Edmund Kean as Othello. National Portrait Gallery

Edmund Kean (1787-1833), the Tragedian

We had thought about writing about his acting career, but we’re sure there are enough websites that provide all of that, so we decided to take a look at the man behind the theatre – if that’s at all possible. There has always been much speculation about his parents and so, as is our want, went on a hunting trip to see if we could unearth anything new.

Edmund Kean. Garrick Club
Edmund Kean. Garrick Club

His life appears to be a mixture of fact and fiction, some of which he possibly made up himself and the rest which has been ‘tweaked’ then repeated over the centuries with so much of it untrue, so let’s try to set at least some of the record straight if we can.

There is no disputing he was regarded as one of the best Shakespearean actors of his days. He was short in stature – true. His body being well-proportioned but a mere 5 feet 6 and three-quarter inches in height.

Edmund Kean as Alanienouidet, Chief and Prince of the Huron Tribe of Indians. Garrick Club
Edmund Kean as Alanienouidet, Chief and Prince of the Huron Tribe of Indians. Garrick Club

Born 4th November 1787, apparently, although there’s nothing to confirm that apart from books written some thirty years after his death, but let’s assume that is correct. His mother –  now, the book about his life has this to say:

George Saville Carey was cursed in a worthless inhuman daughter. Ann Carey had, at the age of fifteen, ran away from home to join a company of strolling players; and when itinerant business was at a standstill, she figured in the streets of London as a hawker. It was in the latter capacity that her not unprepossessing face attracted the attention of Aaron Kean, an architect, who took her under his protection, but subsequently abandoned her. Shortly afterwards she became the mother of Edmund Kean.

We have managed to find her baptism, in 1763 at St Bride, Fleet Street which nicely confirms her as George Saville Carey’s daughter.

A copy of Hoppner's painting of Mrs Kean. Original not found
A copy of Hoppner’s painting of Mrs Kean, a whole-length figure, standing, facing the spectator, in a cornfield… in white dress and blue satin shoes. Original not found

Mary Ann was one of several children that George Saville Carey (son of the poet Henry Carey*) and his wife Mary Ann née Phipp had, including two with the interesting names of Martha Udosia and Tempest Hazard.

Edmund Kean as Coriolanus. Garrick Club
Edmund Kean as Coriolanus. Garrick Club

Moving on to Edmund, there is no sign of a baptism for him, but it would appear that he was a child protégé and appeared on the stage when a mere 4 years old, with his mother, Mrs Carey, who we know was an actress and regularly appeared in the bill programmes for the London theatres. In his formative years, Edmund was simply known as Master Carey.

Who could his father have been? Well, we have seen references to it being an Edmund Kean, an architect’s clerk; an Aaron Kean, architect; Aaron Kean, a tailor; and Moses Kean, a ventriloquist who apparently took a keen interest in young Edmund’s career. Yet again, no categorical answer to that question.

We came across this newspaper article below advertising the first stage performance for a Mr Edmund Kean, who couldn’t be ‘our’ Edmund as he would only just have been born. Given the theatrical connections, this could either be his father or Edmund simply adopted the name in later life. There were three brothers, Aaron, Edmund and Moses who were all tailors by trade who lived at No. 9 St Martin’s Lane.

There were also rumours that Edmund’s mother was a Charlotte Tidswell (1766-1841), an actress, but that seems exceptionally unlikely, it’s possible that she may have been a relative, but more likely a family friend who was involved in Edmund’s theatrical education.

Edmund Kean as Richard III. Garrick Club
Edmund Kean as Richard III. Garrick Club

On 17th July 1808, Edmund married Mary Chambers at Stroud, Gloucestershire and a couple of years later they produced a son, Charles John, who, after attending Eton, went on to become an actor, although, not in the same league as his famous father.

After Edmund had a very public affair with Charlotte Cox, the wife of a London Alderman. He was then sued by Mr Cox for crim. con and damages of £800 were awarded against him.

Charles John Kean by Stump, Samuel John
Charles John Kean by Stump, Samuel John. National Portrait Gallery, London

Needless to say, this had an impact on his career and his loyal wife, Mary remained loyal no longer and in 1825, she left him and moved in to Keydell House, Catherington Hampshire, which her son bought from a Captain RD Pritchard, who lived there from about 1826 until 1842 and who, coincidentally we have written about before. Mary Kean died in 1849 and was buried in the parish church.

