COPPIN, George Selth (1819-1906)


COPPIN, George Selth (1819-1906)
actor and politician
was born at Steyning, Sussex, England, on 8 April 1819. His grandfather had been a well-known clergyman at Norwich. His father, George Selth Coppin (1794-1854), qualified for the medical profession but gave this up to go on the stage. His mother was formerly Elizabeth Jane Jackson. George Coppin, he seldom used his second name, became an assistant in his father's company. At the age of 18 he had an engagement at the Woolwich theatre, and soon afterwards was playing at Richmond, where he became low comedian at a salary of twenty-five shillings a week. He next obtained an engagement at the Queen's Theatre, London, and in subsequent years played as first low comedian in the provinces and at Dublin, where he had a long engagement. He sailed for Australia towards the end of 1842 and arrived at Sydney on 10 March 1843. After a successful season he took a hotel but, being quite inexperienced, lost his money and went to Tasmania. At Launceston he formed a company and in June 1845 took it to Melbourne and opened at the Queen's Theatre, recently built by John Thomas Smith (q.v.). Next year he went to Adelaide, built the Queen's Theatre in a few weeks, and on 2 November 1846 began his season with The King and the Comedian, Coppin playing the part of Stolbach (the comedian). He subsequently played a variety of parts including Sir Peter Teazle, Jacques Strop in Robert Macaire, Jemmy Twitcher in The Golden Farmer, Don Caesar in Don Caesar de Bazan and many others in quite forgotten plays. In 1848, having had heavy losses in copper-mining, he left Adelaide and returned to Victoria. He tried his fortunes as a gold-digger without success, began playing at Geelong, and in 1854 visited England where he acted in the provinces. There he met G. V. Brooke (q.v.), engaged a company, and returned to Australia bringing with them an iron theatre in sections. Brooke was to establish a great reputation in Australia. In July 1855 Coppin was playing Colonel Damas with him in The Lady of Lyons, and about this time they became partners. They bought the Theatre Royal and the Cremorne Gardens and spent £60,000 on them. The partnership was dissolved in 1859 and Coppin, having become security for a large sum in connexion with the Melbourne and Suburban railway, was in financial difficulties again. The line was sold and he became freed from his liability. In 1862 he built the Haymarket Theatre on the south side of Bourke-street, and in 1863 Mr and Mrs Charles Kean played a season there.
Some time before this Coppin began to take an interest in public affairs. He became a councillor in the Richmond municipality, and in 1858 was elected for the south-western province in the legislative council for a term of five years. In 1859 he brought in a transfer of property bill which was passed in the council and rejected in the assembly. Three years later it became law, James Service (q.v.) taking charge of it in the assembly, and Coppin in the council. This measure, often referred to as the "Torrens Act", has proved to be a very valuable one. In 1864 Coppin again lost his money and went to the United States. At a farewell dinner he was presented with a cheque for £300 and was given a public reception when he returned in 1866. He joined Messrs Harwood, Stewart and Hennings in the management of the Theatre Royal, and, although they lost heavily at times, Coppin's record from this point is one of increasing prosperity. He was elected to the legislative assembly in 1874 and did good work, one of his measures established post office savings banks. He opposed the payment of members of parliament, and when it was passed gave his salary to charities. He retired from theatrical management on 28 June 1882, but remained a member of the legislative assembly until 1889 when he lost his seat. Soon after he was elected as member for Melbourne Province in the legislative council for a term of five years. He took an interest in the development of Sorrento where he had a seaside home, and kept up his connexion with the Old Colonists' Association (which he had founded), the Humane Society, Gordon house and other institutions. When managing the Cremorne Gardens he had brought out the first balloon to ascend in Melbourne, and was responsible for the acclimatization of English thrushes and white swans. He was also the first to suggest the value of camels for the interior. He died early in the morning of 14 March 1906 having very nearly completed his eighty-seventh year. He was married twice, (1) in 1855 to Harriet Bray, (2) in 1861 to Lucy Hilsden, who survived him with several children.
Coppin first made his reputation as an actor but, after he had been a few years in Australia, management took up an increasing amount of his time. He was a comedian pure and simple, who excelled in parts like Paul Pry, Bob Acres, and Lancelot Gobbo. Among his other portrayals were Aminadab Sleek in The Serious Family, Mawworm in The Hypocrite and Tony Lumpkin. James Smith (q.v.), a critic of his time, spoke of his success in presenting "the ponderous stolidity and impenetrable stupidity of certain types of humanity—the voice, the gait, the movements, the expression of the actor's features, were all in perfect harmony with the mental and moral idiosyncrasies of the person he represented, so that the man himself stood before you a living reality".
Coppin was a man of great courage, over and over again he was in money difficulties, but nothing could keep him down, and he had a pleasing habit of calling his creditors together and paying them 20 shillings in the pound. He was generous in his charities, and there can have been few instances of a man so successfully combining the roles of actor and manager, legislator, and public-spirited citizen. A bronze plaque to his memory was unveiled at the Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, on 26 March 1939. He is there described as "Philanthropist and Father of the Theatre in Victoria".
Men of the Time in Australia; The Argus, 14 March 1906; The Age, 14 March 1906; Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903; Burke's Colonial Gentry; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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  • George Selth Coppin — (8 April 1819 – 14 March 1906) was a comic actor and politician, active in Australia.Early lifeCoppin was born at Steyning, Sussex, England, son of George Selth Coppin (1794 1854) and Elizabeth Jane, née Jackson. His grandfather had been a well… …   Wikipedia

  • Coppin — /ˈkɒpən/ (say kopuhn) noun George Selth, 1819–1906, Australian actor and politician, born in England …   Australian English dictionary

  • Coppin — may refer to; People Fanny Jackson Coppin (1837 1913) an African American educator and missionary. George Selth Coppin (1819 1906) an actor and politician. Jean Coppin (c.1615 c.1690) a French traveller and professional soldier. Johnny Coppin an… …   Wikipedia

  • 1906 in Australia — Infobox Australian year year = 1906 monarch = Edward VII governor general = Henry Northcote, 1st Baron Northcote pm = Alfred Deakin population = 4,059,083 australian = elections = Federal, South Australia, Tasmania See also: 1905 in Australia,… …   Wikipedia


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