ANNE FAIRBROTHER HILL: A CHASTE AND ELEGANT DANCER 1
Mary Jane Warner
Anne Fairbrother Hill was a member of a popular 19th-century family of theatrical entertainers. Following a successful career as a dancer and ingénue in London and the provinces she came to America in the 1840s with her actor/manager husband, Charles Hill, and their three children. The Hills toured widely, but they also spent considerable time in Montreal and Toronto. Anne Hill was instrumental in introducing Canadian audiences to the rich repertoire of the Romantic ballet. A talented teacher, she opened very successful dance schools in both Toronto and Montreal, assisting amateurs in both cities to mount their own theatrical productions. In the 1860s she settled permanently in Montreal where she continued to appear on stage in character roles until shortly before her death.
Anne Fairbrother Hill (1804-1890), membre d'une famille bien connue d'artistes théâtraux populaires, se fit une carrière à Londres et en province comme danseuse et ingénue avant de venir s'établir en Amérique avec son époux Charles Hill et leurs trois enfants, au cours des années 1840. Les Hill firent ensuite de nombreuses tournées, séjournant souvent à Toronto et à Montréal en particulier. C'est à Anne Hill qu'on doit l'introduction au Canada du riche répertoire du ballet romantique. Enseignante douée, elle ouvrit des écoles de danse prospères à Toronto comme à Montréal, tout en aidant les amateurs des deux villes à monter leur propres productions scéniques. Au cours des années 1860 elle se fixa de façon permanente à Montréal, où elle continua à paraître sur scène comme actrice de genre jusqu'à peu avant sa mort.
Anne Fairbrother Hill was born into a family of theatrical entertainers on 15 July 1804 in London, England. As a child she was trained by her father, the popular pantomime artist 'Bob' Fairbrother, and by her older sister, Mary, a dancer at Drury Lane. Anne was typical of many show business children who began their careers as dancers and pantomime artists, developing into exceedingly versatile performers. As she matured, she honed her considerable acting skills, and in later years she specialized in character roles, especially comedy parts. She served as mentor for many a stagestruck actress, for early in her career Anne had discovered a flair for teaching: she trained a number of promising amateurs in addition to tutoring her own youngsters for the stage. She was a highly intelligent woman of great charm and compassion, but most importantly, she was a survivor who could make the best of any situation.
In the early years of her career, Anne Fairbrother Hill was a successful actress/dancer on the English stage, somewhat overshadowed by her actor/manager husband, Charles Hill. During the initial years of their marriage, her life necessarily revolved around her husband's somewhat erratic career and the responsibilities of raising her three youngsters, but she still found occasional opportunities to appear on the stage. When the family settled in America during the 1840s, Anne Fairbrother Hill became the backbone of the family, and she seemed to thrive amidst the constant trials of performing under less than ideal touring conditions. Undaunted by the untrained amateur performers who often fleshed out acting companies in the Canadian towns the Hills visited, she graciously encouraged these novice thespians in their 'Amateur Theatricals,' for she realized these enthusiasts were not competition, but staunch supporters of the professional theatre. For some Canadian performers training was based almost entirely on watching and imitating seasoned professionals such as the Hills, and perhaps playing minor parts in touring productions after only a sketchy rehearsal.
Probably the greatest influence in Anne Fairbrother's life was her father, the popular pantomime artist Robert 'Bob' Fairbrother (1767-1841). 2 He trained her as a dancer/pantomime artist and also instilled in her the moral fibre to cope with the innumerable challenges that would mark her life. Bob Fairbrother began his own career as a dancer/acrobat in his teens and became an established pantomime artist, appearing regularly at both London's Sadler's Wells and Drury Lane theatres. He was one of the first teachers of the brilliant clown Joe Grimaldi; through his friendship with Grimaldi, Fairbrother met his wife, Mary Bailey, whom he married in 1794. 3 In addition to his pantomime and dancing skills, he had a good head for business; he became a kind of confidant and general secretary to Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the manager of Drury Lane, serving as go-between in many of Sheridan's business dealings. Fairbrother was clearly comfortable with all levels of society from royalty to the lowliest theatrical apprentice, and he was popular with everyone according to his obituary, which claimed that 'disinterested devotion to the services of others was his predominating characteristic, indeed his good will extended to all. 4
Bob Fairbrother's likeable personality was a valuable commodity for his large family, which grew to four girls and three boys. 5 His first daughter, Mary Emma, was born soon after his marriage, and other children followed in quick succession. Anne (originally christened Amelia) and her twin sister, Sophia, were born in London in 1804. Although Bob Fairbrother took on extra jobs to feed and clothe his large brood, he still had considerable difficulty in making ends meet. Anne grew up in a household that was always short of funds, and she contributed to the family upkeep. By the time the twins were two, they had already appeared on stage as babes-in-arms, and their older sister, thirteen-year-old Mary, was an official member of the Drury Lane corps de ballet. Anne's first official appearance was at Drury Lane as Cora's child in Pizarro. 6 All the Fairbrother youngsters appeared as pages and children whenever parts were available, but their best opportunities were as elves and fairies in the ever-popular Christmas and Easter pantomimes. Anne and the other youngsters received on-the-job training from their father and elder sister, but the family could call on a wide network of theatrical acquaintances for advice and guidance.
The Fairbrothers faced a serious setback, however, when Drury Lane Theatre burned down on 24 February 1809, and they had to scramble to find work in other theatres. When Drury Lane eventually reopened in October 1812, their friend Sheridan was no longer in charge. Although Mary Fairbrother is listed in the corps de ballet for 1 November 1814, it appears that the Fairbrothers were out of favour with the new management. Sheridan, however, wrote to Thomas J. Dibdin, the assistant stage director at Drury Lane, urging him to employ Bob Fairbrother:
I will pledge my life for his zeal, integrity, and ability in whatever he may be employed. What the line is in which he may be made most useful, Mr. Ward is most competent to explain. I say nothing of his large family, many of whom are qualified to give fair assistance to the theatre.
