Helen Barry

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Helen Barry
Helen Barry.jpg
Born Elizabeth Short
(1840-01-05)5 January 1840
Lee, Kent, England
Died 20 July 1904(1904-07-20) (aged 64)
Norwalk, Connecticut, US
Occupation Actress
Spouse(s) Joseph Brandon
Alexander Rolls
Harry George Bolam

Helen Barry, born Elizabeth Short (5 January 1840 – 20 July 1904), was an English actress. She began her acting career at age 32 after her first marriage dissolved.

She performed leading roles in West End theatres in the 1870s in comedy, drama and Victorian burlesque and remarried in 1877 to Alexander Rolls, the former Mayor of Monmouth, briefly moving to Wales. But she was acting in London again by 1880, and her husband died in 1882. Barry soon remarried and moved to America, where she was again widowed within a year. She continued her stage career, both in New York and London, for more than a decade thereafter.

Childhood and first marriage[edit]

Barry was born as Elizabeth Short in Lee, now a suburb of London but then a village in the county of Kent; she was the daughter of Charles Henry Short and his wife Mary.[1][2][3] Elizabeth married Joseph Brandon, a Belgian, on 3 May 1855 when she was fifteen years old. The ceremony took place at the Parish Church of Saint Luke, Charlton, Kent.[2][4][5] Her daughter, Esther E. Brandon, was born in Greenwich, Kent in the second quarter of 1855, around the time of the marriage.[2][6] On 2 June 1870, the marriage was dissolved at Westminster, upon the petition of Joseph Brandon. Esther had been put out as an apprentice by 1871. The divorce was finalised on 29 February 1876.[4][7]

Early theatrical career[edit]

Barry first appeared on stage as Princess Fortinbrasse in Dion Boucicault and James Planché's Babil and Bijou at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in 1872.[8] She also appeared there in This Evening at Seven.[9] She was then at the Royal Court Theatre until 1873.[8] In March of that year she created the role of Selene, the fairy queen, in The Happy Land, a successful Victorian burlesque by W. S. Gilbert and Gilbert Arthur à Beckett.[10] Later that year, she took the role of Margaret Hayes in Tom Taylor's play, Arkwright's Wife, at the Theatre Royal in Leeds.[11] When the piece moved to the Globe Theatre in London, Barry moved with it.[8] The Times wrote that she "has all the force required by the arduous character of Margaret, and she expresses the tenderer emotions with good effect".[12]

Barry next took on the role of Edith Dombey in a play called Heart's Delight, adapted from Dombey and Son. She played at the Gaiety Theatre, London, as Armande in Led Astray by Boucicault, in 1874, before touring outside London briefly.[13] She next took the lead in Around the World in 80 days at the Princess's Theatre in 1875.[8] She played the leading role in Heartsease, by James Mortimer, at the same theatre in 1875. In 1876, she appeared adaptations of two French plays at the Haymarket Theatre and the Standard Theatre, and in Lady Clancarty by Tom Taylor, and the next year she played in The Lady of Lyons and The School for Scandal. Other important roles in the 1870s included Lady Macbeth and Lady Teazle, both at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh.[13] She appeared in the breeches role of Abdallah in The Forty Thieves, a burlesque at the Gaiety Theatre, in 1878.[14]

Second marriage[edit]

The actress married widower Alexander Rolls, a man more than 20 years her elder,[15][16] on 1 September 1877 at the Parish Church of St Mark at Regent's Park in Middlesex.[3] The day prior to the ceremony, Rolls appeared before diocesan officials to sign an affidavit disclosing the details of Barry's prior marriage and divorce.[4] The second son of John and Martha Rolls,[17] Alexander Rolls was a Deputy Lieutenant of Monmouthshire,[18] and had been elected to four terms as Mayor of Monmouth.[19] As a young man, he had purchased his commission in the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards,[20] eventually reaching the rank of Major.[16] Rolls's residence was Croft-y-bwla northwest of Monmouth, a house designed by the architect George Vaughan Maddox, where Rolls had lived with his first wife.[21][22] Rolls and Barry lived together for a relatively short time at Croft-y-bwla, and he declared bankruptcy less than two years after their marriage.[23] By 1881, he was living at Hanover Square, London, and she is not shown as residing with him in the 1881 census.[24]

Helen Barry in New York

In 1880, Barry appeared in The World at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and as Mrs. Arabella Buster in Forbidden Fruits at the Adelphi Theatre.[25]

New York[edit]

Rolls died in London on 22 April 1882. Within one year of her husband's death, Barry was remarried and widowed again: by early 1883, she married Harry George Bolam, a land agent and mining engineer.[26] The couple moved to New York where Bolam died suddenly of pneumonia on 23 March 1883.[27] Barry made her first New York stage appearance two months later, reprising her role as Margaret in Arkwright's Wife.[28] By 1886 she was in London, producing and acting in new plays such as The Esmondes of Virginia at the Royalty Theatre.[29][30] In 1888, she appeared in A Woman of the World, an adaptation by B. C. Stephenson of Der Probpnfeil by Oscar Blumenthal, at the Haymarket Theatre, starring alongside Herbert Beerbohm Tree.[31]

In 1889 Barry returned to New York, where she appeared in Love and Liberty at the Union Square Theatre.[32][33] In 1891, she starred in and produced A Night's Frolic, by Augustus Thomas, at the Park Theatre in New York City. In 1892, she sued Rose Coghlan in New York State court for copyright infringement, claiming that Coghlan's play Dorothy's Dilemma appropriated whole scenes from her production.[34] She was also involved in a court case in London that year but was acting in America in 1895.[citation needed]

