MS 309
Papers of the Tait Family

Scope and Content

  • Papers
  • 1908-66
  • 1.12m (8 boxes)
  • Available for reference

This collection comprises photocopies of original material in the possession of Lady Tait. Further material belonging to Lady Tait was photocopied and has been included in the Library's J.C. Williamson (MS 5783), as it relates to the early years of operation of J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd.

The papers consist predominantly of correspondence between the Tait brothers, John, Nevin, Ted and Frank relating to their activites as theatrical entrepreneurs and, in particular, their work as directors of J.C. Williamson Ltd. There is also some personal correspondence of Sir Frank and Lady Tait. Scattered throughout the correspondence are typed extracts from letters that presumably were prepared by Lady Tait when writing her book on the Tait brothers, A Family of Brothers (Heinemann, 1971). Lady Tait's manuscript of the book is also included. In addition, there are some financial documents relating to the Tait Family and newspaper clipping about J.C. Williamson theatre productions and the Tait family. Other miscellaneous items relate to J.C. Williamson productions and include two cue cards and a table cloth embroidered with signatures from the production of The Runaway Girl.

Biographical Note

The Tait brothers, Charles (b.1868), John (b.1871), James Nevin (b. 1876), Edward (b.1878) and Frank (b.1883), were born in Castlemaine, Victoria, the sons of John T. Tait, a Scot who migrated to Australia in the 1860s. As directors of J.C. Williamson Ltd, they dominated and influenced the Australian theatrical and entertainment world for many years.


 Charles employed by Allan's Music Warehouse.


 Ted commenced work for J.C. Williamson, then managed by George Tallis.


 John and Nevin formed J. & N. Tait, to be later joined by the youngest brother Frank. The firm promoted concerts with artists whom Charles met through his job at the music shop.


 J. & N. Tait made the film "The Kelly Gang" and, along with Millard Johnson and William Gibson, formed Amalgamated Pictures Ltd. Their success caused some dissension between Ted and J.C. Williamson's Board.


 After failing to secure an associate directorship, Ted resigned from J.C.W. and joined his brothers.


 Nevin travelled to London to direct the new London office.


 Financial difficulties prompted a merger of J. & N. Tait, Electric Theatres and J.C. Williamson Film Company.


 Tallis persuaded the Board that they should establish an office in London.

Late 1920s

The Firm started to have financial difficulties.


 Nevin became sole managing director of London office.


 Sir George Tallis retired as Chairman.


 Charles Tait died.


 Tallis and Allen sold their 200000 shares to Sir John McKenzie who became chairman of J.C. Williamson. McKenzie owned a chain of stores in New Zealand.

 Ernest C. Rolls was appointed to the board and made managing director and principal producer as a stipulation of the sale of shares by Tallis and Allen to John McKenzie.


 Australian and New Zealand Theatres was formed to run the theatre side of the business. Frank Tait was appointed to the Board.

 J.C. Williamson Ltd was made solely a property and investment company. John, Ted and Frank Tait continued as managing directors of J.C. Williamson Ltd while Nevin Tait continued as the London representative of both companies. Frank had suggested that he, Ted and John should manage Australia and New Zealand Theatres until it was established, but his suggestion was rejected.


 Viola Wilson approached by Nevin Tait to sing as principal soprano in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas in Australia and New Zealand for 1940.

 Rolls travelled overseas to choose shows and artists.

 Australian and New Zealand Theatres suffered considerable losses.


 Frank married Viola Wilson.


 Australian and New Zealand Theatres Limited was re-registered as J.C Williamson Theatres Limited and became a subsidiary of J.C. Williamson Limited.

 It was decided that John, Ted and Frank should continue controlling J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd, with one of them to be appointed annually as chairman. Nevin was to remain managing director in London.


 Ted's health deteriorated and he became ill after a trip overseas to buy new productions. He died on 12 July 1947, aged 69. After Ted's death the Tait brothers thought it necessary to look for younger men to take on the greater burdens of the business. The problem of succession was to continue for some time, without resolution.


 EDMAS was formed (Education in Music and Dramatic Arts Society) to assist in promotion of ballet and opera. J.C. Williamson placed all their resources at the disposal of the Society. Nevin was responsible for forming the opera company and spent six months in Italy in search of talent.

