Stewart, Nellie (1858–1931)

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Stewart, Nellie (1858–1931)

Australian singer and actress. Name variations: Eleanor Stewart Towzey. Born Eleanor Stewart Towzey on November 22, 1858, in Wolloomooloo, Sydney, Australia; died on June 20, 1931, in Sydney; daughter of Richard Towzey (an actor who changed his last name to Stewart) and Theodosia Stewart (an actress); educated at a boarding school; married Richard Goldsborough Row in Sydney, in 1884 (divorced); lived with George Musgrove until his death in 1916; children: (with Musgrove) daughter Nancye.

Selected performances:

Marguerite in Faust (1888); Nell Gwynn in Sweet Nell of Old Drury (1902); Paul Jones (1889); Blue-Eyed Susan (1892); Sweet Kitty Bellairs (1909); What Every Woman Knows (1910).

Nellie Stewart was born Eleanor Stewart Towzey into a theatrical family in Sydney, Australia, on November 22, 1858, the daughter of actors Richard Towzey and Theodosia Stewart . She made her acting debut at age five with her father in The Stranger at the Haymarket in Melbourne. Stewart received some formal education in a boarding school, but also traveled extensively with her parents during her childhood, touring with Rainbow Revels, written for them by Garnet Walch. In 1881, she played the principal boy in George Coppin's Sinbad the Sailor, and was discovered by George Musgrove. After a successful run as the drummer boy in La Fille du Tambour Major, Stewart was cast in leading roles for the Royal Comic Opera Company, formed by J.C. Williamson, A. Garner, and Musgrove. Her talent for both dramatic and comic opera provided an international career for Stewart, who appeared on stage in Australia, New Zealand, England, and the United States.

She married Richard Goldsborough Row in 1884, but the marriage was short-lived and ended around the time Stewart left the Royal Comic Opera in 1887 to travel to England with Musgrove, with whom she lived until his death in 1916. After receiving training in acting and dancing, she returned to the Australian stage in productions directed by Musgrove. Australian audiences adored her in Gilbert and Sullivan roles, as well as her Marguerite in Faust. Her versatility as an actress led to an 80-show run in Blue-Eyed Susan at the Prince of Wales in London in 1891, but her biggest successes in England were the Drury Lane pantomimes of 1898 and 1899, where she played principal boy in The Forty Thieves and Jack in the Beanstalk.

By 1902, Stewart and Musgrove had returned to Australia, where her performance as Nell Gwynn in Sweet Nell of Old Drury became the role for which she is most famous. Although her singing career had ended, Stewart continued doing comedy and drama in Australia, New Zealand, and America. In 1911, she appeared in the film Sweet Nell, and later released recordings. After Musgrove died in 1916, she performed less but opened the Nellie Stewart School of Acting, where she spent the remainder of her life teaching. In 1923, she published My Life's Story.

Throughout her life, Stewart gave many benefit performances, especially for the Women's Hospital and the Sydney Hospital, where the children's ward is named in her honor. Nellie Stewart died on June 20, 1931.


Radi, Heather, ed. 200 Australian Women. NSW, Australia: Women's Redress Press, 1988.

Wilde, William H., Joy Hooton, and Barry Andrews. The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Karina L. Kerr , M.A., Ypsilanti, Michigan

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Stewart, Nellie (1858–1931)

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