Wednesday, November 18, 2009 | By: Rudi Butt

No Business Like Show Business?

The Friend of China ran the following advertisement on November 17, 1842:-

Advance Hongkong!!!
Theatre Royal

Messrs. Dutronquoy & Co. have at length the satisfaction of announcing to the nobility, gentry and clergy of this flourish and opulent Colony, that their Theatre is advancing most rapidly towards completion.

It is on a most splendid scale, and what with the pieces that will be performed, the Scenery that will be introduced and the splendid assemblage of rank, beauty and fashion which they hope to be honoured with, there is no doubt but that the blaze of Splendour will dazzle the eyes of all beholdders. Vivat Regina.

N.B. The actresses have arrived during the last week, their beauties and talents are only to be surpassed by their spotless virtues.
The first attempt to bring drama to Hong Kong was to have been a combination of professionals and amateurs, but the project came to an abrupt end before it was well under way. A flamboyant Frenchman [1] from Singapore named Gaston Dutronquoy announced in November 1842 that he had obtained the permission of the authorities to erect a theater "on a grand and imposing scale" behind his tavern, the London Hotel, which was located on Queen's Road. He informed an interested public that though the Theatre was not yet built, the actresses had already arrived.

While the actresses were available, there seemed some doubt about the actors. Alexander George Fraser, sixteenth Lord Saltoun, Commander of the Forces, noted on November 25, 1842 that the Theatre was to open on Wednesday, "But who are to be the actors, I have no idea. I believe some amateurs from the navy". Once opened, the life of the Theatre was short. Dutronquoy departed from Hong Kong quite suddenly on December 17. It was alleged that he had to close his Hotel and Theatre under orders from the authorities and pay a fine of $500. This was denied by his agent who stated that the reason for the closure was because Dutronquoy had "received personal violence added to insult and abuse the preceding evening". Hong Kong historian, The Rev. Carl T. Smith, put forward this comment, “One wonders if the "spotless virtues" of the actresses may have been the cause of his troubles.” Dutronquoy returned to Singapore to attend to his hotel business, the London Hotel he opened in 1839, and in 1844 launched the Theatre Royal on the third floor of the hotel.

The end of the very talented Mr. Dutronquoy was to be mysterious as well as theatrical, it was recorded in Singapore that he vanished while in search of gold in the Muar River region (in Malaysia) in c.1856. Rumors of the time stated that he was murdered during the expedition. The London Hotel (in Singapore) was sold in 1857 and renamed Singapore Hotel.

[1] Was Dutronquoy indeed a Frenchman? The South China Morning Post dated July 20, 1933 stated that the the first theatrical company to visit Hong Kong was from Australia, in the year 1842. Could Dutronquoy be from Australia? A Singapore historian, Alex Ong, said the otherwise, “Dutronquoy was the island's first recorded resident photographer. A native of Jersey in the Channel Islands (now that would make him possibly a Briton of French decent, but not necessary a French national), he first arrived in Singapore in early 1839, advertising himself as a painter. In May 1839, Dutronquoy established the London Hotel in High Street and in 1841 opened a photographic studio within the hotel.”

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