William Oxberry

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William Oxberry (1784–1824) was an English actor. He also wrote extensively on the theatre, and was a printer and publisher.[1]

Early life[edit]

Oxberry was the son of an auctioneer, born on 18 December 1784 in Moorfields, London, opposite Bedlam. After a false start as a pupil of George Stubbs at age 14, he worked in a bookseller's shop, and in the office in Tottenham Court Road of a printer named Seale, an amateur actor. At a stable near Queen Anne Street, and subsequently at the theatre in Berwick Street, he took on parts including Hassan in Castle Spectre (Monk Lewis) and Rosse in Macbeth.[1]

Oxberry's indentures were cancelled in 1802, and he appeared under Samuel Jerrold, at the Watford theatre.[2] He joined, as low comedian, Trotter's company (Worthing, Hythe, and Southend theatres).[1][3]

Metropolitan actor[edit]

In 1807 Henry Siddons recommended Oxberry to the Kemble management at Covent Garden Theatre. He made his first appearance on 7 November 1807 as Robin Roughhead in Fortune's Frolic, but was not a critical success.[4] At the close of the season he was released from his engagement, and went to Glasgow, where he made a success as Sir David Daw in the Wheel of Fortune. In Aberdeen he was tried as Michael Ducas in Adalgitha: he then played other tragic roles.[1]

After returning to Glasgow, Oxberry accepted from Raymond an engagement in London at the Lyceum Theatre, then known as the English Opera House, and appeared in a piece by Henry Siddons, called 'The Russian Impostor,' in which he made a success. He was then engaged for the Lyceum by Arnold. An engagement at Drury Lane Theatre followed. and he played for the first time with the burnt-out company at the Lyceum, 25 September 1809, as the Lay Brother in the Duenna.[5] After the opening of the new Drury Lane theatre his name is not mentioned until the end of the season.[6] At Drury Lane he remained until the close of the season of 1819–20.[7] He created many original parts in plays, dramatic or musical, by Arnold, Thomas John Dibdin, James Kenney, George Soane, and others.[1][8]

Oxberry as a comic actor was not always a distinguished performer. He was compared only to John Emery as Tyke, John Lump, Robin Roughhead; his Slender, Sir David Daw, and Petro were held to have been unsurpassed. When Robert William Elliston reduced the salaries at Drury Lane, he refused the offer, and starred at minor theatres (the Surrey, the East London, and Sadler's Wells).[1]

Later life[edit]

Oxberry was for a long time manager of the Olympic, but the experiment collapsed. In December 1821 he took the Craven's Head chophouse at Drury Lane, a house of literary and theatrical resort. Here he died 9 June 1824. His remains were interred in a vault in St. Clement Danes Church, Strand.[1]


Illustration from Oxberry's Dramatic Biography and Histrionic Anecdotes, 1825–1826

Oxberry was author of:[1]

  • The Theatrical Banquet, or the Actor's Budget, 1809, 2 vols.
  • The Encyclopædia of Anecdote, 1812.
  • The History of Pugilism, and Memoirs of Persons who have distinguished themselves in that Science, 1814.
  • The Flowers of Literature, 2nd edit., London, 1824, 4 vols.
  • Oxberry's Anecdotes of the Stage, London, 1827.

He also edited The New English Drama, consisting of 113 plays, with prefatory remarks, in 22 vols. 1818–24; and wrote The Actress of All Work, played in Bath on 8 May 1819, in which Elizabeth Rebecca Edwin assumed half a dozen different characters. He converted He would be a Soldier of Pilon into The High Road to Success, and produced it at the Olympic. He was responsible for an adaptation of Walter Scott's Marmion, played at an outlying theatre. For a short period he edited the Monthly Mirror, to which, and to The Cabinet, he contributed fugitive pieces.[1]

A portrait of Oxberry by Samuel De Wilde, in the Garrick Club, shows him as Petro in Arnold's Devil's Bridge. An engraving of him as Leo Luminati in Oh! this Love is in the Theatrical Inquisitor (vol. i.); and a second, presenting him in private dress, is in Oxberry's Dramatic Biography, a work projected by Oxberry, and edited after his death by his widow; it was published in parts, beginning 1 January 1825. After the completion of the first volume in April 1825 the issue was continued in volumes, and was completed in five vols. in 1826.[1]


In 1806 Oxberry married, at Southend, a young actress playing minor parts in the Trotter company, Catherine Elizabeth Hewitt.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Lee, Sidney, ed. (1895). "Oxberry, William (1784-1824)" . Dictionary of National Biography. 43. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  2. ^ He played Antonio in the Merchant of Venice. A performance of Dan in John Bull revealed talent in low comedy. He appeared at Sheerness, and played Richard III at Godalming.
  3. ^ For some time subsequently he made an occasional appearance in Shylock, Hassan, and other characters. More frequently he was seen in parts such as Lope Tocho in the 'Mountaineers,' and Old Frost in the 'Irishman in London.'
  4. ^ On 14 Nov he played Lord Duberly, alias Daniel Dowlas, in The Heir at Law, a part he substituted for that of Zekiel Homespun. After this he disappears from the bills.
  5. ^ He was, 20 Nov, the original Cuffee, a black servant, in Not at Home, by Robert Charles Dallas; and played, 24 February 1810, John Lump in The Review. The following season he was the original Laglast in Allingham's Transformation, or Love and Law; Daniel, a country fellow, in Masters's Lost and Found; Fabian in Dimond's Peasant Boy; Zedekiah in Arnold's Americans; and Timothy Scamp in Leigh's Where to find a Friend; and in 1811–12, Sir Charles Canvas in Moore's M.P., or the Blue-Stocking; Dick in Right or Wrong; Gregory in Kenney's Turn out!; Abrahamides in Quadruped, an alteration of The Tailors; and Petro in Arnold's Devil's Bridge.
  6. ^ He played, for Miss Kelly's benefit, Lord Listless in 'Rich and Poor,' and Gregory in an act of 'Killing no Murder.'
  7. ^ Playing parts such as John Grouse in the 'School for Prejudice;' Graccho in Massinger's 'Duke of Milan;' Master Stephen in Jonson's 'Every Man in his Humour;' Moses in the 'School for Scandal;' Don Ferolo in the 'Critic;' Slender in the 'Merry Wives of Windsor;' Dominique in 'Deaf and Dumb;' Simon Pure in 'A Bold Stroke for a Wife;' Bullock in the 'Recruiting Officer;' and Job Thornberry in 'John Bull.'
  8. ^ Among those were Sapling in 'First Impressions,' by Horace Smith; Isaac in the 'Maid and the Magpie;' Friar Francis in 'Flodden Field,' an adaptation of Scott's 'Marmion;' Humphrey Gull in Soane's 'Dwarf of Naples;' Jonathan Curry in Moncrieff's 'Wanted a Wife;' Dominie Samson in 'Guy Mannering;' and Friar Tuck in the 'Hebrew,' Soane's adaptation of the 'Talisman.'

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Sidney, ed. (1895). "Oxberry, William (1784-1824)". Dictionary of National Biography. 43. London: Smith, Elder & Co.