Gustavus Vaughan Brooke (1818 - 1866)   ~  Incidents and Events in a Professional Life

Brooke and his Financial Difficulties

One of Brooke's later engagements in Glasgow vividly illustrates his carelessness with 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.

Brooke, it appears, had his headquarters at Cheetwood, Manchester, and while proceeding on his rounds took with him an actor for some time associated with theatrical affairs in that city, who played seconds to the tragedian and looked after business matters.  Glasgow was visited in due course, and immediately after the termination of the last performance there Brooke informed his satellite that he intended returning forthwith to Manchester.

'Then we must borrow money to take us back,' said that worthy; 'expenses have been heavy, the attendance but middling, and there's nothing in the exchequer.'

'That's strange,' replied Brooke, in a tone of good-humoured perplexity; 'the houses to me seemed very good. Why didn't you tell me sooner — I would have borrowed the needful'?  Go and see what you can do.'

No sooner had the financier departed than Brooke's dresser gave a significant wink to the tragedian, and without stopping to explain his conduct made his way into an adjoining lumber-room crammed with baggage. To Brooke's great astonishment he returned at once with a hat full of money, which he had found rolled up in some stage costumes in a trunk belonging to the actor-manager.  Scarcely had he hidden this under a chair when 'honest lago' came back, pulling a long face, and protesting that he had tried his best and couldn't raise a farthing.

'Oh, it's immaterial, Mr. ,'blurted out the honest dresser, with a sudden familiarity that startled the actor.'

'A little bird has told me something' and so saying he pulled the hat from under the chair and emptied its contents on the table. Taking in the whole situation at a glance, Brooke indulged in a hearty laugh over the discomfiture of his lieutenant, and then, much as his own Othello dismissed Cassio, quietly sent him about his business.

[From The Life of Gustavus Vaughan Brooke, Tragedian.  By W. J. Lawrence.   1892  Belfast: W. & G. Baird.]

OthelloMr G.V.Brooke as Othello ca. 1840 by John Redington, engraving, printed ink on paper 211 mm x 173 mm. London, England (published). Harry R. Beard Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  [Image out of copyright.]

Letters to Morris

Following the Dublin performance, 'Mr. and Mrs. G. V. Brooke,' on June 29, gave some readings from Othello in the Corporation Hall, Londonderry, at popular prices. Next day the tragedian wrote from the City Hotel to his friend Morris, of Ayr, telling him the readings had been a failure, and asking the loan of a little money for immediate travelling expenses; a request often repeated afterwards, and as often responded to by the kind-hearted Scotchman.

Brooke laments there is so little to be done in theatres during the summer months, and conveys the intimation that he has made an arrangement with Daly, of the Carlisle Theatre, to take him on tour through Penrith, Wigton, and Maryport, to lecture on Shakespeare. He thinks it will 'answer very well.'

On the same day Daly was writing to Brooke advising the postponement of his visit to Carlisle until the excitement of the impending races had subsided, and fixing the 9th of July for his appearance there.

On July 3rd we find the tragedian writing to Morris from the Maiden City (Derry), enclosing Daly's letter, and complaining that he cannot get a farthing from a certain manager, who, he says, is 'deeply in my debt, not only for our services, but money lent.'     'Mrs. Brooke' has been taken suddenly ill with some affection of the heart; he cannot leave as expected, and the money for travelling expenses will be exhausted before the end of the week. Will his good friend lend him another five pounds, 'which shall be repaid with a thousand thanks?'

Needless to say, the money was forthcoming. Arriving at Carlisle on Tuesday, July 10th, Brooke and Marie Duret gave two readings there; 'but,' writes the tragedian to Morris, from the Angel Inn on the 18th, 'from the extreme heat they have been comparative failures. We are going completely through the 'Lake District,' and I make no doubt some of the smaller towns will answer our purpose much better.'

When next he communicates with his trusty friend it is from the Saracen's Head, Paisley, on September 22nd. 'I fear you will think ill of me,' he says, 'for neglecting to write at the time you stated, but when you have heard how I have been situated, I trust sincerely your good nature will find some little excuse. I could not return the favour, and did not like writing.

I have been a very severe loser since last we met; £53 by A, and a much larger sum, a complete dead loss, in London, which I fully relied upon getting in a week or so after I wrote to you; added to which my mother, sister, and brother have been dangerously ill with the prevailing epidemic in Dublin, and I was compelled to assist them at a pecuniary sacrifice.

The readings were a complete failure, and from the 1st of July to the end of August barely cleared expenses. But, thank Heaven, things are looking more favourable now, and my voice is much better.  We have engaged here for twelve nights, and as trade is very good I have every reason to hope we shall have good houses.'