Evidently the plea was at least partially successful, for the Fairbrother girls began appearing frequently at Drury Lane in such works as Oscar Bryne's ballet Bridal of Flora (November 1816) and the popular pantomime Harlequin Horner (December 1816). During their formative teen years, the girls likely attended the London Dance Academy established by former Drury Lane ballet master James D'Egville. 7 The academy had been founded during the Napoleonic Wars to train English dancers as replacements for the then-usual French ballet dancers. The Fairbrothers' apprenticeships were further augmented by attending performances at Drury Lane and elsewhere to see leading entertainers of the day, such as the great tragedian Edmund Kean, the clown Joe Grimaldi, and the renowned Sarah Siddons.
The family fortunes improved substantially when the Fairbrothers joined William Moncrieff's new troupe at the recently-opened Royal Coburg, 8 as did Mary's new husband, the actor Joseph Ebsworth, an old friend from Drury Lane. Also joining the troupe was fifteen-year-old Charles Hill, 9 whom Anne would eventually marry. Although the Royal Coburg was built by wealthy subscribers, it soon became the haunt of a rough and boisterous crowd that thrived on melodrama and spectacle. At the Coburg, Anne and Charles grew into seasoned professionals capable of playing to both royalty and a drunken mob. Anne danced in the corps de ballet most of the time, but occasionally she was given a small solo. When the Royal Coburg was dark, she sometimes found work at the nearby Surrey Theatre, another bastion of melodrama, or at Sadler's Wells, managed by old family friend Joe Grimaldi.
By the mid 1820s the Fairbrother troupe had dissolved: Anne's three sisters had headed north to Edinburgh's Caledonian Theatre, while she had remained in London, appearing at both the Surrey and Sadler's Wells theatres. A talented dancer and actress, she was assigned both principal dancer roles and minor speaking parts such as Janetta, the niece, in Dibdin's Elfrida of Olmutz (Playbill, 18 July 1825).
Anne and Charles Hill were married around 1826. Soon afterwards, the young couple followed the trail of many ambitious performers by playing the provincial circuit - Bath, Cheltenham, Brighton - to gain opportunities in major roles that would enhance their reputations. But Anne's own career was clearly curtailed by the birth of her first child, Charles Barton, in 1827, 10 soon followed by two more babies, Rosalie and Robert. The subsequent years were difficult for Anne as she attempted to balance the demands of wife and mother with her own ambitions as a dancer and actress.
By fall 1830, the Hills had returned to London, where they could count on family help in looking after their three lively youngsters. The Surrey Theatre became their new headquarters when Charles was engaged to play both romantic leads and eccentric character parts. Anne's brother, Benjamin Smith Fairbrother, 11 was stage manager there, and now and then Anne performed alongside the Surrey's resident dancer, Mlle. Rosier. Clearly, Anne was the equal of Rosier, but family responsibilities permitted only rare appearances in short divertissements - perhaps a stately court minuet and gavotte or a flamboyant Spanish fandango. She could be counted on for special benefit performances, and during the busy-but-profitable pantomime seasons, she usually tackled a major part like Flirtella in Cinderella (Playbill, 7 November 1831).
Once the children were older, she returned to the theatre full time. Since opportunities were limited at the Surrey, however, she rejoined the Drury Lane corps de ballet in the spring of 1833. The Romantic ballet movement 12 was in full flight after ballerina Marie Taglioni had astounded audiences as the ethereal Sylphide in 1831, and Fanny Elssler, Taglioni's rival, would shortly capture hearts with her voluptuous, exotic, Spanish Cachucha. These popular ballerinas were pushing dance technique to new heights with the introduction of extensive pointe work and virtuoso technique. The theatre was bustling with dance activity as leading choreographers, François Albert, André Deshayes, and Filippo Taglioni created stunning new ballets. Although foreign dancers again dominated the dance scene at Covent Garden, Drury Lane and the Italian Opera house, English dancers such as Anne Fairbrother Hill were given abundant opportunities in the corps and in minor solo roles. On stage Anne watched and absorbed the popular Romantic style, which she would perform herself on her return engagements to the Surrey and later in the provinces and in America.
She was a quick study and progressed rapidly through the Drury Lane ranks to become one of sixteen principal female dancers. During her first season back at Drury Lane, she danced with ballerina Pauline Duvernay in the popular Maid of Cashmere, and she was featured as Louis in Les Pages du duc de Vendôme (Playbill, 22 June 1833). Between seasons at Drury Lane, she returned to the Surrey, where Charles Hill had been promoted to stage manager. There she tried out her newly-learned dance variations and further developed her growing skills as an actress. Her children were also becoming seasoned performers. Six-year-old Charles Barton and four-year-old Rosalie were featured in Children of the Wood (9 August 1834); soon after, little Rosalie was given the honour of a benefit performance, with the entire Hill family performing Ivanhoe (12 September 1834). The Hills starred in the pantomime Whittington and his Cat (17 September 1834), with Charles in the dual role of Dick Whittington and Harlequin, Anne as Columbine, and young Rosalie as Fairy Busy Bee. Anne supervised her children's training and thus discovered a love and flair for teaching. 13
Reestablished in London, the Hills moved to Covent Garden to join other members of the Fairbrother family; Anne became one of the twelve principal female dancers - a remarkable status for an English-born dancer. Although she was assigned some solos and duets, the opportunity to watch and learn from famous guest ballerinas - Marie Taglioni, Pauline Duvernay and Fanny Elssler - was equally valuable. Unlike most of her colleagues, Anne was also given both speaking and mime roles, especially during the pantomime season. No longer in the first blush of youth, she was billed as Miss Cehill to camouflage her marital status whenever she played opposite her husband, as in the dual role of the heroine Alice and Columbine in the Christmas pantomime Harlequin Guy Fawkes (26 December 1835).
