On 20 May 1912, the North German Lloyd (NDL) steamer Seydlitz arrived in the Western Australian port of Fremantle from Bremen via the ports of Southampton, Genoa, Naples and Colombo.
Aboard the ship were 23-year-old manager Mrs Poldi Lang and her 2-year-old daughter Mina Lang. They had boarded the ship at Genoa. Poldi, or Leopoldine, was the Austrian wife of the Chinese-born acrobat later known as Jack Sam Long (or Lang), and Mina was the couple’s daughter.
Also aboard the Seydlitz were five Chinese “artists” – 47-year-old Yao Foy [sic], 26-year-old Chang One You [sic], and 16-year-old Yon Wing [sic] who had boarded the vessel in Southampton, together with 28-year-old Chang Se Ney [sic] and 34-year-old Young Loi Li [sic] who had also joined the ship in Genoa.
On Friday 24 May 1912, several Western Australian newspapers were advertising”
‘Direct from England, per s.s. Seydlitz, THE PECHILLI Troupe of Chinese Acrobats and Jongleurs, SENSATIONAL SLIDE FOR LIFE, From Gallery to Stage,…’
The Troupe were engaged to perform as part of the Brennan-Fuller Vaudeville Company and performed at the following venues:
- Tuesday 28 May to Thursday 13 June 1912 – Perth, Western Australia (His Majesty’s Theatre)
Following the end of their show at His Majesty’s Theatre, a number of members of the Brennan-Fuller Vaudeville Company headed to the eastern goldfields to perform shows in Kalgoorlie and Boulder. However, the Pechillis did not join them and were not featured on the programs for those cities. Instead, the Pechillis boarded the NDL liner Roon in Fremantle, together with fellow Brennan-Fuller comedy duo, Joe and Ettie Waldron aka “The Waldrons.”
The Roon had arrived in Fremantle on 17 June and departed for Melbourne via Adelaide shortly after midday the following day, 18 June. The ship arrived late into Melbourne on Tuesday 25 June owing to bad weather and being unable to land her cargo in Adelaide on the Sunday of her arrival. As a result the Troupe missed their advertised opening in Melbourne on the Monday night, 24 June, and their performances were rescheduled to begin the following Saturday.
- Saturday 29 June to Friday 12 July 1912 – Melbourne, Victoria (New National Amphitheatre)
After Melbourne they may have taken the inland train to Brisbane for their next engagement.
- Saturday 20 July 1912 to Friday 26 July – Brisbane, Queensland (Theatre Royal)
Again, the Troupe probably trained from Brisbane to Sydney.
- Monday 29 July to Tuesday 13 August 1912 – Sydney, New South Wales (National Amphitheatre)
On Wednesday 14 August, the day following the completion of their Sydney season, the troupe caught the Huddart Parker steamer Wimmera and sailed for Auckland where they arrived in the evening of 18 August. Upon the ship’s arrival the troupe were not permitted to disembark until the Brennan-Fuller Management had paid a £1500 bond. The troupe also had their fingerprints taken.
The New Zealand leg of their tour took in four venues in four cities:
- Monday 19 August to Saturday 24 August 1912 – Auckland, New Zealand (Opera House)
- Monday 26 August to Saturday 31 August 1912 – Wellington, New Zealand (Theatre Royal)
- Monday 2 September to Saturday 7 September 1912 – Christchurch, New Zealand (Opera House)
- Monday 9 September to Saturday 14 September 1912 – Dunedin, New Zealand (King’s Theatre)
Some good press was also received following their Wellington performance:
Without any invidious disrespect to the very capable band of vaudeville artists who helped to entertain the huge audience at the Theatre Royal last evening honours of a notable triumph must be awarded the Pechilli troupe. Expectations had been raised high by preliminary announcements, and shortly after the curtain went up for the beginning of the evening’s performance hardly another individual could have been packed in the auditorium. Among the people who came to see the Pechillis were Sir Joseph Ward and party. Expectations were not disappointed. The Pechillis proved themselves exceedingly clever artists in the peculiarly neat and nonchalant style of Oriental stage deportment. The turn opened in an environment of the Flowery Land, sunny village pagoda and the other characteristic of Chinese scenery. The performers —five in number — clad in Chinese costume of blue silk, entered, and the business began. The first of a series of acts of varied interest carried out with despatch was the evolution of a Chinese seven-tier lantern from the debris of a fire-eating feat, in which the senior member of the troupe breathed out smoke and sparks like a Chinese dragon. The item was applauded. Then followed a few adroit samples of sleight of hand of a somewhat conventional order. An admirable piece of juggling succeeded, the artist whirling a heavy trident in an easy inimitable manner, making it pass over his shoulders and back with amazing dexterity. One of the best acts of an excellent turn was that of the youngest member of the troupe, a little girl, who, from an intentionally ill-balanced trestle, bent backward and downward until she picked up in her teeth a bowl of water on the table some three feet below. Having drank the water in this position she recovered the normal perpendicular. It was quite the best piece of contortion ever seen at the Theatre Royal. The same little lady capped this achievement by spinning a couple of plates on the end of slim bamboo rods in all manner of difficult positions. Her performance was quite the most artistic of a splendid series. The party crowded much more into their brief space of time on the stage. There was some thrilling throwing of knives, in which the little girl took part as the target, round which the knives landed. Then the knive-thrower himself dived through a circular che vaux de fris of more knives. The pigtail — now being discarded in Republican China— gave opportunity for the remaining exploits. Two of the troupe, suspended by their long locks from a rope, wrestled in mid-air, and the whole turn culminated in “The Slide to Death,” when one of the pair roped himself by his single tress to a pulley and swung down from the promenade right across the circle and auditorium to the stage, waving the Union Jack and the four-coloured Republican Flag of China. It was a fitting end to a great performance.
