupe resumed touring. They were in San Francisco later that year where they encountered Harry Rickards who was there with his Rickards London Star Comique Company. Rickards began an affair with Lottie D'Aste and took over management of her troupe as well. He toured across the United States with them and his own troupe under the name "Rickards Combination", eventually ending up in New York in February 1875 where they performed at the Theatre Comique, a popular variety hall on Broadway owned by Josh Hart.[2][5][6]

After their US tour, Harry Rickards and Lottie's troupe returned to London. They toured England in 1876 and then began a world tour beginning in South Africa. The tour was cut short, however, after rumours of an impending war in Eastern Europe and they returned to England in 1877. During that time Kate was sometimes billed as "Mademoiselle Katrini. The Flying Fairy and Empress of the Air." Lottie D'Aste, whose real name was Charlotte Elizabeth Armstrong, died suddenly in May 1878. Nevertheless, Rickards continued to tour her troupe with Kate receiving star billing, this time as "Mademoiselle Zenoni. The Premier Lady Gymnast of the World" (a name inspired by Margherita Zenoni, a popular Italian opera singer who toured Australia from 1873 to 1875).[5][2]

Kate Rickards in her costume for the musical sketch Sappho, 1888[a]

Marriage and stage career

Katie and Rickards became lovers after Lottie's death. Their first child, Noni, was born in December 1879. The couple married the following year in the registry office of Chorlton, Manchester after Rickards's first wife, Carrie Tudor granted him a divorce.[b] Katie was 17, Harry was 36. Two more children followed, a son, Sydney, born in 1883, and a second daughter, Madge, born in 1885. After her marriage, Katie performed under the name Kate Leete (Harry Rickards's legal surname). During this time, the couple toured Australasia from 1885 to 1887 as the "Rickards-Leete Combination", and Kate left her trapeze days behind to become an actress and singer. Her first stage role was as Miss Maud Tomkins in Garnet Walch's Bric-a-Brac.[5][2] The Star wrote of her performance in Ballarat in January 1887:

Kate Leete was as ladylike as ever, and her quiet and refined manner has certainly won for her many friends amongst her audience. It is quite a treat to see a lady like Miss Leete on the boards. Her rendering of the ballad allotted her was effective, and the duet with Mr Rickards, "That's my pa, that's my daughter", was a treat to listen to, in fact, her performance from first to last was charming.[9]

Shortly after those performances, the family returned to England where their third daughter, Edith, was born in April 1887. After the child died in infancy, the couple sought a more congenial climate for the health of their remaining children. They decided to make Australia their permanent home and arrived in Adelaide in 1888.[5][2]

Their new company in Australia was known as "Harry Rickards' New Comedy and Specialty Company". Kate's roles with the company included Georgina Heatherington in Walch's Spoons, Lillian Neville in Charles Godfrey's musical sketch On Guard, and Tootsie Sloper in The Land Lubber: A Nautical Nightmare, written especially for her by Walch. However, the 1888–89 tour was not a financial success. Over the next two years Kate, Harry and their three children basically lived on the proceeds of their Sunday night shows held during the summer on the Parramatta River ferry boat Alathea. For those shows they used a much smaller company limited to Kate, Harry, and a few local artistes.[2][10]

The Rickards family eventually settled in Sydney in 1892, initially setting up operations in the old opera house on King Street. Kate, Harry, and their daughter Noni were amongst the performers on the opening night. Harry went on become a wealthy impresario and theatre owner. On Kate's advice, he took over the lease of the Garrick Theatre in 1893 and renamed it the Tivoli Theatre. Rickards later bought the theatre and established the highly successful Tivoli circuit. Both Kate and Harry performed at the Tivoli in its early years, with Kate introducing Australian audiences to the popular song "Daisy Bell" ("Bicycle Built for Two").[2][10]

