Singers and Musical Personalities ~ John Sinclair (1791–1857)

1.   1. Parry1

John Sinclair 1791-1857.

1.    Portrait of John Sinclair 1791-1857.   Engraved by Cooper after a painting by Sharp. Published by Robinson, Chapter House Passage, St. Paul's.    [Image in the public domain]

Sinclair's voice was a pure tenor, with an unusually fine falsetto, extending to F in alt. His style was, however, somewhat effeminate, and he was known as ‘the leddies' bonnie Sinclair.’

He was one of the earliest exponents of Scottish song after the manner subsequently made popular by David Kennedy.   As a composer he is remembered for his songs, ‘Come, sit ye doon,’ ‘The bonnie Breast Knots’, ‘The Mountain Maid’, ‘Johnny Sands’, and others in the Scottish style, all of which were very popular and are still sung.

Sinclair was in America between 1832 and 1834. He appeared in the following performances in Philadelphia during that visit:

3 January 1832: Masaniello, Arch Street Theatre.

6 January 1832: The beggar’s opera; Captain Macheath, (Gay, music by Pepusch), Walnut Street Theatre.

9 January 1832: Masaniello, Arch Street Theatre.

14 January 1832: Cinderella; Prince Felix (Rohpino and DeLacy adaptation): Walnut Street Theatre.

He also performed in New York, with little popular success.

[Sources Dictionary of Musicians, 1824; Parke's Musical Memoirs; Baptie's Musical Scotland; Edwin Forrest, 1806-1872 and Catherine Norton Sinclair Forrest, 1817-1891 by Estavan (1940)]


2.   2. Portrait

John Sinclair 1791-1857.

John Sinclair as Oscar in Malvina. Engraving by Adcock, Published by I Gifford & Company, 52 Paternoster Row.    [Image in the public domain].

James Morris, joint owner of the Theatre Royal in Ayr writes;

We had also occasionally the celebrated John Sinclair, at one time a member of the band in a Scottish regiment of Militia, who, while in Aberdeen with the corps, acted as precentor to it on Sundays. He had a fine voice, superior taste, and a rapidity of execution excelled by few in his day. "Love among the roses," composed expressly for him, will give some indication of his particular walk in song. Mr. Sinclair held rather a superior position on the London boards, where in such characters as "Mac-heath," "Love in a Village," and other similar pieces, he was eminently successful.

James Morris, Recollections of Ayr Theatricals from 1809. Ayr Advertiser 1872, Carnegie Library Local Collection.

John Sinclair: An Obituary by E.L Blanchard offers alternative biographical details

John Sinclair was born in Edinburgh in 1785.

When twenty-five years of age, came to London to take up his commission in a regiment in India, but was asked to sing for the benefit of a lady at the Haymarket in Lock and Key, and sang his three songs so well that he was persuaded to give up the idea of a martial career, and he studied for three years under Thomas Welsh.

He played for a short time previous to this as Mr. Noble at the Margate Theatre, and made his first appearance as Carlos in The Duenna, September 20th, 1811, when actually under articles to his master. He made a great hit as Apollo in the burletta of Midas.

In 1816 he married, and in 1818 his long engagement with Mr. Harris of Covent Garden terminated. He went to Italy and studied under Rossini, and made his Italian debut at Pisa in Torvaldo in 1821. He then made a most successful Continental tour, and on November l9th, 1824, was engaged by Mr. Charles Kemble at Covent Garden, and appeared as Prince Orlando in The Cabinet in 1826. He went to Drury Lane in 1828, to the Adelphi in 1831, again the principal tenor at Drury Lane, and then visited America; on his return from thence he confined himself to chamber concerts.

He became the proprietor of the Tivoli Gardens at Margate, and spent the remainder of his life there. He was a most accomplished singer; he possessed a wonderful falsetto, and was great in Scotch ballads.


3.   SInclair

John Sinclair 1791-1857.

John Sinclair as Apollo in Midas. Stipple Engraving after De WIlde. 4.375 x 6.375 ins., Published by Chapple.    [Image in the public domain].

Sinclair in America.

One of the first of really great Scottish singers to try his fortune on this side of the Atlantic was John Sinclair, a native of Edinburgh, where he was born in 1793. He made his first appearance in America in the old Park Theatre, New-York, in 1837, when he appeared as Francis Osbaldistone in Rob Roy.

An old Scot who was present on that evening has left on record a statement that he had never before, not even in "Auld Reekie," heard 'The Macgregors' Gathering' sung with more fire, or 'My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose' with more sweetness. Possibly this was because absence from home had sharpened his sympathies, and the sentiments which arise when a wanderer's thoughts turn back to 'Auld Lang Syne' usurped the ordinary powers of criticism so natural in a Scot. However this may be, Sinclair before visiting America had earned the reputation in Scotland of being the best living interpreter of his country's songs, and his memory is still kept green in the musical history of his native land.

Sinclair captured his New York audience from the moment he first appeared, and his engagement was in every way a most successful one. He repeated his success shortly afterward at the Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelpliia, as well as, later on, in Boston. At that time, by the way, a success in Boston was as gratifying to an artist as was one in Edinburgh.

'Sinclair,' once wrote John Forbes Robertson of London to David Kennedy, 'was a frank, genial fellow, ['the leddies' bonnie Sinclair,' he used to be called,] and among his Scottish songs were 'Hey! the Bonnie Briestknots' and one of his own composition, 'Come, Sit Ye Down, My Bonny, Bonny Love.'

One of Sinclair's daughters married Edwin Forrest, the famous tragedian, and the union gave rise to one of the most notable divorce trials ever held in America. Forrest, by the way, claimed to have descended from Scotch ancestors, and asserted that Montrose was their old home. Sinclair returned to England, and died there. in 1857.


John Sinclair Anecdotes

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