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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Florrie Forde, c.1915

an unknown artist

photographic postcard (sheet: 13.8 cm x 8.7 cm, image: 13.3 cm x 8.2 cm)

Florrie Forde (1875-1940), music hall performer, was born in Melbourne to a woman named Phoebe Simmons, who had sixteen children by three different fathers before dying at the age of 46. Flora (Florrie), her eighth, spent some time in a convent before running away to Sydney with her sister Nan. She first sang publicly at the Polytechnic Hall in the Imperial Arcade, Pitt Street, at the age of sixteen. For the next five years she sang and acted in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, in the latter city singing the saucy song ‘She Wore a Little Safety Pin, Behind’ for members of the Australasian Federal Convention. By 1897 she was making her debut in London, singing ‘You Know and I Know’ at three separate venues on the same night. Henceforth she was never out of work, remaining a star until her death through songs in which her audiences joined enthusiastically, including ‘Down at the Old Bull and Bush’, ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’, ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’, ‘Oh! Oh! Antonio’ and ‘Hold Your Hand Out, Naughty Boy’. In 1912 she appeared in the very first Royal Command Variety Performance. At the apogee of her career during World War I, by 1922 she weighed 105 kilos, but she continued to perform, mentor up-and-coming stars and record songs in her strong Australian accent through the 1930s, in which she also appeared as herself in two films. She performed as one of the ‘Veterans of Variety’ in another Command Performance in 1935. She never returned to Australia because being continuously booked, she had scant opportunity. She died a few hours after entertaining patients in a naval hospital in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2017

Accession number: 2017.118

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Florrie Forde (age 39 in 1915)

Subject professions

Performing arts

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.