Professor Robert Kudarz was the performing name adopted by Thomas William Driver (1857 – 1922) . He was an accomplished and well connected stage magician and anti-spiritualist who entertained across New Zealand and Australia. He became well known for his polished conjuring performances and for his vehemence in refuting the assertions of mediums and spiritualists who claimed to have an otherworldly connection to the dead or to have psychic abilities.
Kudarz often performed with his wife Ellen, known as Nellie. She was variously billed with either Haidee or Nellie as a forename combined with either Kudarz, Lingard (her maiden name) or Driver as the surname. In later years, the Driver's were joined on stage by their daughter Ida. After spending 10 years in Australia performing with various troupes, including the Steens, The Driver family retired home to Wellington in 1900 where Thomas worked full-time at his trade – newspaper compositing.
In 1909, incensed by the claims of visiting Melbourne medium Charles Bailey, Driver returned to the stage, but not as Kudarz. Instead, he performed under his own name with a programme primarily focussed on exposing the mediums techniques as redressing’s of well-known conjuring tricks. Considering himself the victor in challenging Bailey to prove his mediumship, Driver often billed his later performances as ‘The man who exposed Bailey’.
Sydney - Australia
Thomas William Driver was born in 1857 in Sydney, Australia to Thomas Driver senior and Sarah Driver nee Malsbury and was one of four known children. Thomas Senior worked as a Storeman for Saunders and co. and the family lived in the Paddington area, later moving to Lower George Street. Thomas' early life was tinged with tragedy as all three of his sisters - Emily, Sarah and Emma - died under the age of five.
The Drivers emigrated to New Zealand shortly after Emma's death in 1862. Sarah Drivers sister Phoebe had married a Baker named Henry Debus in Sydney and they had moved to Auckland sometime earlier, creating an opportunity not only to leave Sydney and it's memories and working conditions behind, but also to reconnect with family. Sadly, expectations did not live up to reality. Whatever Thomas Driver senior had hoped to gain from cleaner air in a less developed country was for nought as he died of Tuberculosis only a few months later in 1863. Phoebe and Henry Debus didn't stay for long either, wrapping up Sauerbiers bakery and returning to Sydney. Sarah and Thomas junior were on their own.
Whanganui - New Zealand
Sarah Driver remarried in 1865 after meeting Irishman Michael Landers (or Laindress) a former soldier with the 57th Regiment (the ‘Die Hards’) who had pensioned out in New Zealand. They married at Putiki in Whanganui which is where Thomas Driver spent the rest of his youth. Thomas and his stepfather seemed to have a somewhat tumultuous relationship, but his mother and Michael were together until they died, and are buried together at Karori Cemetery in Wellington. There is no evidence that Sarah and Michael had any children of their own, but they did foster a girl - Emma Landers.
Thomas apprenticed at the Evening Herald newspaper offices in Whanganui during the time that John Ballance (future New Zealand premier: 1891-1893) was its proprietor.
In 1872, Thomas reputedly saw an advertisement for Professor Haselmeyer, one of the earliest stage magicians touring the world at the time. Once he saw him perform, he was hooked – saving money to buy books on magic and even pestering the man himself for lessons before he moved on to another town. Thomas spent the next ten years learning everything he could before his stage debut in 1882.