Harry Rayward: Ventriloquist

The next morning, Lillian’s head ached with a pounding throb, her back was stiff and every movement an effort; but her spirits lifted when a bouquet of flowers arrived.

‘Better if the Professor doesn’t see this.’ Ruby snatched the card before Lillian could stop her and read it aloud. ‘Mr Stiggins offers his sincere commiserations on hearing of your recent injury. He knows only too well the sensation of useless limbs.’ She frowned. ‘I don’t understand?’

‘It’s from Mr Rayward.’ Lillian held out her hand for the card. ‘Remember? Mr Stiggins is part of his ventriloquism act.’

‘Ugh. You mean that repulsive mannequin. It’s most peculiar, Lillian.’

Excerpt from Chapter 8, The Aerial Queen

Henry Hampton Rayward arrived in Melbourne, Australia in 1890 with his brother (Arthur Leslie Rayward) and half-brother Frederick Broad aboard the SS Ormuz from England. He’d trained as an engineer and found work as a draughtsman but he also performed on stage as a ventriloquist, a popular form of entertainment in the late 19th century.

These slightly creepy photographs are not Harry Rayward but a ventriloquist called Lieutenant Herman who toured New Zealand from 1877 – 1882.

Lieutenant Herman, Ventriloquist
Lieutenant Herman with his ventriloquist dummy. Ref: 1/4-006818-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23141495
Lieutenant Herman
Len Herman. Ref: 1/4-030687-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22684356

As a teaser for a concert at the Public Hall, Coburg on the 16th October 1893, The Coburg Leader published this item:

A fair Hebe in one of the Swanston Street hotels received a fright the other evening from rather an amusing cause. It appears that Mr H. H. Rayward, the well-known amateur ventriloquist, called to see “a man about a dog” at the hotel in question and left a somewhat mysterious box upon the counter for a few minutes. Hebe with her “Eve-like” curiosity opened the box sufficiently to see that it contained two heads. Visions of “Jack the Ripper” and Deeming floated through her mind, and shrieking loudly she soon attracted a large crowd, who were at a loss to discover the cause of the commotion, owing to Miss Hebe’s hysterical condition. However, becoming somewhat calmer the frightened lady pointed to the box. A “counsel of war” was held and a policeman called in, who said it was a clear case of double murder. He was just about to convey the gruesome objects to the city morgue when the ventriloquist returned and quietly explained the situation much to everyone’s amusement and Hebe’s discomfiture.

Not long after Leila Adair began her balloon ascents in New Zealand, Harry Rayward also arrived in Auckland as part of a show called ‘Humour, Art and Harmony’ which toured the Waikato region until June. The Waikato Times (10 May 1894) described his performance:

Waikato Times

Harry (reverting to his more formal name of Henry or Henri) settled in Christchurch, continuing with the theatrical entertainment and in 1895 married Isabella Spensley, a talented singer whose father owned a music store. In 1896, Henry Rayward became a patent attorney in the firm of Hughes, Rayward and Baldwin and around 1902 moved to Wellington with his wife and four children.

Baldwins 1906
Baldwin & Rayward 1906, Harry Rayward is seated 3rd from right. Photo permission from Baldwins Intellectual Property

About 1915, Henry left his family and went to Kobe, Japan for seven years where another four children were born. He married their mother, Rose Bagley, in Sydney in 1921 and lived at The Lookout, 2 Boyle St, Balgowlah until a few years before his death in 1944.

An obituary in the Manly Daily outlined his engineering career, his role in establishing the technical magazine Progress, the presidency of the New Zealand Art Society, and work as a Patent Attorney. His earlier bohemian life in Melbourne with the daredevil lady balloonist remained hidden from view.

2 thoughts on “Harry Rayward: Ventriloquist

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  1. Mr Rayward was rather a handsome chap. The latest North & South magazine has a review of a book called Ghost South Road, by Scott Hamilton, which mentions Leila Adair. The book is about the Great South Road between Auckland & the Waikato.

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