Sam Cowell

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Samuel Houghton Cowell (5 April 1820 – 11 March 1864) was an actor and singer of comical songs.

Born in London, he was the son of Joseph Cowell, a British actor who brought him to the United States in 1822.[1] He worked as a child actor in the United States, having first appeared there aged nine in Boston as Crack in The Turnpike Gate, a play by Thomas Knight, in which he sang a duet with his father 'When off in curricle we go'.[1] Thereafter he appeared at many major theatres in America, hailed as 'the young American Roscius'.[1] He also appeared in Shakespeare plays, notably in the Comedy of Errors playing one of twin brothers, with his father playing the other.[1]

At the age of 20 he returned to Britain, first to Edinburgh where he became a successful actor working for his uncle W. H. Murray, who managed the Theatre Royal and the Adelphi there.[1] He also succeeded as a comic singer in entr'actes.[1] Later as his career developed he became primarily a music hall artist, performing comical songs and burlesques in London song and supper rooms. Songs that he made famous included The Ratcatcher's Daughter and Villikins and his Dinah.[2][3]

Cowell became extremely popular and successful, and is credited with establishing the music hall, a new form of entertainment.[3] He also appeared twice before Queen Victoria at her court theatricals.[1] In 1860 he returned to America to tour, but at about this period his health, previously robust, began to break down.[1] He developed consumption after his return to London in 1862. His failing health made it impossible for him to continue performing and in 1863 he was declared bankrupt.[4] He moved with his family to Blandford Forum, Dorset, to recuperate.

Sam Cowell died in the following March and was buried in the cemetery at Blandford Forum, where there is a monument to him erected by his friends.[1][5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i J. W. Ebsworth, 'Cowell, Samuel Houghton (1820–1864)', rev. Nilanjana Banerji, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  2. ^ Don B. Wilmeth (2007-09-13), The Cambridge guide to American theatre, ISBN 9780521835381
  3. ^ a b Obituary:New York Times, 3 April 1863
  4. ^ The Times(London, England), 27 July 1863, p.11
  5. ^ Samuel Houghton Stackwood Cowell, buried 15 March 1864

Further reading[edit]

  • Emilie Marguerite Ebsworth Cowell: The Cowells in America; Being the Diary of Mrs. Sam Cowell during Her Husband's Concert Tour in the Years 1860-1861 M. Wilson Disher (ed.), Oxford University Press, 1934

External links[edit]