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EJ Phillips [Nickinson] The following was written in the last years of her life.
Elizabeth Jane Phillips, born Sept 7th 1830 in Chatham, Province of Quebec, Canada, daughter of Thomas Phillips, by his wife Elizabeth (Williams) Phillips. Mr. and Mrs. Phillips were born in Ledbury, Herefordshire England. Thomas was apprenticed and “served his time” to the trade of carpenter and joiner. He then enlisted in the army. During the reigns of George the 3rd [1760- 1762] and 4th [1820-1830] and William the 4th [1830-1837, Victoria became Queen in 1837 ], he served in the regiment called the Royal Staff[ordshire] Corps., composed of mechanics and artisans. The regiment was ordered to Canada about 1820 and stationed in Quebec, thence to Montreal and later to Chatham. In the meantime the Regt was ordered back to England where it was placed on recruiting duty in all the principal cities and towns of England. Then the Regt returned to Canada and he remained a loyal subject to Great Britain, receiving his discharge from the British Army and one hundred acres of government land for his services in the army.
He remained in Chatham until 1837, and in Octr of that year we moved to Hamilton in what was then called “Upper Canada”, but now is in the “Province of Ontario” Canada
Theatre historian Paula Sperdakos writes "when Canadian confederation took place in 1867 - that is, when Canada became a country - she would already have been 37 years old, with some of her working life spent in the US. ... the option of making a living in her chosen profession in Canada simply did not exist, except under very specific circumstances. ... I find it very odd that she said ... that Chatham was in the "Province of Quebec." She really must have forgotten all about her "native land" to have said that. [personal communication July 19, 2003]
Father worked at his trade until December when a call was made for volunteers to go to the front and on Christmas morning 1837 Father enlisted in the militia of Hamilton and was sent to Navy Island to oppose the “McKenzie Rebellion” -- remained with the volunteers while the trouble lasted, then opened a tavern and boarding house on James Street Hamilton, where we lived until 1843 -- when Father, having purchased two city lots on South James Street near Burlington Bay, built a house on the grounds and we lived there. There Father and Mother ended their days, she on the 15th of Septr 1852 and he on the 1st of April 1863. They had only two children. Mary Ann born Sept 1824 and Elizabeth J. born Septr 7th 1830. Mary Ann passed away in Octr 1832 in the 8th year of her age of croup.
The Heart of the City: A virtual tour of downtown Hamilton, Click able map of Hamilton, Hamilton Public Library, Ontario, Canada http://www.hpl.ca/Collections/downtown/index.shtml
EJP refers several times to her grandsons' education, but never to her own. She was obviously intelligent and articulate. She was clearly a newspaper reader and periodically refers to contemporary books and journals. She in a number of classic plays by Shakespeare (and others) and knew avant garde modern plays through AM Palmer's companies.
What kind of schooling (compulsory, free?) did Canada have in the 1840's?
In the meantime I had received several offers of employment from professional companies and at last accepted one from Messrs Besnard & Nickinson to open the season in Toronto, Ont on Easter Monday 1852 at the Royal Lyceum Theatre. And here, and at that date I began my career on the stage, which lasted forty-five years, through the United States and Canada
John Nickinson's Canadian career (born 1808 in London, England) had enlisted in the British Army at 15  in the 24th Regiment, and been posted to Canada, first to Quebec and then to Montreal.
Though sometimes referred to as "Major" or "Colonel" neither of these ranks was legitimately his. He was a sergeant in the British Army before he went on stage, and became a captain in the Canadian militia in 1855. [Shortt letter Feb. 16, 1979]
As a civilian in 1836 John Nickinson acted at the Theatre Royal, Montreal, and the following season 1836-1837 joined a stock company in Albany, New York. Charlotte Cushman played Romeo at the Albany theatre and after the performance, John Nickinson led her on stage and placed a wreath on her head.
The Nickinsons moved to New York City in 1837, spending winters there and summers on tour in Canada .
In 1852 he enlisted a company, among which was WJ Florence and son- in- law Charles Peters and brought them to Canada (Quebec, Montreal and Toronto) and was persuaded to lease the Royal Lyceum in Toronto. [HAS]
Daughter Charlotte Nickinson (1832-1910) was born in Quebec and first appeared in New York at the Vauxhall Garden in 1846, aged 14.
After Mitchell's Olympic Theater in New York closed abruptly in 1850, John Nickinson formed his own company. He toured with daughter Charlotte in Providence Rhode Island, Montreal, and Rochester, New York and ended up in Toronto in 1851.
In 1852 he and Charlotte took to the road again with a larger company and more varied repertoire. The company included Charles Peters (who married Eliza Nickinson) and Miss EJ Phillips. A local newspaper, the Patriot, wrote of the company as "persons distinguished for respectability in private life, a point which all who know John Nickinson would feel satisfied that he would particularly consult".
After the Utica Museum [Theatre] Nickinson had been managing failed in 1852 he resettled in Toronto in 1853 as Manager of the Royal Lyceum [Theatre and stock company].
Charlotte Nickinson, then 21, was the company's leading lady, playing Shakespearean roles as Ophelia, Desdemona, and Portia, though possibly Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal was her favorite.
Charlotte married the editor (and theatre critic) of the Toronto Leader Daniel Morrison in 1858. The Morrisons moved to Quebec City, London, New York, and finally back to Toronto.
