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John Nickinson & EJ Phillips

Playbill, Roll of the Drum, Royal Lyceum, Toronto, Jan. 12, 1855
Playbill, Octoroon, May 8, 1861, Metropolitan Theatre, Hamilton, Ontario CANADA    John Nickinson in Canada
Nickinsons in Cincinnati   John Nickinson obituary      Nickinson family tree 

John Nickinson (June 1, 1808, London, England - Feb. 9, 1864, Cincinnati, Ohio)  the son of a Chelsea Pensioner,  enlisted in the British Army at 15 [1823] as a drummer boy,  in the 24th Regiment, and was posted to Canada. He had been promoted to Sergeant at 17. Made his first dramatic appearance (as an amateur) in Quebec and his success in Garrison theatricals led to a civilian stage career.  He liked acting so much that he bought his discharge from the army "when opportunity offered itself" and came to the United States. [History of the American Stage

John Nickinson

Mary Anne Talbot seems to have married John Nickinson while he was in the British Army in Canada.  

After leaving the army in 1835 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. 

While the Nickinsons were in New York City they spent winters there and summers on tour in Canada. After Albany (1836-37) the family came to New York at the Franklin and Park Theatres, then to William Mitchell's Olympic from 1841-1850, until it closed abruptly.

Mitchell's Olympic http://www.musicals101.com/News/olympic.jpg 

Did John Nickinson ever meet Edgar Allan Poe?
A reminiscent article of peculiar interest, written by one who knew Poe intimately in his latter [page 462:] days, appeared in the New York Times, in 1888 [Memories of Edgar A. Poe.  Fordham still treasures his odd old cottage Aug. 12, 1888]. “Poe had his offs and ons, declares this chronicler. “He was not a steady drinker. Appreciation was his thirst. Often he found it in the society of intellectual women, who visited himself and wife in the city. Ordinarily grave and silent among them he could be chatty and witty. Craving excitement apart from his labor, he sought the companionship of his guild downtown, and he found that, too, in a little store in Nassau Street, between Ann and Beekman, where gathered a few elevated literary minds, reinforced by a sprinkling of actors like Peter Cunningham, John Brougham, Oliver Raymond, Tom Johnston and John Nickinson. It was not a dramshop, but it dispensed various kinds of nervine, and it had facilities for adding emphasis to what ‘the Governor of North Carolina once said to the Governor of South Carolina.’ Clara Dargan Maclean, “Some Memorials of Edgar Allan Poe,” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, April 1891, vol. XXXI, no. 4, pp. 457-464 http://www.eapoe.org/papers/misc1851/18910401.htm 

He and daughter Charlotte then toured and eventually much of the family ended up in Toronto during the 1850s. John Nickinson's career in Canada

Playbills   Uncle Tom's Cabin   Octoroon  Another photo

John Nickinson was 22 years older than EJ Phillips.  Their relationship obviously dated from about the time EJ Phillips joined his stage company in 1852, for his letter of October 3, 1859 refers to "our seven years of past love".  The date of their marriage is less clear.  (John Nickinson, son of his first marriage, wrote to the New York Clipper after his father's death that his parents had never been divorced.) 

Mary Shortt, in a January 1980 letter about her thesis on Toronto theatre notes that "I was unable to explain Nickinson's strange behavior in 1858, when he disappeared for an extended period from the Royal Lyceum.  The loss of Charlotte, who married and left the stage in the spring of '58 was obviously a blow, but I was unaware of the great stress created by E.J.'s pregnancy (in strait- laced  Toronto, where Nickinson had been considered a pillar of respectability!").

John Nickinson often refers to himself as EJ Phillips' husband in his letters.  EJ Phillips occasionally calls herself Nickinson, though she uses Phillips much more often, and in her letters does not directly call him her husband.  The fullest obituary of EJ Phillips (New York Dramatic Mirror, August 20, 1904) makes no reference to John or Albert Nickinson, but lists Hattie and the three grandchildren.  The New York Times obituary mentions only Hattie.

John Nickinson and EJ Phillips had three children -- Charles Alderman (b. Toronto, Apr. 30, 1858 - died Pittsburgh, Sept. 1859), "Hattie " Christine Harriet Melanie (b. Toronto, Aug. 24, 1860 - d. Philadelphia  Oct. 9, 1946) and Albert Edward (b. Cincinnati July 8, 1863 - d. Pensacola, Florida June 3, 1948)      Nickinson Family  

Hard times came to Canada in 1858 and by Feb 19, 1859, the New York Clipper reported "Blue times in Toronto. Both theatres closed. hope Brother Nickinson is not a loser. Cheer up Villikins'! We know you deserve success even if you have not obtained it."  (Nickinson returned to Toronto primarily as a booking agent for a few months in the spring and summer of 1860.) [Shortt]

His last appearance in New York was in May 1862 at Laura Keane's [Ireland]  But I have a playbill (a gift from Effingham Dolman) in which he was playing in Harlem in Aug. 1862. 

