The Children in Fancy Dress

Held in June 1909, The Children’s Fancy Dress Ball was a charitable event hosted by then City of Adelaide Mayor Frank Johnson and Lady Mayoress Mrs. N. A. Mayfield (Johnson’s sister).

Hundreds of children came dressed as their favourite character, enjoyed music, dancing and refreshments.  An article in the Chronicle describes the joyous occasion, but the photo depicts a different story with a sea of small sombre faces (at the time subjects didn’t smile in photographs).

Saturday 3 July, 1909

Again this year the hospitable Mayor and Mayoress (Mr. F. Johnson and Mrs. N. A. Mayfield) extended their kindness to the children, and the big concert hall on Friday evening, June 25, was crowded with joyous youngsters. Children are so funny; their very naturalness in these artificial days make them welcome amongst the sourest and dourest of people. They were very eager to get upstairs, and half the last admonitions and directions given by loving mamma and attentive nurses before they left the dressing room went through one ear and out the other. The same arrangements were carried out this year again, and after the kiddies had had their trappings taken off and final touches given to their quaint costumes by the various ladies on the committee, who were in attendance in the disrobing room. The little things flew upstairs (children rarely walk; they either dance or fly, and would we could keep that glorious lightness of heart and feet into later life than we do). A few paused to look around at the brilliant decorations; the majority pranced on, waving friendly hands to pals or calling out joyous greetings.

The decorations were the same as at the grown-up ball, and as the Governor and Lady Bosanquet, with their daughters and Sir Samuel and Lady Way, had arrived early the little ones made their bow to them, as well as to their kind host and hostess (Mr. F. Johnson and Mrs. N. A. Mayfield). A hasty duck of the head, a broad, charming smile, and a slide past and social ceremony and amenities was over for them, and good times began. Some of the little girls would only dance with little boys, but it remained for a maid who should have reached years of sense, anyhow, to remark to her host that “there were not enough boys for the girls to dance with.” She wanted to dance only with big boys. At being questioned she had to admit that most of her dances were engaged, and with big boys, too. The smaller ones did not care who they had for partners as Ions as they jigged round to the music. The small boys’ capacity for ice cream was taxed pretty severely, but he responded nobly to the call.

One well-made atom, I heard, pleaded pathetically with his mother to be allowed to go. “Think, dear mumsy, how the kind ladies go around and say, 'Well, little boy, and have you had something to eat or a nice cool drink,' and then darling just fancy having everything we want and not having to pay for it.” That youngster will finish up by being Minister of Finance, I am quite sure. One dear wee thing went as “Grandma,” and looked the quaintest little bit of goods in a black frock, old-fashioned white muslin cap and apron, and with a bit of knitting in her hands. Her hair had been powdered and the face cunningly lined, and she was a marvellous foil to the other youthfully-attired kiddies. “Look on this picture, then on that” is the only quotation that suited her. One rowdy boy assured me that balls would be all right if “fellows could only dance with other fellows - girls were so silly. They squealed out if you grabbed too tight or upset them, but fellows would hit back.”

Mr. Leschen had his work cut out for him in the polonaise, which was led by an attractive gipsy, Miss N. Schmidt, and a happy-go-lucky student, Mr. O. Kelly.

Limelight was used to make the picturesque evolutions more alluring, but in my opinion it was not successful. It was not strong enough to show off the costumes properly, and when the various colors were thrown on the constantly moving children the whole effect was blurred. The white light was the best, and threw into strong relief the marching children holding up wands with clusters of orange-tinted roses at their tips, or half-hoops adorned with sprays carried by the leaders in each movement.

The Mayoral party went up into the gallery to have a better view, and the dress-circle was filled with the ladies of the committee. Mr. Leschen stood on an eminence in the centre of the hall, and the kiddies faithfully followed his commands. After the flashlight was taken the order was given to disperse, which the youngsters did in the winking of an eye. Then dancing started again. Those who couldn't dance - and they were few - spent their time in the supper-room sliding about on the slippery floor under the orchestral galleries, but one and all had a glorious time.

It was hard work gathering the children together when the fatal (to them) hour of departure approached. They were like living lumps of mercury, and as soon as one was found the other had disappeared. Many of the parents waiting downstairs had to leave without finding their off-springs at all. There were many anxious fathers and mothers waiting about after the ball was over, but the children had gone. As I did not see any advertisements next day I concluded with the aplomb of the natural Australian child, they had managed to drift home some way or another. So ended one of the brightest, the most successful children's fancy dress balls, and both Mr. Johnson and Mrs. Mayfield are to be heartily congratulated on the brilliant success of the function.

Read the full article via the Chronicle