Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Conquest, George

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CONQUEST, GEORGE (AUGUSTUS), whose real surname was Oliver (1837–1901), actor and manager, born at the house adjoining the old Garrick Theatre, Leinan Street, Goodman's Fields, on 8 May 1837, was eldest son of Benjamin Oliver(1805-72), actor and theatrical manager, who used professionally the surname of Conquest, and was then manager of the old Garrick Theatre. There in 1837, as a child in arms, in the farce 'Mr. and Mrs. White,' George made his first appearance on the stage. He played there, while a child, in such pieces as 'Peter the Waggoner,' 'Isabella, or the Fatal Marriage,' and 'The Stranger.' Educated at the college communal, Boulogne, he was a contemporary there of Benoit Coquelin, the eminent French actor, and acquired a full command of the French language. He was intended for a violinist, but from his earliest years he resolved on the profession of acrobatic pantomimist. Before he left school he made numerous adaptations from the French for his father, who in 1851 became manager of the Grecian Theatre in City Road. His first play, 'Woman's Secret, or Richelieu's Wager,' was produced at the Grecian on 17 Oct. 1853. In 1855 he adopted the stage as his vocation, and long combined acting at the Grecian with dramatic authorship on a prolific scale. On 3 Sept. 1855 he was highly successful as the Artful Dodger in a version of Dickens' 'Oliver Twist.' At Christinas 1855 he first appeared as a pantomimist, in his own pantomime, 'Harlequin Sun, Moon, and tho Seven Sisters' ; and at Easter 1857 he made his first notable success in this class of work as Hassarao, in 'The Forty Thieves.' At Christmas 1857 he appeared as Pastrano Nonsuch, a 'Dying pantomimist,' in 'Peter Wilkins and tho Flying Indians.' Subsequently he effectively adapted Charles Reade's novel, 'It is never too late to mend,' which ran for six months at his father's theatre, and in which he appeared as Peter Crawley. In 1861 he distinguished himself as Prince Pigmy in 'The Blue Bird in Paradise.'

Conquest became manager of the Grecian in 1872, on the death of Ms father, continuing to fill leading parts there. In 1881 he joined Paul Merritt as co-lessee and manager of the Surrey Theatre, of which he was sole lessee and manager from 1885. His only appearances in the west end of London were at the Gaiety Theatre, hi 1873, in 'The Snaefell,' and at the Globe, in 1882, in 'Mankind' ; but he once visited America, performing in 'The Grim Goblin' at Wallack's Theatre, New York, on 5 Aug. 1880, when he sustained severe injuries through the breaking of trapeze ropes, caused, it was stated, through the treachery of a rival. He retired from the stage in 1894.

Conquest was best known as an acrobatic pantomimist. He produced no fewer than forty-five pantomimes, and played in as many as twenty-seven. He impersonated animals with much popular approval, and is said to have invented the modern method of 'flying' by means of 'invisible' wires. It was Ins boast that as a pantomimist he had broken every bone in his face and body. In his performance of the title role in 'The Devil on Two Sticks' he employed no fewer than twenty-nine 'traps' one 'vampire' and twenty-eight ordinary.

Of the hundred and more plays, for the most part original melodramas or adaptations from the French, of which he was author, several were written in collaboration, and of these tho more successful were 'Velvet and Rags' (with Paul Merritt, 1874) ; 'Sentenced to Death' (with Henry Pettitt, 1875) ; 'Queen's Evidence' (with Pettitt, 1876) ; 'The Green Lanes of England' (with Pettitt, 1878) ; 'Mankind' (with Merritt, 1881); 'For Ever' (with Merritt, 1882); 'The Crimes of Paris' (with Merritt, 1883). His last play, 'The Fighting Fifth.' written with Herbert Leonard, was produced at the Surrey Theatre in October 1900. He showed his melodramatic power to good effect in such parts as Daniel Groodge in 'Mankind,' Zacky Pastrana, the Man Monkey in 'For Ever,' Simmonet and Jagon in 'The Strangers of Paris,' Ezra Lazareck in 'The New Babylon,' and Coupeau in 'Drink.' Off the stage he suffered from an impediment in his speech, which disappeared when he was acting. Conquest died at his residence in Brixton on 14 May 1901, and was buried at Norwood cemetery. He left a fortune of over 64,000l. He married in 1857 Elizabeth Ozmond, and his three sons, George, Fred, and Arthur, all successfully adopted their father's calling, both as actors and acrobatic pantomimists. Engraved portraits of Conquest appeared in ' The Theatre,' Sept. 1895, and in 'The Era,' 18 May 1901.

[Personal recollections; Clement Scott, Thirty Years at the Play, 1890; Scott and Howard's Life of E. L. Blanchard, 1891; Daily Telegraph, 15 May 1901; Era, 18 and 25 May 1901.]

J. P.