When John Nickinson died in 1864 EJ Phillips was leading woman in Pike's Stock Company in Cincinnati, playing in the Shakespearean and "standard drama".   Single parenthood

Mary Shortt notes that she seemed to have no settled home in the 1860's and 1870's as her career led her to many different cities, as documented in issues of the New York Clipper (founded in 1853 as a sporting and theatrical journal, and absorbed by Variety in 1924). 

John Nickinson's First Marriage and Children
John Nickinson and his first wife Mary Anne Talbot legally separated in March 1855 because "unhappy differences have arisen and do still subsist".  He agreed to pay her an annuity of seventy-eight pounds yearly, or one pound and ten shillings weekly.  They were already living apart by this time.

John Nickinson agreed "that he will not at any time hereafter by any cause or any pretence whatever, sue or prosecute any person or persons for receiving, harbouring or protecting the said Mary Anne."

Mary Anne agreed that she would not "molest or disturb the said John Nickinson or his children living with him, by her presence, or her act or deed in any way whatever nor continue to live in the same city, town, or part of the country in which he or they may be living..."

John and Mary Anne Nickinson had five children, four daughters and one son.

Charlotte Nickinson(1832-1910) was born in Quebec and married the editor of the Toronto Leader and forthright theatre critic Daniel Morrison Apr. 22 1858 in Toronto and left the stage for a time.  She had toured extensively with her father, and her loss must have been a blow to him..  The Morrisons moved to Quebec City, London,  New York, and finally back to Toronto.

Before Morrison "honest theatre criticism was virtually unknown in Toronto...the fulsome praise of a press agent, was almost universal in the United States, and performers coming here [Toronto] assumed - usually correctly - that Canadian editors were as venal as their American counterparts. Daniel Morrison, the Scottish-born editor of the Leader, declared war on this system at the beginning of 1854 ... When a doubtless resentful Nickinson ceased to advertise in the Leader, the rival Patriot charged that the Leader's censure of performances was in reprisal for this loss of revenue. ...Morrison showed himself in fact to be a most fair minded critic, and Nickinson eventually resumed his Leader advertisements.  If any bias can be detected in Morrison's reviews, it is in favor of Charlotte Nickinson, whose charm and talents he eloquently praised right up to April, 1858, when he married her and removed her from the stage she had adorned.

John Nickinson's greatest role was Havresack in Dion Boucicault's Napoleon's Old Guard.  He and Charlotte (playing Melanie to his Havresack) toured in this for three years.

John Nickinson as Havresack and Charlotte as Melanie   http://library.usask.ca/herstory/morrisfr.html

Described in Joseph Norton Ireland's Records of the New York Stage from 1750-1860 (vol. II June 24 1846) Niblo's Garden -- The first time the interesting and exciting drama entitled Napoleon's Old Guard ... It was triumphantly successful and continued being played nightly ... The Vauxhall Garden Saloon was opened on the first of June 1846 with Mr. BA Baker as stage manager and Henry Chapman, Nickinson, Miss [Charlotte] Nickinson [and others] as performers...The youthful and pretty Miss Nickinson made her first appearance as Rose in "Cousin Lambkin" and Clarissa in "Bothered Between 'Em".  She was exceedingly neat and clever in juvenile walking ladies and a year or two later was warmly applauded as the representative of Florence Dombey at Burton's Theatre. 

Mary Shortt also writes (Sept. 30, 1980) "various references indicate that [John Nickinson] was quite a martinet, which supports the family tradition that he was not very kind to EJ."  Perhaps widowhood had its liberating aspects.  A newspaper clipping I read at the Harvard Theatre Collection substantiated John Nickinson's reputation for a nasty temper in general.

I found at the Harvard Theatre Collection a scrapbook that Augustin Daly made of Ireland’s Records of the New York Stage from 1750-1860 and related materials, where Victor Parton was quoted as saying of John Nickinson 

"The great comedian had some unfortunate and disagreeable peculiarities as a manager.  He was not only absolute and tyrannous but often willfully neglectful of the people employed by him.”   

Victor Parton had been recommended to John Nickinson for an engagement, and JN said to him “Well sir, I will try you for a week, and if at the end of that time, you like me and I like you, the engagement may be continued”.  Parton was hoping for something less uncertain, but “Mr. Nickinson would not recede an inch”  Towards the end of this week of probation I found my name in the “Cast case” in several new casts for the ensuing week, and as the casts were made out in Mr. Nickinson’s handwriting, I knew he was solely responsible for them. … I said to Mr. Wm. Griffiths, the stage manager or prompter “I see my name in the cast case for next week,  I don’t  think I shall be here.”

