Players of the 19th Century Theatre

Gustavus Vaughan Brooke,  1818 - 1866

He showed early talent in a school play.  When he saw Macready perform in Dublin in 1832 he was determined to go on the stage.

His opportunity came in 1833 due to the failure of Kean to fulfil his engagement at Dublin; Brooke was given an opportunity to appear in the part of William Tell. He was billed as 'a young gentleman under 14 years of age' and played with some success. Other appearances followed as Virginius and Young Norval. He travelled to Limerick and Londonderry, and was engaged for twelve nights for Glasgow, moving on to Edinburgh, where he was engaged for the rest of the season.  He appeared at the Royal Victoria Theatre, London, in 1834 as Virginius with little success.

Brooke toured the English provincial theatres for three years, and then played seasons at Dublin (1837) and Belfast (1838). He continued playing in the provinces and in Ireland.  In 1841 he declined a minor role in London with Macready's company and continued his successful seasons in Manchester, Liverpool and other large towns.  His characters included Richard III, Romeo, Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, Iago and Brutus.  In Manchester he played Othello to Macready's Iago.  In 1846 he returned to Dublin, playing many Shakespearean roles opposite Helen Faucit

In 1848 Brooke had a triumphant success as Othello at the Olympic Theatre in London and, in other roles his performance was compared favourably with Edmund Kean, with more than one critic referring to him as the greatest tragedian of the day.  However, he lack the temperament to profit from his success.  He was drinking heavily and his voice began to fail. On medical advice, he curtailed the frequency of his appearances.

By the end of 1851 he was in America enjoying considerable success over the next 18 months.  After a successful return to the Drury Lane theatre, in London, he moved to Australia with plans to give 200 performances in major towns in Australia and New Zealand.  After playing a week at the Cape Town Garrison, en route to Melbourne, Brooke opened at the Queen's Theatre on 26th February 1855.  He remained in Australia for six years and, on his return to Britain, had a repertoire of 40 characters and his voice was restored.

Brooke left Plymouth for Australia on 1 January 1866 in the S.S. London which foundered in a storm ten days later.

Links with Ayrshire:

Brooke's first experience as a theatre actor/manager was at the Theatre Royal in Ayr. James Morris was the owner of the theatre at that time.


Gustavus Vaughan Brooke   magnify

Mortimer Murdoch,  1822 - 1908

Murdock was born Mortimer J. Murdoch, son of James Murdock in Ayrshire.  He died in Massachusetts, where he settled after his retirement.

He was a renowned Shakespearean Actor and a playright, completing some 40 works during his lifetime.  His death certificates records his profession as author and the cause of death a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 84.  The death was registered by his son, James Murdock and he was buried in the Rock Cemetery in Middlesborough.

Links with Ayrshire: 

Murdock was born in Ayrshire but no evidence of performances in Ayr have been discovered.  Adamson reports that he appeared at Simpson's Theatre under the Arch in Kilmarnock



Playbill from 1876 with Murdock as William Tell  magnify

William Henry Don,  1825–1862

The actor, Sir William Henry Don, seventh baronet, was born in May 1825, the only son of Sir Alexander Don of Newtondon, Berwickshire, and Grace the eldest daughter of John Stein of Edinburgh. His father was a close friend of Sir Walter Scott, and a frequent attendant at his dinner parties.

William Henry Don succeeded to the baronetcy when less than a year old. He was educated at Eton College between 1838 and 1841. He joined the 5th Dragoon Guards, as a cornet, in June 1842, becoming an extra aide-de-camp to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1844, and was promoted lieutenant in 1845.  Later that year, he retired from the army, deep in debt. The estate at Newtondon was sold , raising £85,000 for his creditors.

He took to the stage, turning his experience as an amateur actor to good account.  Following his marriage in 1847 to Antonia, the daughter of M. Lebrun of Hamburg, he had engagements in the north of England.  By 1850 he was in America, appearing as John Duck in The Jacobite at the Broadway Theatre, New York and later as Sir Charles Coldstream in Boucicault's comedy Used Up. He remained in America for nearly five years, playing with success in New York, Philadelphia, and other large towns.

On his return to England he found that, after all his affairs had been wound up, debts of about £7000 remained. In an attempt to pay off this sum he continued as a comic actor.   He began in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and after a provincial tour, went to the Haymarket Theatre, London, where in 1857 he acted in J. M. Morton's farce Whitebait at Greenwich.

Don's first marriage failed and in October 1857, at Marylebone, he married Emily Eliza Saunders, the eldest daughter of John Saunders of the Adelphi Theatre, London. She had been well known as a lively actress in comedy and farce for a number of years.

In 1861 Don and his wife went to Australia, where he appeared at the Royal Theatre, Melbourne, recently vacated by G. V. Brooke.  Now he was playing playing female characters in burlesques. In February 1862 he was in Hobart, Tasmania, with a company of his own, but fell ill with an inflammation of the lungs. On 15 March 1862 he played Queen Elizabeth in the burlesque Kenilworth.  Four days later, on 19 March 1862, he died from aneurysm of the aorta.  He was interred at a private burial in Hobart.

Links with Ayrshire: 

In August 1839 Don took part in the Eglinton Tournament in the character of a page to Lady Montgomerie.  Adamson reports that he appeared at Simpson's Theatre under the Arch in Kilmarnock.


Sir William Henry Don, 7th Baronet (1825–1862) of the 5th Dragoon Guards (Princess Charlotte of Wales's).  Copyright expired - current location unknown.  magnify

Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904, 

Text in Preparation

Links with Ayrshire: 


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Merely Players [1]

A Sunday meeting at the "Halfway House" between Gustavus V. Brooke, from the Ayr Theatre, and Copeland, from the Kilmarnock Theatre.

Merely Players [2]

The Sequel: an encore for Brooke and Copeland.

William Don to the Rescue

“At Dunbar I was all but killed; a tough sandwich stuck in my throat as I was hurrying into the carriage . 

Macready on Brooke

Manchester March 27th 1845. Acted Werner very fairly. Called for (trash!). Spoke in gentle rebuke and kind expostulation to Mr. G. V. Brooke .

Letter from Gustavus Vaughan Brooke (1818–1866) to James Smith

Here we are in the central part of the diggings after having encountered all sorts of extraordinary adventures . . . .

Brooke and his Financial Difficulties

One of Brooke's later engagements in Glasgow vividly illustrates his carelessness in regard to money matters, and accounts in a measure for the dissipation of the three fortunes which he is said to have made and lost during his lifetime.

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