Born in Bath about 1782, Bartley, the son of a box-keeper at the Bath theatre, appeared in children’s roles, and then, according to conflicting memoirs, was apprenticed as a waiter and cook at the York House Hotel in Bath or was placed in a counting house. In the summer of 1800, however, he appeared as Orlando in “As You Like It” at Cheltenham. While in a touring company he met his first wife, a Miss Stanton, who may have been one of the daughters of the provincial manager John Stanton. Bartley made his first appearance in London at Drury Lane on 18 December 1802, as Orlando. Dissatisfied with his roles and salary, Bartley left London and from 1809 to 1811 was the unsuccessful manager at Glasgow. He also began to build a reputation as an actor in Manchester, Liverpool and elsewhere. In 1814 he married Sarah Smith (1783-1850), a tragic actress of considerable reputation, and returned with her to Drury Lane, where, on 12 April 1815, he appeared as Falstaff, a character that would prove to remain his favourite. (Ashton speculates that the portrait in the Garrick Club catalogued as William Lovegrove in the role of Realize in “The Will “(G0447) may actually be of Bartley as Falstaff.) After a successful tour with his wife in America in 1818, he was engaged at Covent Garden winters and at the Lyceum summers. In 1829 he became stage manager of Covent Garden Theatre, a post he retained for some 14 years. He retired in 1852, taking his farewell benefit on 18 December. He died, probably from a stroke, in Woburn Square on 22 July 1858 and is said to have been buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Oxford. Though not a first-line actor, Bartley served his profession well. For many years he was treasurer of the Covent Garden Theatre Theatrical Fund. He was an original member of the Garrick Club in 1831, but later resigned.
The picture reproduced as G0051 in “Pictures in the Garrick Club” and intended to be Bartley as Hamlet is in error. That picture is of Edward Shuter as Scapin and was also reproduced, correctly, as G0740. (A similar mixup occurs in the BDA, where Bartley’s portrait as Hamlet is reproduced, incorrectly, in 13: 377 as Shuter as Scapin). Bartley seems never to have acted Hamlet in London, nor was Pocock’s picture ever engraved.