The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Coppin, Hon. George Selth

Coppin, Hon. George Selth, M.L.C., son of a Norwich surgeon, who took to the stage, was born on April 8th, 1819, at Steyning, Sussex. Adopting the stage as his profession, when thrown on his own resources as a mere boy, he played in various provincial towns and villages in England, and emigrated to Sydney, arriving on March 10th, 1843. For some time Mr. Coppin led a wandering life between Sydney and the two chief towns of Tasmania. It was in Launceston that he first organised his own theatrical company, which included the names of artistes destined to gain almost world-wide fame. Among these were Mr. Charles Young, for many years the leading comedian of Australia, and his wife, a most powerful actress, better known in later life in England as Mrs. Hermann Vezin; several members of the gifted Howson family; and that prince of character-actors, the late Mr. G. H. Rogers. With this capable band of performers Mr. Coppin crossed Bass's Straits in the schooner Swan, and, undertaking the management of the Queen's Theatre, Melbourne, practically laid the foundations of the drama in Port Phillip (1845). In 1852 he became manager of the Geelong theatre, and in 1854 visited England, where he entered into his historic engagement with the famous tragedian, G. V. Brooke. With the energy that has always characterised him, Mr. Coppin returned to Australia, taking out with him not only G. V. Brooke and a company, but also an iron theatre, which he erected in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, and named the Olympic. Mr. Coppin returned to Melbourne on Dec. 18th, 1854, and from that year to 1859 he and Brooke were in partnership. Through over-speculation in the purchase of the Theatre Royal, and the laying-out of Cremorne Gardens, the partnership ended in financial ruin; but it was during those five years that the successful and unsuccessful diggers, and all that early class of restless and eager pioneer colonists of Victoria, saw in the tragedy and high comedy of Brooke, and the irresistible broad humour of Coppin, perhaps the most memorable performances in the annals of the Australian stage. Mr. Coppin next visited America with the late Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kean. Before this, in 1858, he had been elected to the Legislative Council for the South-Western Province; but resigned his seat on leaving the colony. On his return to Melbourne he again assumed the management of the Theatre Royal; but the building, which was uninsured, was almost immediately burnt down. He, however, rebuilt it in 1872, and from that time his career has been one of ever-increasing prosperity. Mr. Coppin claims to have built no less than six theatres in the Australian colonies, and to have introduced two hundred artistes, some, like Brooke and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kean, of the highest dramatic excellence. His own name is a household word in Australia as the representative of certain characters in broad comedy, of which Tony Lumpkin and Bob Acres are types. But he is hardly less well known as a man of business and a politician. In 1874 he was returned for the important metropolitan constituency of East Melbourne; and he has left his mark on the statute-book as the founder of the Post Office Savings Bank. Mr. Coppin is also the founder of the Old Colonists' Association, the Victorian Humane Society, the Dramatic and Musical Association, and has been for years a Director of the Commercial Bank, as well as of innumerable financial companies. In conjunction with Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, he practically made the fashionable watering-place of Sorrento; and Mr. Coppin further claims to have introduced the camel and the English thrush into the colonies. He sat for East Melbourne until 1889, when he was defeated, and in August of that year entered the Upper House for Melbourne province.