Although Anne Hill's career was flourishing once again and her son, Barton, was showing promise in children's parts, 14 her husband's career seemed at a standstill. He was no longer stage manager at the Surrey, and at Covent Garden he played mostly secondary character roles. Again the Hills left for the provinces, where Charles Hill was better able to gain employment as a stage manager. In the fall of 1837 they were at Gloucester and its companion theatre at Cheltenham; Charles was stage manager and principal actor, and Anne was principal dancer. Although short-lived, the engagement gave her the opportunity to polish the new repertory that she had picked up at Covent Garden. The following season the Hills moved on to the Brighton Theatre Royal. The theatre management was in poor shape when they arrived, and things went from bad to worse over the next two years. Charles Hill was often ill, the performers went unpaid for weeks at a time and the hours were long. One actor stated in a letter:
The hard work is awful - 3 pieces a night 6 nights a week and a change of performance every evening - from 10 to 4 is the usual length of our rehearsals & what with the studying parts we have scarcely time to fold & direct a newspaper much less a letter. 15
Nevertheless, Mrs. Hill threw herself into the venture, using the opportunity to expand her dancing and acting repertoire still further. She performed lead roles in Jersey Girl (1 September 1838), Grace Darling (14 February 1839), and The Dumb Girl of Genoa (5 December 1838), and she was Columbine in the Christmas pantomime. New dances - Cracovienne and Pas Circasian - were added to her growing repertoire. She trained the ballet corps and mounted new ballets. One of her most ambitious projects was the restaging of The British Bayaderes (14 November 1838). The East Indian dancer Amani had captivated audiences with her troupe of 'Authentic Bayaderes,' so much so that London's Adelphi Theatre mounted their own British version. Since Anne had relatives working at the Adelphi, she made several visits to learn the ballet drama before restaging it in Brighton with herself in the principal role of the lead slave girl. But her endeavours could not salvage the Brighton troupe as conditions deteriorated still further. In spite of her own popularity with both Brighton audiences and company members, her own benefit, on 21 February 1840, was ruined when the disgruntled band left the theatre after the overture to protest their unpaid salaries. Unable to pay the bills, the Hills and their two youngest children fled to America, leaving the acting manager E.T. Holmes in charge. Safely on his way, Mr. Hill sent a letter to Holmes informing him that he was seeking profitable engagements in America that would allow him to return to England to meet all his liabilities. 16
Upon their arrival in America, Mrs. Hill was at the peak of her dancing ability, balancing considerable technical skill with a flair for interpretation. She had an extensive repertoire of popular divertissements and an engaging personal style which could enchant both the sophisticated theatre-goer and the country farmer. Few writers give clear descriptions of her dancing, but some sense of her dance style and versatility can be gleaned from her repertoire. She often performed two very popular British dances - Sailor's Hornpipe and Highland Fling. Both dances required quick, sparkling footwork, precision, tiny beats, little springs and stamina. The gesturing legs were always kept below 45 degrees, giving the dances a feeling of lightness coupled with modesty. Occasionally she performed one of the court dances that had continued since the seventeenth century - minuet, gavotte, or allemand. In these elegant dances, which she often performed within the context of a specific play, erect carriage of the upper body was essential as well as the ability to execute controlled, slow movements in intricate patterns. She added to her repertoire regularly and was attracted especially to the divertissements associated with Fanny Elssler which called on her dramatic powers. Anne Hill added the Cachucha, 17 Elssler's most famous dance to her own repertoire soon after it was introduced to London audiences (Playbill, Gloucester, 18 December 1837); she performed it and other Spanish dances regularly throughout the remainder of her dancing career. The French writer Théophile Gautier provides a tantalizing description of its creator in the dance:
She comes forward in a basquine skirt of pink satin trimmed with wide flounces of black lace.... How charming she is, with her high comb, the rose at her ear, the fire in her eyes and her sparkling smile. At the tips of her rosy fingers the ebony castanets are aquiver. Now she springs forward and the resonant clatter of her castanets breaks out; she seems to shake down clusters of rhythm with her hands. How she twists! How she bends! What fire! What voluptuousness! What ardour! Her swooning arms flutter about her drooping head, her body curves back, her white shoulders almost brush the floor. What a charming moment! 18
Anne's husband, Charles Hill, was versatile also, moving easily from stage manager to major character roles. Most important for the success of their American adventure, they carried the stamp of stage experience in some of London's most revered theatres. The Hills hoped that their American venture would be short-lived and financially successful; instead the trip marked the beginning of long careers in America.
