Players of the 18th and 19th Century Theatre

Louisa Fontenelle,  1773 - 1799

Louisa Fontenelle was an actress and singer popular in Scotland in Burns' day.

Genest says in his Some Account of the English Stage that her first appearance on any stage was at Covent Garden on 6th November 1788. She took the role of 'Moggy McGilpin' in the first representation of The Highland Reel, by O'Keefe, according to the Thespian Dictionary. She took the same role at Edinburgh's Theatre Royal on her first Scottish appearance on 17th October 1789.

In the summer seasons of 1790 - 92, Louisa Fontenelle acted at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, but by January 1793, she was back in Edinburgh to join Mrs Esten's company for the season, playing Lucy in The Beggar's Opera among other roles. She also played in Glasgow at the Theatre Royal in Dunlop Street. In the winter of 1792, Sutherland's company, playing at Dumfries, included Louisa Fontenelle.

Links with Ayrshire:

There is no evidence of Fontenelle appearing in Ayrshire.  However, she did appear in Edinburgh and Dumfries on more than one occasion.

[Text draws on Genest's Some Account of the English Stage, 1822]


Louisa Fontenelle as Moggy McGilpin in The Highland Reel at Covent Garden ca. 1788   Magnify   [Image in the public domain.]

Maria Theresa Kemble,  1774-1838

Maria Theresa Kemble, a singer, dancer, and actress, also called Marie-Thérèse Kemble, née de Camp was born January 1774, in Vienna.  In 1806 she married the actor and theatrical manager Charles Kemble.

The daughter of a French family of musicians, Maria Theresa was taken to England as a small child. In 1786 she found an acting part at the Drury Lane Theatre.   She continued to play a wide variety of minor parts, some of them singing. Following her marriage to Charles Kemble she appeared with him for many years in supporting parts at Drury Lane or the Haymarket.

She was good-looking, intelligent, and so industrious that she was said in her early life to have almost lived in Drury Lane Theatre.  A writer in ‘Blackwood's’ for 1832 speaks of her as ‘a delightful dark-eyed, dark-haired girl, whose motion was itself music ere her voice was heard,’ and speaks of her as possessing remarkable charm.

An admirable actress of chambermaids, she was also excellent in Mrs. Oakley, Lucy Lockit, Caroline in the Prize, Mrs. Sullen, Bisarre, and other similar parts.  In later life, when she had grown stout, she insisted on playing juvenile parts, to the damage of her reputation. She was a moderate singer. As Lady Elizabeth Freelove and as Edmund in the Blind Boy she had no successor.

Her two daughters also won fame; they were the author and actress Fanny Kemble and the opera and concert singer Adelaide Kemble.

She died at Chertsey, Surrey, on 3 September, 1838.

Links with Ayrshire:

Maria Therese Kemble appeared at Edinburgh's Theatre Royal between 1815 and 1820 but there is no evidence of appearances in Ayrshire.

[Text based on material in The Encyclopædia Britannica.]


Marie Thérèse Kemble as Catharine in David Garrick's Catharine and Petruchio.  1806  Magnify     [Image in the public domain.]

Henry Siddons,  1774 - 1815

Henry Siddons, the actor, was  born on 4th October 1774.  He was the eldest child of Sarah and William Siddons.

He was educated at the Charterhouse, being intended by his mother for the church.   However, he joined the Covent Garden company, and made his first appearance as Herman in a play called Integrity, on 8th October 1801. His future wife, Harriet Murray, played in the same piece. 

His mother withdrew her objections to his pursuit of an acting career, appearing as Lady Randolph to his Douglas on 21 May 1802. He married Harriet Murray on 22nd June 1802, and remained a member of the Covent Garden Theatre until the spring of 1805. On 21st September 1805 he made his first appearance at Drury Lane, playing the Prince of Wales to Elliston's Hotspur in Henry IV.  On 7th October he appeared as Romeo, and on the following evening as Sir G. Touchwood in the Belle's Stratagem.   During his stay at Drury Lane he played a variety of good parts, including Banquo, Jaffier, George Barnwell, Douglas (in Percy), Claudio (in‘Much Ado), and Rolla.  He terminated his connection with the London stage at the close of the season 1808–9.

