Actors, Musicians and Theatre Personalities with Scottish Links ~ David Ross 1728 - 90

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David Ross 1728 - 90

1.    David Ross 1728 - 90 as Hamlet by Zoffany Oil on canvas 770 x 640.  Collection of the Garrick Club, London. [This version of the image in the public domain.]

Ross first played at Drury Lane in 1751, taking secondary characters in tragedy, leading in comedy.   He opened a new theatre in Edinburgh; the first patent was given to Ross.

It was to this player that a sum of ten guineas was sent anonymously every year on his benefit for his acting of 'George Barnwell,' the guilty apprentice, by some
repentant sinner.

Ross lost his earnings in  the Edinburgh venture.  He returned to London with impaired fortunes, and reappeared at Covent Garden; but he had lost his attractive powers.

[Text from Old Drury Lane - Fifty Years' Recollections of Author, Actor and Manager by Edward Stirling, London 1881.]


Ross is dressed in Hamlet black, with the traditional left stocking undone to show his madness and reveal his undergarments. He has an elaborate wig, with curls over his right ear and a long queue over both shoulders. He gestures with his right hand and holds his book of words in his left.

Ross acted Hamlet for the first time in London at Covent Garden on 8 October 1757, just after he had moved from Drury Lane where Garrick usually played the role. Ross gave his last Hamlet at Covent Garden on 26 January 1767.

2. Essex

David Ross 1728 - 90

2.    David Ross 1728 - 90 as The Earl of Essex. by J Thornthwaite   Engraving 146 X 192mm.  Collection of the Garrick Club, London. [This version of the image in the public domain.]

David Ross (1728–1790), actor, the son of a writer to the signet in Edinburgh, was born in London on 1 May 1728. He was educated at Westminster School, and some indiscretion committed there when he was thirteen years old lost him the affection, never regained, of his father, who, in his will, left instructions to Elizabeth Ross to pay her brother annually, on his birthday, the sum of one shilling. to put him in mind of his misfortune he had to be born.  Ross appealed against this will in 1769, and, after carrying the case to the House of Lords, obtained near £6,000.

How he lived after his father's abandonment is not known. He played Clerimont in the at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, on 8 May, 1749, and remaining there for two seasons.  Engaged with Mossop by Garrick, he made his first appearance at Drury Lane on 3 Oct. 1751 as Young Bevil in the Conscious Lovers.

The part suited him: His person was pleasing, and his address easy, his manner of speaking natural, his action well adapted to the gravity as well as grace of the character. He was approved by a polite and distinguishing audience, who seemed to congratulate themselves on seeing an actor whom they imagined capable of restoring to the stage the long-lost character of the real fine gentleman (Davies, Life of Garrick, i. 195, ed. 1808).

Ross sprang into immediate favour, and is said, with Mossop, to have inspired some jealousy in Garrick.   Castalio in the Orphan, Carlos in the Revenge, Shore in Jane Shore, Dumont, Lord Townly in the Provoked Husband, Young Knowell in Every Man in his Humour, George Barnwell in the London Merchant, Palamede in the Comical Lovers, Romeo, and Essex in the Unhappy Favourite were played in the first season by Ross, who, on 31 March 1752, recited a eulogium of Shakespeare by Dryden, concluding with Milton's Epitaph to the Memory of Shakespeare. Buckingham in Henry VIII, Banquo, First Spirit in Comus, Constant in the Provoked Wife, and Charles in the Nonjuror were given in the following season.

On 10 October, 1753, he appeared as Oroonoko, playing subsequently Moneses in Tamerlane and Dorimant in the Man of the Mode. On 25 February. 1754 he was the original Icilius in Crisp's tragedy of Virginia. In the season of 1754–5 he added to his repertory Carlos in Love makes a Man, Pyrrhus in the Distressed Mother, Hippolytus in Phædra and Hippolytus, Osman in Zara, Macduff, Valentine in Love for Love, and Edgar in Lear. On 27 February, 1756, he was the original Egbert in Dr. Brown's Athelstan. He also played Plume in the Recruiting Officer, Charles in the Busy Body, Juba in Cato, Jupiter in Amphitryon,  Torrismond in the Spanish Friar, and Frankly in the Suspicious Husband.

On 3 October, 1757, he made, in his favourite character of Essex, his first appearance at Covent Garden. Here he remained until 1767, playing leading parts in tragedy and comedy, the most conspicuous being Othello, Diocles in the Prophetess, Hamlet, Archer in the Beaux' Stratagem, Alexander, Leonatus, Macheath, Sir Charles Easy in the Careless Husband, Norval and Jaffier in Venice Preserved. Few original parts were assigned him at Covent Garden. The principal were Sifroy in Dodsley's Cleona on 2 December, 1758, Lord Belmont in the Double Mistake of Mrs. Griffith on 9 January, 1766, and Don Henriquez in Hull's Perplexities, altered from the Adventures of Five Hours of Sir Samuel Tuke, on 31 January,. 1767.

[Text based on Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 49, by John Joseph Knight]

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David Ross 1728 - 90

At the end of the season of 1766–7 Ross left Covent Garden for Edinburgh.

In 1767, after popular tumult and violent opposition, a patent was obtained for a theatre at Edinburgh. Ross solicited the post of patentee and manager, and, although he was personally unknown in Edinburgh, the theatre was made over to him in the autumn of 1767. He is said to have paid a rental of £400 a year.

A strong and influential opposition to Ross as an improper person originated, and led to a paper warfare, in which Ross, on account of his heaviness, was derided as Mr. Opium.  He nevertheless opened the ‘old’ theatre in the Canongate on 9 December, 1767, playing Essex in the Earl of Essex, which is noteworthy as being the first play legally performed in Scotland. Ross also recited a prologue by James Boswell, and he played the leading business through what, though it began unhappily, proved a prosperous season.

Two years later, on 9 December, 1769, he opened, with the Conscious Lovers, a new theatre at Edinburgh. He had succeeded, in spite of innumerable difficulties (including an indignant protest from George Whitefield 1714-1770, one of the more evangelical early Methodists, part of whose former preaching ground was covered by the new edifice), in raising the building by subscription, but seems to have had inadequate capital to work it. At the close of a disastrous season he let the theatre to Samuel Foote, and returned to London. At the time of his death the ‘Scots Magazine’ described him as still holding the titular office of ‘Master of the Revels for Scotland’

On 10 October, 1770 Ross reappeared at Covent Garden as Essex, this being announced as his first appearance for four years, and resumed at once his old characters. After a season or two, during which he was seen as Sciolto and Alcanor in Mahomet, his name became infrequent on the bill.

After the season of 1777–8 he had the misfortune to break his leg, and he did not reappear on the stage. He was for some years in extreme poverty. An unknown friend, subsequently discovered to be Admiral Samuel Barrington, made him an annual present of £60, which was continued until his death.  He died in London on 14 September, 1790, and was buried three days later in St. James's, Piccadilly, James Boswell being chief mourner.

[Text based on Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 49, by John Joseph Knight]

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David Ross 1728 - 90

Ross was a good actor, his great success being ‘in tragic characters of the mixed passions.’ He was, in his youth, a fashionable exponent of lovers in genteel comedy, but forfeited those characters through indolence and love of pleasure.

His best parts seem to have been Castalio, Essex, Young Knowell, and George Barnwell. During many successive years he received on his benefit ten guineas as a tribute from one who had been saved from ruin by his performance of the last-named character.  He was said to be the last pupil of Quin, whose Falstaffian qualities he perpetuated.

[Text based on Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 49, by John Joseph Knight]

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Ross Anecdotes

Top ~ Boswell's Prologue

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