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James Leander Cathcart visits the Birthplace

Norma Hampson is a long-standing volunteer at the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive and has written this blog to share details from her current project: listing visitors from the early Birthplace visitor books. In this post, meet James Cathcart, Tragedian.

Norma Hampson
Cathcart Signature
The signature of James Cathcart in the visitor book

The signature of James Leander Cathcart, Tragedian, Drury Lane Theatre as entered in the Visitors’ Book in 1858.  This was not his first visit to the Birthplace, as an identical entry was written on the 13 May 1857.

He was born in Ireland on the 16 March 1800, son of Rolleston Nassau Cathcart, an attorney. James was intended to follow in his father’s footsteps and, although training to be a barrister, was lured to the acting profession in his early twenties.

He commenced his new career in 1822 on stage in Dublin, but soon moved to England where he was engaged by the Sadler’s Wells Theatre before joining Mr Macready at Drury Lane.

His marriage to Frances Hubbard in 1827 took place in Marylebone, London. His occupation given was as comedian, and his new life necessitated a great deal of touring which is shown by his place of residence in subsequent census returns. For instance, in 1841 he was living in Leeds, Yorkshire with his wife Frances and three children. Sadly, Frances died in 1846 and a second marriage to Elizabeth Witter took place in Liverpool, in 1850.


In the 1851 census his address was Southwark, Surrey and his occupation given was tragedian, Drury Lane. By 1861, his residence is shown as Northumberland and the birthplaces of his four children reflect his nomadic lifestyle, i.e. Preston, Southampton, Nottingham, and Lancaster. The household also included a teacher of languages and a dancing master.

James Leander Cathcart as Caliban in "The Tempest", Prince’s Theatre, Manchester 1864

His death in Manchester on 31 December 1865 was given full coverage in the Manchester Times on Saturday 13 January 1866. A benefit performance followed on Monday 15th at the Prince’s Theatre when his eldest son James Faucit Cathcart paid tribute to his father’s memory thanking the good people of Manchester for their support. A full report appeared in the Manchester Times on Saturday 19 January 1866.

According to the 1871 census return his widow Elizabeth kept a lodging house in Stretford, Lancashire. The household included two sons, her brother, and three lodgers.

James Faucit Cathcart
James Faucit Cathcart

In the census of 1881, Elizabeth, aged 50 years, a widow, appears as a visitor in the household of her aunt and uncle Jane and Joseph Proctor at Poplar Bank, Huyton-with-Roby, nr. Liverpool, Lancashire. She died, aged 52 years, in Manchester.

James Faucit Cathcart, son of James Leander Cathcart and Frances Hubbard, was also an eminent actor. Having been discovered by the actor manager Charles Kean, he performed with him for Queen Victoria at Windsor. He went to Melbourne, Australia in 1863, to Sydney in 1864, and to the USA with the Keans until they retired in 1867. From 1873, he worked with the Shakespearean actor Sullivan at Drury Lane, London, then toured America in 1875-76. He returned to Melbourne in 1879 and performed throughout Australia for the next twenty years. He was regarded as the best Shakespearean actor on the Australian stage. He died in St. Kilda, Melbourne on 18 December 1902, aged 74 years.

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