Nicol, Emma (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 41
Nicol, Emma

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NICOL, EMMA (1801–1877), actress, eldest daughter of Mrs. Nicol [q. v.], appeared at Edinburgh, when seven years of age, on the occasion of her mother's benefit (2 May 1808), and danced ‘a new pas seul.’ On 13 June 1808 she played Gossamer in the ‘operatical’ romance ‘Forty Thieves,’ and from that date played for many years at Edinburgh, either in the Royal or in the Minor Theatre, which was known at different times as ‘Corri's Rooms,’ the ‘Pantheon,’ and the ‘Caledonian.’ On 14 July 1817 she played the maid in the ‘Rivals,’ and filled the small part of Martha in ‘Rob Roy’ on its production on 15 Feb. 1819. When the king visited the Theatre Royal in 1822 she played Mattie. In the same year she was Madge Wildfire in the ‘Heart of Midlothian,’ Maria in ‘Twelfth Night,’ Miss Neville in ‘She stoops to conquer,’ and many other good parts. From that time until 1824 she was playing soubrettes and walking ladies. She then left Edinburgh, being anxious to advance herself in her profession. On 9 Nov. 1824 she played Flora in the ‘Wonder’ at Drury Lane; her name also appears as one of the choristers in the same place on 5 July 1825; Flora in ‘She wou'd and she wou'd not,’ 26 Oct. 1825; Laurina in ‘Trial of Love,’ 1 March 1827. After acting at Drury Lane till 1829, she joined the company at the Surrey Theatre under Elliston in 1830–1, and there confined herself to old-women parts. She seems to have stayed two seasons there. In December 1833 she was a member of Ryder's Aberdeen company, and during the spring and summer of 1834 travelled round the smaller Scottish towns.

She now devoted herself entirely to the line of characters in which her mother had made her reputation. She was re-engaged by William Henry Murray [q. v.] for the Edinburgh Theatre Royal in 1834, playing (8 Nov.) Mrs. Gloomly in ‘Laugh when you can.’ She never afterwards left the city for more than a few weeks at a time until her retirement. She soon became a great favourite, and gained as much respect in private life as her mother. Her abilities in her particular line of characters were unquestionable, and several noted exponents of old-women parts were content to play second to her when they took engagements in Edinburgh. Madame Leroud in ‘102, or my Great-great-grandfather’ was played by her on 28 Nov., and Mrs. Dismal in Buckstone's ‘Married Life’ on 2 Dec. On 27 Jan. 1835 she was Miss Prudence Strawberry in Peake's ‘Climbing Boy;’ at the Adelphi (the Edinburgh summer theatre), 30 May 1835, Mrs. Humphries in ‘Turning the Tables.’ On 11 Nov. 1837, at the Royal, she was Mrs. Quickly in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor;’ 9 Aug. 1838 Madame Deschappelles; and on 21 Jan. 1840 Madame Mantalini in Edward Stirling's adaptation of ‘Nicholas Nickleby;’ Mrs. Corney in ‘Oliver Twist,’ 23 March; Mrs. Montague in ‘His last Legs,’ 3 July; and Gertrude in ‘Griselda,’ 26 Jan. 1841. She received in 1842 from Murray forty-five shillings (not an extravagant salary for the parts she had to play) a week. Betsy Prigg she played on 28 Aug. 1844; Mrs. Fielding in the ‘Cricket on the Hearth’ followed on 27 Jan. 1846; third witch in ‘Macbeth’ on 28 Dec. 1846. The Duchess of York in ‘Richard III,’ Mrs. Bouncer in ‘Box and Cox,’ Nurse in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ are among many parts that fell to her. For Murray's benefit and farewell appearance on 22 Oct. 1851 she played Mrs. Malaprop. When in 1851–2 the management of the Royal passed into the hands of Lloyd, and that of the Adelphi into those of Wyndham, Miss Nicol remained at the former house. She also acted under the Rollison and Leslie management in 1852. On 18 Sept., in a new adaptation of ‘Waverley,’ she played Mrs. Macleary, and received ‘a splendid ovation on her first appearance under the new management,’ and on 4 Oct. she was Marjory in the ‘Heart of Midlothian.’ When the Adelphi was burnt, Wyndham came to the Theatre Royal, which he opened on 11 June 1853. Miss Nicol was retained. In Ebsworth's comedy, ‘150,000l.,’ she was on 1 Sept. 1854 the original Hon. Mrs. Falconer. She was the Old Lady in ‘Henry VIII,’ when Mr. Toole played Lord Sands. On 7 June 1858 she was the original Matty Hepburn in Ballantine's ‘Gaberlunzie Man.’ At the New Queen's Theatre, where Wyndham had gone after the Royal was finally closed (25 May 1859), she was, on 25 June 1859, Mrs. Major de Boots in Coyne's ‘Everybody's Friend.’ She played Queen Elizabeth to Henry Irving's Wayland Smith in the burlesque of ‘Kenilworth,’ 6 Aug. 1859, and was associated with that gentleman in nearly every piece in which he appeared during the two and a half years he was a member of the stock company. In May 1862 the last nights of her appearance in public were specially announced. On 23 May she took her farewell benefit, playing Widow Warren in ‘Road to Ruin’ and Miss Durable in ‘Raising the Wind.’ She again appeared on 31 May, for the benefit of Mr. and Mrs. Wyndham, playing the Hostess in the ‘Honeymoon,’ and spoke a farewell address to the audience.

Miss Nicol was one of that class of provincial actors and actresses who were content with a comfortable home and a continuous engagement without any chance of metropolitan fame, while enjoying the full confidence and respect of their managers and the friendliest regard of their audience. After her retirement she removed to London, where she died in November 1877. Several witnesses of her acting declared her to be quite unsurpassed in many parts, including Mag in ‘'Twas I,’ and Miss Lucretia Mactab in the ‘Poor Gentleman.’

[Materials supplied by Joseph Knight, esq., and J. C. Dibdin, esq.; Dibdin's Annals of the Edinburgh Stage.]