“You’d better speak to Mr. Nickinson about it then.”

“I don’t know that I shall. I am engaged for one week, and am under no obligation to remain.”  “But don’t you want an engagement?”  “Yes, I do want an engagement, but”

On Monday I went to the theatre for my salary, and met Mr. Nickinson in the box office.  

“What does this mean sir?  They tell me you are not going to stay” he roared.

:And I am not” I answered.  “But you must, you are bound to, what was our agreement?”  “Our agreement, Mr. .Nickinson, was this, that I was to play a week, and if, at the end of that time you liked me and I liked you, I was to continue.”

“Well sir,” blustered the old gentleman” I like you very much”. 

“I don’t know about that Mr. Nickinson, but I don’t like you.

After the Olympic closed abruptly in New York in 1850, John Nickinson formed his own company and with daughter Charlotte toured in Providence RI, Montreal, and Rochester. he played short engagements in Toronto in 1851 and 1852. The Utica (New York) Theater he managed failed in 1852. 

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.  

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.

It was fortunate for Charlotte that she was no longer in charge of the theatre when it burned down on the night of Nov. 29-30, 1879. Charlotte remained active in many charitable causes, and to the end was the best known and best loved woman in Ontario.  The benefit performance given for her at the end of her last season as manager of the Grand Theatre was under the patronage of the Prime Ministers, the Governor- General, the Premier of Ontario, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Mayor of Toronto, etc. 

Eliza Nickinson (b.1834), married English comedian Charles Peters (1825-1864) in the fall of 1854.  Peters had been hired by John Nickinson in 1852. Eliza had appeared (briefly) at William Mitchell's Olympic Theatre, and the couple moved back to New York after their marriage. Peters was run over by a Third Ave. car in New York. [HAS]  But according to his New York Clipper obituary (Nov 12, 1870) he died of consumption at his home at the corner of 83rd and Third Ave., but had been incapacitated  by a serious accident on the Third Ave. railroad.  His last professional appearance was as the grave digger in Hamlet.   

According to Mary Shortt, Peters was "a fat man, and made his biggest hit dressed in short skirts as Cupid in a burlesque ballet."

We have a mysterious 1900 letter which had been attached to one from Mrs. Peters to her brother [Albert? or John?] reading "Mrs. Peters who plays the widow (her creation) has asked me as a special favor, she has a brother there [where?], Nickinson, and I believe they don't speak as they pass by.  This is her way of showing him that she is still on earth."    

Virginia Nickinson (1838-1899) was born in Albany NY and first appeared on the stage in Utica in Oct 1853 as King Charles in Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady.  Made her last appearance on the stage in Who Killed Cock Robin at the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia, in 1866 [HAS] She played Topsy in Uncle Tom's Cabin and a similar part in Dred.  

She married actor Owen Marlowe in October 1857 at Niagara Falls, and left Toronto, but with a depression underway, were back by May 1858. Marlowe is described by Mary Shortt as "an attractive and charming young man (although as it proved, of weak character) and later achieved popular success in New York and San Francisco.   By July 1858 John Nickinson was "billed only as lease [of the Royal Lyceum, Toronto] with his son-in-law Owen Marlowe, named as manager ... but in September Nickinson again assumed the management. But the economy was too bad [Shortt]

Owen Marlowe died in May 1876, of heart disease in the wings of the Globe Theatre at Boston (according to his daughter Ethel's obituary (Nov. 17, 1898).  But perhaps he died of consumption, leaving a widow and several children in Toronto. He had first appeared on the stage in New York at Barnum's Museum in 1855 and been at the Arch Street Theatre, Philadelphia.  New York Clipper obituary, June 6, 1876

Her daughter Ethel Marlowe died in 1898, suddenly of heart trouble, at the Knickerbocker Theatre, in the third act of The Christian. Her New York Clipper obituary (Mar. 18, 1899) reported that she had retired from the stage "at the time of her daughter's sudden death" and had since made her home with the married daughter, at whose house she died.

Son John (c. 1844-Feb 1916) according to a brief New York Times (Feb. 15, 1916) 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.  He had entered the Customs Service in 1881. An 1886 New York City Directory listed him as a clerk with an address at 221 East 81st. St.

