Looking for Maurice E. Bandmann in Gibraltar

The final stage of my archival research on the theatre manager and impresario Maurice E. Bandmann (1872-1922)  returns to the beginning and to the end. Bandman, now with one ‘n’, died in Gibraltar on 9 March 1922 at the Colonial Hospital. He had contracted enteric (typhus) in Egypt and fell ill shortly after arriving in Gibraltar at the beginning of February for the opening of the newly renovated New Empire Theatre.

Gibraltar was also the beginning: here he began his first Mediterranean tour in September 1897, a short stop on the way to Malta his main destination and then on to Alexandria and Cairo. Gibraltar however became traditionally the first port of call on the many tours of his companies along the Bandmann Circuit. In Gibraltar Bandmann also acquired one of his most trusted managers, Stephan Lopez (1877-1953), who came from a Gibraltese family and worked his way up from stage carpenter to company manager. The website kept by Stephen’s granddaughter, Vanessa Lopez, remains the best source of information on the Bandmann Circuit (http://www.joydiv.org/familygoingback/bandmann.htm).

My research began on a Sunday afternoon, 23rd of April 2017. I made use of my extended stay in London to catch a flight to Gibraltar, of which there are several. I knew from correspondence with the Gibraltar Archives that Bandmann was buried in the North Front Cemetery in plot B. The cemetery backs onto the airport so you have to walk across the runway to reach it: in fact you have two walk (or drive) across the runway to reach Gibraltar full stop. The main road and walkway, imperially entitled Winston Churchill Avenue, is blocked off when aircraft land and take off.

Winston Churchill Avenue

The cemetery is quite extensive and well known because it hosts graves looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Plot B is subdivided into B1 and B2 and covers an extensive area, much of which is overgrown with grass, weeds and flowers including poppies. While the recently deceased boasted large gravestones and even burial vaults, and the war graves gleamed cleanly in the bright sunlight, as though the soldiers and sailors had only been buried yesterday, those interred much earlier were in a dismal state. Quite apart from the long grass and weeds, many gravestones had been polished clean, presumably by the corrosive salt air, which has rendered the inscriptions illegible. As I could be fairly sure that nobody had tended the grave for 90 years, it was clear that I could never find it just by searching amongst the gravestones. I would have to come back and hope that the administration of the cemetery had better records (it didn’t). It was also possible that the grave had been turned over, the remains disinterred to make way for more recent arrivals.

North Front Cemetery, Gibraltar

I left the cemetery and made my way into town to look for my hotel which I knew was located in Cannon Lane. I wandered past fortifications built into the rock and literally walked through a tunnel under the Rock. I wandered along main street and looked at the mixture of Spanish-style colonial buildings, decorated with the signs of heavy tourism. I found the hotel of the same name is the address, tucked into a little courtyard. It had seen better days and the rooms had all the flair of the 1950s. The room key was a real old-fashioned bit key and not a digital signal.

Entering Gibraltar

The next day begin shortly after 9 AM and a hearty English breakfast. I walked up to the Garrison Library which I knew had a full set of the Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper. The library is located in an old colonial style building. It consists of two reading rooms lined with old volumes in glass cases. In the middle is a large table at which the readers sit. Apart from myself the letter consisted of two middle-aged ladies who spoke to each other alternating between English and Spanish, which as I quickly discovered is the common form of communication here. Conversations often begin in English, switch to Spanish, and then revert again to English according to conventions which remained obscure to me.

Garrison Library, Gibraltar

I began with March 1922: the month of his death, I quickly discovered the newspaper report. He died on March 9 and was buried the next day. The quick burial was possibly due to the disease, which was highly infectious.

Since the newspaper documented arrivals and departures I found a reference to Bandmann arriving in the first week of February at the Bristol Hotel , a colonial-style building which still exists (GC 6.2.1922). Also mentioned was a Miss Nancy Lewis (named in his will as Annie Lewinstein), Bandmann’s secretary to whom he bequeathed a quarter of his estate. She seems to have been in his constant companion in his final years. Present at the funeral were his niece, named as Miss Bandman McLaren, which could only have been the daughter of his sister Lily, who was also a travelling actress. Either she must have been accompanying him or had travelled to Gibraltar on learning that he fallen seriously ill. Others present were William Freear, the manager of the New Empire and Nancy’s brother, Charles Lewis (Charles Lewinstein who was named in his will as a trustee). The latter had hurried to Gibraltar on 17 February 1922 and arrived before he died.[1]Also present at the funeral was the US vice-consul, Bandmann’s solicitor in Gibraltar, A.C. Montegriffo, and J.R. Crook, the government engineer with whom he had negotiated the renovation of the theatre.

Death notice, Gibraltar Chronicle

My next stop was the Gibraltar National archives, located in a former convent and accessible through a metal gate supervised by a very friendly lady Guard. The archive itself occupies one side of a courtyard. It is described on an oral history website as ‘a discreet building, set back in the quietly dignified courtyard of the Governor’s Palace exuding the elegance of a bygone era of colonialism.  The offices are heavy with the alluring smell of old wood and papers, and dust motes float like miniature ballet dancers in the rays that tumble through the windows.  A researcher could happily wallow here for hours, nosing around records that unfold the history of Gibraltar little by little.’


Gibraltar Government Archives

While I can confirm the charm but not the ‘dust motes’ I easily registered in one room and was led into another by a friendly young archivist. The second room was full of government papers. I spied two boxes with the labels Empire Theatre. The one dated 1903 to 1918, the other was entitled Empire Theatre, Public Visitors and Brothels. And in this one I struck gold. It contained government files concerning the theatre from 1919 until its eventual sale and demolition in the 1930s. The most detailed files concerned however negotiations between Bandmann and the colonial authorities, beginning in 1921 and culminating in the re-opening of the Empire as a cinema just a few days before his death. This file comprises the most detailed documentary evidence of Bandmann as a theatre developer, primarily in this case for cinema because evidently the conversion of the dilapidated Empire Theatre into a fully functional theatre for live performances entailed a considerable investment, especially with regard to fire safety. From there I went around the corner to in the office of births and deaths and ordered a copy of Bandmann’s death certificate.

As all three places are located within 200 yards of one another, this was by far the most efficient use of research time in the past six years. The main result of this research was the detailed documentation of Bandmann’s leasing and renovation of the Empire Theatre which I discuss in more detail in the next section.

[1] Charles Lewinstein, born 1897, manager,  aged 25 departed London on 17. Feb 1922 on the  Kaiser I Hind bound for Gibraltar. 
Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co.
5989.30. Passenger Lists leaving UK 1890-1960 Transcription. Findmypast.co.uk.


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