Sullivan, Barry (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 55
Sullivan, Barry

by John Joseph Knight
1904 Errata appended.
Later revisions of this article are much modified, the information on Sullivan's earlier career having proved unreliable in detail.

SULLIVAN, BARRY (1821–1891), actor, whose full name was Thomas Barry Sullivan, is said to have been born of obscure Irish parentage in Birmingham on the anniversary of Shakespeare's reputed birth, 23 April 1824. The year was more probably 1820, if not earlier. Taken as a child to Cork, he became a draper's assistant there. On the strength of some amateur talent as actor and vocalist, he played at the old theatre in George's Street, for a benefit, Young Meadows in Bickerstaff's ‘Love in a Village.’ On 7 June 1837, also for a benefit, he played at the Theatre Royal the Prompter in Colman's ‘Manager in Distress,’ Charles in the ‘Virginian Mummy’ to the Jim Crow of Rice the American, and Varnish in the farce of ‘Botheration.’ At the same house, 14 June 1837, he was Seyton to Charles Kean's Macbeth, and Tristram Fickle in the ‘Weather-cock.’ Engaged by Frak Seymour, known as Franck Schemer, as leading singing and walking gentleman, he went with him from the Theatre Royal to a small newly erected theatre in Cook Street, but returned in 1840 to George's Street, then under different management. On this house being burnt down he rejoined Seymour at the Victoria Theatre. After playing some secondary parts he went, at Collins's booth, through a round of 'legitimate' characters. In 1841 he supported Ellen Tree (Mrs. Charles Kean) as Prince Frederick in Sheridan's Knowles's 'Love.' He also visited Waterford, Limericck, and other Irish towns, and in Cork played a tenor rôle in 'Fra Diavolo.'

Engaged by William Henry Murray [q. v.], Sullivan left Ireland, and made his first appearance in Edinburgh on 24 Nov. 1841 as Red Rody in Pocock's ‘Robber's Wife.’ His salary was 30s. a week. Bates in the ‘Gamester’ to Charles Kean's Beverley, Gaston in ‘Richelieu,’ Sir F. Vernon in 'Rob Roy,', Sebastian in 'Guy Mannering' were among the parts he played at the Theatre Royal or the Adelphi. After the departure of John Ryder (1814–1885) [q. v.] Sullivan was promoted to the principal heavy parts, playing Drayton in ‘Grandfather Whitehead,’ Antonio in the ‘Merchant of Venice,’ and Beauseant in the ‘Lady of Lyons’. For his farewell benefit 30 May 1844 he was seen as Kirkpatrick in ‘Wallace,’ and Alessandro Massaroni in the ‘Italian Brigand.’ After appearing in Paisley and other Scottish towns, he played leading business at the City Theatre, Glasgow. He then managed for two years (1845–7) the Aberdeen Theatre.

After making at Wakefield his first appearance in England, he accepted an engagement under Robert Roxby [q. v.] at Liverpool, appearing on 7 May 1847 as Sir Edward Mortimer in the ‘Iron Chest.’ This was followed by Jaffier in ‘Venice Preserved.’ He then went to the Amphitheatre, at which house to the close of his career he remained a favourite. On 9 Oct. 1847 he appeared at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, as Stukeley in the ‘Gamester.’ On the 26th he played Hamlet, being, it is said, coached by Charles James Lever [q. v.] After being seen in a round of leading characters, Sullivan quarrelled with Wallack, his manager, harangued the audience, and resigned his engagement, taking his benefit in Claude Melnotte and Petruchio at the Queen's Theatre. From 1 Dec. 1849 to 28 Jan. 1850 he leased the Bolton Theatre, and subsequently supported Macready in his farewell performances at Liverpool. After revisiting Edinburgh, where he played Romeo, Hotspur, Norval, and Falconbridge, he was for a time manager of the Bolton Theatre (1849).

Having been recommended by Phelps to Webster, Sullivan made his first appearance in London at the Haymarket as Hamlet on 7 Feb. 1852. He was then credited with picturesqueness and pathos. On 14 Feb. he was the first Angiolo in Miss Vandenhoff's tragedy, 'Woman's Heart;' on 19 April was Evelyn in a revival of 'Money;' on 12 Feb. 1853, on the first production at the Haymarket of 'Not so bad as we seem,' he was Hardman, and in the following April the first Valence in Browning's 'Colombo's Birthday,' to the Colombe of Miss Helen Faucit. He remained at the house under Buckstone. Among original parts in which he was seen were Travers in Robert Sullivan's 'Elope- ments in High Life,' and Giulio in Mrs. Crowe's 'Civil Kindness.' After a visit to the Standard and the Strand, he accepted an engagement in January 1855 at the St. James's Theatre, where in 'Alcestis' he played Admetus to the title-role of Miss Vandenhoif. On 11 June following he was again at the Haymarket as the first Franklyn in 'Love's Martyrdom' by John Saunders, and on 23 July as the hero of Heraud's 'Wife or no Wife.' He also played Jaques to the Rosalind of Miss Faucit. In October he appeared at Drury Lane as Tihrak in Fitz- ball's ' Nitocris.' After acting with Phelps at Sadler's Wells he went to America, ap- pearing on 22 Nov. 1858 at the Broadway Theatre, New York, as Hamlet. He was seen as Claude Melnotte, Macbeth, Shylock, Petruchio, and Richard III; then went to Burton's theatre, where he acted as Beverley, Benedick, and Lear. After visiting many American cities, including San Francisco, and laying the foundation of a considerable fortune, he returned to England and appeared at the St. James's on 20 Aug. 1860 as Hamlet. In January 1862 he was at Belfast, where he maintained a remarkable popularity. Soon afterwards he visited Australia, beginning in Melbourne, where, in 1863, he assumed the management of the Theatre Royal. He also played in Sydney and other Australian cities.

