Nellie Stewart (1858-1931) is arguably the most popular Australian actress of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
She made her debut in what became her signature role of Nell Gwynne in the stage production of Sweet Nell of Old Drury in 1902. Stewart revived the role on several occasions, including in the lost 1911 silent film by Raymond Longford.
On 24 March 1931, Stewart and others recorded extracts from Sweet Nell of Old Drury for Columbia Graphophone Company at their studio in Homebush, Sydney. These recordings were released on two 78s, with the first record (DO346) featuring Nell Gwynne’s entrance in Act 1, and the Finale from Act 4.
Featured actors include Nellie Stewart as Nell, Nancye Stewart (Nellie’s daughter) as Lady Olivia, and Mayne Lynton (Nancye’s husband) as Charles II.
In the play, Judge Jeffries tries to persuade Lady Olivia Vernon, his ward, to marry Lord Rochester, but she refuses due to her love for Sir Robert Fairfax. Rochester calls guards to arrest Fairfax and he runs away, meeting with Nell Gwynne, the orange seller, who helps him escape thanks to her skills in mimicry.
The recordings have been described as reflecting the ‘emphatic, sometimes sentimental, performance style of the early 1900s’, and offer a unique opportunity to hear an Australian star of the stage and screen in her only known set of recordings.