Daniel Morrison died in 1870, leaving Charlotte a widow with four children. Charlotte returned to acting and producing at Toronto's Royal Lyceum in 1871 and 1872. She became a director of the Toronto Opera House Company in 1873, and was the first manager of the Grand Opera House, until it was sold to a new owner who replaced her two years later in 1878.
Rebecca Burton writes in her paper “The (Forgotten) Glories of Mrs. Morrison’s Regime", that "Mrs. Morrison was a gifted actor- manager who successfully moulded the Grand Opera House into Toronto’s leading theatre, and she managed to do so during a commercial depression that ousted her competitors many times over before she herself succumbed. Mrs. Morrison raised the stature of theatre in Toronto with her reputation of respectability and she contributed significantly to a tradition of theatrical excellence in central- Canada. In retirement she funneled her time and her abilities back into the community by serving as president of the Toronto Relief Society and acting as a prominent member of the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Toronto and the National Council of Women of Canada. Charlotte Nickinson Morrison was an important theatrical figure and a true patriot at a time when there was little that could be called Canadian."
Son John (c. 1844-Feb 1916) according to a brief New York Times obituary, was "for many years managing clerk at the grocery division of the Appraiser's Stores" and died suddenly at work at 72, leaving a daughter in Toronto. [Mary Shortt finds no evidence for this daughter.]
John Nickinson had made his first stage appearance in Toronto at the Royal Lyceum Theatre Easter Monday 1851. EJ Phillips was engaged for Nickinson's Utica, NY company and remained with the company until 1858. [Shortt]
1850s late, Edwin Forrest (1806- 1872) is mentioned in EJ Phillips' New York Dramatic Mirror obituary as someone she had acted with. We have a review from an unidentified newspaper of a performance at the Metropolitan Theatre [probably Hamilton, Ontario, Canada] of his performance in Othello where "Miss Phillips' Emelia was hardly inferior, if at all, to Iago and her last scene was striking.
Hattie Nickinson [Dolman] had been born in Toronto in August 1860 and Albert Nickinson in Cincinnati in July 1863 so John Nickinson and EJ Phillips seem to have come to the United States in the early 1860's.
Lyceum, Toronto, Jan. 12, 1855 playbill
Boucicault's Octoroon May 8, 1861
Metropolitan Theatre, Hamilton, Ontario CANADA
Buffalo, Oct. 3rd, 1890 Yesterday I took a run over to Hamilton, Ontario [Canada, where her parents were buried] to see about the condition of the cemetery lot. I found it in very good state after an absence of 15 years, but my old friend, Mrs. Mallett was gone, having died in 1884 & her husband in 1883. I found one of his daughters and had a chat with her, and that is the only person I met whom I had ever seen before. Made me feel rather sad.
London, Ontario Nov. 1892
Montreal Jan 1894 Jan 1895
Toronto Dec. 1892
Baltimore, Dec. 10, 1894 I send this [Xmas gift] early because this is the nearest point to reach you for some weeks to come and week after next I shall be in a foreign land [Canada? -- She was born and grew up in Canada] and the week after.
Toronto Dec. 1894
Philadelphia, Aug. 1, 1899 In my hurry in writing you a day or two before I was taken sick, I omitted answering your question about Mr. McIntosh as to whether he was the same man who was in the "casts" in the programme. Yes! he was a very clever Amateur and often obliged your father [John Nickinson] by playing parts when he was short of actors whom he could trust.
I had known him in Hamilton [Canada] long before. He belonged to the Amateur Company that I first played with there. I made my first appearance on any stage as "Mam'selle DeBolange" in The Pride of the Market, whether Mr. McIntosh was in the cast or not I do not remember, but in my second appearance a few weeks later he was "The Dougal" creature and I was "Diana Vernon" in Rob Roy. Then a few weeks after that we both appeared in the Tragedy of "Douglas. Mr. McIntosh was "Young Norval" and I as his Mother, "Lady Randolph".
I cannot give you the exact date of these appearances, but I think it was in the Fall of 1848. I had passed my 18th birthday. Mr. McIntosh always a newspaper man, was editor of the Hamilton Times, Spectator &c. Was doing splendidly in all his ventures when a gold mine fever was raised somewhere in Northern Canada & he joined the craze, sold out everything and started for the gold fields. Of course he lost everything except his wife and several children - and not relishing the idea of again beginning life at the foot of the ladder, he left Canada & went to Chicago where I met him in 1875 while I was traveling with [Lawrence] Barrett.]
Benson, Eugene and LW Connolly, editors, Oxford Companion to the Canadian Theatre, Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Burton, Rebecca, “The (Forgotten) Glories of Mrs. Morrison’s Regime”, paper presented at ACTR Association for Canadian Theatre Research, May 24-27, 2000, Univ. of Alberta http://www.umoncton.ca/facarts/anglais/actr/news/24-1/confProg.htm
Sperdakos, Paula, Canada's Daughters, America's Sweethearts, The Careers of Canadian 'Footlight Favorites' in the United States, Theatre Research in Canada, Fall/Automne 1999 Vol 20 no.2 http://www.lib.unb.ca/Texts/TRIC/bin/get.cgi?directory=Vol20_2/&filename=Sperdakos.html
Last revised Feb. 28, 2005
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