Jennifer Carnell

A note on the text on this page: this was originally written in 2005 and soon removed from the web. I was planning to write an entry on Roebuck for my book on Victorian theatre. To my surprise in 2014, after ten years of research, and while preparing the final book for publication, I found the entire webpage had been copied word for word and made available by a South African university website encyclopedia without my permission and without any attribution of any kind; this has now been removed, but as it was read by hundreds and possibly saved or cited I have decided to put my old page back on the web to assert my own authorship as a matter of record. The entry in my book is now much longer than the text below, corrected and has a considerable amount of information about Roebuck's life and work, his family and his secret children from other relationships.

Captain Francis Algernon Disney Roebuck was, alongside his contemporary Captain Horton Rhys, one of the most well known amateur actors of the 1850s. Roebuck was born at Grove House in Devon, near Teignmouth, the son of Henry Disney Roebuck of Ingress Park in Kent, and came from a family with a long history of service in the army. Roebuck followed family tradition by joining the army in 1837 and became a captain in the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He served in Britain, the West Indies, and Canada, and organised garrison amateur theatricals. In 1841 he married Anne Halloran (Annie died in London in 1898 aged 72).

On the 10th July 1855 Disney Roebuck was involved in organising a one-off performance at Campden House of the Wilkie Collins play The Lighthouse, to raise money for the Hospital for Consumption. Charles Dickens played the part of Aaron Gurnock and Collins played the younger Gurnock. Dickens wrote to Roebuck: 'I found your cordial note, which I assure you has given me great pleasure. I am heartily proud of such a tribute from a brother actor, and shall live in the agreeable hope that when we next meet upon the boards we shall play in the same piece.'

Throughout the 1850s Roebuck was involved in army theatricals and charity performances. The Queen and Prince Albert attended one of the garrison performances at Aldershot in 1856, and on more than one occasion he guest starred with companies among whom the young Mary Elizabeth Braddon was a member. In 1864 he toured the United Kingdom with his amateur company, the United Service Dramatic Club. Among his most popular roles were in plays adapted from novels by Mary Braddon, such as Robert Audley in Lady Audley's Secret, Henry Dunbar in Henry Dunbar and John Mellish in Aurora Floyd. Other leading roles included Archibald Carlyle in East Lynne, the title role in David Garrick, Salem Scudder in The Octoroon, and Inspector Bucket in Bleak House

In 1867, like Horton Rhys some years earlier, Disney Roebuck decided to become a professional actor and theatre manager and with his company toured the country for six years. In 1873 the company left for South Africa, arriving in Cape Town, where he successfully established a theatre.

Roebuck died in South Africa on the 22nd March 1885. Jennifer Carnell.

To read more about Disney Roebuck and his family, see Mary Elizabeth Braddon and the Victorian Theatre.

A carte de visite photograph by W.G. Smith of Southsea of Annie and Captain Disney Roebuck's son Algernon, who greatly resembled his father, circa 1870. Francis Henry Algernon Disney Roebuck was born in Trinidad in about 1846, and became a soldier, serving firstly as a captain in the 83rd Regiment and then in the 46th Regiment. Roebuck also had a number of secret children, some of whom became actors, and one of the grandsons from this line became a well known stage and film actor in America.



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