Kate Rickards in her later years

Later years

Kate Rickards retired from the stage in 1894 but for several years worked as a costume designer for her husband's productions, including his first ventures into pantomime, Jack the Giant-Killer, or Harlequin Fee Fi Fo Fum and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Harry Rickards died in 1911 while in England. His body was brought back to Sydney and buried in Waverley Cemetery. Kate was devoted to his memory and had a large marble memorial built on the grave designed by the sculptor James White. It was White's last large-scale work. She also commissioned four marble busts of Harry from White. One was placed in his memorial, one in the family home, and the remaining two in the foyers of the Tivoli theatres in Sydney and Melbourne. After Harry's death, she became an active benefactress of the Crown Street Women's Hospital and numerous animal welfare charities. She also continued the family's tradition of hosting an annual Christmas dinner for the poor in the Sydney Town Hall.[2][11][1]

In her later years, Kate continued to live at Canonbury, the Rickards estate at Darling Point. Harry had constructed a large mansion there in 1906 as well as two adjoining houses for their daughters. She also made many trips to England in the period before and after World War I. She visited England for the last time in 1921 accompanied by her niece, but was plagued by ill-health during her time there. When her health had improved enough for her to travel, she set sail for home aboard the RMS Ormonde. Kate Rickards died of heat stroke on 17 September 1922 as the ship was crossing the Red Sea. She was buried at sea and a plaque in her memory was placed on her husband's memorial in Waverley Cemetery.[12][1]


The Rickards's daughters, Noni and Madge, in 1901

Three of Kate Rickard's four children predeceased her. Edith, her youngest daughter, had died in infancy in 1887. Sydney, her only son, died of scarlet fever in 1892 at the age of eight. In 1913 Kate endowed a cot in the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in his memory. Noni, her eldest daughter, died in 1921 at the age of 41, shortly before Kate's last voyage to England. In her youth she had a brief career as a vaudeville singer and comedy actress. She retired from the stage after her marriage in 1905 to Edward H. Maas. The couple had four children, the youngest of whom was born less than a year before her death. Edward Maas was the treasurer of Harry Rickards's Tivoli enterprise and held the advertising rights for the Tivoli theatre programmes which allowed him to build up a substantial publicity business. For a time, he and Noni were also invested in Madame Irene's Salon on Castlereagh Street in Sydney which sold luxury corsets.[c][15][16][17]

Kate's surviving daughter, Madge, died in 1928 at the age of 45. Like Noni, she had a brief career as a singer and comedy actress in her youth. In 1909 she married the English singer and character actor, Frank Harwood, in Margate, England where Harry Rickards owned a country house. Harwood, whose real name was Joseph Gibbs, was born in Birmingham in 1873. He had appeared in her father's Tivoli shows in 1904 and for a while after their marriage. However, they spent most of their married life in England. For three and a half years during World War I, Madge was a volunteer nurse at the military hospitals in Bournemouth. She divorced Harwood in 1920 and moved back to Australia with their young son Harry, who later became a famous aviator. In 1923 she married John Broadbent, the owner of a cattle station near Narandera. According to a report in the Narrandera Argus, their romance had begun in England when Broadbent was one of the convalescing soldiers nursed by Madge. Despite the divorce, Kate left a legacy of £5000 to Frank Harwood in her will "as a special mark of affection and esteem." He died in Sydney in 1930.[18][19][20][12][21][22][23]

Also surviving Kate Rickards were her two older brothers, Frederick and Archibald Aydon, who had gone by the surname Roscow earlier in their lives. In her will Kate instructed her trustees to set aside two sums for investment with the net income going to her brothers during their lifetimes. Frederick Aydon had managed Harry Rickards's Tivoli theatre in Melbourne and was one of the trustees of his estate. He died in Melbourne in 1935.[22][24][15]


