King, Thomas Chiswell (DNB01)

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KING, THOMAS CHISWELL (1818–1893), actor, was born at Twyning, near Tewkesbury, on 24 April 1818. He adopted his wife's maiden name of Chiswell in addition to his own name of Thomas King on his marriage, which took place shortly after he joined the theatrical profession. Apprenticed in his youth to the painting and paper-hanging business at Cheltenham, he acquired a taste for the stage through acting with amateurs, and about 1840 joined the company of Alexander Lee, the ballad composer, to support Mrs. Harriett Waylett [q. v.] in one-act dramas and operettas in Cheltenham, Worcester, Warwick, and Leamington. In 1843 he became attached in a subordinate capacity to the Simpson-Munro company at Birmingham, playing on 24 Oct. Conrade in 'Much Ado about Nothing,' and Sir Thomas Fairfax in the 'Field of the Forty Footsteps.' On 16 May 1844 he was seen as Young Scrooge in the 'Christmas Carol' to the Fezziwig of his wife.

King made rapid progress in his profession, and by August 1847 was playing leading business on the York circuit under J. L. Pritchard. Proceeding to Gourlay's Victoria Theatre, Edinburgh, in June 1848, he remained there four months, and in November joined W. H. Murray's company at the Theatre Royal in the same city as 'heavy man,' appearing on the 13th as Sir Richard Wroughton in the 'Jacobite.' In April 1850 he supported Charles Kean during his visit to Edinburgh, and was engaged by him to play secondary tragic parts during the opening season of his management in London. Making his début at the Princess's in October 1850 as Bassanio in the 'Merchant of Venice,' King subsequently played the king in 'Henry IV, Part I.,' and on 31 Jan. 1851 was seen as the exiled duke when 'As you like it' was performed before the queen at Windsor. Late in the year he was engaged by John Harris of Dublin as leading actor at the Theatre Royal there. He opened under the new management on 26 Dec. as Colonel Buckthorne in 'Love in a Maze,' and soon became an abiding favourite with Dublin playgoers. Remaining there five seasons, he appeared in no fewer than fifteen notable Shakespearean revivals, and as Macbeth, Master Ford, Hotspur, and Leontes, met with much approbation. During 1855 he was in leading support to Helen Faucit, Samuel Phelps, and Miss Glyn during their visits to Dublin. In March 1856 he seceded abruptly from the Theatre Royal, and on 14 April began a three weeks' engagement at the Queen's in the same city in 'Hamlet.' Opening at Birmingham on 20 Oct., in conjunction with Miss Glyn, King remained there after her departure, and on 18 Nov. played Colonna in 'Evadne.' On 3 Dec. he was seen as John Mildmay in 'Still Waters run deep,' and as Quasimodo in 'Esmeralda.' On 6 July 1857 he made his first appearance in Manchester, in association with Miss Marriott and Robert Roxby [q. v.] Returning to Birmingham on 26 Sept. as Hamlet, he appeared there on the 27th as Mephistopheles in Boucicault's version of 'Faust and Marguerite,' which was played for forty-eight nights at a profit of 2,000l.

During 1859 King fulfilled several engagements at the Queen's Theatre, Dublin. On 16 April he played there Serjeant Austerlitz in 'Theresa's Vow,' to the Theresa of his daughter Bessie. On 26 July he was seen as Martin Heywood in the 'Rent Day,' and on 14 Dec. as Estevan in the 'Broken Sword.' On 30 April 1860 he began an important engagement at the City of London Theatre as Hamlet, returning thither in December. On 24 Sept. intervening he returned to the Queen's at Dublin as Ruthven in the 'Vampire.'

From 1861 to 1868 King's record was one of splendid strolling. On 15 March 1869 he was given a trial engagement at Drury Lane by F. C. Chatterton, opening there as Richelieu to the Julie de Mortemar of his daughter Bessie, who then made her London début. He was favourably received, and subsequently played Hamlet, Julian St. Pierre, and William in 'Black-eyed Susan,' besides alternating Othello and Iago with Charles Dillon. At the same house on 24 Sept. 1870 King was the original Varney in the 'Amy Robsart' of Andrew Halliday. In the Easter of 1871 his services were transferred to the Adelphi at a salary of 30l. per week. There he originated the role of Quasimodo in Andrew Halliday's version of 'Notre Dame,' which ran uninterruptedly to November, and was revived at Christmas.

In June 1873 King fulfilled an engagement at the Marylebone, and on 11 Sept. made his American debut at the Lyceum Theatre, New York, as Quasimodo. The play did not repeat its Adelphi success, although it was performed for six weeks. On 27 Oct. King played Othello, after which the Lyceum closed abruptly. It reopened in November with Italian opera, and on the 27th 'Notre Dame' was revived for four nights. Afterwards King made a successful tour of Canada, exclusively in Shakespearean plays, and returned to the Lyceum Theatre, New York, on 3 March 1874.

From 1878 to 1880 King was lessee of the Worcester theatre, an unprofitable speculation. In 1883 he made a short provincial tour under Mr. J. Pitt Hardacre's management, but he had outlived his popularity and the vogue of his school. Later appearances were infrequent, but in July 1890 he performed for six nights to good houses at the Queen's Theatre, Manchester, and was much admired as Ingomar, one of his most characteristic impersonations. Retiring finally to King's Heath, he died there on 21 Oct. 1893, and was buried at Claines, near Worcester. He had a son and two daughters, all of whom took to the stage. His elder daughter, Miss Bessie King, survives him.

A sound tragedian of the second order, T. C. King was the last exponent of a school which subordinated intelligence to precept and tradition. Physically he was well equipped, having a tall and shapely figure, with dark expressive features and well-set eyes; and his rich bass voice was flexible and resonant. A temperate graceful actor, he had more individuality and fewer vices of style than most conventional tragedians. In London he never established his hold, but in one or two large provincial centres, notably Dublin and Birmingham, his following was large and affectionate.

[Many errors of detail common to all the biographical accounts of T. C. King are here corrected, thanks to authentic information kindly placed at the writer's disposal by the actor's nephew, Mr. Henry King of St. Leonards-on-Sea. Data have also been derived from Dibdin's Annals of the Edinburgh Stage; Pascoe's Dramatic List; Levey and O'Rorke's Annals of the Theatre Royal, Dublin; Cole's Life of Charles Kean; Michael Williams's London Theatres, Past and Present; Birmingham Faces and Places, vol. v. No. 12; local playbills in the Birmingham Free Library; Freeman's Journal.]

W. J. L.