CHAMBERS, Charles Haddon (1860-1921)

CHAMBERS, Charles Haddon (1860-1921)
was born at Sydney on 22 April 1860. His father, John Ritchie Chambers, who had a good position in the New South Wales civil service, came from Ulster, his mother, Frances, daughter of William Kellett, from Waterford. The boy was educated at the Petersham, Marrickville, and Fort-street schools, but found routine study irksome and showed no special promise. He entered the lands department at 15 but did not stay long. After a period in the outback he visited England in 1880, and on his return was in the managerial department of a theatrical company. He finally went to London in 1882. He had no friends and had to try a variety of occupations in order to make a bare living. In 1884 his first story was accepted, and other work appeared in popular magazines of the period. In 1886 a one-act play, One of Them, was acted in London and another curtain-raiser, The Open Gate, was played at the Comedy Theatre in 1887. His first real success was Captain Swift, which was produced by Beerbohm Tree at the Haymarket in the autumn of 1888. This had a good run and was played all over England, in America, and in Australia. He had another success with The Idler which was produced in 1890. His next three plays The Honourable Herbert, The Old Lady, and The Pipes of Peace did not please the public, but John-O-Dreams, first played in 1894. was successful. In 1899 his best play, The Tyranny of Tears, was produced by Wyndham and has since been frequently revived. Among his later plays Passers By and The Saving Grace are possibly the best. Chambers retained his interest in Australia and often spoke of returning but never did so. He died at London on 28 March 1921. He was twice married, and was survived by his second wife, originally Pepita Bobadilla, and a daughter of the first marriage.
Chambers as a young man looked even younger than he was. He had the wandering temperament, and everywhere he went he talked with his fellow-men, whatever their position in life might be. He carried with him a certain brightness and vivacity and an unfailing zest for life. His first successful play Captain Swift is stilted in its dialogue. Ibsen's influence on English drama had scarcely begun; but it had a sense of the theatre and played well. Chambers's diction was much improved in his later plays and The Tyranny of Tears is an excellent piece of controlled humour, with a shrewd and convincing study of a certain type of woman. Generally his good sense of character and stagecraft placed him at the head of the Australian dramatists born in the nineteenth century.
Chambers's brother, Harry Kellett Chambers, born at Sydney in 1867, was a pressman in Australia and London, but went to New York in 1891 and was the author of several plays, including A Case of Frenzied Finance, The Butterfly and Betsy.
The Times, 29 March 1921; The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 March 1921; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; Who's Who in the Theatre, 1925.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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