Largely through Sir Walter Scott's influence, he then secured the Edinburgh patent, and opened in the Theatre Royal on 14th November. 1809 with the ‘Honeymoon,’ in which he played the Duke; his wife appeared as Juliana.

Links with Ayrshire: 

Morris refers to "the entire Edinburgh Company, under the never-to-be-forgotten Mr. Murray, and the very talented Mrs. H. Siddons, made out an entire season" at the theatrical premises in Content Street.  Since this visit is before his death, it is possible that Henry Siddons may have contributed to this season.

{Text draws on material included in A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and other stage personel in London 1660 - 1800, by Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, Edward A. Langhans.]


Henry Siddons

Henry Siddons (1774 - 1815), 1808
   Magnify  [Image in the public domain.]

Charles Kemble,  1775-1854

A British actor, the youngest son of Roger Kemble and a younger brother of John Philip Kemble, Stephen Kemble and Sarah Siddons. Charles Kemble was born at Brecon, South Wales.  Like John Philip, he was educated at Douai.

After returning to England in 1792, he obtained a job in the post office, but soon resigned to go on the stage, making his first recorded appearance at Sheffield as Orlando in As You Like It in that year.  During the early part of his career as an actor he slowly gained popularity. For a considerable time he played with his brother and sister, chiefly in secondary parts, and received little attention.

His first London appearance was on 21 April 1794, as Malcolm to his brother's Macbeth. Ultimately he won independent fame, especially in such characters as Archer in George Farquhar's Beaux' Stratagem, Dorincourt in Hannah Cowley's Belle's Stratagem, Charles Surface and Ranger in Benjamin Hoadley's Suspicious Husband. His Laërtes and Macduff were as accomplished as his brother's Hamlet and Macbeth. His production of Cymbeline in 1827 inaugurated the trend to historical accuracy in stagings of that play that reached a peak with Henry Irving at the turn of the century.

In comedy he was ably supported by his wife, Marie Therese De Camp, whom he married on 2 July 1806. His visit, with his daughter Fanny, to America during 1832 and 1834, aroused much enthusiasm. The later part of his career was beset by money troubles in connection with his joint proprietorship of Covent Garden theatre. He formally retired from the stage in December 1836, but his final appearance was on 10 April 1840.

In 1844-1845 he gave readings from Shakespeare at Willis's Rooms. Macready regarded his Cassio as incomparable, and summed him up as 'a first-rate actor of second-rate parts'.

Links with Ayrshire:

Charles Kemble and his wife appeared at Edinburgh's Theatre Royal between 1815 and 1820 but there is no evidence of Charles Kemble appearing in Ayrshire.

[This text draws on material in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.]


Charles Kemble 1830.    Magnify     [Image in the public domain.]

Henry Erskine Johnston,  1777-1845

Born in 1777 in Edinburgh, the son of a High Street barber. 

Initially in the post of clerk in a writer's office, he had drifted into the profession, making his first appearance at Edinburgh in 1797.  His favourite parts were Hamlet and Douglas. As an example of his versatility, he appeared on the same evening as Hamlet, completing the night's work by a performance as Harlequin.  This was in the clays when the audience expected value for their money.  Henry Erskine Johnston was widely known as 'The Scottish Roscius,'

Johnston's first big success was made at Edinburgh in Home's Douglas, in which he appeared as young Norval. Just at that time the revolution in stage costumes had commenced, and Johnston chose the occasion to dress somewhat differently from his predecessors in the part. Formerly it had been played in trews and Scots jacket. Johnston donned full Highland costume—kilt, breastplate, shield, claymore, and bonnet, and, on his first appearance, was greeted with thunderous plaudits. The Edinburgh public considered him the best Scotsman they had ever seen on the stage.

From Edinburgh he went to Dublin and elsewhere; then on to London.  He was at Covent Garden from 1797 - 1803, moving to Drury Lane in 1804.  His young wife became an actress, gaining brief success (and considerable notoriety) in London, where she appeared with her husband at Covent Garden and Drury Lane.  Mrs Johnston's London career lasted a few short years and then sank into insignificance,  

Links with Ayrshire

Henry Erskine Johnston played in the empty soapworks beside the main gate of the former Dalblair House, Ayr around 1812, before moving to Content Street. It is believed that Johnston became part-owner (with the banker, James Morris) and lessee of the new Ayr Theatre, opened at Sandgatehead in 1815.   Although this became known as the Theatre Royal, there is no obvious evidence that the owners gained letters patent from the crown, permitting the performance of serious drama. 

