Nisbett, Louisa Cranstoun (DNB00)

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NISBETT, LOUISA CRANSTOUN (1812?–1858), actress, the daughter of Frederick Hayes Macnamara and his wife, a Miss Williams, is said to have been born at Hackney, London, 1 April 1812. Her father, a man of good family, quitted on his marriage the 52nd foot, and joined his father-in-law as a merchant, an occupation of which he soon wearied. Under the name of Mordaunt he joined as an actor the Leicester circuit. On 2 March 1820 he appeared under that name at Drury Lane during Elliston's management as Maurice de Bracy in the ‘Hebrew,’ Soane's rendering of ‘Ivanhoe.’ After playing domestically and at private theatres in Wilmington Square and Berwick Street, Miss Mordaunt appeared at the Lyceum, then the English Opera House, for her father's benefit, as Angela in the ‘Castle Spectre’ of ‘Monk’ Lewis, and afterwards, a deplorable character for a child, Jane Shore. Two of her sisters were also on the stage. In 1826 she began at Greenwich her public career as Lady Teazle. After playing a round of parts in ‘elegant’ comedy, together with juvenile rôles in melodrama, she joined the elder Macready's company at Bristol, appearing in ‘Desdemona.’ In Cardiff she was first seen as Juliet, and she subsequently opened, under Raymond, the Shakespearean Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon, as Rosalind. Here she played with other characters, Queen Katherine, Portia, Lady Macbeth, Young Norval, and Edmund in the ‘Blind Boy.’ Engagements followed at Northampton, Southampton, and Portsmouth. She had thus obtained some experience when, 26 Oct. 1829, she appeared at Drury Lane, selecting for her first appearance Widow Cheerly in Andrew Cherry's ‘Soldier's Daughter,’ a part which she had played previously. On 21 Oct. she was Miss Hardcastle in ‘She Stoops to Conquer,’ and on 3 Nov. the original Widow Bloomly in Buckstone's ‘Snakes in the Grass.’ Olivia in ‘A Bold Stroke for a Husband’ and Lady Amaranth in ‘Wild Oats’ followed, and on 28 Nov. she was the original Lady Splashton in ‘Follies of Fashion,’ by the Earl of Glengall. During the season were given Charlotte in the ‘Hypocrite;’ Miss Sally Scraggs in Diamond's ‘Englishmen in India;’ Annette in ‘Blue Devils;’ Julia, an original part, in the ‘Spanish Husband, or First and Last Love,’ an unprinted play; Lady Elizabeth Freelove in the ‘Day after the Wedding;’ Zamine, in the ‘Cataract of the Ganges,’ to Webster's Jack Robinson, and possibly one or two other parts, including Lady Teazle. As Lady Teazle she made, 18 June 1830, her first appearance at the Haymarket, where also she played Beatrice in ‘Much Ado about Nothing’; Lady Contest in the ‘Wedding Day;’ Angelique, an original part, in ‘Separation and Reparation;’ Lady Racket in ‘Three Weeks after Marriage;’ Matilda, an original part, in ‘Force of Nature;’ Violante in the ‘Wonder;’ Letitia Hardy in the ‘Belle's Stratagem;’ Miss Tittup in ‘Bon Ton;’ Flora in ‘She would and she would not;’ Augusta Polinsky (a girl dressed as a boy), an original part, in Buckstone's ‘Husband at Sight;’ Miss Dorillon in ‘Wives as they were;’ Dinah in the ‘Quaker,’ and Theodore in ‘Two Pages of Frederick the Great.’ In January 1831, with a reputation already established, she quitted the stage and married John Alexander Nisbett of Brettenham Hall, Suffolk, a captain in the 1st life guards. Seven months later her husband died by a fall from his horse. His affairs were thrown into chancery, and some years elapsed before she obtained any provision under his will.

In October 1832, accordingly, Mrs. Nisbett reappeared as Widow Cheerly at Drury Lane, where she played a round of characters in comedy. After acting in various country towns, she became in December 1834, at a salary of 20l. a week, the nominal manager, under two brothers named Bond (one of them a known money-lender), of the little theatre in Tottenham Street, then named the Queen's. Elton and Morris Barnett were in the company, which included Miss Vincent, Miss Murray, Mrs. Chapman, and Miss Jane Mordaunt, her sister. On 16 Feb. 1835 she played Esther, the leading female part in the ‘Schoolfellows,’ a two-act comedy, by Douglas Jerrold, supported by her two sisters. Mrs. Honey and Wrench joined the company, and the ‘Married Rake,’ by Selby, in which she played Captain Fitzherbert Fitzhenry, and ‘Catching an Heiress,’ in which Mrs. Nesbitt was very popular as Caroline Gayton, were produced. In November Mrs. Nisbett and the company went with the Bonds to the Adelphi, where she was, 21 Dec. 1835, the original Mabellah in Douglas Jerrold's ‘Doves in a Cage.’ She soon returned to the Queen's, which she reopened with five light pieces, in three of which she played.

