Boothroyd Fairclough

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Boothroyd Fairclough (1825–1911) was a renowned British born tragedian.


Born in Lancashire and educated at the Manchester Grammar School, he went to the USA early in life where he began his career as an actor, working for the Booth family and playing many American theatres. In 1868 he made his London debut, playing "Hamlet" at the Lyceum Theatre, going on to play many of the popular tragic roles from Shakespeare's tragedies.

Having fought through the American Civil War he decided to try his fortunes in new fields, and, with his manager, made for the colonies in the south, i.e. South Africa, the Australias and India. In Sydney Fairclough met and married the actress Elsa May and they worked in Australia for a number of years. The family later returned to London where he performed for Sir George Alexander and other London actor-managers.

Fairclough died at his residence in Gower street, London, on September 18, 1911.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

Came out to Cape Town from Adelaide at the end of March, 1876 to present a series of readings from Shakespeare, Tennyson and others. Billed as "the eminent tragedian from Australia and London", he did the first of them with performances of the Cagli Italian Opera Company. Engaged by Disney Roebuck for a popular 3 week season of Shakespeare at the new Theatre Royal in Burg Street and the Athenaeum Hall, Cape Town, he received lofty praise from local critics. Roles included "Hamlet", "Richelieu", "Sir Edward Mortimer" (The Iron Chest),

On 4 July he participated in a "Grand Complimentary Benefit" under the patronage of the Governor, reciting poetry ("Shamus O'Brien", "The Charge of the Light Brigade", etc), supported by operatic arias from Signora Neri and Signor Greco, accompanied by Mr Darter on piano. In view of its success he repated the programme on 26 July, then also doing scenes from Shakespeare's Hamlet and Macbeth. He ended his Cape Town sojourn with a series of Sacred Readings in the Athenaeum Hall from 6 August onwards.

He therafter left Cape Town for a the interior, initially to perform in the the "Diamond Fields" (i.e. Kimberley) and then possibly elsewhere. His initial repertoire included Hamlet (Shakespeare), but apparently this had less success than it had experienced in Cape Town.


"Death of Mr. Boothroyd Fairclough" in "Dramatic Notes", The Register, Adelaide, Saturday 28 October 1911: p.8 [1]

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.340-351

Jill Fletcher. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg.

Adele Seeff. 2018. South Africa's Shakespeare and the Drama of Language and Identity. Series: Global Shakespeares. New York: Springer.

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