The Case of the Mistaken Tweedlepunches

Have you seen this captivating image on a recent visit to the library and wondered who it might be showing off a decapitated head so nonchalantly? Well you wouldn’t be the only one. Recently I received a query from a member of the public about who this mysterious gentleman might be. They had an ancestor whose photograph they had in a similar costume striking a similar pose - head on a stick and all. They were wondering if our man might too be him.

I was quite excited at first. Identifying people in photographs can be incredibly frustrating and ultimately fruitless but sometimes with a bit of lateral thinking and perseverance you might discover the character – especially in such a richly interesting photograph like this. With this in mind I was pretty disappointed when I discovered that we had already identified the gentleman on our website as amateur actor George Lauri playing the character Anothony Tweedlepunch in Edwardian musical comedy Florodora.

‘Oh well’ I thought to myself ‘Might as well dig up some information on the fellow in Trove (digitised newspapers). Much to my horror (and I’ll be honest there was a little bit of that awful fascination) Mr George Lauri, professional actor and comedian, died graphically, tragically by his own hand (literally) in 1909. I found the report of the inquest printed in the newspaper in alarmingly graphic detail.

Now obviously the fellow did not magically rise from the dead to appear in a production of Florodora put on by Brisbane Amateur Operatic Society (BOAS) in 1916 but could we have gotten the date wrong? Or been given the wrong information about the photograph?

Well I don’t believe we got the date wrong, I think we got the person wrong. You see BOAS did put on a production of Floradora in 1916 on the date the photograph is said to be taken. It is very rare that information is that accurately mistaken.

We could have received the photograph with only the name and connected him with the BOAS production in some other way but I think it more likely that the subject of the photograph is actually George Webster - actually an amateur actor. George Lauri, however, was in the newspaper every other day in the years leading up to his death – for his prolific career and talking about the rigors of fame. He was not comfortable with his career as a comedian and obviously struggled with severe mental illness – but he wasn’t an amateur.

I also found this photograph of Mr Lauri as Tweedlepunch in the newspaper and while the quality of the two images do not compare, I do believe they are not the same gentleman.

Despite the fact that it turned out the person in the picture was neither George Lauri nor the client's ancestor they were not disappointed. They learned more about the performance their ancestor was pictured in and while I could find no information on him they still shared this wonderful photograph with me. With their permission I share it with you.

'Jacob Adolphus Zachariah 'Dolph' performing Anthony Tweedlepunch in Florodora in 1921 (photograph supplied by Phil Zachariah)'

Reading between the lines, Lauri’s Tweedlpunch was seminal for the creation of this character. This article refers to someone taking ‘George Lauri’s old part of Anthony Tweedlepunch’ in 1931 – some 20 years after the Actor’s death. This article (also pictured above), though worded very ambiguously, is maybe where the photograph got its information in the first place. It suggests that George Webster is playing George Lauri’s version of Anthony Tweedlepunch.

And with that I will put the case of the mistaken Tweedlepunches to bed. It has been a wild research adventure – from opening number to final curtain call.

Also it's not a decapitated head – Professor Anthony Tweedlepunch is a phrenologist!

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