Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Usher, Richard

USHER, RICHARD (1785–1843), clown, was born in 1785. His father, the proprietor of a mechanical exhibition, travelled in the north of England and in Ireland. The son at an early age took a share in the management of the exhibition, and inherited his father's talent in the construction of curious contrivances. A spirit of adventure soon induced him to start on his own account, and with a friend he gave exhibitions in Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, and other large towns. At Christmas 1807 he appeared as a clown at the Liverpool Amphitheatre under Mr. Banks's management. His success was immediate, his readiness in the circle supplied a fund of jokes, and no contrivance was too difficult for his inventive powers. In 1809, under John Astley's rule, he came out at Astley's Amphitheatre, London, where for many years he remained a great favourite. His annual benefit was an occasion on which extraordinary performances took place both in and out of the theatre. The most remarkable of these feats occurred in 1828, when in a washing-tub drawn by geese he sailed down the Thames from Westminster to Waterloo Bridge. He was then to have proceeded in a car drawn by eight cats to the Coburg Theatre, but the crowd in the Waterloo Road made this impossible, and he was carried to the theatre on the shoulders of several watermen. On boxing night 1828 he was at Drury Lane in W. Barrymore's pantomime, ‘Harlequin Cock Robin, or the Babes in the Wood.’ There were two clowns, Usher and Southby; Barnes was pantaloon, Howell harlequin, and Miss Ryall columbine. There were six scenes in the opening burlesque, eleven in the harlequinade, and the performance lasted from half-past six until midnight.

Usher was known in the profession as the John Kemble of his art, and in the ring was the counterpart of Grimaldi on the stage, never descending to coarseness or vulgarity; his manner was irresistibly comic, and his jokes remarkable for their point and originality. He was the writer and inventor of several stock pantomimes. With increasing years he gave up clowning, and confined himself to invention and design. When William Batty purchased Astley's and rebuilt the house in 1842, he refused to employ any architect, and the extensive buildings were constructed from Usher's plans and models. Usher died at Hercules Buildings, Lambeth, London, on 23 Sept. 1843. He married, first, Mrs. Pincott (the mother of Leonora Pincott, the wife of Alfred Sydney Wigan [q. v.]); and, secondly, a sister of James William Wallack [q. v.], who survived him with a family.

[Gent. Mag. 1843, ii. 549–50; Stirling's Old Drury Lane, 1881, ii. 206–8.]

G. C. B.