The Hills made their American debut at New York's Park Theatre on 2 September 1840, in Morris Barnett's burletta, Capers and Coronets (Spirit of the Times, 5 September 1840). Although Charles Hill had the misfortune to replace the popular actor, Richings, Mrs. Hill fared better, with one reviewer stating 'she was much his superior as an artiste, an excellent comedienne, doing a French character in broken English inimitably well, speaking the language like a native and dancing with exquisite grace and lightness. Youth and beauty only were required (and she was not very aged or very ugly) to have made her one of the most charming and effective, as she was one of the most versatile and useful actresses.' 19 She quickly became a favourite entr'acte dancer at the Park, delighting audiences particularly with her interpretation of Fanny Elssler's Cracovienne. 20 This divertissement was especially suited to Anne Hill's lively personality. The London Times (23 March 1840) provides a vivid description of Elssler in the dance:
There she comes with her little military jacket, and her soldier's cap, and her long plaited tails which dangle down her back, and her neat little boots, and the little brass heels which click so prettily to the music - and her entrée is a triumph! It is really a dance of character, the talents of the danseuse and the pantomimist being completely blended together. When she first bounds on it is as if she were springing with joy among a circle of admirers. She stops short, she assumes a military stiffness, but it is in the happiest spirit of irony. Now she seems only lazily beating time, and now she rushes along as if seized by the joy of the moment, and not knowing how to contain her delight. Then, when at the conclusion of the pas she trots along the lamps in that orderly fashion, and takes leave of the public in right military salute, the impression she conveys is unique.
In late autumn Masaniello was revived especially for her to play the challenging role of the dumb girl Fenella (Spirit of the Times, 2 January 1841). The part called on all her talents as a dancer, mime artist and dramatic actress. That winter, the Hills embarked on a tour of the East coast which included appearances in Baltimore, Boston and Philadelphia. Not until the 1842-43 season did the Hills return to New York, this time to the less prestigious Bowery Theatre, but this engagement, like so many others, did not prove financially successful.
The Hills were persuaded to travel north to Montreal to join their friend John Nickinson's troupe at the Theatre Royal. 21 The move marked the beginning of the most successful decade in their careers as mature artists. Again Mrs. Hill was singled out at their debut performance, with the Montreal Gazette (30 June 1843) declaring she was 'the most graceful dancer we have seen for many a long year, and on every night of her appearance has astonished and delighted the lieges of Montreal by her charming performances on "the light fantastic toe."' The French-language paper La Minerve (6 July 1843) remarked, 'D'abord Mad. Hill, comme danseuse, et comme actrice, s'est toujours attirée les applaudissements. . . . Mad. Hill, ne laisse pas d'être très-gracieuse et très attrayante.' Nickinson planned his semons to appeal to both English and French audiences; a popular choice was Capers and Coronets featuring Charles Hill as a French ballet dancer (La Minerve, 17 July 1843). Throughout the summer audiences were treated to a veritable feast of popular ballet divertissements by Mrs. Hill including La Cachucha, Pas Espagnol, and another Elssler dance, La Smolenska, which was 'a young girl's dream of love, beginning with a tremor of the feet which gradually spread to the whole body. Then, to a lively, bouncing rhythm, she darted, like some frightened animal. . . . In every movement there was an easy, voluptuous freedom' (Guest, Elssler, 116). On a few occasions, she even danced a variation from La Sylphide, a work usually performed by a more delicate, ethereal dancer than Anne Hill. Praise continued for her with the Gazette (1 August 1843) commenting that 'Mrs. Charles Hill danced EI Jaleo de Xeres with her usual grace, the audience testifying their gratification with a perfect shower of bouquets.'
Pleased with their Montreal reception, the Hills remained in Canada, recognizing that the community could not yet sustain a year-round professional company. Always an astute businesswoman, however, Mrs. Hill placed notices in both the Gazette and La Minerve (24 July 1843) before the end of the theatrical season, informing readers that 'Mad. Hill se propose d'ouvrir en cette ville une école de danse pour les jeunes demoiselles.' More extensive advertisements quickly followed:
Dancing for Young Ladies. Mrs. Charles Hill, Professor and Teacher of Dancing and the Calisthenic Exercises. At the request of several Families, respectfully announces her intention of opening an ACADEMY for the above elegant accomplishments. Having conducted similar establishments in London, Bath, Cheltenham, and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, with eminent success and unqualified satisfaction to her Pupils, their Parents and Friends, Mrs. Hill can confidently recommend her system for the speedy acquirement of excellence in every branch of BALLROOM DANCING.... The strictest attention paid to the deportment and address, by the practice of easy and graceful Calisthenic Exercises, as recommended by the first Medical men for expanding the chest, and improving the health and spirits (Gazette, 26 July 1843).
By early August, she had rented a suitable building and within six months, her young charges were ready to demonstrate their skills at a Public Ball in the New Saloon at the Theatre Royal (Gazette, 4 January 1844). The Hills' income was further supplemented by renting out the practice rooms to colleagues from the Theatre Royal for music lessons. 22 The Hills remained in Montreal for two more seasons. Both were willing helpers of the local amateurs in their own theatricals, but professional work was extremely limited, especially after the demolition of the Theatre Royal in the spring of 1844.
With the Montreal venture looking decidedly less promising, and restless for better theatrical opportunities, the entire Hill clan 23 set out on an extensive tour of Canada West that included visits to border towns in the United States. Their teenage children took an active part, Barton and Rosalie playing supporting roles; younger son, Robert, 24 who showed no inclination for acting, served as treasurer. Equipped with 'A new and elegant Portable Vaudeville Theatre Painted expressly for him by Mr. James Lamb of the Montreal New Theatre Royal' (Cobourg Star, 9 August 1846), the Hills visited towns both large and small - Woodstock, London, Chatham, Brantford, Paris, Gait, Guelph, Hamilton and Toronto. 25 On the whole, audiences were enthusiastic, particularly as regards Mrs. Hill, with the Chatham Gleaner (22 September 1846) reporting that
The people of Chatham enjoyed the richest treat that they ever experienced in this place.... Hasty Conclusions had the effect of making every one in the theatre who witnessed the performance come to the hasty conclusion that as long as the Hills played in Chatham they would be duly appreciated and admired.... The Polka was deservedly encored, and that charming Danseuse, Mrs. Hill, vastly enchanted all.... A duet by Mr. C. Hill and his charming daughter was enthusiastically encored.