 Nevin engaged 25 artists for the J.C. Williamson Italian Grand Opera season.

 Nevin returned to Australia for the first time in 20 years.

c. 1950

 Sir John McKenzie formed an investment company Rangatira Pty Ltd as a staff provident fund of 48000 shares. Half of the shares of J.C. Williamson Ltd were owned by Tarag Pty Ltd, which was owned by Rangatira Pty Ltd.


 John Tait went overseas to buy new shows.


 John was still actively writing to the New Zealand Directors about the threat of television.

 Nevin undertook assembly of another Italian Grand Opera company.

 The Firm lost heavily on the production of 'Coppelia' and Frank became concerned that the Borovansky Australian Ballet Company could not survive unless subsidised. He met and discussed with Dr Coombs, then Chairman of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust, the possibility of establishing a ballet foundation trust.


 Nevin returned to London after the Italian opera season finished.


 John Tait died on 23 September after a short illness.


 John McCallum accepted a position as assistant managing director to Frank.


 The Australian Ballet Foundation was formed and Frank was appointed chairman.

Nevin died on 7 March.


 Frank died on 23 August.

For further information, refer to:
Tait, Lady (Viola). A Family of Brothers: the Taits and J. C. Williamson a theatre history. Melbourne, Heinemann, 1971.

Box List


Box 1


1          Business and general correspondence,  1908,    
2          Business and general correspondence, 1920,     
           1924,  1926,  1927-29                          
3          Business and general correspondence,  1931-33  
4          Business and general correspondence,  1934-36  
5          Business and general correspondence,  1937-39  
6          Correspondence and press clippings regarding   
           Ernest Charles Rolls,  1920,  1926,  1931-38   
7          Business and general correspondence,  1940-41  
8          Business and general correspondence,  1942     
9          Business and general correspondence,  1943     

Box 2


10-12  Business and general correspondence,  1944     
13     Business and correspondence regarding Service  
       Contract  February to August,  1944            
14     Business and general correspondence,  1945,    
15     Business and general correspondence,  1951-54  
16     Business and general correspondence,  1955     
17     Business and general correspondence,  1956-58  

Box 3


18    Personal letters of J. Nevin Tait,  1945-50         
19    Personal letters to J. Nevin Tait,  1946-50         

Box 4


20    Letters to Rangatira Pty Ltd (Wellington),  1949-50    
21    Letters from Director's, Melbourne to Directors,       
      Rangatira, Wellington,  1954                           

Box 5


22    Letters to Rangatira Directors, New Zealand,        

Business Documents

Box 6


23    Weekly summary J& N Tait's Attractions,  1918       
24-29 Performance contracts,  1910-54                     

Family Papers of Sir Frank Tait

Box 7


30    Balance sheet and profit and loss account for year  
      ended 30th June 1954, J.C.Williamson Limited        
31    Income and Balance Sheets, Frank S. Tait,  Iris O.  
      Tait,  Peggy E. Tait,  Joan I. Tait                 
32    List of Shares and debentures, F. S Tait and        
      family,  1950's                                     
33    Deed between Lady Tait and Sir Frank Tait, G. E     
      Barker, C.G Hooper (Trustees) re: Sally Wilson      
      Tait dated 30th June 1967,   Balance Sheet          
      Kurrajong Assets Pty Ltd 1967 and Profit and Loss   
      Account Fransom Investments Proprietary Limited,    
34    Inventory and Probate Valuation of furnishings of   
      Sir Frank Tait,  1967                               

Box 8


35    Personal correspondence of Sir Frank Tait, 1960-63,  
36    Correspondence with Yehudi Menuhin and family and   
      newspaper clippings, 1935-69                         
37    Personal correspondence of Lady Tait, 1963-70,       
      1989, 1990                                           
38    Correspondence of Lady Tait regarding the Royal      
      Academy of Dancing 1957-63.  Includes                
      correspondence with Dame Margot Fonteyn             
39    Correspondence relating to death of Sir Frank Tait  
40    Draft manuscript of A Family of Brothers             

Miscellaneous Papers


41    Press clippings re Theatre productions and Tait     
42    Cue cards for production of 'You're in Love',       
      tablecloth with embroidered signatures relating to  
      the production 'The Runaway Girl'