Barry died on 20 July 1904 in the US in Norwalk, Connecticut, and her estate went to probate on 24 April 1906 in London.[35]


  1. ^ Short, Elizabeth. "England & Wales Christening Records, 1530–1906". Genealogical Society of Utah. British Isles Vital Records Index, 2nd Edition (reprinted on Ancestry.com). 
  2. ^ a b c Brandon, Elizabeth. "1861 England Census". Census Returns of England and Wales, 1861. The National Archives of the UK (reprinted on Ancestry.com). 
  3. ^ a b Brandon, Helen Elizabeth. "London, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754–1921". Church of England Parish Registers, 1754–1921. London Metropolitan Archives, London (reprinted on Ancestry.com). 
  4. ^ a b c Rolls Esquire, Alexander. "London and Surrey, England, Marriage Bonds and Allegations, 1597–1921". Marriage Bonds and Allegations. London Metropolitan Archives. (reprinted on Ancestry.com). 
  5. ^ Short, Elizabeth. "England & Wales, FreeBMD Marriage Index: 1837–1915". General Register Office. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes (reprinted on Ancestry.com). 
  6. ^ Brandon, Esther. "England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837–1915". General Register Office. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes (reprinted on Ancestry.com). 
  7. ^ Brandon, Ester. "1871 England Census". Census Returns of England and Wales, 1871. The National Archives of the UK (reprinted on Ancestry.com). 
  8. ^ a b c d Pascoe, Charles E. (1969). Our Actors and Actresses, p. 34. Ayer. 
  9. ^ "Theatre Royal, Covent Garden: This Evening at Seven", Morning Post, 6 September 1872, p. 4
  10. ^ Tomline, F. (a pseudonym for W. S. Gilbert) and Gilbert à Beckett. The Happy Land, prepared by Andrew Crowther for the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, accessed 1 February 2012
  11. ^ "Miss Helen Barry in Arkright's Wife", The Era, 26 October 1873, p. 7
  12. ^ The Times, 8 October 1873
  13. ^ a b Pascoe, Charles Eyre. "Barry, Helen", The dramatic list: a record of the principal performances of living actors and actresses of the British stage, pp. 25–26, Roberts Brothers, 1879, accessed 1 February 2012
  14. ^ Hollingshead, John. Good Old Gaiety: An Historiette & Remembrance, pp. 39–41 (1903) London: Gaity Theatre Co
  15. ^ Nicholas, Thomas (2000). Annals and Antiquities of the Counties and County Families of Wales. pp. 784–86. ISBN 978-0-8063-1314-6. 
  16. ^ a b Harrow School, M. G. Daughlish (1901). Reginald Courtenay Welch, ed. The Harrow School register, 1801-1900 (2 ed.). Longmans, Green. p. 134. Retrieved 26 June 2012. 
  17. ^ Rolls was the brother of John Etherington Welch Rolls.
  18. ^ The London Gazette, 20 August 1867, accessed 22 June 2012
  19. ^ William Meyler Warlow (1899). A history of the charities of William Jones (founder of the "Golden lectureship" in London), at Monmouth & Newland. W. Bennett. p. 332. Retrieved 26 June 2012. 
  20. ^ "War Office, 30th March 1838". The London Gazette. 30 March 1838. p. 783. Retrieved 26 June 2012. 
  21. ^ Newman, John. The Buildings of Wales: Gwent/Monmouthshire, Penguin Books, 2000, p. 410 ISBN 0-14-071053-1
  22. ^ Rolls, Alexander. "1871 Wales Census". Census Returns of England and Wales, 1871. The National Archives of the UK (reprinted on Ancestry.com). 
  23. ^ "The Bankruptcy Act 1869. ... In the matter of a Bankruptcy Petition against Alexander Rolls..." The London Gazette. 11 April 1879. p. 2818. Retrieved 26 June 2012. 
  24. ^ Rolls, Alexander. "1881 England Census". Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881. The National Archives of the UK (reprinted on Ancestry.com). 
  25. ^ "Miss Barry Cabinet Card", Remains to Be Seen, accessed 2 February 2012
  26. ^ Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (1883). "Appendix to Vol. XV – Obituary". Transactions, Volume 15. p. 450. Retrieved 26 June 2012. 
  27. ^ Obituary of H. S. Bolam (sic), The New York Times, 24 March 1883
  28. ^ "Amusements: Miss Helen Barry", The New York Times, 15 May 1883
  29. ^ "The Esmondes of Virginia, review p. 21". News of the World. 23 May 1886. Retrieved 30 January 2012. 
  30. ^ "Miss Helen Barry in Esmondes of Virginia", The Era, 5 June 1886, p. 16
  31. ^ Le Follet: Journal du Grand Monde, 1 February 1886, p. 16.
  32. ^ Helen Barry in Life and Love, NYPL Digital Gallery, accessed 1 February 2012
  33. ^ "Miss Helen Barry in America", The Era, 19 January 1889, p. 12
  34. ^ "In and About the City: Rose Coughlin Must Answer", The New York Times, 26 January 1892, accessed 26 June 2012
  35. ^ Rolls Bolam, Helen. "England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858–1966". Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England (reprinted on Ancestry.com). 

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