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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.


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.


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

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