Evening Post, Volume LXXXIV, Issue 50, 27 August 1912, Page 2
Unfortunately, whilst at Dunedin there was some reported disturbance amongst members of the troupe, in particular between a Cantonese member and a Pechilli. Amongst others the following newspaper report threw a shadow on the troupe and their highly successful public performances:
PROVIDE FREE COMEDY
WITH A DASH OF TRAGEDY.
The royal entertainers to the Emperor of China when China was not a Republic, who have been somersaulting sensationally, conjuring, and so on for a week in Dunedin, left this morning by the first express for lnvercargill, and as their train moved southward the management of the King’s Theatre was left in gladness and gratitude over the departure of a yellow peril to the profession. As a matter of fact, one of the- troupe—a boy—had to be forcibly kept from knifing another member of the party of “world-famous Chinese gymnasts and acrobats.”
It seems that among themselves the quintet were what is described as “a hot lot.” Trouble has been with them for some time, owing to the fact, so it is said, that one member of the band was of a nature reserved and gentlemanly. He is a Cantonese, and does not fraternise with Pechillis. In a word, there has been something of a feud between North and South. Though the friction between the Canton conjurer and two of the Pechilli acrobats, including the man who featured the slide to death act, had a comic side to onlookers, there was a dash of tragedy always in the background, and ever threatening to come to the front.
In Act 1., as far as Dunedin is concerned, the plot, so spectators say, was revealed at the close of their performance on Saturday night. It is understood that at the lowering of the lights one of the Pechillis was to rush at the boy and prick him with a knife in the leg, the blame to be thrust on the innocent Canton conjurer. After that the other Pechilli, in a frenzy of indignation at the ”cowardly attack,” was to rise up in honorable anger and smite “with a club” the Canton man. Fortunately, however, the stage hands had had their suspicions aroused, and were on the look-out for serious trouble. When they heard the Chinamen jabbering as the lights were lowered, they rushed in among the Celestials, and frustrated the carrying out of the plot. Force had to be used, one attendant effectively butting with his head the man who was to make the first movement. The act ended in disappointment for the principals. One night elapsed between Act I. and Act 11.
The second act lasted all day yesterday, and was a period of anxiety to the Cantonese. He was so scared that he had to be escorted all day by two attendants. In the morning the troupe were at the theatre, and the Pechillis were so troublesome that in order to prevent a serious outbreak officials drove them out. For the remainder of the day they had to be watched closely. Thus the second act was as the first–unsatisfactory to the principals.
There was a bit of comedv at the beginning of the third act this morning. The Pechillis had vowed that they would not leave in the morning, the boy threatening to run away. In view of the threats, Mr Barrington Waters arranged with the police to have standing by the railway station a sergeant. Early this morning it was found that the stubborn North Chinamen were not enthusiastic over getting out of bed. They refused to dress. As time passed it became apparent that they would have to be dealt with like suffragettes. A policeman was called, and at his appearance the adults yielded and put on their clothes. The boy, however, was made of sterner stuff. Eventually he was attired, Mr Waters and the constable forcibly performing the robing, and when the party set out for the railway station the boy ran away. He was soon overtaken, and thrust into an express with his mates. The short journey to the train was a picnic, two attendants holding the youngster down, while the adult Chinamen gesticulated vehemently.
On arrival at the station it was discovered that the boy had in his possession an open penknife. Though he was watched attentively, he tried to stab the Cantonese, at whom he rushed crying “I stab you.” Mr Waters and an attendant seized the frenzied lad and thrust him into a carriage.
The stage manager accompanied the troupe to the Bluff, where they will obtain their clearing papers from the Collector of Customs and ship for Melbourne.
Aliens are clever performers as a rule but they are a source of endless trouble to theatrical folk.
Evening Star, Issue 14982, 16 September 1912, Page 5
On the morning of Monday 16 September the troupe caught the first express train from Dunedin to Invercargill. At the port of Bluff, they caught the steamer Moeraki for Melbourne via Hobart departing at 7am on Tuesday 17 September.
The Moeraki arrived at Melbourne on Sunday 22 September 1912.
From Melbourne the Troupe probably took the express train to Adelaide for their next engagement.
- Saturday 28 September to Monday 7 October 1912 – Adelaide, South Australia (King’s Theatre)
The Pechillis made their final appearance in Adelaide (and in Australia) on the night of Monday 7 October 1912.
Poldi, Mina and the five members of the Pechilli troupe were passengers aboard the Scharnhorst from Outer Harbour, Adelaide to Genoa, Italy, departing on Tuesday 8 October 1912.