Actors, Musicians and Theatre Personalities with Scottish Links ~ Gustavus Vaughan Brooke 1818 - 1866

1. Gustavus Vaughan Brooke (1818 - 1866)  Studio Photograph ca. 1855

Gustavus Vaughan Brooke (1818 - 1866) Studio Photograph c. 1855

The London papers of February, 1848, spoke in rapturous terms of Brooke when he was acting in the Olympic Theatre.

The Times said: —

It is long since a theatre has presented such an appearance of excitement as that of the Olympic last night. Mr. Gustavus Brooke had been announced to make his London debut in the character of Othello, and enough had been said of his provincial celebrity to justify general expectation.

Mr. Brooke's entrance created an impression in his favour. He has a tall commanding figure, and face evidently handsome, in spite of the disfigurement of the dark hue, which gives somewhat of grimace to every marked movement of Othello's countenance. His voice is of excellent quality, deep and sonorous, and this quality is never lost, however strong the utterance of passion.

The first two acts rather gave the notion of an eloquent declaimer, than a man of fire and passion. The reading was excellent, the voice well modulated, the emphasis carefully adjusted. An air of commanding dignity was spread over all this earlier portion of the performance, and the only fear was, that the whole would prove too quiet and measured, and at last seem monotonous. A well conceived display of indignation at the brawl in which Cassio is involved led to a contrary supposition; but still the third act was anxiously expected as a test.

Through this great ordeal of the third act — of the dialogue with lago — Mr. Brooke passed most triumphantly. Here he showed that he was a man not only of form, but of substance. His bursts of jealous passion came down with terrific weight and whether he soared on the wings of rage or sank exhausted beneath its force, all was fresh, energetic and genial. There was nothing in his points to suggest a reminiscence of other actors. Indeed, in the ordinary sense of the word, he can hardly be said to have made a point at all, of such a continuous, sustained character was his acting. And be it remarked, that the correctness and sound judgment which were visible in his earlier speeches, did not forsake him when he abandoned himself to the more violent outbursts of passion. As he preserved his voice, so likewise did he preserve his head, however great the storm of emotion.

But if we would mark the most striking features of Mr. Brooke' s representation of Othello, we would indicate those passages in which the under-current of grief is forced up into the midst of jealous rage. Lines, and part of lines, which he delivered were, in this respect, exquisitely touching, and evidently resulted from original conception. The exclamation, "Damn her, lewd minx! oh, damn her," when he gave an expression of sorrow to the repetition of the curse, is a remarkable case in point. Indeed, all the mournful side of Othello's position he had conceived with great delicacy. The break of the voice into weeping at the words, Othello a hero. [See account of the loss of the "London/' which appeared in all the newspapers of the day.] occupation's gone," and above all, the deep when he said, "Fool, fool, fool," after the discovery of the villany that had been practised upon him, were touches of the deepest pathos.

There is no mistake about the success of Mr. Brooke. It was not only a success marked by plaudits, but by the conversation of the old theatrical loungers. He was called with enthusiasm, and has excited an interest which will not speedily subside.


2.  Gustavus V. Brooke in the role of Iago.

Gustavus Vaughan Brooke (1818 - 1866)

Gustavus V. Brooke in the role of Iago.  Engraving by T. Sherratt after daguerotype by John H. Fitzgibbon.  Published by London Printing and Publishing Company Ltd.

Henry Irving supports G. V. Brooke in Cambridge

The Theatre Royal, Cambridge in the 19th century, akin to the theatre in the rival University town of Oxford, only opened in late summer through to the early autumn for professional entertainment. This was determined by the faculty to prevent students being corrupted by the influence of theatre. These summer seasons provided employment for actors working in Stock Company in the major cities, when their resident theatre closed for a summer recess. Such was the situation in 1862 at the Theatre Royal, Manchester where Henry Irving worked between 1860 and 1865.

Lying unrecorded in the Local Studies at Cambridge Library are playbills for the Theatre Royal, covering many years of the 19th century. Examination of these has revealed that Henry Irving appeared in Cambridge in 1862 for four weeks, with other members of the Manchester Stock Company. The practice was for the stock actors to support visiting stars.

The Season opened with the first appearance in Cambridge of "the celebrated Irish comedian Mr. Dominick Murray and Miss Josephine Fiddes,"his wife. Both "engaged for a limited period." The first piece was "Rory O'More", which introduced the two stars. . .  . This bill was replaced a week later by an adaptation by Miss Fiddes, of Wilkie Collins, "A Woman in White", with the actress playing the title role. The critic was scathing of the dramatisation, ".  .  .  . there were no link between events .  .  .  .  to those who had not read the novel it was unintelligible." He was also critical of the casting, castigating Fiddes for playing a part for which she was quite unsuited. The rest of the cast were complimented."

