Notable People of Collingwood

Collingwood Notables Database

Maximilian Ludwig Kreitmayer


Councillor, mayor, waxworks proprietor, modeller

Personal Photo 1

Grandly named Maximilian Ludwig Kreitmayer was an extraordinary and talented fellow who ran a famous waxworks museum, lived in St Helier’s Street Abbotsford from 1880 until his death, and was a Collingwood councillor from 1887 (Mayor 92-93).  He was described in Our local men of the times as a convivial spirit possessing ‘never-tiring energy and fertile originality’. Among his intimate associates ‘his large-heartedness and pleasant ways made him a respected and conscientious friend’. 

Max, born in Munich, was intended for the medical profession in Germany but showed such talent in the field of anatomical modelling that he adopted it as his profession at the age of 18. In 1852 he went to Great Britain for further study. In London he executed microscopic models for the noted surgeon and pathologist Professor Paget of St Bartholomew’s Hospital and produced models of human anatomy for art students under Professor John Marshall of the University College hospital and the Royal Academy. In Glasgow he further honed his anatomical skills under Professor Thomson. 

In 1856, although newly married, he left alone for Australia, attracted by stories of gold. His wife Eliza, who had been conducting a ladies’ school in England with her sister Rosina, followed later, arriving early in 1858. The Kreitmayers spent some time on the Caledonian diggings (now St Andrews) where two children were born, but Max soon established a more lucrative occupation with a Grand Anatomical Museum which toured Victorian cities. This held around 200 models (the 1860 catalogue survives), which were praised for their accuracy. There were regular additions, and lectures were given by medical men. To observe the proprieties, one day per week was reserved for ladies, who were given lectures by Mrs Kreitmayer.

His next venture, in 1863, was a partnership with Philemon and Ellen Sohier, proprietors of Madame Sohier's Waxworks of Melbourne and Sydney. Kreitmayer managed the Sydney business. Where Eliza was during this period is not at all clear, but Kreitmayer took up with Emily Waite and three children were born in Sydney before the couple married in 1868. There is no record of Eliza’s death or a divorce, and in 1870 an Eliza Kreitmayer was conducting a ladies’ school in England where she died in 1906.  So might the marriage to Emily have been bigamous? It is of note that she often used her maiden surname on official documents. 

Kreitmayer returned to Melbourne and became sole proprietor of the Melbourne Waxworks in 1869.  An article in Table Talk claims that his wife Emily - ‘an energetic little lady of fragile form [and curly hair]’ - was the manager. She gave birth to two more children in Melbourne. Max also exhibited internationally, such as the Paris Exhibition and the Amsterdam International Exhibition, where he won a gold medal for his models in 1883. With an area of some 10,000 feet, the Melbourne Waxworks in Bourke Street was a Melbourne landmark for decades. From the 1880s it included vaudeville and music hall acts, human oddities, and live acts such as  Amphitrite the sea goddess.  In the Chamber of Horrors murderers were exhibited, and were very popular. One example was Thomas Dooley, who cut the throat of his wife and mother-in-law with a razor and battered in the head of an old man with an axe in Wellington Street Collingwood in 1895. (He was arrested the next day and swallowed arsenic).

These exhibits were always prefaced with expressions of righteous indignation and horror, but in reality pandered to the public’s fascination with the extraordinary and freakish. From time to time the newspapers would write scandalised articles about the debasement of human taste evinced by such spectacles.

In 1879 Emily, suffering from a lingering illness, died on 16 May at their Richmond home. Her will shows that all the waxworks figures and associated paraphernalia belonged to her; she bequeathed them to Max, leaving her money to be held in trust for her four surviving children. After her death, Kreitmayer rented a house in St Helier’s Street, named Home Lodge.  He married his third wife, Harriett, in 1884, and three children were born in Abbotsford. In a reminiscence of old Collingwood, the home was described as 

the resort of the cognoscenti of the day – a sort of salon. Shakespearian students, actors, singers and leaders in other departments of life assembled there on Sunday afternoons.

The Age 15 Oct 1932 page 6 ‘A.C.’

Eliza’s sons Max and Ludwig moved to England in the 1880s, but the whereabouts of Emily’s children after her death are a bit of a mystery. The first mentions located of Maximiliana (mercifully shortened to Maxie) and Lilian are their marriages in 1890 and 1897, and there is no indication that Max or Harriett attended, although Lily was possibly living at the Waxworks.

Despite his busy working life, Max was very involved in his local community. In 1887 he was elected to Collingwood Council and was mayor in 1892-93. In political terms he was described as a Liberal Protectionist and in favour of Federation.

Kreitmayer was a Catholic and he and Harriett devoted time to fund-raising for local Catholic institutions.  It seems probable that they attended Mass at the Convent Of the Good Shepherd chapel in St Helier’s Street and that the children when small were pupils at St Euphrasia’s, a primary school conducted by the Convent nuns. Max was very fond of these two children and Olive frequently accompanied him on trips.

For decades it was a rare month when newspapers did not include some mention of the Waxworks, but as the century drew to a close, the institution began to wane, and new exhibits were no longer being added at the same rate. In 1899 Kreitmayer became insolvent and The Bulletin, while regretting this fact, described the Waxworks as having ‘little to show beyond a few dozen dingy effigies and a fat child who is even more depressing than her waxen companions.’ However in August of the same year Kreitmayer received a diploma for wax figures shown at the Greater Britain Exhibition, and as the new century began and financial embarrassments were resolved, Kreitmayer was again promoting new wax figures as well as sideshow features and magic shows.

By 1906 Kreitmayer was well into his seventies and in declining health. On his death in 1906 his assets consisted only of a life assurance policy which was to be divided between his three daughters and the three younger sons, so it seems that he had again vested ownership of the waxworks material in his wife. The two eldest sons were not mentioned in the will.  Harriett formally took over management of the Waxworks with daughter Olive as assistant.

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
31 December 1830 Munich, Germany
Spouse Name Date of Marriage Children
Eliza Spong, 1822 - 1906? 1855, Leeds Lilian 1858-58 Caledonia digging, Maximilian Joseph 1859-1918 Caledonia digging, Ludwig Ernest c 1861- 1920
Emily Ann Waite, 1836 - 1879 1868, Sydney Maximiliana Editha, 1863-1947; Conrad Anthony 1865-1865; Charles Playdell Langley 1867-1919, Lilian 1873-1945; Augustus Breadalbane (Gus) 1876 – 1924.
Harriet Watts 29 March 1884 Launceston Olive 29 September 1886, Maximilian (Jack) 7 Feb 1889
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
St Heliers Street Abbotsford Extant
Church Lodge
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
1 June 1906 St Heliers Street, Abbotsford Melbourne General Cemetery

The Argus; Sydney Morning HeraldEmpire (Sydney); Bell’s Life in SydneyThe Australasian SketcherThe Tasmanian(Launceston); Leader; Table Talk; Mercury and Weekly Courier; The BulletinBarrier Miner (Broken Hill); Chronicle (Adelaide); The AgeAustralasianThe AdvocateWarwick Examiner (Qld); Narandera Argus (NSW); Geelong Advertiser; Fitzpatrick, The two Frank Thrings; Victoria and its metropolis; Tait, Our local men of the times; Gilmour, Sideshow alley. 

Trove List Max Kreitmayer:

Grand Anatomical Museum catalogue

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