Vokes, Frederick Mortimer (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 58
Vokes, Frederick Mortimer

by John Joseph Knight
1904 Errata appended.
Contains subarticles Victoria Vokes (1853–1894), Jessie Catherine Biddulph Vokes (1851–1884) & Rosina Vokes (1858–1894).

VOKES, FREDERICK MORTIMER (1846–1888), actor and dancer, the son of Frederick Vokes, a costumier, was born in London, 22 Jan. 1846, and made at the Surrey in 1854 his first appearance as the boy in ‘Seeing Wright.’ Vokes and his two sisters Jessie and Victoria, subsequently joined by a third sister, Rosina, and by Walter Fawdon, who assumed the name of Vokes on joining the company, became known as the ‘Vokes children,’ a name which they afterwards changed for that of the ‘Vokes family.’ They made their first joint appearance 26 Dec. 1861 at Howard's Operetta House, Edinburgh. After playing at the Alhambra, they returned for six years to the country, playing at theatres and music halls. On 26 Dec. 1865 the family made at the Lyceum, in the pantomime of ‘Humpty Dumpty,’ a great sensation, Vokes's method of flinging his legs over the heads alternately of his two sisters being regarded as a marvellous feat. It led to the engagement of the Vokeses for the pantomime at Drury Lane, at which house during ten years the entire family appeared, playing always in the burlesque introduction and often in the harlequinade. On 28 Feb. 1870, in a farce at Drury Lane given by the Vokeses, and called ‘Phœbus's Fix,’ Frederick Vokes sang a song by Blanchard, ‘The Man on Wires.’ The same year he visited Paris, but had to leave on account of the war. At the Adelphi great success attended in August 1875 the ‘Belles of the Kitchen,’ a fanciful sketch that had been previously given at the Alhambra. On 15 June 1876 the family produced at the same house Blanchard's ‘Bunch of Berries,’ an altered version of which they presented at Brighton in April 1880. After the retirement of Rosina Vokes on her marriage, 14 April 1879, Frederick played with the remaining members of the family at the Aquarium Theatre in the ‘Rough Diamond’ and ‘Fun in a Fog,’ 2 April 1879. The last appearance of the family in the Drury Lane pantomime was Christmas 1879. Most of its members were in the pantomime at Covent Garden in 1880. Vokes married Bella, daughter of Mr. Moore of the Moore & Burgess minstrels, who played occasionally as one of the family. He made more than one visit with his sisters to the United States and Canada. In 1888 he was compelled by illness to forego his engagements, and on 3 June died of paralysis at the house of his sister Victoria. He was a fair comedian, a good dancer, and a wonderful pantomimist. With the rest of the Vokes family he is buried in Brompton cemetery.

Victoria Vokes (1853–1894), actress, sister of the preceding, was born in London. She appeared at the Surrey under Creswick as Geneviève in the ‘Avalanche,’ the Duke of York in ‘Richard III,’ Albert in ‘William Tell,’ and Henri in ‘Belphegor,’ and played in the ‘Four Mowbrays’ Little Pickle and other parts. Besides taking part in the performances of her family, she played, 27 Feb. 1871, at Drury Lane, Amy Robsart in ‘Kenilworth,’ owing to the illness of Lilian Adelaide Neilson [q. v.] She had a good voice and sang effectively. Her performances in the ‘Belles of the Kitchen’ and as Margery in the ‘Rough Diamond’ were humorous and spirited. On 24 Nov. 1890 she appeared at the Shaftesbury, with a company organised by herself, in ‘My Lady Help,’ a comedietta by Arthur Macklin. She died on 1 Nov. 1894, at the reputed age of forty-one.

Another sister, Jessie Catherine Biddulph Vokes (1851–1884), played juvenile parts at the Surrey, as Teddy in ‘Dred, or the Dismal Swamp,’ Mamillius in the ‘Winter's Tale,’ and Prince of Wales in ‘Richard III.’ She shared the fortunes of her family, with which she played in Edinburgh, London, Paris, and America. She was a sprightly and accomplished dancer and an acceptable actress. She died on 4 Aug. 1884, her death contributing to break up the family.

Rosina Vokes (1858–1894), the youngest, sprightliest, and most popular member of the Vokes family, made her first public appearance at the Alhambra in a musical entertainment called ‘The Belles of the Kitchen.’ With the rest of her family she took part in the performance at the Lyceum on 26 Dec. 1868 of ‘Humpty Dumpty.’ The following Christmas she appeared under Chatterton at Drury Lane in the pantomime in which, in the small part of Fatima, she acquired a reputation for vivacity and witchery, which strengthened with each succeeding year. With her family she played at the Chátelet in Paris until the approach of the German army compelled them to take to flight. At Drury Lane she was, 21 Feb. 1870, Albert to the William Tell of King in Sheridan Knowles's ‘William Tell.’ On 10 March 1876 she married Mr. Cecil Clay, author of ‘A Pantomime Rehearsal,’ and the brother of Frederick Clay the composer. She then retired from the stage, on which, so far as England is concerned, she did not reappear. In October 1885 she visited, with her husband, by invitation, America, taking over with her a small theatrical company, including Mr. Brandon Thomas, Mr. Weedon Grossmith, and other actors subsequently well known, and played in light comedy and burlesque. During nine consecutive years she made a tour of the principal cities of the United States and Canada, playing in Godfrey's ‘Parvenu,’ Mr. Pinero's ‘Schoolmistress,’ Mr. Grundy's ‘Milliner's Bill,’ in ‘The Circus Rider,’ ‘Maid Marian,’ and ‘A Pantomime Rehearsal.’ Her last tour was completed in 1893, and she died at Babbacombe, Torquay, 27 Jan. 1894. She had remarkable gifts in light comedy and in burlesque. Though the Vokeses all died young, their father lived to the age of seventy-four, dying 4 June 1890, and their mother survived them all, living until 8 Feb. 1897.

[Personal knowledge and private information; Pascoe's Dramatic List; Scott and Howard's Blanchard; Saturday Programme, 1876; Era Almanack, various years; The Theatre, various years; Era newspaper, various dates. The tombstones in Brompton Cemetery have been consulted for the ages.]

J. K.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.271
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
388 i 14f.e. Vokes, Frederick M.: for 10 March read 10 March 1876