Notable People of Collingwood

Collingwood Notables Database

Harriett Kreitmayer

1849 - 1934

Waxworks proprietor, philanthropist, picture house proprietor

Personal Photo 1
Home Lodge rear view

Harriet Watts married Maximilian Ludwig Kreitmayer, a waxworks modeller, in 1884 and moved into Home Lodge in St Helier’s Street Abbotsford, where three children were born to the couple. Harriett was involved with various philanthropic activities in Collingwood, filled the role of Mayoress during Max’s council term, and took over management of the famous waxworks after his death in 1906.

Harriett was born in the small Somerset village of Beckington.  Migrating to Tasmania, she met Maximilian who frequently travelled there for business, and they married in 1884.  On arrival in Melbourne she was taken to her new abode in the pleasantly picturesque if not palatial surroundings of St Helier’s Street. The house, of nine rooms, was built to make the most of the slope, surrounded by a verandah giving views of the river and the wooded slopes of Studley Park on the opposite bank. In the 1880s Harriett gave birth to Olive and Max, known as Jack. A later child died in infancy. 

Her near neighbours included such prominent Collingwood residents as the Snowdens and their widowed daughter Mrs Rennick, and the Tolhursts,  while energetic charity worker  Margaret Saddler was nearby in Marine Parade. Perhaps in the 1880s Harriett was preoccupied with domestic duties but in the 1890s she begins to be mentioned regularly in a range of social and charitable activities. Possibly her first publicly noted appearance was the 1891 Collingwood mayoral ball, where Table Talk noted that she ‘looked really charming in a gown of Eiffel red merveilleux’. Red and black seemed to have been her favourite colours for evening gowns; she wore red silk and black lace at a Victorian Artists Gallery dance in 1895 and black silk at a Charity dance in 1897.  With no photograph located of Harriett, we can only speculate on a possible facial resemblance to her children seen in a photo with their father, but we can at least visualise her sartorial appearance;  a reception in 1896 also provides a relatively rare description of daywear: Harriett’s costume consisted of ‘snuff brown cloth gown, tailor made; vest of pink satin embroidered in silver’.

The Kreitmayers were Catholics and Harriett devoted time to fund raising for the Convent of the Good Shepherd just over the road from their house, St Joseph’s church and school in Otter Street Collingwood, and St Patrick’s Cathedral, as well as St Vincent’s Hospital. It seems probable that the family attended Mass in the Convent chapel and that the children attended St Euphrasia’s, in the Convent grounds, when small. Later, daughter Olive attended Genazzano in Kew and son Max, known as Jack, went to Christian Brothers College in East Melbourne, where he was dux of his class in 1897.

In 1893 Harriett was organising the relief committee to help women and children in the district suffering under Melbourne’s economic depression. A soup kitchen was set up at the rear of the town hall. She also became involved with the Collingwood Creche, eventually becoming a committee member. Another committee was that of the Collingwood branch of the Girls Leisure Hour Club which provided free classes for working girls. Her fellow committee members included the neighbours mentioned above, Dr Grace Vale, Mrs Janet Strong, one of the founders of the Collingwood creche, and Carrie Earle. Many of these committees included parishioners of St Philip’s Anglican Church, and Harriett also participated actively in St Philip’s fundraisers such as an 1896 fete held in the extensive gardens of her neighbours the Snowdens.

On Maximilian’s death in 1906 Harriett formally took over management of the Waxworks. She was a competent businesswoman and Olive an able young assistant, who was soon thinking up new tableaux. But Maximilian had died with little capital, and the business was declining, without the high number of new exhibits as heretofore. Harriett moved out of Home Lodge, which was sold to the Convent of the Good Shepherd in 1909, the auctioneer describing it as ‘a quaint structure in pleasant grounds’. She auctioned most of her furniture and for the next five years she and Olive lived in rooms at the rear of the Waxworks in Bourke Street.

The final exhibition of waxworks was presented in 1912, but this was by no means the end of the business. In the first decade of the century cinemas became popular in Melbourne, initially accommodated in makeshift venues, and Harriett made the move into the new entertainment field of moving pictures.  In 1911 she employed as a projectionist Frank William Thring who was to become a dynamic entrepreneur of the theatre and film production world. 

The enterprise was renamed the Star Theatre and Harriett was soon in a position to move into a house in Prahran, where in 1916 she was obliged to apply for a naturalisation certificate, because of having been wed to a German. Harriett’s son Jack had been dismissed from his job as a picture house manager because of his Germanic name, but ended up with a successful career in the film world in Perth, and later lived in London. 

Harriett and Olive always remained close, appearing at various charitable, social and theatre events together, and after Olive married Frank Thring in 1921 they continued to share a residence, in a Toorak house named Rylandsafter a cottage in Harriett’s hometown, Beckington. Harriett lived until 1934, very comfortably off because between her, Olive and Thring they had turned around the family fortunes utilising the changing technologies of the twentieth century.

At the time of his marriage to Olive, Thring was managing director of J C Williamson Films Corporation, and in 1930 he established the Efftee Studios based in Melbourne to make talking films using optical sound equipment imported from the United States. During the five years of its existence, Efftee produced nine features, including The Sentimental Bloke in 1932, over 80 shorts and several stage productions. Thring died in 1936, leaving a ten-year-old son who would become the well-known actor Frank Thring. Olive was a devoted mother in support of her son’s theatrical ambitions, and Frank junior inherited a considerable fortune on her death in 1953.

Work Photo 1

Harriett's children Olive and Jack with their father

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
1849 Somerset, England
Spouse Name Date of Marriage Children
Maximilian Ludwig Kreitmayer 29 March 1884, Launceston Independent Church Olive Mary 29 September 1886 - 1953, Max Ludwig (Jack) 7 Feb 1889, Louis 1894-1894
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
16 St Helier's Street Abbotsford Extant
Work Addresses
Work Street Work City Status of Building
202 Bourke Street Melbourne
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
25 May 1934 Toorak Melbourne General Cemetery
Sources

Table Talk; Punch; ChampionFitzroy City PressWeekly Times; AustralasianThe Argus; The Advocate; The HeraldTruth; Fitzpatrick, The two Frank Thrings; Gilmour, Sideshow alley.

Trove list Harriett Kreitmayer: https://trove.nla.gov.au/list/159666

https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thring-francis-william-frank-8803

Waxworks Exhibition c 1912

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