Chung Ling Soo
Postcard. Author’s collection

Chung Ling Soo aka William Ellesworth Robinson aka a magician, a conjurer, an illusionist and a ”Man of Mystery” was one of the Wimmera‘s more enigmatic passengers.

On 16 February 1909 the renowned ‘Chinese’ conjurer Chung Ling Soo arrived on Australia’s shores aboard the R.M.S. Moldavia at the start of his one and only, but highly successful, tour of Australia and New Zealand.

Engaged by Harry Rickards his season began at the Opera House in Melbourne on 27 February before proceeding to other cities.
The mysterious Soo and his wife Soee Seen were none other than Bill and Dot Robinson who had begun their theatrical and magic careers in the United States. In 190. The Chung Ling Soo phenomenon was born and the Robinson’s magic act never looked back.
Numerous performances were played before audiences in the United Kingdom and Europe before the Robinson’s accepted the offer to play ‘down under’.

Reviews of their performances received … acclaim. Amongst others, … described their entertainment in the following terms…

In late May their season at the Tivoli in Sydney closed and Chung Ling Soo and entourage set across the Tasman aboard the Manuka for a short tour of New Zealand. Beginning in Dunedin, the theatres and opera houses that played host to his performances were recorded as …

Chung Ling Soo and Co.
Postcard. Author’s Collection.

The Robinson’s completed their New Zealand tour with a single performance at the Town Hall in Hamilton on 10 July. Returning to  Auckland they boarded the SS Wimmera for their return journey across the Tasman to Sydney where they arrived on 16 July 1909. Sharing saloon accommodation on the Wimmera on this trip were the Maori rugby team and well-known Maori guides, Maggie and Belle Papakura.

Chung Ling Soo completed another season of magical acts before Australian audiences until early August when his season at the Tivoli in Sydney finally concluded.

The Chinese conjurer and entourage left Sydney for London aboard the P. and O. Company’s RMS Morea on 11 September.

The magic of Chung Ling Soo was to continue to delight audiences for nearly another decade until,  on the evening of 23 March 1918 tragedy struck. Before an audience at the Wood Green Empire Theatre, London Chung Ling Soo began his act to catch bullets on a plate. Unfortunately, the workings of one of the two pistols that had been specially crafted for this act, had deteriorated, and thus allowed the fired gun to propel a ‘real’ bullet towards Bill Robinson. Mortally wounded, the magician, was ferried to hospital where he passed away.

Purportedly the only existing film of Chung Ling Soo is the following clip available on YouTube:

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