In June 1866 he was back in England, and on 22 Sept. played at Drury Lane Falconbridge to the King John of Phelps; Macbeth, Macduff, and other parts, including Charles Surface, followed. On 1 May 1868 he became manager of the Holborn Theatre, reviving 'Money' in which he played Alfred Evelyn. Various plays were revived, but the result was imremunerative, the entire experiment constituting probably the worst rebuff Sullivan ever experienced. In April he was playing at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, in his customary repertory. Here his popularity, due in part to political causes, reached its climax. In 1874 he was again in America. On 22 Sept. 1876 he was back at Drury Lane, playing alternately in 'Richard III' and 'Macbeth.' When the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford was opened on 23 April 1879 with a performance of 'Much Ado about Nothing,' Sullivan was the Benedick to the Beatrice of Miss Helen Faucit (Lady Martin).

During later years he was never seen in the London bills, but continued a remarkable favourite in Lancashire and in Ireland. The first signs of failing health developed themselves in 1880, and when, with a performance of Richard III, he brought, on 4 June 1887, to a close an engagement at the Alexandra Theatre, Liverpool, he had unconsciously trodden the stage for the last time. He soon after retired to 46 Albany Villas, Hove, Brighton. For a while he gave signs of recovery, and urged on his son to make arrangements for a tour in 1888-1889. A stoke of paralysis came on, and the last rites of the catholic church were administered to him on 23 Aug. 1888. He lingered on for three years, and died on 3 May 1891 of influenza. His remains were conveyed to Dublin, and were buried in Glasnevin cemetery, where a statue of Sullivan as Hamlet by Sir Thomas Farrell marks his grave. He left behind him a family of sons and daughters, one of whom, Amory Sullivan, played in the country about 1888 his father's parts in his father's method. He then embarked in theatrical management in Australia.

Sullivan was a good though never a great or an inspired actor, of an old-fashioned kind, and held aloft the banner of tragedy in troublous times. In Ireland he stood, thanks in part to his birth and his religion, foremost in public favour. Admiration for him was not confined, however, to the catholic south, but extended to the north and across the sea to Liverpool and Manchester. In these places he played with unvarying success a very wide range of tragic parts, together with some comic characters. His Hamlet was there said to be an institution. He claimed to have played this part 3,500 times. In Australia and America he was also welcome. In the south of England, and especially in London, his reputation did not stand high in tragedy, while in comedy it was even lower. Vigorous action and forcible declamation were his chief characteristics, and he found difficulty in the differentiation of characters such as Macbeth, Richard, and Lear. He had from the first, moreover, a tendency to rant, which he partially and with difficulty conquered. His face, disfigured with the small-pox, lent itself with some difficulty to make-up, and his performance of characters such as Charles Surface were unsatisfactory as much through his appearance and dress as through the absence of lightness and refinement of style.

Sullivan was little seen in general society; his habit of reserve was due in part to a sense of educational shortcoming, and partly to morbid vanity. His temper appears to have been uncertain and a trifle arrogant and disputes with his managers were not infrequent. In appearance he was dark, and his hair, which was or seemed abundant, maintained its raven black until late in life. His figure, slight at first, hardened subse- quently until it became almost squat, and his musical voice lost its quality through incessant strain.

[Most ascertainable particulars concerning Sullivan are given in a biographical sketch by Mr. W. J. Lawrence, London, 1893. A copy of this, annotated and enlarged in manuscript by Mr. Lawrence, has been kindly placed by him at the present writer's disposal. Personal recollections extending over thirty years have been drawn upon, as have Scott and Howard's Blanchard; Pascoe's Dramatic List; Mennell's Australasian

Biography; Dutton Cook's Nights at the Play; and files of the Athenaeum and Sunday Times.]

J. K.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.261262
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
159 i 18f.e. Sullivan, Barry: for (1820? read (1821
16f.e.  for is said to have been read was
15f.e.  for in Birmingham read at Howard's Place, Birmingham
15-13 f.e.  for the anniversary .... 23 April 1824 read on 5 July 1821
8-7 f.e.  for Young Meadows read Eustace
ii 8f.e.  for Charles James Lever [q. v.] read Charles Sever, a journalist