Hugh D. McIntosh 1876-1942

Hugh McIntosh

Hugh D. McIntosh

Hugh Donald McIntosh was born on 10 September 1876.

In 1893 he landed in Melbourne where he joined the chorus of Maggie Moore’s pantomime Sinbad the Sailor at the Theatre Royal.

In 1911 McIntosh sold the Sydney Stadium to ‘Snowy’ Baker and outlayed £100,000 to buy the Tivoli vaudeville circuit.

 

Huge Deal

In her memoirs, the beloved actress Nellie Stewart spoke glowingly of ‘Huge Deal’ McIntosh:
‘When I hear people talk slightingly of this big man I cannot bear it, for he was the most generous of men, and he was at all times far more likely to suffer from brigandage than to resort to it. He was of little less than medium height, broad in the shoulders, cheery in the eye, hiding under a rattling loquacity the fact that he was shy as a girl, a man all aglow with enthusiasm like a happy boy. He was electric. He had the oddest happy knack of getting out of all his people the best that was in them.’ Writer John Hetherington, who knew him in later life, said, ‘Even at58, he pulsed with all the adventurous ambition of youth, forever looking, not backward at his recently shattered past, but forward, to a shining future. He remained aggressive, unpredictable, irrepressible. He was a blend of charlatan, genius, dreamer and bandit, an unrepentant buccaneer.’

Hugh Donald McIntosh was born on 10 September 1876 in a tiny cottage in a nondescript lane in the inner Sydney suburb of Surry Hills. His father, a Scottish policeman, died when McIntosh was only four. A few years later the lad left home and travelled around Australia with an itinerant tinker. In 1893 he landed in Melbourne where he joined the chorus of Maggie Moore’s pantomime Sinbad the Sailor at the Theatre Royal. Back in Sydney, he peddled pies, married a school teacher, and worked as a hotel barman. Soon he was running his own bakery. He started promoting professional cycling, and imported the celebrated black champion Major Taylor to race in the 1903 Sydney Thousand competition. This visit, and the blatant corruption that went with it, inspired the 1992 film Tracks of Glory, in which Richard Roxburgh portrayed Hugh D. McIntosh.

McIntosh capitalised on the 1908 visit of the American ‘Great White Fleet’ by staging a boxing match between the French Canadian Tommy Burns and the Australian champion Boshter Squires. For this he built a vast outdoor stadium at Rushcutters Bay. His friend Norman Lindsay designed the posters to promote the racially charged world heavyweight championship match between Tommy Burns and the ‘black giant’ Jack Johnson on Boxing Day 1908. McIntosh travelled the world presenting his film of the fight, and glorying in the affectionate nickname ‘Huge Deal’.

In 1911 McIntosh sold the Sydney Stadium to ‘Snowy’ Baker and outlayed £100,000 to buy the Tivoli vaudeville circuit from the heirs of its founder, Harry Rickards. He opened new Tivoli theatres in Adelaide and Brisbane, the latter the first of many Australian theatres designed by the great New Zealand architect Henry White.

McIntosh travelled overseas booking star acts, including Ada Reeve, W.C. Fields and the notorious exotic dancer Maud Allan, and introduced ragtime and the tango to Australia. He promoted the career of the beautiful Australian actress Vera Pearce, and commenced a scandalous ‘liaison’ with her that lasted for many years. Miss Pearce was the niece of Harold Holt, a future Prime Minister of Australia. McIntosh’s grand plans for an international Tivoli circuit were thwarted by the outbreak of the Great War.

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Biographical references

Chris Cuneen: ‘Hugh Donald McIntosh’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 10, Melbourne University Press
John Hetherington: Australians – Nine Profiles, F.W. Cheshire, 1960
Nellie Stewart: My Life’s Story, John Sands Ltd, 1923
Frank Van Straten: Huge Deal – The Fortunes and Follies of Hugh D. McIntosh, Lothian Books, 2004
Frank Van Straten: ‘Hugh D. McIntosh’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995