Harry Houdin was a "polynational mimic" and magician who toured Australia and New Zealand between 1860 and 1863.

He performed in New Plymouth in July 1863 at the Masonic Hall to full houses. He was back in New Plymouth in August 1863 when he was one of the passengers rescued after a surfboat capsized, resulting in the death of Mr Alex King. Houdin obviously escaped without major injury as later in the month he was performing in Auckland.

Harry Houdin's last recorded performance is on 19 September 1863 at Camp St. John, Drury where he entertained British troops. It is likely that soon after this he and his wife Martha settled in New Plymouth. Advertisements in the Taranaki Herald indicate he may have worked in the town as a hairdresser and as a photographer.

In May 1865 the Taranaki Herald reported that "Mr Houdin (who has been recently discharged from Hospital) is a confirmed lunatic and not safe to be at large.....Contributions for the relief of Mrs Houdin, who is left destitute, will be received by...".

On 13 July 1869 the Colonist reported the death of Harry Houdin in New Plymouth "a week or two ago...It appears the poor fellow has been almost helpless, having been paralysed". The Otago Witness on 24 July also reported the death of Harry Houdin - this time it was stated that his real name was Dougan.

In fact Harry Houdin's real name was Martin Dignam and he was born in Ireland in 1830. He died at the age of 39 on 18 June 1869 and was buried at Te Hēnui cemetery two days later. Martha remained in New Plymouth and married Richard Rundle in 1871.

American writer and magician Tom Interval has researched the life of Harry Houdin. Apparently in newspaper advertisements Houdin claimed that he was the nephew of the famous French magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin although Interval doubts this is true. However he does say there is no doubt Houdin was a versatile and talented performer.

Related Information


Mr Houdin's entertainment (Taranaki Herald 25 July 1863)


Report of surfboat capsize (Taranaki Herald 15 August 1863)


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