Coates, Robert (DNB00)

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COATES, ROBERT (1772–1848), actor, generally known as Romeo Coates, was born in the island of Antigua in 1772. His father, Alexander Coates, born 16 April 1734, was a merchant and sugar-planter in Antigua, where he showed his patriotism by lending the government 10,000l. to pay the expenses of the encampment necessitated by the threatened attack of the fleets of France and Spain in June 1805. He died in Antigua, 12 Nov. 1807. By his wife, Dorothy, he had nine children, of whom only Robert lived beyond infancy. Coates when about eight years of age was brought to England by his father, and there received a very liberal classical education, after which, returning to his native place, he first showed his taste for the theatre by taking part in some dramatic exhibitions given in celebration of the success of the patriotic movement in 1805. On the death of his father he became the possessor not only of great wealth, but also of a large collection of magnificent diamonds; and, coming back to England, took up his residence at Bath. Here he lived in extraordinary style. His carriage, drawn by white horses, was in shape like a kettledrum, and across the bar of his curricle was a large brazen cock, with his motto, 'Whilst I live I'll crow.' His partiality for the drama soon became known, and the ladies requested him to perform the part of Romeo on the boards of the Bath Theatre. Accordingly, on 9 Feb. 1810 he made his debut in England, being supported by Miss Jameson in the character of Juliet. This was the first of his representations of a character which gave him the name of Romeo Coates, but he was also called Diamond Coates, from the liberal display which he made of his treasures both in private and on the stage. Other names by which he was known were Cock-a-doodle-doo Coates, in allusion to his motto, the Amateur of Fashion, and as he preferred to call himself, 'The Celebrated Philanthropic Amateur.' On 9 Dec. 1811 he presented himself to a London audience, and played Lothario in 'The Fair Penitent,' for; the benefit of a lady. After this for some time he continued by his eccentric acting to divide the attention of London with the young Roscius, and even had his admirers who believed in his dramatic talent and abilities. His appearance created so much sensation that Charles Mathews, in his 'At Home' at Covent Garden, produced on 25 Feb. 1813 a farcical sketch, in which he personated Romeo Rantall, and held the Amateur of Fashion up to ridicule. This piece had a run, and for a long time Romeo was one of Mathews's most popular impersonations. Coates also appeared at Richmond, and in Birmingham and other towns, and added to his list of characters that of Belcour in the ' West Indian.' For some seasons longer he continued to play at the Bath Theatre, where he is found in 1816, but the audiences in time grew weary of laughing at him, and at last took to hissing him, and ultimately the management declined to lend him the use of the stage. As an actor, he was by competent judges considered to he contemptible. His performances were, however, often given for charitable purposes. He was much laughed at for being made the victim of a hoax by Theodore Hook with respect to an invitation to a ball given at Carlton House in 1821 in honour of the Bourbons. During all these years his great friend was the well-known Baron Ferdinand Geramb. By lending and spending money in a reckless manner he at last fell into difficulties, and was obliged to retire to Boulogne, where he soon after married. He came to an arrangement with his creditors, and returning to England lived respectably on the wreck of his fortune. On 15 Feb. 1848 he attended Allcroft's grand annual concert at Drury Lane, and after the performance, while crossing Russell Street, was crushed between a hansom cab and a private carriage, and died from erysipelas and mortification at his residence, 28 Montagu Square, London, 21 Feb. 1848, aged 76. His widow, Emma Anne, married, secondly, on 23 Dec. 1848, Mark Boyd [q. v.]

[Gent. Mag. lxxviii. 1188 (1808), and May 1848, p. 557; European Mag. March 1813, pp. 179-83, portrait; Morning Herald, London, 11 Dec. 1811 ; Genest, viii. 207, 337, 556, 627-630; Era, 27 Feb. 1848, p. 12; Once a Week, 19 Aug. 1865, pp. 235-46; St. James's Mag. v. 489-99 (1862); Gronow's Reminiscences (2nd edit. 1862), pp. 64-71; Kent's Birmingham (1880), pp. 382-3, 386.]

G. C. B.