Edmund moved to Richmond where he spent his remaining years. By all accounts he outlived his fortune and died penniless, whether that’s true or not, like the rest of his life, we may never know.

His death came 15th May 1833 and given his theatrical status, a request was sent to the Dean of Westminster Abbey to have him buried there – this was declined, and he was buried instead at Richmond parish church following a post-mortem carried out a couple of days after his death. The newspapers sparing their readers none of the gory details of the postmortem, which is how we know his exact height.

It would appear though that in May 1833 there was a flu epidemic and presumably they were expecting that to be the cause of death, but having read the details of the autopsy, that seems unclear as to what the cause was. Interestingly his mother was living with him at that time as she too was unwell. Apparently, she took one last view of her son in his coffin and retired to her room where in just a few days, she too died. A request, by Charles, was made for her to be buried with her son, but there wasn’t space.

Edmund Kean by Northcote, James.  National Portrait Gallery, London

It seems that we will never know the full truth about Mary Anne Carey’s relationship with the tragedian, Edmund Kean, but at least we’ve been able to add a little more factual information to the myth.

Edmund Kean as Othello. National Portrait Gallery
Edmund Kean as Othello. National Portrait Gallery

Sources

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 20 May 1833 

Worcester Journal 30 May 1833

John Hoppner, R.A. by McKay, William Darling, 1844-1924; Roberts, W. (William), 1862-1940

Hawkins F.W.  The Life of Edmund Kean in two Volumes 1886

Highfill, Kalman, Burnim, Langhans. A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers …

* George Saville Carey was born 3rd December 1738 at Clerkenwell, the son of the poet Henry Carey and his wife Sarah Harrison. Despite reports to the contrary, he was not born posthumously. Henry Carey was reputedly the illegitimate son of George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, but so far we have not been able to confirm this one.  

Art Detectives: The Family of Captain RD Pritchard

We came across a painting on the ArtUK website, simply titled The Children of Captain RD Prichard and dated 1827; the artist is Philip August Gaugain (1791-1865). It captured our attention and so we decided to turn art detectives and find out a little more on the history behind the portrait. As a result, we can now put names to the two children and provide a little more information on Captain Pritchard.

The Children of Captain R. D. Pritchard (1827) by Philip August Gaugain (1791–1865) Walker Art Gallery
The Children of Captain R. D. Pritchard (1827) by Philip August Gaugain (1791–1865)
Walker Art Gallery

Their father was Captain Richard Davison Pritchard of the Royal Navy. Born on the 30th May 1788 to Samuel Perkins and Ruth Ann Pritchard, he was baptised at St Mary, Newington on the 19th June. Richard’s father was a naval man and, following in his father’s footsteps at a very tender age, he joined the navy as a Volunteer 1st Class on the 10th August 1797, serving on board HMS Prince and rising to the rank of Midshipman by 1799. Service on HMS George and Blenheim followed before he joined HMS Royal Sovereign, the ship on which he would serve, as Master’s Mate, during the Battle of Trafalgar which took place on 21st October 1805.

The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) Tate Britain
The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851)
Tate Britain

Richard Davison Pritchard subsequently served on many royal naval vessels, seeing action and receiving wounds, He was twice discharged from his ship; in 1808 from HMS Terrible upon which he had the rank of Acting Lieutenant he was ‘invalided and unserviceable’ and the following year he joined HMS Avenger as a Lieutenant but was discharged ‘invalided’ at the end of 1809.

At 22 years of age, he married Mary Ann Davis, on the 3rd July 1810, at the church of St Andrew by the Wardrobe. Interestingly, banns had been read at St Clement Danes for three weeks from the 31st December 1809, but no wedding had taken place there. Did Mary Ann’s family object to her marriage to an out-of-employ naval officer? She was mentioned in the Naval Chronicle as being the only daughter of the late John Davis of Binfield, Berkshire.

Their son, the boy in the portrait, similarly named to his father as Richard Davis Pritchard, was born in the following year, at Langley near Windsor and then there was a gap of 10 years before their daughter Rosanne Mary Pritchard was born, on the 5th February 1821 at the Bank House in Southampton. Rosanne Mary was baptized on the 4th March 1821 at Holyrood, Southampton.

Oxford Journal, 11th May 1811
Oxford Journal, 11th May 1811

During these years, Pritchard had served in the Transport service between November 1813 and August 1819, attaining the rank of Captain by which he is denoted in his children’s portrait, before embarking on something of a different career path. Rosanne Mary’s birthplace, Bank House, gives a clue. In partnership with a man named John Kellow, Pritchard had gone into business at Southampton as a banker and trader, continuing in this vein until the partnership was dissolved on the 30th December 1827.

