Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lee, Richard Nelson

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LEE, RICHARD NELSON (1806–1872), actor and dramatist, son of Lieutenant-colonel Lee, was born at Kew on 8 Jan. 1806, the day of Nelson's public funeral, a circumstance to which he owed his second name. A plan for his joining the navy fell through in consequence of his father's death in India. He first acted in the 'Miller and his Men' at the private theatre in Rawstorne Street, paying for his appearance. He then played as an amateur at Deptford, was also in what is called 'utility' business at the old Royalty, practised legerdemain, and accompanied on tour Gyngell, a professional conjurer. After giving conjuring performances on his own account in Edinburgh, with not very satisfactory results, Lee acted with Richardson, and joined Robert William Elliston [q. v.] in his final occupancy of the Surrey, which began on 24 June 1827. At the Surrey, under different managers, he remained seven years, playing harlequin in the Christmas pantomimes, which he wrote for Osbaldistone, the successor (1831) in management of Charles Elliston. For Yates and Matthews at the Adelphi he is said to have written in 1834 the pantomime 'Oranges and Lemons,' in which in the course of one week he was seen as clown, harlequin, and pantaloon. In 1836 he managed Sadler's Wells for Osbaldistone, then lessee of Covent Garden. On the death of John Richardson [q. v.], the proprietor of 'Richardson's Show.' on 14 Oct. 1836, Lee, in conjunction with Johnson of the Surrey, bought his business, which they conducted with success. In connection with Johnson, Lee managed the Marylebone, the Pavilion, the Standard, and finally the City of London theatres, the direction of which they retained for fifteen years. After Johnson's death in 1864 Lee remained in management until 1867, when he retired, and afterwards confined his attention to miscellaneous entertainments at the Crystal Palace or elsewhere. In 1866 he prepared an autobiography, which, like his other works, remains in manuscript. Lee wrote over two hundred pantomimes and plays, mostly for those East-end theatres which he managed. The dramas consisted principally, if not entirely, of adaptations. His works displayed some invention and familiarity with stage resources, but little literary faculty. In the British Museum Catalogue the 'Life of a Fairy,' illustrated by Alfred Crowquill, London, 1850, 12mo, is assigned to Nelson Lee. Lee died at Shrubland Road, Dalston, on 2 Jan. 1872, and was buried on the 5th in Abney Park cemetery.

[Personal recollections; Era newspaper, 7 Jan. 1872; Era Almanack, various years; Barton Baker's London Stage, 1889; E. Stirling's Old Drury Lane, 1881; Raymond's Life of Elliston, 1857.]

J. K.