  1. ^ The local newspaper wrote of the performance at the Wagga Wagga Oddfellows Hall in 1888, "among the most attractive of the performances of the first night was the Bacchanalian song "Sappho" by Miss Leete, who wore a truly splendid and costly costume, and sang with remarkable spirit and expression."[7]
  2. ^ Carrie Tudor was the stage name of Caroline Hayden. She performed with Rickards from his earliest days in English music halls. They married in 1862 when Harry was 19 and Carrie 18. She was touring with him in San Francisco in 1874 when he began his affair with Lottie D'Aste. Henry Chance Newton described Tudor as "a dashing artiste, far cleverer than Harry."[8]
  3. ^ Although Noni Maas and Madge Pearce were the nominal co-owners of Madame Irene's Salon, it was basically run by Pearce. She was an Australian businesswoman and social climber who had spent several years in New York City, working first as a society publicist and then for the self-styled "world-famous corsetiere", Madame Irene on Fifth Avenue. Pearce returned to Australia in 1915 to become the sales agent for Madame Irene.[13][14]


  1. ^ a b c s.n. (8 October 1922). "Late Mrs. Harry Rickards". Sunday Times, p. 31. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Hackett, Kathleen (2012). "Rickards, Kate". Dictionary of Sydney. Dictionary of Sydney Trust. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  3. ^ s.n. (19 September 1922). "Mrs. H. Rickards, Death at Sea, Her Stage Career". Evening News, p. 6. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  4. ^ Quoted in Hackett (2012).
  5. ^ a b c d Baker, Richard Anthony (2014). British Music Hall: An Illustrated History, p. 112. Pen and Sword. ISBN 1473837189
  6. ^ Burrows, Edwin G. and Wallace, Mike (1998). Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. p. 1141. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199729107
  7. ^ s.n. (5 October 1888). "The Harry Rickards Comedy Company". Wagga Wagga Advertiser, p. 2. Retrieved 12 October 2019.
  8. ^ Newton, Henry Chance (1975). Idols of the "Halls", p. 39. EP Pubublications. ISBN 0715810472 (originally published in 1928 by Heath Cranton Ltd.)
  9. ^ s.n. (21 January 1887). "Mechanics Institute". The Star, p. 4. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  10. ^ a b s.n. (6 February 1923). "Rickards' Reminiscences, Stars of Vaudeville, Climbed Together". The Sun, p. 6. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  11. ^ Hutchison, Noel S. (1990). "White, James (1861–1918)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  12. ^ a b s.n. (17 August 1919). "Mrs. Rickards Returns". The Sunday Times, p. 15. Retrieved 12 October 2019.
  13. ^ s.n. (15 April 1915). "Fascinating Women". The Sunday Times, p. 6. Retrieved 12 October 2019.
  14. ^ s.n. (30 September 1917). "A Message From One of Sydney's Prominent Business Women". The Sun, p. 15. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  15. ^ a b Van Straten, Frank (2004). Huge Deal: The Fortunes and Follies of Hugh D. McIntosh, pp. 6465. Lothian Books. ISBN 0734406800
  16. ^ s.n. (25 March 1921). "Death of Mrs. Maas". The Sydney Morning Herald, p. 6. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  17. ^ s.n. (15 September 1892). "Theatrical Gossip" Melbourne Punch, p. 7. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  18. ^ s.n. (3 September 1909). "Social Items". The Northern Miner, p. 6. Retrieved 12 October 2019.
  19. ^ s.n. (23 February 1901). "The Misses Noni and Madge Rickards". The Arena, p. 14. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  20. ^ The National Archives (United Kingdom) (1920). Divorce Court File: 2709. Appellant: Madge Adelaide Rickards Leete Gibbs. Respondent: Joseph Gibbs. Retrieved 12 October 2019.
  21. ^ s.n. (20 February 1923). "Wedding". Narrandera Argus, p. 2. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  22. ^ a b s.n. (31 January 1923). "Late Mrs. Kate Rickards. Estate Valued at £29,460". Brisbane Courier, p. 12. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  23. ^ Isaacs, Keith (1993). "Broadbent, Harry Frank (Jim) (1910–1958)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  24. ^ s.n. (28 May 1914). "Late Harry Rickards' Estate". The Examiner, p. 6. Retrieved 9 October 2019.

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