A travelling correspondent for the Hamilton Spectator also commented favourably that 'As usual the dancing of Mrs. Hill was the chief feature, but the other performances were equally creditable.' The same writer also included a review from the Galt Courier mentioning that
A family of Theatrical performers named Hill made us a rapid visit this week, giving us two nights' amusement in Mr. Young's elegant new assembly room. We had been so long destitute of any public exhibition ... but the one thus presented to us in our destitution was not only excellent in its selection, but well played having all the advantage of novelty, taste, good costume, thorough stage management, and accurate knowledge of stage effect, the result could only be what it was, a couple of evenings of intense gratification and delight.... The dancing of Mrs. Hill was on all hands allowed to be exquisite, and the other performances exhibited genuine fun, humour or pathos with like intensity (Quoted in the Toronto British Colonist, 2 October 1846).
Late in the tour the Hills reached their final destination, Toronto. But after only a brief season, including a benefit for Mrs. Hill in which she was called on to encore her Highland Fling, the Hills returned to their Montreal headquarters for the winter (British Colonist, 13 October 1846).
The following spring the Hills joined George Skerrett's theatrical troupe. Skerrett had managed Montreal's Olympic Theatre for two seasons and was slated to run the new Theatre Royal when it was completed later that summer. In the interim, Skerrett put together a touring company, with Charles Hill as stage manager, and headed for Toronto. Skerrett had played Toronto before, but this time he employed a new strategy of alternating weeks in Hamilton and Toronto. It was a strong stock company, with visiting stars and the enticement of two outstanding dancers: Mrs. Hill and a talented young American, Sallie St. Clair. The Toronto Examiner (8 June 1847) remarked that 'The style of these ladies is widely divergent, but each has its claim to appreciation.' Although both dancers scored personal triumphs, the season was another financial failure. After the 1847-48 Montreal season Skerrett disbanded his troupe.
With limited opportunities in Montreal, the Hills again struck out on an extensive tour to Canada West. They played Kingston to crowded houses; the British Whig (1 July 1848) reported that 'They are highly accomplished comedians, and whatever they attempt is done with the greatest neatness. Their children are treading in the footsteps of their accomplished parents.' Visits to Sackett's Harbor and Watertown followed, then the Hills worked the towns along the north shore of Lake Ontario - Belleville, Cobourg, and Port Hope - reaching Hamilton by early September. Perhaps attempting to attract a more conservative public, Mrs. Hill was billed as 'the unrivalled danseuse, [who] will introduce her chaste and elegant dances' (Spectator, 27 September 1848). The engagement culminated with a benefit performance in which Mrs. Hill again danced the Highland Fling, always popular with the many Scottish audience members, in the farce The Highland Reel (Spectator, 7 October 1848).
The Hills continued their tour with an unfortunate trip across the lake to Rochester, then returned to Kingston for a short season with the Garrison Amateurs, culminating on 9 January 1849 in a 'complimentary benefit to Mr. Charles Hill and his family, who have suffered greatly, both in body and purse, from the rascalities of the Rochester folks' (British Whig, 15 January 1849). While Anne returned to Montreal to run her Dancing Academy, Charles and Rosalie went off to assist the amateur Brockville Thespian Society launch their first season (Recorder, 18 January 1849).
That winter riots in Montreal over the passing of the Rebellion Losses Bill and other street disturbances kept audiences away from the theatre. With no theatre work available, the Hills decided to cut their financial losses and move to Canada West. At first they may have intended to settle in Kingston; Barton, who had been working as a printer in Toronto, joined them there, and the family troupe was augmented by two singers from New York. Their son Barton's acting talent was clearly evident; the British Whig reported that 'Mr. Barton Hill, who did "Box" is rapidly improving in his profession, and bids fair one day to rival his father, who is really one of the best general actors left upon the English stage.' The notice continues 'Mrs. Hill was as pert and merry as usual, and Miss Rosalie looked and played as charmingly as ever' (6 July 1849). The Hills played Kingston through July and August, but a cholera epidemic kept audiences away, despite the patronage of John A. Macdonald (British Whig, 27 August 1849).
In the fall the family settled in Toronto, for they had already tested the waters and found them favourable. The town's population was now 25,000, and the recent transfer of government from Montreal to Toronto promised further growth. As Toronto was a garrison town both military and government officials would be likely to sponsor benefits and employ the Hills in their own amateur productions. The central location was also ideal for touring to the small towns in Canada West and to American cities such as Buffalo, Rochester and Cleveland. The Hills joined Charles Kemble Mason's newly-formed theatrical company at the Royal Lyceum, a troupe mainly of performers who had stranded when cholera had ravaged Toronto that summer. The new ensemble made its debut on 25 1849 in the popular farces The Honey Moon and The Young Widow, starring the four Hills. Barton soon left for Pittsburgh to join another troupe their romantic lead, but the remainder of the family stayed.
Following her usual practice, Mrs. Hill advertised the opening of her dance academy 'during the Fall Season for all the Fashionable Ballroom Dances including the Redowas, Celarius, Valse à Deux & Valse Cinque Temps' (British Colonist, October 1849). Around mid century, the ballroom repertoire was at largest and most varied; anyone aspiring to society had to be an accomplished social dancer. Torontonians flocked to Anne Hill's new academy and she quickly procured a larger space. Her life, like that of most women in the theatre, was exhausting. Monday and Wednesday mornings, she taught adults; juveniles attended classes on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, she taught at Madame Deslandes' Academy (Toronto Globe 18 December 1849). She was also available to teach private families and to visit schools in either town or country. From time to time, she travelled to Hamilton by coach or steamer to conduct classes. In her few remaining daytime hours, she rehearsed for new productions, and her evenings were often consumed by performances in professional or amateur productions.
