Owenson, Robert (DNB00)


OWENSON, ROBERT (1744–1812), actor, was born in the barony of Tyrawley, co. Mayo, in 1744. His parents were poor people named MacOwen, which their son afterwards englished into Owenson. He was primarily educated at a hedge-school, and acted for a short time as steward to a neighbouring landowner. Having acquired a taste for theatricals, he communicated to Oliver Goldsmith his desire to go on the stage, and the latter introduced him to Garrick about 1771. He had a handsome and commanding figure and sang well, having received tuition from Worgan and Arne, and was quite successful when he appeared in the provincial theatres. Of his many parts the best was Teague in the 'Committee' and Major O'Flaherty in the 'West Indian,' and he was already popular when he made his London debut at Covent Garden in 1774. He was admitted a member of the famous 'Literary Club' on Goldsmith's recommendation, and in 1774 married Jane Mill, the daughter of a tradesman of Shrewsbury, and a distant relative of the Mills of Hawkesley in Shropshire. The first child of the marriage was Sydney, the afterwards celebrated Lady Morgan [see Morgan, Sydney]. Owenson appeared on the Dublin stage in October 1776, and remained there some years, becoming part-proprietor of Crow Street Theatre. In 1785, after a quarrel with his manager, he opened the Fishamble Street Theatre, but returned in less than a year. Subsequent attempts to carry on theatres at Kilkenny, Londonderry, and Sligo were failures, and in 1798 he retired from the stage. He died in Dublin at the house of his son-in-law, Sir Arthur Clarke, at the end of May 1812, and was buried at Irishtown, outside the city. He has been placed only a little lower than John Henry Johnstone [q. v.] as an Irish comedian, and he was also a capable composer, the well-known airs of 'Rory O'More' and 'My Love's the Fairest Creature' being attributed to him. His kindness of heart is illustrated by the generosity he extended to Thomas Dermody [q. v.] His only literary productions are a song preserved in T. C. Croker's 'Popular Songs of Ireland' and 'Theatrical Fears' (12mo, Dublin, 1804), a long poem, after the manner of the 'Rosciad,' published under the signature of 'R. N. O.'

[Brit. Mus. Cat.; Thespian Dictionary; Fitzpatrick's Lady Morgan, 1860; Barrington's Personal Sketches, ii. 207; O'Keeffe's Recollections, i. 354; Life of Dermody, 1806.]

D. J. O'D.