[This text draws on material in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.]


Portrait of Henry Erskine Johnston, (1777- 1845).     [Image in the public domain.]

For further information about Henry Erskine Johnston, please follow this LINK

Harriet Murray Siddons, 1783 - 1844

Harriet Murray, was born April 1783, the daughter of Charles Murray (1754–1821), the Actor.

As a young child she appeared at Bath as Prince Arthur in July 1793. Her first London appearance was at Covent Garden in May 1798, as Perdita in Winter's Tale’.  She remained at Covent Garden until the summer of 1805, playing, with considerable success, a large range of parts, including Rosalind, Viola, Lady Townly, Lucy Ashton, Desdemona, Beatrice, Portia, Lady Teazle, and Miss Hardcastle.

In 1802, she married Henry Siddons, son of William and Sarah Kemble Siddons.  She joined the Drury Lane company, together with her husband. in September 1805.  At Drury Lane she was Juliet to Elliston's Romeo.

After moving to Edinburgh in 1809, she devoted herself to helping her husband in managing the company in addition to appearing regularly on the stage.  Their first appearance was in November 1809 in the ‘Honeymoon,’ in which Henry Siddons played the Duke with Harriet as Juliana.

In 1814 the Drury Lane management made her a tempting offer to play leading female parts to Kean, an offer she declined. When her husband died in 1815, the affairs of the Edinburgh Theatre were in poor condition, but, with the assistance of her brother, William Henry Murray, she continued to lead the company, and eventually was able to retire, at the end of her twenty-one years' lease of the theatre.  The turning point in the fortunes of the house had been the production in 1819 of Rob Roy, in which Mackay made a great hit as the Bailie. When the same piece was played by royal command before George IV, on the occasion of his visit to Scotland, Mrs. Siddons played, for that night only, the part of Diana Vernon.

Hariet Siddons's farewell benefit took place on 29 March 1830. Sir Walter Scott wrote for the occasion an address which she delivered.  Harriet Murray Siddons died on 24 Oct 1844.   She and her husband are buried in the Greyfriars cemetery.

[Text based on Genest's History of the Drama and Stage and J. C. Dibdin's Annals of the Edinburgh Stage.]

Links with Ayrshire:

Morris refers to "the entire Edinburgh Company, under the never-to-be-forgotten Mr. Murray, and the very talented Mrs. H. Siddons, made out an entire season" at the theatrical premises in Content Street. It is presumed that he is referring to Harriet Murray Siddons, wife of Sarah's son Henry Siddons (1774-1815)


Harriet Murray Siddons (1783 - 1844)
Magnify     [Image in the public domain.]

Henry Erskine Johnston

On finding the Prince of Wales in Mrs Johnston's dressing room at Drury Lane, the actor gives the Prince a sound horse whipping.

John Philip Kemble astray

John Philip Kemble too much in drink (and amorous).

Henry Siddons

Henry Siddons explores Garrick's views on depicting intoxication in a minor role.

Harriet Siddons in Perth

Harriet Siddons and her husband Henry play a season at the new theatre in Perth

An Actor's Earnings

In 1788/89, Johnston and his wife have a joint contract at Covent Garden. A pamphlet published for the Actor's rebellion in 1800 gives insights into their earnings.

A Manager Remembers

In his memoirs, John Jackson, sometime manager of the Edinburgh Theatre Royal, includes Louisa Fontenelle along with Mrs Yates, Mrs Esten, Mrs Jordan and Mrs Siddons, in a list of 'the most capital performers that could be had', while he was manager of the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh.

Henry Erskine Johnston ~ A brief biography.

Legend surrounds the origins of the actor Henry Erskine Johnston, who may or may not have been the son of a hairdresser . . .

Charles Kemble

Charles Kemble (1775-1854), the brother of John Philip Kemble and the father of Fanny Kemble, although more especially noted for excellence in secondary characters, played Hamlet not infrequently. He maintained, and his daughter agreed with him, that Hamlet was really mad.

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