The 1849-50 season was particularly rich in dancing opportunities for Anne and Rosalie Hill. The Italian Ballet Company, starring Giovanna Ciocca, had performed several well-known ballets - La Sylphide, Gitana and Giselle - during their short Toronto season (British Colonist, 10 August 1849), and the Royal Lyceum's manager, Mason, capitalized on this new audience interest by mounting several works that called upon all the Hills' dancing skills. The Fancy Dress Ball consisted mostly of popular ballroom dances from the mid-1840s: the Valse à Cinq Temps, the Bohemian Redowa and the Hungarian Polka. The production also served as an advertisement for Mrs. Hill's dancing academy, where many of the same dances were taught. The same bill included Joseph Coyne's farce Lola Montez, with Mrs. Hill as the exotic and notorious Spanish dancer (British Colonist, 5 October 1849). This role called for her to perform a series of Spanish dances, in which she excelled. Other plays, including Virginius, The Merchant of Venice and Rob Roy, showed the Hills as fine dramatic players.
Mason gave up the Royal Lyceum and dismissed his players at the end of the season, but an amateur troupe was hastily assembled by T.B. DeWalden, a former member of Skerrett's company. Charles Hill was appointed stage manager, and he, Anne and Rosalie played many of the lead roles. The amateurs performed regularly, and their season featured a 19 April 'Testimonial to Mr. DeWalden,' which starred Mrs. Hill in one of her most famous roles in The Whistler, or the Fate of the Lily of St. Leonards. This was a part she had 'sustained for more than 300 nights in the principal theatres in the United Kingdom' (British Colonist, 22 April 1850). Since professional engagements were limited, Charles and young Rosalie undertook some touring to nearby small towns such as Barrie, Whitby, and Peterboro. The Barrie Magnet billed their production as a 'Serio-Comic Mono-Dramatic Lecture on the influence of Music, Dancing and the Drama . . . interspersed with Historical and Biographical Anecdotes, English, Irish, Scotch, French and other national Serious and Comic Songs' (4 April 1850).
In August 1850 the Royal Lyceum changed hands again, but the new manager, T.P. Besnard, engaged Mrs. Mossop from New York's Park Theatre and the three dancing Kendall sisters as his stars, and the Hills were relegated to secondary roles. At the close of the season, Charles Hill joined the National Theatre in Cincinnati (Shortt, 16), while the two women remained behind to run the academy, appearing periodically in amateur productions. The following spring, Charles Hill rejoined Besnard's troupe for a final season with his family. Again minor stars were imported, and the Hills were used as supporting players in both serious dramatic works and lighthearted farces.
Ultimately, however, their Toronto venture failed. By July 1851 all four Hills were back in Montreal at Skerrett's tiny Bandbox Theatre, along with Olivia Crook, 'a favourite singing comedienne and operatic artiste' whom Barton Hill had recently married (J. Clapp, 153). Both senior Hills were nearing fifty, and Anne's dancing days were over. Invariably resourceful, she had prepared well for that eventuality; she had expanded her acting range considerably during her years in Canada. Always a delicious soubrette and perky comedian, her dramatic range now included supporting roles in serious dramas. She moved easily from playing the comic servant girl, Lucy, in the farce Young Widow or the noble Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet to the Scottish Helen McGregor in Rob Roy.
The family troupe, however, was gradually dissolving. Barton Hill 26 was already in steady demand as a leading man and went on to a successful career as a theatrical manager. Rosalie soon left the stage to marry and settle in Hamilton. 27 Anne Hill spent the summer of 1851 in Montreal, reunited with her youngest son Robert, who had begun his own successful career as an accountant. In September she played a short engagement in Quebec City (Shortt, 17) before joining her husband and son in Philadelphia (Wilson, 692).
The senior Hills travelled widely in the 1850s, mostly in the United States, with occasional forays into Canada to visit their children, Robert and Rosalie, usually in conjunction with a brief theatrical engagement. In 1854-5 the Barton and Charles Hills were reunited in New Orleans, where they played at the Academy of Music. 28 For the next three seasons, Anne Hill played various theatres managed by E.A. Marshall in Washington, New York and Philadelphia (Clipper, 20 December 1890). In November 1858 Charles and Anne Hill played a short season at Toronto's New City Theatre, Ontario Hall, then from 1859 to 1861 the couple joined their son Barton Hill at the Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore.
In 1862, during the American Civil War, the Hills returned to Montreal. Charles Hill found it increasingly difficult to obtain acting engagements and retired around 1866 on a pension from the American Dramatic Fund. He died 23 September 1874, at the age of seventy, at the home of his daughter Rosalie in Jersey Heights, New Jersey (Clipper, 3 October 1874). Around 1862, Mrs. Hill joined Buckland's company at the Montreal Theatre Royal, where she specialized in playing old women. In addition to her professional work, she continued her usual pattern of assisting local amateurs with their productions. Her last engagement was in 1890 with the Holman Opera Troupe (Clipper, 20 December 1890). She died on 4 December 1890 of Bright's disease, at the home of her granddaughter in the village of St. Antoine near Montreal.
During her many years in Canada Anne Hill made an invaluable contribution to dance training and to the development of knowledgeable dance audiences. Her popular dance academy exposed many citizens to excellent ballroom dance instruction in addition to supporting her family. The quality of her ballroom instruction permitted many citizens in Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal to enter society confident of their dancing abilities and secure in the accompanying social graces. Some devotees, such as Toronto's Mr. Robertson, went on to open their own dancing schools. She gave fledgling dancers sufficient training to enable them to appear on stage in the corps, and possibly helped to establish dancing as an acceptable profession. In addition, her own performances educated audiences in the nuances of the ballet repertoire, ranging from traditional hornpipes and highland flings to the ethereal sylph variations of the Romantic Ballet.
