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Gavin, Agnes (1872 - 1948)

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
9 January 1948
Actor and Scriptwriter
Alternative Names
  • Kurtz, Agnes (Previous married name)
  • Wangenhein, Agnes Adele (Birth name)


Agnes Gavin is commonly historicised as a supporting figure to her husband's film ambitions. This inaccurate perception, however, minimises her contribution to early Australian silent film, most notably as one of the first female scriptwriters to achieve international success with her scripts.

Agnes Adele Wangenhein was born in Sydney in 1872. In 1890, she married Barney Kurtz, however they divorced shortly after. On 1 October 1898, she married stage actor John Frances Henry Gavin.

Gavin and her husband both worked as actors in the Bland Holt stage company and in vaudeville for many years.

Gavin made her credited debut in Forsyth's Moonlight (1910). In this film, Gavin played an Aboriginal girl named Bunda.

Gavin's husband then began to direct his own films. Gavin played small parts in her husband's films and was credited as scenario writer for Ben Hall and His Gang (1911), Frank Gardiner, King of the Road (1911), The Assigned Servant (1911), Keane of Kalgoorlie (1911), The Drover's Sweetheart (1911) and Assigned to his Wife (1911).

In 1916 Gavin and her husband released their most successful film,The Martyrdom of Nurse Cavell, for the Australian Famous Feature Company. The film told the story of English nurse Edith Cavell who was executed by the German Army in October 1915. Written by Gavin, the film was well received in Australia, Britain and the USA.

Gavin's next script again focused upon German war atrocities. The Murder of Captain Fryatt (1917) told of the murder of a commander of a merchant ship. This film was not received as well.

After this unsuccessful script, she returned to the subject of bushrangers and convicts in His Convict Bride (1918). Later in 1918, Gavin and her husband moved to Hollywood where her husband acted in Western and comedy feature films. It is not known what Gavin did during this time.

In 1925, Gavin and her husband returned to Australia permanently. Upon return, she wrote her final scripts for Trooper O'Brien (1928) and The Adorable Outcast (1928).

Sources used to compile this entry: Pike, Andrew and Cooper, Ross, Australian Film 1900-1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1980.

Archival resources

National Film and Sound Archive

  • The Assigned Servant: Documentation, 1911, 343337; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
  • Gavin, Agnes: Semi-profile, upper body portrait, looking to her left into the camera, 813171; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
  • His Convict Bride: Documentation, 1918, 765093; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
  • The Martyrdom of Nurse Cavell: Documentation, 1915 - 1916, 343383; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
  • Moonlite: Documentation, 1910, 343335; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
  • Trooper O'Brien, 1928, 7003; National Film and Sound Archive. Details

Hollie Aerts

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

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