CLARA ROUSBY (1848-1879)
By
Jennifer Carnell

Clara Rousby starred in the title role of Braddon's 1873 play Griselda.

Clara Marion Jessy Dowse was born on the Isle of White in 1848, the daughter of a doctor. Like many actresses she claimed to have been born several years later, presumably to appear even younger when she made her London debut.

Clara eloped with the actor manager Wybert Rousby, who had acted with Braddon when she was a young actress in the 1850s, marrying at a Catholic church in Plymouth in 1867, reportedly to the displeasure of her family. Nor were her family said to be happy with her theatrical ambitions. In 1870, when living in Jersey, Wybert and Clara had a daughter, Daisy.

Often rated as a poor actress, Clara's celebrated beauty made her a favourite with audiences and society photographers. The Rousby marriage was stormy, and after separating in 1874 Mrs. Rousby led a scandalous life with the hunting set, ran up huge debts, and drank heavily. By the late 1870s she was proving to be difficult and unreliable as an actress, walking out on a production in 1877 and accusing D. E. Bandmann of assault. There was a series of other court appearances, including one where she was fined £5 for not having a licence for a servant in livery, and 25 shillings for not having a dog licence.

In 1878 when she was taken to court for unpaid bills by a glass merchant, Mrs. Rousby revealed she had not worked for some months and argued that her estranged husband should pay all her debts; the judge ruled she was correct in this, and that there were no case for her to answer.

There was further scandal when Wybert Rousby sued his wife for custody of their daughter Daisy. After their separation the child had gone to live with Clara's mother, but Clara had kept the child from seeing her father and had not informed him when her mother died in 1876. Wybert Rousby finally tracked his daughter down by Easter 1878, to a convent near Exeter. Clara immediately sought to take her child away for a week, but the Mother Superior, suspicious of her intentions, refused to allow her to do so without Wybert's agreement. Clara then escaped with Daisy through a window. In court, where Montague Williams represented Mrs. Rousby, each argued the other was an unfit parent. In the end custody was given to neither, but to Mrs. Rousby's sister Harriet Dowse, who was told to only allow occasional access to the mother. Daisy was subsequently brought up by her aunt and her aunt's wealthy banker husband, Otto Friederici, in London.

Later in 1878 Clara considered her reputation further ruined by the claims made against her during the Bandmann case, writing that her character had been ruined 'by the disgraceful evidence brought by the defence, my moral character and social position are ruined forever.'

Towards the end of her life, many considered Clara's celebrated beauty to have faded, and she went to Germany for the sake of health, where she died in 1879.

For a biography of Clara Rousby's husband and their daughter, see Mary Elizabeth Braddon and the Victorian Theatre by Jennifer Carnell.

Clara Rousby

Clara Rousby

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