FROM THE WEST END TO A DREADFUL END
Nick Thorne looks at a double tragedy in the Victorian theatre world.
One of the ways that we can get a better idea of what our Victorian ancestors’ lives were like is to look at newspaper reports and photographs from the time. Using TheGenealogist, we have access to millions of pages of newspapers from 1842 to World War 1, and the reports can shed light on what was going on in our ancestors’ world. They can let us see what occupied the press and our ancestors at the time, and the illustrations can reveal how towns, cities and other places looked back then. There is also a great Image Archive on TheGenealogist, with many pictures of places and people from days gone by.
Recently, while researching a story in the Navy & Army Illustrated, I began browsing the rest of the pages to get a flavour for the times. My eyes came to rest on the report from the theatres in the 1 October 1897 edition. The subject was about how a duel had been portrayed in a play, and the writer was reminiscing about two actors who had previously presented a fine example of swordsmanship on the stage. The commentary referred to it being ‘a sad reminiscence’, that one of the actors was no more, ‘and the sad tragedy of the other is fresh in our minds’. My interest was piqued. What was the tragedy that was referred to in the piece but frustratingly not expanded upon?
The actor in question was Arthur Dacre, and by returning to the Master Search on TheGenealogist, I entered his name and searched the Occupational records until I found a mention of him in the Who’s Who in Theatre 1922. It was documenting his death on 16 November 1895, almost two years prior to the article published in the Navy & Army Illustrated, but this still didn’t reveal any clues as to the nature of the distressing event.
SAVED THE PLAY
A further search of newspapers on TheGenealogist for Arthur Dacre brought me to a review of a play in The Illustrated London News in 1887. An actress named Amy Roselle was commended for the way she played her scene – the writer stated that she had saved the play. Arthur Dacre rated a small mention in the piece, but only for having made a ‘capital, manly, and earnest lover.’ At this stage I hadn’t realised that Amy Roselle and Arthur Dacre were actually husband and wife in real life.
The next review I came across was in The Illustrated London News for a play at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in September 1889. It was decrying the ‘modern form of acting’ where actors were not given training in voice delivery. Poor Arthur Dacre was savaged, as ‘not one half, scarcely a quarter of the words he uttered were heard in the second row of the stalls’. Further investigation revealed that Arthur Dacre was not highly rated as a performer, in his time, whereas Amy Roselle received more praise for her work.
BUILDING A PICTURE
One of the useful tools that I like to use to build a picture of our ancestors’ time is The Genealogist’s Image Archive, with its landscapes, street scenes, churches, military operations and more. We can also use it to discover the ‘celebrities’ of our ancestors’ time by looking at postcards of actors and actresses circulated among the appreciative public. Using the Image Archive, I was able to find the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, where Arthur had so mumbled his lines that he
Nick Thorne discovers a tragic Victorian husband and wife acting duo in the records Amy Roselle was commended for the way she played her scene
The Theatre Royal Drury Lane, from TheGenealogist’s Image Archive
The Illustrated London News for 8 October 1887 mentions Arthur Dacre and Amy Roselle
Who’s Who in the Theatre 1922 referred to Arthur Dacre’s death
The sad tragedy, as mentioned in the Navy & Army Illustrated