Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wrench, Benjamin

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WRENCH, BENJAMIN (1778–1843), actor, was born in 1778 in London, where his father occupied ‘a lucrative appointment in the exchequer.’ He seems to have been grandson of Sir Benjamin Wrench, M.D., of Norwich (d. 1747, aged 82) (see Notes and Queries, 5th ser. v. 48). His father died before he reached his seventh year, and having declined a proffered living and a commission in the army offered by General Tryon, a relative, Wrench adopted the stage as a profession, making his first appearance at Stamford. Whatever ability he had was slow in ripening, and he had to rehearse for fourteen days the part of Francis in the ‘Stranger’ before he could be allowed to essay it. Mrs. Robinson Taylor, the manager of the Nottingham circuit, whom he married, coached him carefully and brought out such ability as he possessed. He then joined in York the company of Tate Wilkinson, whose praise he obtained, and proceeded to Edinburgh, where with complete success he played Othello, Gossamer, Job Thornberry, and Jeremy Diddler.

When Robert William Elliston [q. v.] in 1804 quitted Bath, he was replaced by Wrench, who made his appearance on 5 Jan. 1805 as Gossamer in ‘Laugh when you can,’ and Walter in ‘Children in the Wood.’ Cheveril in Holcroft's ‘Deserted Daughter,’ Aircourt in O'Keeffe's ‘Lie of the Day,’ Young Rapid in ‘Cure for the Heartache,’ Doricourt in the ‘Belle's Stratagem,’ Rolando in ‘Honeymoon,’ Sir Robert Ramble in ‘Every one has his Fault,’ Beauchamp in ‘Which is the Man?’ Job Thornberry in ‘John Bull,’ Jeremy Diddler in ‘Raising the Wind,’ Sir Charles Racket in ‘Three Weeks after Marriage,’ and Jaffier in ‘Venice Preserved,’ followed during the season, which was the last in the old Bath theatre. In the new house Wrench opened on 26 Oct. 1805 as Percy in the ‘Castle Spectre.’ He played during the season Archer in ‘Beaux' Stratagem,’ Orlando, Belcour in ‘West Indian,’ and Pedro in the ‘Pilgrim.’ He then returned to York, and while there received an offer from Drury Lane, where he appeared, with the company then temporarily occupying the Lyceum, as ‘Wrench from Bath and York,’ playing on 7 Oct. 1809 Belcour in ‘West Indian’ and Tristram Fickle in the ‘Weathercock.’ Frank Heartall in the ‘Soldier's Daughter,’ Lenitive in the ‘Prize,’ Howard in Reynolds's ‘Will,’ Marplot, Frederick in ‘Poor Gentleman,’ Captain Absolute, Benedict, Charles Austencourt in ‘Man and Wife,’ Delaval in ‘Matrimony,’ Colonel Lambert in ‘Hypocrite,’ Storm in ‘Ella Rosenberg,’ Loveless in ‘Trip to Scarborough,’ Millamour in ‘Know your own Mind,’ with some other parts in which he had been seen in Bath, were given in his first season; he was also seen as the first Henry Torringham in Cobb's ‘Sudden Arrivals’ (19 Dec. 1809), and Edward Lacey in ‘Riches,’ adapted by Sir James Bland Burges from Massinger's ‘City Madam.’ Genest says he showed himself a good actor, but was no adequate substitute for Elliston.

At Drury Lane he remained until 1815, adding to his repertory Sir Harry Beagle in the ‘Jealous Wife,’ Marquis in ‘Midnight Hour,’ Duke in ‘Honeymoon,’ Beverley in ‘All in the Wrong,’ Floriville in ‘Dramatist,’ Duke's Servant in ‘High Life below Stairs,’ the Copper Captain, Dick in ‘Heir-at-Law,’ Gratiano, Frank in ‘School for Authors,’ Major Belford in ‘Deuce is in him,’ Bob Handy in ‘Speed the Plough,’ and Count Basset in ‘Provoked Husband.’ He played a few original characters in obscure plays of Masters, Millingen, Leigh, and other forgotten dramatists, among which may be named Gaspar in the ‘Kiss,’ taken by Clarke from the ‘Spanish Curate’ of Fletcher, 31 Oct. 1811; Sir Frederick Fillamour in Mrs. Le Fanu's ‘Prejudice,’ 11 April 1812; Captain Blumenfield in ‘How to die for Love,’ taken from Kotzebue, 21 May; Professor Trifleton in Horace Smith's ‘First Impressions,’ 30 Oct. 1813; Captain Enrico in T. Dibdin's ‘Who's to have her?’ 22 Nov.; and Volage in Henry Siddons's ‘Policy,’ 14 Oct. 1814.

