Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Oxberry, William Henry

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OXBERRY, WILLIAM HENRY (1808–1852), actor, son of William Oxberry [q. v.], was born on 21 April 1808, and received his preliminary education at Merchant Taylors' School, which he entered in September 1816 (Robinson, Register of Merchant Taylors' School, ii. 203). At a school in Kentish Town, kept by a Mr. Patterson, he received some training in acting. On leaving there his education was continued under John Clarke, the author of ‘Ravenna,’ and the Rev. R. Nixon. First placed in his father's printing-office, he became afterwards, like him, ‘the pupil of an eminent artist.’ He was then apprenticed to Septimus Wray, a surgeon of Salisbury Square, Fleet Street, where he remained until his father's death. About the beginning of 1825 he appeared at the private theatre in Rawstorne Street as Abel Day to the Captain Careless of Frank Matthews. After playing Tommy in ‘All at Coventry,’ he made his first professional appearance at the Olympic on the occasion of the benefit of his stepfather William Leman Rede [q. v.], on 17 March 1825, as Sam Swipes, Liston's part in ‘Exchange no Robbery.’ He was then employed by Leigh Hunt, who was conducting the ‘Examiner,’ but soon returned to the stage, playing in Chelmsford, Hythe, Manchester, and Sheffield, and joining Hammond's company at York and Hull. In the autumn of 1832 he acted at the Strand in the ‘Loves of the Angels and the Loves of the Devils,’ both by Leman Rede. He went with Miss Smithson to Paris at the close of this season, and played low-comedy parts at the Italian Opera. Returning to England, he accepted a four years' engagement at the English Opera House (Lyceum), of which, with disastrous effect upon his fortunes, he became manager. He was subsequently at the Princess's. In the autumn of 1841 he succeeded Keeley at Covent Garden, and, as Oxberry from the Haymarket, played Flute in ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream.’ In 1842 he was again at the Lyceum, appearing principally in burlesque, and winning a reputation as a comic dancer, but taking occasional parts in farce, such as Victim in Oxenford's ‘My Fellow Clerk.’ In January 1843 he was at the Princess's playing the hero, a jealous husband, of ‘A Lost Letter.’ In June he was a ridiculous old schoolmaster in Poole's drama ‘The Swedish Ferryman,’ and in September was, with Wright and Paul Bedford, at the Strand playing in ‘Bombastes Furioso’ and the ‘Three Graces.’ Returning to the Princess's, he played with the Keeleys and Walter Lacy in Moncrieff's farce ‘Borrowing a Husband,’ and in 1844 was Wamba in the opera of ‘The Maid of Judah,’ a version of ‘Ivanhoe.’ In February 1845 he was Sir Harry in ‘High Life below Stairs,’ and in April Verges to Miss Cushman's Beatrice. In July he was the original Mrs. Caudle to the Mr. Caudle of Compton in ‘Mr. and Mrs. Caudle.’ He was under the Vestris management at Covent Garden. There were few theatres at which he was not seen, and he managed for a time the Windsor theatre. A very little man, with a quaint, peculiar manner, he was a lively actor and dancer in burlesque, but was said to rarely know his part on first nights. Oxberry was a member of the Dramatic Authors' Society, and a somewhat voluminous dramatist. His plays have never been collected, and many of them never printed. Duncombe's collection gives ‘The Actress of all Work, or my Country Cousin,’ one act; ‘The Delusion, or Is she Mad?’ two acts; ‘The Idiot Boy,’ a melodrama in three acts; ‘Matteo Falcone, or the Brigand and his Son,’ one act; ‘Norma Travestie;’ ‘The Pasha and his Pets, or the Bear and the Monkey.’ These are in the ‘British Museum Catalogue.’ Other plays assigned to him are: ‘The Three Clerks, ‘The Conscript,’ ‘The Female Volunteer,’ ‘The Ourang Outang,’ ‘The Truand Chief,’ ‘The First of September,’ ‘The Idiot of Heidelberg,’ ‘The Lion King,’ ‘The Scapegrace of Paris,’ and very many burlesques. He claimed to have left behind thirty unacted plays, which he trusted would be given after his death for the benefit of his widow and three children, otherwise unprovided for. Up to his death he was, with Charles Mathews and Mme. Vestris, playing in ‘A Game of Speculation’ and the ‘Prince of Happy Land.’ His death, through lung disease, augmented by somewhat festive habits, took place on 29 Feb. 1852. By a curious and painful will, printed in the ‘Era’ for 21 March 1852, and written four days before he died, he left such property as he possessed to Charles Melville, a tragic actor better known in the country than in London, in trust for his children. He expressed many wishes concerning his funeral which were not observed; asked that his heart might be preserved in some medical museum as a specimen of a broken one, hoped that a benefit might be given him to pay his debts, which were moderate; and left messages of farewell to many well-known actors.

Oxberry is responsible for ‘Oxberry's Weekly Budget of Plays,’ fol. 1843–4, consisting of thirty-nine plays edited by him; and ‘Oxberry's Dramatic Chronology;’ 8vo [1850]. This work, which is of little value or authority, was announced to be continued annually. A portrait as Peter White in ‘Mrs. White’ accompanies a memoir in the ‘Theatrical Times’ for 20 Feb. 1847 (ii. 49).

[Works cited. The list of his characters is principally derived from the Dramatic and Musical Review, 1842 et seq.; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. vol. v.]

J. K.