BASIL POTTER (1824-c.1870)
by
Jennifer Carnell


An 1853 painting of Basil Potter.

Basil Potter (1824-c.1870) was the stage name of William Clark Potter. He was born in Canterbury in Kent and was the son of Joseph Potter, a commission agent, and Jane Potter (c.1785-1872). The family moved to London and William Clark Potter became an actor as Basil Potter. In 1848 he acted at the New Standard Theatre. In 1851 he was living with his parents at 71 New Compton Street, St. Giles in the Fields and acted at the Royal Grecian Saloon. By 1861 he was a fairly successful actor, spending most of his career in London, and was living with his widowed mother at the same house in New Compton Street. While he was in the company at the Princess's Theatre he married ballet dancer Elizabeth Gunniss (c.1835-1909) at St. Mary's, Newington in Southwark on 8 January 1862. Elizabeth Gunniss was the daughter of James Gunniss, a musician, and Sarah Gunniss. J.G. Shore, an actor in the Princess's company, was a witness at the wedding. Elizabeth Gunniss was the sister of musician James Gunniss and her sisters Sarah, Louisa and Emma Gunnis were also dancers; Emma Gunnis married actor George Manson. In 1866 Potter played Sir Michael Audley in an adaptation of Lady Audley's Secret, titled The Mysteries of Audley Court. In 1867 Basil Potter was in the company at Sadler's Wells and in 1869 he was stage manager at Astley's. Also in 1869 he acted at Adelaide Neilson's benefit at the Lyceum and he toured the provinces with Charles Fechter in Wilkie Collins's play Black and White. In November 1870 he toured with W.H. Swanborough and died soon after. In January 1871 his elderly mother became an inmate at St. Saviours Union Workhouse. His widow Elizabeth Gunniss continued with her dancing career and moved to Liverpool and became a dancing teacher; she died in Liverpool in 1909.

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