In 1836 her name was still attached to the management of the Queen's Theatre. But she had then played at various other theatres. In Gilbert A'Beckett's burletta, the ‘Twelve Months,’ given at the Strand in 1834, she was Nature. Here, too, under W. J. Hammond, she obtained much applause in ‘Poachers and Petticoats.’ Engaged by Webster for the Haymarket, she obtained, as the original Constance in the ‘Love Chase’ of Sheridan Knowles, 10 Oct. 1837, one of her most conspicuous triumphs. After the close of the season she visited Dublin, playing at the Hawkins Street Theatre. On 30 Sept. 1839 she was with Madame Vestris (Mrs. C. J. Mathews), at Covent Garden, opening in ‘Love's Labour's Lost.’ In the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ she was Mrs. Ford, and, 4 March 1841, she was the original Lady Gay Spanker in ‘London Assurance,’ by Lee Moreton (Dion Boucicault). On the collapse of the Covent Garden management in 1842 she returned to the Haymarket, but reappeared at Covent Garden in Jerrold's ‘Bubbles of the Day’ later in the year. At this period she was more than once disabled by illness. On 1 Oct. she was Rosalind to Macready's Jaques at Drury Lane.

Reports concerning forthcoming marriages of Mrs. Nisbett were frequent at the time. ‘Actors by Daylight,’ 2 Feb. 1839, has the startling assertion that she ‘has formed a second matrimonial connection with Feargus O'Connor, the late Member of Parliament for Cork.’ On 15 Oct. 1844 Mrs. Nisbett married, at the Episcopal Chapel, Fulham, Sir William Boothby, bart., of Ashbourne Hall, Derbyshire, receiver-general of customs. Sir William, then sixty-two years of age, died on 21 April 1846. On 12 April 1847 she reappeared at the Haymarket as Constance in the ‘Love Chase.’ On 3 July she played Lady Restless in a revival of Murphy's ‘All in the Wrong.’ Lady Teazle was repeated on 2 Oct. for the reopening of the theatre, and on the 5th Mrs. Nisbett was Helen in the ‘Hunchback’ to the Julia of Miss Helen Faucit (Lady Martin). James R. Anderson included Mrs. Nisbett in the company with which, 26 Dec. 1849, he opened Drury Lane. With her sister, Miss Jane Mordaunt, as Helen, she played Julia in the ‘Hunchback’ at the Marylebone, on 21 Nov. 1850. At the same house she was, 30 Nov., Catherine in Sheridan Knowles's ‘Love,’ her sister playing the Countess. She also played Portia and other parts. At Drury Lane she soon afterwards played in Sullivan's ‘Old Love and the New.’ On 17 March 1851 she was Mrs. Chillington in Dance's ‘Morning Call,’ imitated from Musset's ‘Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée,’ and was prevented by illness from taking part in ‘Queen of Spades,’ Boucicault's adaptation of ‘La Dame de Pique.’ As Lady Teazle she made, 8 May 1851, her last appearance on the stage. Her health had quite broken down, and she retired to St. Leonard's-on-Sea, where, after undergoing some domestic bereavements, she died of apoplexy on 16 Jan. 1858.

Though deficient in tenderness and passion, she had in comedy supreme witchery. Tall, with a long neck, a lithe and elastic figure, an oval face, lustrous eyes, and a forehead wide and rather low, surmounted by wreaths of dark hair, she was noted for her beauty, dividing with Madame Vestris the empire of the town. She had more power than Vestris of entering into character, had boundless animal spirits, and an enchanting gleefulness. Her laugh was magical. Westland Marston's earliest recollections of her are in the ‘Married Rake’ and Caroline Gayton in ‘Catching an Heiress,’ in which and in other parts he praises her ‘winning archness,’ ‘the spirit with which she bore herself in her male disguises, and by her enjoyment of the fun.’ He supplies an animated picture of her performance of a reigning beauty and heiress of the days of Queen Anne in the ‘Idol's Birthday,’ played at the Olympic in 1838. Her Beatrice was gay and mischievous, and carried one away by its animal spirits, but it lacked poetry. She was a ‘whimsical, brilliant, tantalising Lady Teazle, without much depth in her repentance,’ and an ideal Helen in the ‘Hunchback.’ Her greatest part was Constance in the ‘Love Chase.’ So free and wild in this were her spirits, ‘that animal life by its transports, soared into poetry, and the joys of sense rose into emotion’ (Westland Marston, Some Recollections of our Recent Actors, ii. 158). Her Lady Gay Spanker in ‘London Assurance’ was a no less distinct triumph. Portraits of Mrs. Nisbett are in Mrs. Baron Wilson's ‘Our Actresses,’ showing a singularly lovely face, and as Constance, in ‘Actors by Daylight,’ and the ‘Theatrical Times.’ The two last are little better than caricatures.

[Particulars of the life of Mrs. Nisbett have not hitherto been given to the world. Her earliest efforts at Drury Lane are chronicled in Genest's Account of the English Stage. Mrs. Baron Wilson's Our Actresses gives a romantic account of her life up to 1844. Short and untrustworthy biographies are supplied in Actors by Daylight, vol. ii., and the Theatrical Times, vol. ii. Supplementary information has been gleaned from the Athenæum, various years; Dramatic and Musical Review, 1842–8; Tallis's Dramatic Magazine; the Dramatic Magazine, 1829–30; Pascoe's Dramatic List, under ‘James Anderson;’ Burke's Peerage; Pollock's Macready; Scott and Howard's E. L. Blanchard; Dickens's Charles James Mathews; Barton Baker's The London Stage; History of the Dublin Theatre, 1870; Stirling's Old Drury Lane; Westland's Marston's Some Recollections of our Recent Actors; Era Almanack, various years; Era, 24 Jan. 1858; Times, 19 Jan. 1858.]

J. K.