Finally, she set an example of graciousness and respectability which demonstrated that dancing was permissible in polite society. An announcement that appeared in the Patriot on 27 May 1851, encouraging readers to attend Mrs. Hill's final Toronto performance, gives valuable insight into her special contribution to Canadian theatre:
Both in public and private life she has won the esteem of all, not merely by her grace and elegance and consequent success in this department, but also by her extreme good temper, good sense and kindness of disposition. As a performer her merits are well known; but the extent of her histrionic exertions in favour of others is known only to a few. If there be, on the part of the public, the real desire to reward as well as praise, Mrs. Hill's benefit ought indeed to be a bumper.
BARKER, Kathleen. 'The Decline and Rise of the Brighton Theatre 1840-1860,' in Nineteenth Century Theatre Research vol 8:1 (Spring 1980) pp 29-51
CHAFFEE, George. 'The Romantic Ballet in London: 1824-1858,' in Dance Index vol 11:9-12 (1943) pp 120-67
CLAPP, John B and Edwin F EDGETT. Players of the Present. 1899; rpt New York: Benjamin Blom 1969
CONROY, Patricia. 'A History of Theatre in Montreal Prior to Confederation' Thesis McGill Univ 1965
DISHER, M Willson ed, The Cowells in America: Being the Diary of Mrs. Sam Cowell. London: Oxford Univ Press 1934
FINDLATER, Richard ed, Memoirs of Joe Grimaldi, by Charles Dickens. 1853; rpt London: MacGibbon and Kee 1968
GRAHAM, Franklin. Histrionic Montreal: Annals of the Montreal Stage. 1897; rpt New York: Benjamin Blom 1969
GUEST, Ivor. Fanny Elssler. London: Adam and Charles Black 1970
GUEST, Ivor. The Romantic Ballet in England. 1954; rpt London: Pitman 1974
HIGHFILL, Philip. A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800. Carbondale: Southern Univ Press 1978 vol 5
IRELAND, Joseph N. Records of the New York Stage from 1750 to 1860, 2 vols 1866; rpt New York: Benjamin Blom 1966
KENDALL, John S. The Golden Age of the New Orleans Theatre. New York: Greenwood Press 1968
SHORTT, Mary. 'Touring Theatrical Families in Canada West: the Hills and the Herons,' in Ontario History vol 74:1 (March 1982) pp 7-25
WEMYSS, Francis C. Chronology of the American Stage from 1752-1852. 1852; rpt New York: Benjamin Blom 1968
WILSON, Arthur H. A History of the Philadelphia Theatre, 1835 to 1855. 1935; rpt New York: Greenwood Press 1968
British Colonist. Toronto
British Whig. Kingston
Clipper. New York
La Minerve. Montreal
Spirit of the Times. New York.
British Library, London
Metropolitan Toronto Library, Toronto
Theatre Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
ANNE FAIRBROTHER HILL: A CHASTE AND ELEGANT DANCER
Mary Jane Warner
1 This is a revised version
of a paper read to the Association for Canadian Theatre History/Association
d'Histoire du Théâtre au Canada at the University of Windsor
on 30 May 1988. The research was funded by grants from SSHRCC and the Faculty
of Fine Arts, York University
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2 The parish register for
London, Holborn St Andrew, gives his christening date as 27 Dec 1767; several
sources give his birth date incorrectly as 1769
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3 MARY BAILEY met FAIRBROTHER
when she accompanied JOE GRIMALDI's wife to performances at Sadler's Wells.
See RICHARD FINDLATER ed, Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, by Charles Dickens
(1838; rpt London: MacGibbon & Key 1968) p 48
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4 ROBERT FAIRBROTHER's
'Obituary' in the New York Spirit of the Times, 13 Mar 1841 p 24
also mentions that he was one of the original performers in GARRICK's Pigmy
Revels [sic] and that he had been honoured by the Prince of Wales (later
George IV) who had a new pair of duelling swords sent to him whenever he
visited the theatre
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5 The following sources
give biographical background on the Fairbrother family: PHILIP HIGHFILL,
A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers,
Managers, and other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800 (Carbondale,
III: Southern Univ Press 1978) vol 5 p 138-40; M WILLSON DISHER ed, The
Cowells in America: Being the Diary of Mrs. Sam Cowell (London: Oxford
Univ Press 1934). The parish register for London, Lambeth St Mary gives
birth dates for three of Fairbrother's daughters: MARY EMMA © 28 Sept
1794) who in later life became a successful dramatist and translator; the
twins, SOPHIA and AMELIA © 15 July 1804) who became dancers. The fourth
daughter, CAROLINE, was also a dancer. The Fairbrother sons also entered
the theatrical profession: SAMUEL GLOVER was a theatrical publisher; BENJAMIN
SMITH was a stage manager; ROBERT was a theatrical printer
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6 Clipper, 20 Dec
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7 Ironically D'EGVILLE
was replaced by his assistant LOUIS BOISGIRARD in 1810 for allegedly placing
too many untrained pupils on stage. See GEORGE CHAFFEE, 'The Romantic Ballet
in London: 1824-1858,' Dance Index vol 11: 9-12 (1943) p 120-67;
and IVOR GUEST,
The Romantic Ballet in England (1954; rpt London:
Pitman 1972) p 22-32
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8 The Royal Coburg opened
on Waterloo Road in 1818; in 1819 MONCRIEFF became its manager. In 1833
the theatre was renamed the Royal Victoria; today it is known as the Old
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9 According to his 'Obituary'
in the New York Clipper 3 Oct 1874 he was the son of the celebrated
Covent Garden tenor JOHN HILL. When his parents left England on European
tours Charles was left in the care of CHARLES KEMBLE's brother-in-law,