Mr. Murray and Miss Fiddes left after two weeks. The Manchester actors stayed to support the tragedian G.V. Brooke for a week, September 8th to 13th. He appeared on Monday night, ‘in his great character of Othello'  .  .  .  .  ‘Mr. Sinclair was a most excellent Iago. Mr. Henry Irving did not make a bad Cassio’. On Tuesday was performed, A New Way To Pay Old Debts. ‘Mr. Brooke enacting Sir Giles Overreach. We have never seen this arduous character more admirably pourtrayed. (sic) .  .  .  .  The critic went on to praise other members of the cast adding, ‘This has been a great week for the Cambridge Theatre. Mr. G.V. Brooke is one of the most accomplished actors of the day. Why the theatre has not been better attended is hardly worth while to dwell upon .  .  .  ..‘

The final week for the stock actors was with "The Great American Sensation Actress", - Miss Helen Western making her first appearance in England. Her repertoire included a new drama, Three Fast Men, in which ‘Miss Western sustained nine different characters.’ By the end of the week she was acclaimed as being young and beautiful as well as a sensation!

[From Walking Gent in Cambridge Stock. by Brien Chitty.  An Unrecorded Appearance of Henry Irving, Cambridge Theatre Royal, 25th August - 20th September 1862.]


3. Mr. G.V. Brooke in the role of Shylock. 

Gustavus Vaughan Brooke (1818 - 1866)

Mr. G.V. Brooke in the role of Shylock.  Engraving by Thomas Hollis from a Daguerreotype by John H. Fitzgibbon.  Published by The London Printing and Publishing Company.

On his return to England (from Australia) about the middle of 1861 he played a season at Drury Lane, with little success. He found himself in financial difficulties and was drinking again.  He was sought a further contract in Australia and played a farewell season at Belfast.  His last performance as Richard III on 23 December 1865 was enthusiastically received.

Obituary:  E. L. Blanchard on Gustavus Vaughan Brooke

19th January 1865 All day writing with a sad heart the memoir of poor G.V Brooke, drowned in the London Steamer , on 11th instant.

21st January 1865 Meet Avonia Jones (widow of poor G.V Brooke), and with her fruitlessly go in search of E. Gardner, that she might hear poor Brooke's last words.

E. L. B, states that Gustavus Vaughan Brooke was born on April 25th, 1819, at Hardwick Place, Dublin, and as a child was a great favourite of the novelist, Maria Edgeworth, by whose brother Lovell he was educated; and was noted for his love of, and skill in, athletic sports. He was then placed under the tuition of the Rev. William Jones, to be prepared for college, with a view of his joining the Irish Bar. He went to see Macready when he was fourteen years of age, and this decided his future career.

He called the next day on the great actor, and told him that he wished to join the profession, and Macready pointed out to him all its perils, dangers, and hardships. This did not alter Brooke's determination, for he soon after called upon J. W. Calcraft, manager of the Theatre Royal, Dublin, and requested to appear in the character of William Tell, and recited to him one or two pieces. Calcraft and his wife were very much struck with his recitation, but told him that they could do nothing at present. Almost immediately afterwards, Edmund Kean, who had been engaged to appear, was unable to do so through illness. The manager was in a fix, and thought of Gustavus Brooke, and allowed him to appear on Easter Tuesday, 1833, as William Tell.

The result was sufficiently satisfactory to obtain for him an engagement, and he appeared as Virginius, Frederic in Lover's Vows, Douglas and Rolla. He then went to Limerick and Londonderry, and was engaged for twelve nights for Glasgow. From thence to Edinburgh, where he was engaged for the rest of the season, and earned the title of "The Hibernian Roscius."

He then came to London to the Victoria and joined the Kent circuit. After considerable work in the provinces he appeared as Othello at the Olympic Theatre, January 2nd, 1848, and was at once acknowledged as one of the greatest tragedians of the age, and had the most liberal offers, but he returned to the provinces, and after a tour went to America, and made his debut at the Broadway Theatre, New York, December 15th, 1851, as Othello. His first appearance in Philadelphia was on January 5th, 1852, as Sir Giles Overreach. He had made a considerable sum of money, but he invested it in taking the Astor Place Opera House, New York, which he opened in 1852, but lost everything, and became deeply involved in debt; but, to his honour be it remembered, he paid every shilling afterwards. On September 6th, 1852, he recommenced touring through the States as a star, and his progress was triumphant. He returned to England and reappeared at Drury Lane, September 5th, 1853. In 1854 he took his farewell of the London public, and sailed for Australia. He became lessee of the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, but the speculation was unsuccessful, so after seven years' absence he returned to Drury Lane, October 28th, 1861, appearing as Othello.

G. V. Brooke was tall, dignified, and graceful; his features were eminently expressive, and on the stage his walk and presence were majestic. As a tragic artist he stood at one time in the highest rank. His style was perfectly natural, from no school, but fresh from the hand of Nature. He possessed a voice of great power, which he used effectively. He was almost absurdly generous.

The unfortunate steamer, London, had left Plymouth on January 6th, and had been battling with fearful weather until the 11th, when she went down with two hundred and twenty souls. Only sixteen of the crew and three passengers survived. Gustavus V. Brooke set an example of courage and fortitude to all on board--working at the pumps; and appears to have accepted his coming doom with resignation. The last words he was known to have uttered were, “If you succeed in saving yourselves, give my farewell to the people at Melbourne."

[From "The Life and Reminiscences of E.L Blanchard Obituaries p90]

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