Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bellamy, George Anne

BELLAMY, GEORGE ANNE (1731?–1788), actress, was born, according to her 'Apology,' at Fingal, in Ireland, on St. George's day (23 April 1733). For this year she afterwards substituted 1731, supplying a copy of a certificate of birth. The year 1727, given without comment by Chetwood in 1749, is more probable. The name George Anne was given by mistake for Georgiana. Her mother, whose maiden name was Seal, was a quakeress, the daughter of a rich farmer at Maidstone. She eloped from a boarding-school with Lord Tyrawley, ambassador at Lisbon. She there married Captain Bellamy, the master of a trading vessel. The birth very shortly after of George Anne Bellamy led to the immediate disappearance of Captain Bellamy. Lord Tyrawley acknowledged the paternity of the infant. He sent her, when five years old, to Boulogne, where she was placed in a convent until she was eleven, when she returned to England, and lived for some time with a peruke-maker in St. James's Street, formerly in the service of Lord Tyrawley. After the return of her father she saw under his charge a good deal of company, and was introduced to Lord Chesterfield and to Pope. Her father, on going as ambassador to Russia, made her an allowance, which she forfeited by going to live with her mother. She became acquainted with Mrs. Woffington, Sheridan (the actor), and Garrick. She even took part with Garrick in a private performance of 'The Distressed Mother,' in which she played Andromache. A rehearsal of an amateur performance of 'Othello' led to an engagement with Rich, the manager of Covent Garden. Rich introduced her to Quin, then the virtual director of the house. Rich insisted, in spite of Quin's opposition, that she should play Monimia in 'The Orphan.' Her appearance took place on 22 Nov. 1744. At the rehearsals Quin, who was to play Chamont, did not appear. Through the first three acts she could scarcely proceed, but in the fourth act she obtained a success. Quin lifted her in his arms from the ground, called her 'a divine creature,' and proclaimed himself henceforward her supporter and friend. This was not, in fact, her first appearance. Her name appears in the bill for Covent Garden for 27 March 1742, quoted by Genest, as acting Miss Prue in 'Love for Love.' Mrs. Bellamy was patronised by aristocratic society, and rose rapidly in her profession. An abduction by Lord Byron led to a severe illness, after which she took refuge with some quaker relatives in Essex. Her private adventures cannot be followed. In 1745-6 she was in Dublin. Sheridan, who had the management of the Smock Alley and Aungier Street theatres, brought her out at the latter house on 11 Nov. 1744, according to Hitchcock, but the year must be 1745, as Monimia. Desdemona and other characters followed. Mrs. O'Hara, her father's sister, introduced her into society. She became in consequence so much the rage, that an attempt of Garrick to prevent her appearance as Constance in 'King John' was the means of causing him much public mortification. On 22 Oct. 1748 she reappeared at Covent Garden as Belvidera in 'Venice Preserved.' Here she remained playing, generally in tragic characters, but occasionally appearing in comedy, until 1750 when (28 Sept.), with Garrick, by whom she was specially engaged, she appeared as Juliet in the famous combat with Barry and Mrs. Cibber at the rival house. Her success in this character was conspicuous. Her private character was, however, suffering. Her reconciliation to her father, her relations with Mr., afterwards Sir George Metham, with Mr. Calcraft, to whom she was believed to be married, at a subsequent date with West Digges, an actor, who married her, having another wife living, and finally with Woodward, the actor, like like the record of her gambling uiil extravagance, may be read in her 'Apology' and elsewhere. During many years she appeared at various theatres : Covent Garden, 1763-9, Smock Alley, Dublin, 1760-1, Covent Garden, 1761-2. In 1764 she went to Scotland, and reappeared at Covent Garden in 1764-70. With increasing age her attraction naturally diminished, and mental decay seems to have followed. In 1785 appeared in five volumes, to which a sixth was subsequently added, her 'Apology,' the materials for which, supplied by herself, are supposed to have been arranged and transcribed by Alexander Bicknell, author of a 'Life of Alexander the Great' [q. v.] A benefit was arranged for her at Drury Lane on 24 May 1785. Mrs. Bellamy took no part in the perfomance of the piece ('Braganza'), but mumbled a few words to the audience in prose. She died 16 Feb. 1788. So far as can be judged, her position was below the greatest actresses of her day. Her beauty and social reputation stood her, however, in good stead. She was small in stature, fair, with blue eyes, and was, according to O'Keefe, very beautiful. During her early life she was thown into intimacy with Fox and many characters of highest mark. Her later years were burdened with suffering and debt. She describes herself on her reappearance in Dublin, when still little more than thirty, as 'a little dirty creature bent nearly double, enfeebled by fatigue, her countenance tinged with jaundice, and in every respect the reserve of a person who could make the least pretension to beauty.' A portion of her correspondence is preserved by Tate Wilkinson and others. It consists almost exclusively of applications for money, which was no sooner obtained than it was wasted. One or two letters lent by Mr. Stone, of Walditch, Bridport, are now before us, written from Berwick Street, Soho, They are wholly concerned with her pecuniary troubles. In one she acknowledges the receipt of two guineas, and says she needs twenty-five guineas again to pay her debts. In a second she bids her correspondent not to call, as she is going to an officer's (sheriff's) house on her way to the King's Bench, which was indeed a familiar bourne. Her career has furnished a familiar theme for writers on the stage, Dr. Doran is especially eloquent over the sadness of her life; she was, in fact, less neglected than she assumes herself to have been, and in 1785 she speaks of herself as having every prospect of being comfortably situated for life. (Apology, vi. 111-12).

[An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy, late of Covent Garden Theatre, written by herself, 6 vols. 1785; Memoirs of George Anne Bellamy, by a Gentleman of Covent Garden Theatre, 1785; Genest's Account of the English Stage; Thespian Dictionary; Hitchcock's Irish Stage; Jackson's History of the Scottish stage; Tate Wilkinson's Memoirs of his own life, 4 vols. 1790,and Wandering Patentee, 4 vols. 1795; Chetwood's General History of the Stage, 1749.]

J. K.