He left Drury Lane in 1815, and divided his time between the Lyceum and the country—Birmingham, Bristol, Dublin, and other large towns. At the Lyceum he was on 29 Aug. 1818 the first Wing in Peake's ‘Amateurs and Actors,’ the first Jenkins in ‘Gretna Green,’ and the first Sir John Freeman in ‘Free and Easy.’ In 1820, as Captain Somerville in ‘Capers at Canterbury,’ he made his first appearance at the Adelphi, where he made perhaps his greatest success on 26 Nov. 1821 as Corinthian Tom in Moncrieff's ‘Tom and Jerry, or Life in London.’

On 4 Oct. 1826 he appeared for the first time at Covent Garden, enacting Rover in ‘Wild Oats.’ He played Volatile in ‘Wife's Stratagem,’ Antipholus of Syracuse, Lord Trinket in ‘Jealous Wife,’ Sponge in ‘A Race for a Dinner,’ Duretête in the ‘Inconstant,’ Tom Shuffleton in ‘John Bull,’ Almaviva in ‘Marriage of Figaro,’ and was the first Pedrillo in Dimond's ‘Seraglio,’ 24 Nov.; Rosambert in Moncrieff's ‘Somnambulist,’ 10 Feb. 1828; and Aufait in ‘Little Offerings,’ 26 April. During the following season he was Rochester in ‘Charles the Second,’ Mercutio, Kite in the ‘Recruiting Officer,’ Valcour, an original part, in Pocock's ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ 19 March 1829; Peter Shock in ‘Master's Rival,’ and Frankly in ‘Suspicious Husband.’ In 1829–1830, where the records of Genest end, he was the first Tarleton in Somerset's ‘Shakespeare's Early Days,’ 29 Oct. 1829; Quickset in the ‘Phrenologists,’ 12 Jan. 1830; Richard Jones in the ‘Wigwam,’ founded on Cooper's ‘Pioneers,’ 12 April; Captain Fervid in the ‘Colonel,’ 4 May. He was also seen as Captain Tickall in ‘Husbands and Wives,’ Baron Wolfenstein in the ‘Poacher,’ and Flutter in ‘Belle's Stratagem.’ He had made a great success at the Lyceum in ‘He lies like Truth,’ and was at that house when (16 Feb. 1830) it was burnt to the ground. In 1834, in the rebuilt house, Wrench and Keeley made a great hit in Oxenford's ‘I and my Double.’ On 30 Oct. at the Haymarket he was the first Caleb Chizzler in ‘But however’ by Henry Mayhew and Henry Baylis. In 1840 Wrench was at the Olympic. His last engagement was at the Haymarket. On 24 Oct. 1843 he died at his lodgings in Pickett Place, London, in his sixty-sixth year. Wrench and Manly, an actor, were engaged respectively to Miss and Mrs. Taylor of Nottingham, but ultimately changed partners, Wrench marrying Mrs. Taylor and Manly her daughter. Wrench's marriage was not happy. He was charged with leaving his wife necessitous while he indulged in tavern dissipations. His wife had formerly, as Mrs. Taylor, been an actress of some ability (see Thespian Dictionary, under Taylor [Mrs. Robinson]).

In the country Wrench played a large round of comic characters, including Charles Surface, Dr. Pangloss, Captain Absolute, and many others. Wrench was a good comedian, but never reached the first rank. Oxberry, who played with him at many theatres, speaks of him as knock-kneed, and says that, adopting Elliston as model, he copied his nasal twang and drawling doubtful delivery, mistook abruptness for humour, and was less a gentleman on the stage than a ‘blood.’

Wrench was medium height, light complexioned, with high shoulders and flat features. A portrait of him, by Sharpe, as Wing in ‘Amateurs and Actors,’ and one by De Wilde as Sir Freeman in ‘Free and Easy,’ are in the Mathews collection in the Garrick. His portrait as Belmour is in Oxberry's ‘Dramatic Biography,’ and as Benedick in the ‘Theatrical Inquisitor’ for January 1814.

[Oxberry's Dramatic Biography, vol. iv.; Genest's Account of the English Stage; Dramatic and Musical Review, November 1843; Theatrical Inquisitor, vol. iv.; Memoirs of Munden; Donaldson's Recollections of an Actor; Authentic Memoirs of the Green Room, n.d. (1814); Theatrical Looker on, Birmingham, 1823; Biography of the British Stage, 1824; Gent. Mag. 1844, i. 438.]

J. K.