theatrical manager VINCENT DE CAMP, who encouraged young Hill's career
as an actor. Several writers and his 'Obituary' have recorded CHARLES HILL's
birth date incorrectly as 1805. The parish register for Westminster St
Paul, Covent Garden, states that CHARLES JOHN HILL was christened 5 Jan
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10 The parish register
for St Mary the Virgin, Dover, Kent gives his christening date as 26 Sept
1827; several writers have given erroneous dates of 1828 and 1830. The
parish register for Walworth St Peter, Surrey, gives ROBERT HERBERT HILL's
christening date as 25 Sept 1831. No comparable entry has been found for
ROSALIE; however, a Gloucester playbill dated 16 Oct 1837 gives her age
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11 Although CHARLES HILL's
'Obituary' states he was stage manager at the Surrey Theatre for four successive
seasons beginning in 1831 he was not appointed stage manager officially
until 1833 (Surrey Playbills)
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12 IVOR GUEST, The
Romantic Ballet in England (1954; rpt London: Pitman 1974) is a useful
source of information on this era
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13 One of her young prodigies,
Miss C. LEVY, was featured in a Pas Seul at the Surrey (Playbill,
23 Jan 1835)
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14 JOHN B CLAPP, Players
of the Present (1839; rpt New York: Benjamin Blom 1969) p 151 gives
BARTON HILL's first stage appearance as 23 Oct 1835, in the role of the
count's son in
The Stranger, starring CHARLES KEMBLE. According
to the playbills he had performed earlier on 26 May 1834 at Covent Garden
as a page in Cendrillon and on 9 Aug 1834 at the Surrey Theatre
in Children of the Wood with his sister ROSALIE
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15 Letter from actor W
H PHILLIPS Nov 1839. See KATHLEEN BARKER, 'The Decline and Rise of the
Brighton Theatre 1840-1860,' Nineteenth-Century Theatre Research 8:1
(Spring 1980) p 31
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16 BARTON remained in
Brighton at the West Street Academy to complete his education. See JOHN
B CLAPP, Players of the Present (1899; rpt New York: Benjamin Blom
1969) p 151-52
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17 According to IVOR GUEST,
The Romantic Ballet in England, the Cachucha was first performed
1 June 1836 in Paris in the full-length ballet Le Diable Boiteux with
FANNY ELSSLER in the lead role of Florinda. The d ivertissement was introduced
to London by PAULINE DUVERNAY in winter 1836-37
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18 Quoted in IVOR GUEST,
Fanny Elssler (London: Adam and Charles Black 1970) p 75-76
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19 JOSEPH N IRELAND, Records
of the New York Stage from 1750 to 1860 (1866; rpt New York: Benjamin
Blom 1966) vol 2 p 335-36
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20 According to IVOR GUEST,
Fanny Elssler p 104-25 the complete ballet La Gipsy including
the Cracovienne divertissement was first produced in London on 25
July 1839. Two months later (26 Sept 1839) ANNE HILL added it to her own
repertoire at the Brighton Theatre Royal. ELSSLER had made her American
debut in Cracovienne on 14 May 1840, several months before ANNE
HILL arrived in America
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21 For additional information
on the Montreal theatre, see FRANKLIN GRAHAM, Histrionic Montreal: Annals
of the Montreal Stage (1897; rpt New York: Benjamin Blom 1969); and
PATRICIA CONROY, 'A History of the Theatre in Montreal Prior to Confederation'
Thesis McGill Univ 1965
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22 According to the Montreal
Gazette 9 Mar 1844 Miss ROCK, a colleague at the Theatre Royal, taught
'Harp, Guitar and Pianoforte, Singing classes' at the corner of Notre Dame
and St Gabriel. FRANKLIN GRAHAM (p 137) states that Mrs HILL built a new
house, equipped with dance facilities, on St Jean Baptiste Street when
the dancing academy proved profitable
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23 In spring 1846 CHARLES
HILL combined a New York engagement at the Greenwich Theatre with meeting
his 18-year-old son BARTON, who had recently completed his education at
the West Street Academy in Brighton, England. See JOHN B CLAPP, Players
of the Present p 151-52
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24 In 1858 ROBERT HILL
became an auditor for the Lake Shore and M S Railway Company in Montreal.
See GRAHAM p 140
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25 MARY SHORTT, 'Touring
Theatrical Families in Canada West: The Hills and the Herons,'
History 74: 1 (March 1982) p 3-25 gives extensive information on their
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26 The Barton Hills joined
Philadelphia's Chestnut Street Theatre for the 1851-52 season, then moved
to the Eagle Street Theatre in Buffalo N Y from 1852-59. Both JOHN B CLAPP
and FRANKLIN GRAHAM give useful summaries of BARTON HILL's career
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27 In her diary (p 182)
Mrs COWELL mentions that her cousin ROSALIE who lived in Hamilton had three
children by 1861: JANE, ROSALIE and JAMES. According to GRAHAM, Histrionic
Montreal p 140 ROSALIE married MACDONALD BRIDGES and the family later
moved to New Jersey
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28 According to JOHN S
KENDALL, The Golden Age of the New Orleans Theatre (New York: Greenwood
Press 1968) p 349-53, the Hills were originally engaged for a season at
Placide's Varieties Theatre but fire destroyed the theatre and they were
transferred to the Academy of Music
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