John Nickinson Jr. seems to have been involved with theatrical publishing.  Project Gutenberg Punchinello project notes that applications for advertising should be addressed to John Nickinson, Room No. 4, No. 83 Nassau St. N. Y. [between John and Fulton St. according to Mapquest.]  
Punchinello Vol. 1. No. 3 http://www2.cddc.vt.edu/gutenberg/etext05/8p10310h.htm 
Vol. 1 No. 4 [with pictures] http://www.toeflplus.org/ebooks/2006/8p10410h/8p10410h.htm 
Vol. 1 No. 7 http://mirror.aarnet.edu.au/pub/pg/etext06/7p10710.txt 
Vol. 1 No. 19 http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/0/0/1/10015/10015-h/10015-h.htm 
Vol. 1, No. 28, Oct. 8, 1870  http://www.gutenberg.net/1/0/0/3/10036/10036.txt
Vol. 2 No. 32 http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/0/1/0/10104/10104-h/10104-h.htm 

Isabella Nickinson (1847-1906) was born in New York on Oct 7 1847 and played Phoebe in As You Like It at eight, Maria in Twelfth Night at ten, and "a squaw, a page or a peasant as needed."  Her last appearance in Toronto seems to have been on Jan. 11, 1858 at the Royal Lyceum in The Wife, playing Florabella.  

Her first appeared on the stage in New York at Laura Keene's Theatre in June 1862.  She married the actor Charles Walcott Jr. (1840-1921) in 1863 in New York and played with him at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia.  They then joined Daniel Frohmans' company in New York and appeared at the Lyceum Theatre from 1887-1899. Until her death they almost always played together. [HAS]

Walcott is noted (in Durham) as a member of the Madison Square Company in 1884-1885,  where EJ Phillips had been since 1877. His father was also an actor, "an eccentric comedian and writer of burlesques" who had been at Mitchell's Olympic Theatre.  The son "sported a moustache and always wore the jovial expression of a genial English squire." [DAB]  
Interview New York Dramatic Mirror Apr. 18, 1896, Harvard Theatre Collection has letters

Isabella Walcott's NY Times obituary (June 4, 1906) refers to her "memorable run of 100 nights at the Old Winter Garden in Broadway, opposite Bond Street, [where] she played Ophelia to [Edwin] Booth's Hamlet" and says that she was "for forty years a familiar and loved figure on the stage." She died at her home 200 West 101st St., three months after a stroke at their country home in Rhinebeck. Her last stage engagement had been with Annie Russell.

Mary Anne Talbot Nickinson and Isabella are thought to have gone to New York in 1858, the same year Charlotte was married.  There are only brief mentions of any of the older Nickinson children in the letters, though Isabella, John,  Virginia, and Eliza seem to have been in New York in the 1880's and 1890's.  Did any of the half- siblings ever meet?

Royal Lyceum, Toronto, Jan. 12, 1855

Playbill for Dion Boucicault's Octoroon, May 8, 1861
Metropolitan Theatre, Hamilton, Ontario CANADA

Dion Boucicault's "Octoroon (1860) was notable for its condemnation of slavery ... and features a camera as a major plot device in capturing the villain."   Dion Boucicault: His Life and Times, David W. Dwyer, 1998  http://www.msu.edu/user/dwyerdav/papers/dion.htm

"The second most frequently performed anti-slavery play, after George Aiken's adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.... John Brown had been hanged three days before the play opened,  Chapter Five: The Work of the Public Mind, Univ of California -Irvine, Octoroon, http://www.ags.uci.edu/~ishmael/octoroon.htm

Included an exploding river boat scene.

A newspaper clipping gives the program at Pike's Opera-house [Cincinnati] Jan. 25, 1864 as Maggie Mitchell in Fanchon OR the Cricket! with Mr. Nickinson as Father Barbeaud and Miss Phillips as Old Fadet, concluded by a Grand Ballet Divertissement by the renowned Zavistowski Troupe. 

John Nickinson died in Cincinnati, Feb. 9, 1864.  Obituaries

"Spirit letter"

Nickinson medal

EJ Phillips' career Ben DeBar, Lawrence Barrett and Chestnut St. Theater, Philadelphia

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 
Shortt, Mary "The Royal Lyceum: part I 1848-1859", John Nickinson chapter, Master's Thesis on Toronto theatre 1809-1874 c. 1979

Forms of Variety Theater, Library of Congress http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/vshtml/vsforms.html Vaudeville/variety, minstrel shows, burlesque, extravaganza, spectacles, musical reviews, musical comedies
Theater playbills and programs, Library of Congress http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/vshtml/vsprge.html

Mary Short, theatre historian, highly recommends Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby and its portrayal of Vincent Crummles as the manager of a provincial touring company, "in striking verisimilitude, particularly the episode in which Nicholas joins Crummies' troupe." 

Nicholas Nickleby  http://www.literaturepage.com/read/nicholasnickleby-336.html

Last updated Feb. 23, 2005

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