The Lamb Collection - Entertainment in the 19th century. Click here to return to the Lamb Collection Main Page

The following images are examples of some forms of entertainment available in the latter part of the 19th Century in Dundee, Scotland.

Imagine you are living in the 19th Century, without television and computers for entertainment.
What sort of things might you do to have fun and be entertained?

Theatre Halls were numerous and performances were regularly given by theatre troupes, ventriloquists, hypnotists, poets, comedians, choirs and orchestras. Circuses came to town and set up in parks and public places. There were fetes, carnivals, art exhibitions and lessons in singing, dancing and cooking to attend. Talks were given by visiting notables, scientists, preachers, and people who had been adventuring in different countries.

Depending on your social status, you could join various social groups such as 'The Gleaners of Nature', sewing and craft groups, sporting and church groups, as well as various lodges and friendly societies. Well-to-do ladies would often join committees and organise events such as bazaars, fetes and exhibitions to raise money for hospitals, churches and charitable exhibitions. However, in the 19th century, working hours were long and the pay inadequate. Many working people were poor and could not afford to attend the theatre or have the time to join social groups, as they had families and children to look after.

This information can be found in original documents contained in the Lamb Collection and the Dundee City Archives. A large portion of the material has been digitised and is available for online viewing at

If you click on the images below, you can view them at an enlarged size.
These images may take some time to download.

McFarland's Varieties, Programme

Beautifully illustrated programme which was changed every evening. The Venue was the Theatre Royal and the proprietor was W. McFarland. The programme cost one penny. The Acts advertised included Messrs. Taylor and Gowans', a Song and Dance Act, Harry Leander, The Great Tyrolean Vocalist, and Townsend and Josephine, Duettists and Leg Mania Artistes.

Included in the programme were two poems "He'll Be Back By-and- Bye" and "If I was the Man in the Moon". There was a change of Artistes weekly. The General Manager was a Mr Harry Hemfrey, and the programme was printed by J. Durham and Son.



Newsome's Grand Circus, Programme

Newsome's Hippodrome and Circus, owned by James Newsome, was situated at the Craig Pier, having been transferred to this location from East Dock Street.The performance is introduced by a Grand Overture by the Band conducted by Mr. A. Stubbs.

A complete programme of entertainment was offered with many equestrian acts, including Mlle. Pauline Newsome who introduced the wonderful performing horse "Satanella". Admission was sixpence for the Gallery and reserved seats cost three shillings.




Grand Evening Concert - Tay Bridge Disaster Fund
6th February 1880

A grand evening concert of Scotch Music and Burns' songs was given in Dundee's Kinnaird Hall on 6th February 1880 to raise money for the Tay Bridge Disaster Fund. On 28th December the previous year, a storm had destroyed part of the bridge, causing the loss of a passenger train.

The reverse lists all the performers, while the programme is given in detail inside. The opening "Dryburgh Quadrilles" was arranged specially for the event by the conductor, William Wallace. On the day of the concert, another body was recovered from the river.




Lectures on Cookery
22nd - 26th August 1892

This prospectus was printed 1892 for a series of practical demonstrations and lectures on cookery by Mrs H. M. Young, the author of several treatises on the subject. The classes took place in Gray's Assembly Rooms, Perth Road, Dundee.

Sessions took place in the afternoon [costing sixpence (2.5p) or threepence (1.25p)] or in the evening (free by ticket, or threepence for a front seat). Each session had a different theme, and was divided between High-class cookery (afternoon) and Household cookery (evening).



Dundee Music Hall Poster
May 1880

The Dundee Music Hall was situated in a fine square stone building at the foot of Castle Street with a beautifully sprung wooden floor. It later became the City Assembly Rooms and then a Masonic Temple. This poster illustrates the attractions of the time.

The date on the poster is May 7th 1880 and it states that it is the annual benefit of a Mr. W. McFarland. The artistes include Mr William McGonagall (spelled wrongly), Little Levite and Jessie Nina, Joe Colvero, and performing dogs and monkeys. The prices were from four pence (1.66p) to one shilling for a box.



Punch's Party: A musical sketch for juveniles
25th and 27th February 1892

This programme was printed in connection with an entertainment, given in Bowbridge Works Hall, Dundee, by 60 children from the Clepington Parish Church Sabbath School Choir. The story involved solo songs, choruses, and choruses with actions.

The money raised [entrance cost sixpence (2.5p) and threepence (1.5p)] was to clear the debt on the Church Hall Harmonium, an instrument which was regularly used to accompany hymn singing.


Hypnotism at the Kinnaird Hall
14th and 16th February 1891

This programme advertises Hypnotism by Dr. Charles Rutland, the famous Hypnotist, in his Unique Entertainment from the Crystal Palace. London. He was introduced as a Hypnotised Actor, Humorist and Thought Reader and the performance took place at the Kinnaird Hall.

Dr. Rutland's illustrations of hypnotism involved the subject being thrown into the hypnotic trance as well as losing his own identity. The programme also includes a few press comments. Admisssion was from sixpence (2.5p) to two shilllings and sixpence (25p).



John Duncan, Artist, Party invitation
July 28th 1890

This invitation to Mr. Lamb was from John Duncan, Artist, who was exhibiting, at a party, a full-length portrait of Mrs. Hunter in court dress. The party was to be held in Messrs. Murray and Son's salon in the Nethergate. John Duncan was born in Dundee in 1866, and began his career at the Art School at the age of 11.

He went to London and Germany and spent four years as Professor of Fine Art in America. It has been said of some of Mr.Duncan's work that it is a "transportation from the land of fairy fancy". He died in Edinburgh in 1945.



C. T. Brock & Co.'s Grand Evening Fete
20th May 1896

For the Queen's birthday in 1896 a spectacular fete and fireworks display were held in Carolina Port, Dundee. This programme lists all the fireworks and the music which was played by the band of the 1st Forfar Artillery Volunteers, directed by William Wallace, one of Dundee's leading musicians.

The climax of the event was a "colossal fire portrait of Her Majesty the Queen", showing the dates 1819 (when she was born) and 1896. One of the displays was designed to imitate the Aurora Borealis.



Dundee Fine Art Exhibition, First Conversazione, 1883
October 1883

This invitation card and programme were for a Conversazione held for the Dundee Fine Art Exhibition of 1883.The Exhibition itself ran for three months. Artists were invited to send their work - though no more than three items - for possible inclusion and sale at the Exhibition.

The programme for the Conversazione, which took place on Wednesday, 31st October 1883, consisted of a two-part musical entertainment with "Promenading" during the interval. The entertainment consisted of a selection of songs and piano solos in part one and "The Daughter of Jairus" Cantata by S. Rheinberger in the second.


Lamb Collection
© 2003 Local Studies Department, Central Library, Dundee