In 1975 when Una Moncrieff joined the Glebe Society she was living at 139 Wigram Rd Forest Lodge, her family home since the time of WWI. She and her sister Edna claimed to be cousins of singer Gladys Moncrieff who in 1921 achieved fame throughout Australia as The Maid of the Mountains. Over time they assumed the surname ‘Moncrieff’ and, like ‘Our Glad’, were in show business, playing up the connection in their publicity.
Una and Edna (born ca 1909 and 1912) were the daughters of storeman Arthur William and Helen ‘Nellie’ Mabel Cook, their surname often spelt ‘Cooke’ and their mother’s first name ‘Helene’ or ‘Helena’. Their father, who enlisted in the 17th battalion in 1917, died on 28 August 1923 in the Randwick Military Hospital. Fourteen years later Helen Cook married Francis George Lear Pearsall, a long-term resident of 139 Wigram Rd.
Una Cooke studied piano at Nellie McDonnell’s Oberon College of Music in Leichhardt and became a regular child performer in Leichhardt Town Hall concerts. As Una Moncrieff Cooke she gained her associate diploma from the London College of Music in 1922. She also danced, sang and played the violin. In 1931 she was in the pantomime chorus of Babes in the Wood in Newcastle and in 1933, with sister Edna as a featured artist, she toured Hobart, Launceston, Adelaide, Perth and the WA goldfields in Clem Dawe’s Midnight Follies, with a return season in 1935. In the 1940s she was a member of the Tivoli Ballet before establishing the Una Moncrieff School of Dancing studios in the city and Croydon where she taught ballet, tap and character. In later life she worked as a cashier.
Edna Moncrieff, a member of Minnie Everett’s Band of Juveniles from age four, first danced in public at age seven, and solo at age eleven. With the Sunbeam Pantomime Children she played the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland and was a featured artist in Aladdin and The House That Jack Built (in Adelaide with Roy Rene and Sadie Gale). For J C Williamson’s Edna danced in the musical comedies Primrose, The Vagabond King and Good Morning, Dearie, and by the time she was 16 – a solo ballerina in the dance sequences in the operas Aida, Thais and Faust – had toured Hobart, Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne, doing schoolwork by correspondence. As a nine-year-old in 1921 she sang and danced in Sydney’s commemoration of the Battle of Trafalgar at the Strand Theatre, and two years later featured in a fundraiser for the Glebe Soldiers’ War Memorial bazaar.
By 1932 Edna was talking about trying her luck in London. Her break came that year when Clem Dawe, manager of Moss Empire Theatres, hired her for a Queensland tour of his Midnight Follies variety show. Although an accident put her out of action for five weeks she rejoined the troupe, which now included sister Una, for its 1933 Australian tour. In 1936 Edna was chosen to tour Britain with the Clem Dawe Variety Company; in 1937 she played pantomime in London; by 1938 she was a principal dancer with London’s Espinosa ballet company.
During the Second World War Edna was a sergeant in the Auxiliary Territorial Service engaged in anti enemy aircraft activity in Belgium, France and Germany. At war’s end she joined an entertainment unit playing to occupying forces. In 1947 she spent six months in Sydney visiting her mother and sister before returning to London to marry dance performer and teacher Edward Kelland-Espinosa (1906-91) who took over the running of the British Ballet Organisation founded by his father. Edna Marjory Kelland- Espinosa (known also as Edna Beresford Kelland-Espinosa and Edna Moncrieff Espinosa) died in London in 1985.
Una and Edna’s mother at Glebe in 1937 married warehouseman Francis Pearsall whose home address had been 139 Wigram Rd since the time of his enlistment in the AIF in 1916. At that time his mother Matilda was living at 85 Arundel St, and he, the youngest of 12 children, was twice widowed. In Queensland he had married sisters Louisa and Ellen Hallett who died in 1912 and 1915 respectively. His daughter, four-year-old Una Lear, died in 1910 and baby son Vaughan Dyer (1914- 42) was brought up near Ipswich presumably by relatives (the Hallett sisters had eleven siblings).
Francis Pearsall died in 1946 and was buried at Rookwood. His widow died at age 66 suddenly at her Glebe home on 17 May 1954 and was cremated at Northern Suburbs.
Sources: Australian War Memorial service records; Evening News 30.6.1927; Hobart Mercury 9.10.1923; NSW online registry of births, deaths, marriages; NSW cemetery records; NSW electoral rolls; Perth Daily News 10.4.1933; Queensland online registry of births, deaths, marriages; Sand’s Directories; Sunday Times (Sydney) 30.7.1922, 5.8.1928, 16.12.1928; Sydney Morning Herald 23.4.1949, 19.5.1954; West Australian 7.3.1947; World’s News (Sydney) 19.12.1928.