Old Boat House, West Quay, Southampton by an unknown artist Southampton City Art Gallery
Old Boat House, West Quay, Southampton by an unknown artist
Southampton City Art Gallery

It was in the same year that Pritchard’s banking business came to an end that his two children were painted by Gaugain, when they were aged 16 and 6 years. Gaugain also painted the portrait of a Captain Pritchard and a Mary Ann Pritchard three years earlier, and surely these must be their parents, Richard Davison and Mary Ann Pritchard.

Captain Pritchard by Philip August Gaugain (1791–1865) Southampton City Museums
Captain Pritchard by Philip August Gaugain (1791–1865)
Southampton City Museums

The portraits of Captain and Mary Ann Pritchard are held by Southampton City Museums and the portrait of their children by the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

Mary Ann Pritchard by Philip August Gaugain (1791–1865) Southampton City Museums
Mary Ann Pritchard by Philip August Gaugain (1791–1865)
Southampton City Museums

In later life Captain Richard Davison Pritchard returned to his former profession, serving on HMS Meteor and Avon as Lieutenant Commander from February 1838 to September 1841, before he gave up the sea for good. The home to which he retired was Keydell House, an ‘uncommonly pretty cottage villa’ at Horndean in Hampshire.

Keydell House via horndean.net
Keydell House via horndean.net

It is altogether a little snuggery, in a valley of extraordinary beauty. The house stands or rather nestles under the shadow of the hill, on a lawn resplendent in flowers and American plants, looking around its domain without a feeling of envy for any spot in England. It is, in fact,

A BIJOU on a PETITE SCALE…

Perhaps it was his wife’s illness which had prompted the end of his naval service, for Mary Ann Prichard died at Keydell House on the 12th March 1842, leaving her husband inconsolable. She was buried in the churchyard at the nearby village of Catherington a week later. Pritchard put Keydell House up for sale.

DEATHS. On the 12th inst., at Keydell, Horn Dean, Hants, after a long illness borne with the most exemplary Christian patience, MARY ANN, the beloved wife of Capt. R.D. PRITCHARD, R.N., aged 54 years. Her loss will be long and deeply deplored by her afflicted husband and family, and also by a large circle of friends to whom she was endeared by her amiable and affectionate disposition and many virtues. In the circle of her private life, she exhibited a useful example of simple and warm piety, and of that meekness, quietness, and easy seriousness of deportment, which so well become the Christian woman.

Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 21 March 1842

The following year Captain Pritchard was living at Hampton Grove in Surbiton, Surrey, although he died at Fareham in Hampshire on the 4th January 1849. He was buried five days later at Catherington near to his former home, Keydell House, and alongside his beloved wife.

Catherington Church © Copyright David Martin and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Catherington Church
© Copyright David Martin and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

So, what of the two children in the portrait? Rosanne Mary married the Reverend Thomas Pyne, incumbent of Hook near Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, at Wonston in Hampshire on the 8th October 1850. It was fated to be but a short marriage for Rosanne Mary died on Valentine’s Day 1853, at Surbiton. Her obituary named her as the ‘only surviving child’ of the late R.D. Pritchard Esq, so her elder brother had predeceased her. He was alive when his father wrote his last will and testament, on the 16th December 1843. In that will Captain Pritchard left everything to his daughter Rosanne Mary, stressing that it was not for want of affection for his son that he had done so, but simply because his son had been amply provided for already in ‘bringing him up to his present profession’. Possibly he is the Richard Davis Pritchard who was appointed as a surgeon by the Royal Navy in 1833.

On the 14th inst., at Surbiton, aged 32, Rosanne Mary, the beloved wife of the Rev. Thomas Pyne, M.A., incumbent of Hook, Surrey, and only surviving child of the late R.D. Pritchard, Esq., Captain in the Royal Navy.

Morning Advertiser, 18th February 1853

 

Sources used not referenced or linked to above:

Trafalgar Ancestors, National Archives

Will of Richard Davison Pritchard, PROB 11/2807/24, National Archives

The Naval Chronicle, Containing a General and Biographical History of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, with a Variety of Original Papers on Nautical Subjects, Volume 24

Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 8th January 1827

Globe newspaper, 15th May 1843