Eight days after, we find him writing to Morris from the same address, saying, 'The receipt of your very kind letter on Tuesday morning afforded me the greatest gratification. I have only just time to save the post and say that Mrs. Brooke was seriously indisposed yesterday morning, and was in a very precarious state for some hours, but I am happy to say the doctor considers her out of danger. She still keeps her bed, and I have every reason to hope she will be able to resume her professional duties on Monday. I play at the Princess's Theatre, Glasgow, on Monday week.'

[From The Life of Gustavus Vaughan Brooke, Tragedian.  By W. J. Lawrence.   1892  Belfast: W. & G. Baird.]

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Angel Inn
Market Place, Carlisle.  The Angel Inn, where Brooke lodged, is the white building, second left. ( In 1841, the inn burnt down and was demolished.)  [Image and text from Scarrows of Cumberland website]

Golden Lion
Golden Lion Hotel, Senhouse Street, Maryport.  This was a venue for public meetings and performances at the time of Brooke's Cumbrian Tour.  Image ©Gold Lion Hotel

(The hotel is rich in the town's history and has been visited by many famous people, including royalty. William Wordsworth was here in 1829. George Stephenson stayed in the hotel in 1836, attending a meeting, the outcome of which was the Maryport & Carlisle railway.

Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens also stayed in the hotel in 1857, Wilkie Collins laid the scene of his famous novel "The Women in White" based on a local ghost story.)

Letter from Gustavus Vaughan Brooke (1818–1866) to James Smith, 2nd January 1861

Back Creek,
[Wednesday] 2nd January, 1861

My dear Mr Smith,

Here we are in the central part of the diggings after having encountered all sorts of extraordinary adventures but I am happy to add that the pecuniary result of our expedition has hitherto been of a favourable character. We finish here tomorrow (Thursday) – play at Maryborough on Friday — Castlemaine on Saturday and Sandhurst, on Monday where we shall remain for twelve nights.

Change of scene has been of great service although I cannot help at times feeling very anxious about what goes on in Melbourne. I sent a letter to the 'Age' last week but am ignorant as to whether it was published or not.

I have here got the most damnable and besottedly drunken set of wretches (with one or two exceptions) that ever a man had to deal with. We manage however despite of all the obstacles and annoyances to get on swimmingly. How is Mrs Smith and the young one – If you can spare a few moments I should be happy to have a few lines from you.

Mrs and Miss Jones join me in wishing you and yours health and prosperity during the next twelvemonth and many happy returns of the season. Send us a paper to instruct and enlighten us during our peregrinations through this exceedingly uninteresting district. In the meantime believe me dear Mr Smith

Yours very truly

G.V. Brooke

[From Smith, James, 1820–1910 Papers (letters received), 1837 – 1909.  Original in the Library of New South Wales, ML MSS 212/1/239]

Theatre Royal, Melbourne (1855-1933) Opened on 16 July 1855 the Royal was bought by G.V. Brooke in 1856.

Manchester March 27th 1845.

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

From Macready's diary.

Tradegdians in Conflict

Always on the lookout for new blood wherewith to recruit his company at Drury Lane, it was not of the order of things that Macready would remain long ignorant of the growing reputation of one who in his tyro days had paid him the sincerest form of flattery . . . . the eminent tragedian sent his agent to Scotland in the summer of 1840 to report on this matter . . . .

Coming across Brooke at the Theatre Royal, Aberdeen, the agent immediately engages him for a season at Drury Lane.

Brooke's journey to London to take up his duties was delayed by a severe injury but he arrived in good time to commence rehearsals in December 1841.

Entering the Green Room he found that the season was to open with a revival of The Merchant of Venice in which he was allocated the minor role of Salarino; The same notice indicated that he would be playing Othello the following Friday. This was in line with his contract, alternating leading roles with minor part.

It is reported that, pausing only to tear down the notice, Brooke strode out of the theatre with a lowering brow and menacing aspect.  Luckily for himself, Brooke lost little caste by his quarrel with the eminent tragedian, never to darken its portals again under Macready's management . . . . refusing as many as thirteen promising offers before making his memorable appearance at the Olympic.

[From The Life of Gustavus Vaughan Brooke, Tragedian.  By W. J. Lawrence.   1892  Belfast: W. & G. Baird.]

Brooke Anecdotes:

Top ~ Financial Difficulties ~ Brooke in Australia ~ Brooke and Macready ~ Brooke in Cumbria  ~  Manager in Ayr  ~  Early years in Kilmarnock  ~  Brooke at the Olympic Theatre

William Charles Macready (1793-1873) as Werner, 1849-50. Oil painting on canvas by Daniel Maclise RA, 1806 - 70) Bequeathed by John Forster. Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Copyright on the original expired.

Macready adapted Byron's Werner in 1830.  His version was first performed at the Theatre Royal in Bristol in January of that year.  This portrait was painted and exhibited shortly after the final performance in 1849. John Forster, who commissioned it, was a friend of Macready and Maclise

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