Story: Whiteside, Jane

Page 1: Biography

Whiteside, Jane

1855–1875

Tightrope dancer, gymnast, magician

This biography, written by James V. Reilly, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993, and updated in November, 2001.

Jane Whiteside was born on 5 February 1855 and baptised on 28 February in the Church of Ireland, Tullylish, County Down, Ireland. Her parents were Jane Totten and her husband, John Whiteside, a weaver of Clare, County Down. Her father enlisted in the 65th (2nd Yorkshire, North Riding) Regiment of Foot on 10 February 1855 and was recruited for service in New Zealand, arriving in Wellington with his wife and Jane on the Lancashire Witch on 20 July 1856. He saw service with the 65th throughout the North Island and on 18 September 1865 took his discharge at Auckland.

In 1872 Jane Whiteside appeared on the stage as a gymnast and tightrope dancer. In May 1873 she travelled with a troupe to Tauranga where she appeared as Mademoiselle Estella. From there she went to Mercury Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula and left the company to take a position as a barmaid at Thames, on the goldfields. She was able to perform on stage with any of the local or touring troupes, and during this time her stage name became Madame Blanche. Madame Cora de Lamond, a dynamic American magician who created box office records at Thames in July 1873, may have influenced Jane in her career. In December 1873 she toured back to Auckland.

Jane Whiteside now appeared on stage as Blanche Fane, a magician. She became a success overnight, and as the star of the Oxford Combination Troupe delighted audiences in Auckland, Thames and Coromandel for the next three months. The newspapers contained glowing reports of her skill and charm. Jane presented two skilled sleight-of-hand acts of stage magic, and is believed to be the first professional New Zealand magician. Handbills advertised her as an 'English Magicienne and Japanese Impersonator' and a 'Female Magician, in her Grand Drawing Room Entertainment of Legerdemain Séances.'

Spurred on by their success, the troupe embarked on a country-wide tour in 1874, commencing with Waikato. Jane Whiteside was still the main attraction and she continued to charm and amaze audiences with her skill. The troupe returned to Auckland, performing there before venturing north in July. Jane changed her stage name back to Madame Blanche.

On 11 September, after a successful tour, the troupe sailed from Te Kopuru, Northland, to Port Chalmers. Their show opened in Dunedin on 3 October 1874 with Jane Whiteside going by yet another name, Blanche Anderson. After delighting Dunedin audiences the troupe toured Otago and Southland and returned to Dunedin for Christmas.

In January 1875 the Oxford Combination Troupe moved north. They played in Oamaru on the l4th, where Jane Whiteside captivated the audience under her final theatrical name, Jennie Anderson. She was noted for her 'unassuming and ladylike manner on the stage'. On 17 January, while most of the troupe were walking across the Waitaki River by bridge and Jane was fording it in their coach, the vehicle capsized and she drowned. Her death, at the tender age of 19, when she was on the threshold of a promising stage career, touched the hearts of many. She had recently married Frank Verten, a tenor and dancer in her troupe, and was buried at Oamaru as Jennie Verten.

How to cite this page:

James V. Reilly. 'Whiteside, Jane', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993, updated November, 2001. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2w17/whiteside-jane (accessed 20 October 2019)