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Bellamy, George Anne

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The troublesome and spirited actress George Anne Bellamy stated that she was born in Fingal, Ireland, on 23 April 1733, though there is some considerable doubt about the accuracy of that assertion. Much of the information about her earlier years derives from her ‘autobiographical’ “Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy” (1785), a not entirely reliable source and actually attributed to Alexander Bicknell. She was the daughter of the actress Mrs Bellamy (née Seal, later Mrs Walter, d. 1771) and resulted from her mother’s liaison with James O’Hara, second Baron of Tyrawley. After supposedly having been placed in an Ursuline convent for five years, she was brought under the care of a Mr Du Vall, a London peruke maker. Lord Tyrawley took her to live for a while at Bushey Park but he soon went off to be ambassador to Russia. By her own account George Anne made her first appearance on the stage in the capital role of Monimia in “The Orphan” at Covent Garden on 22 November 1744, at the age of 14. But she actually made her London debut at that theatre, at the tender age of 10, on 20 April 1741, as a servant to Colombine in the pantomine “Harlequin Barber”. Again announced as her first appearance on any stage she played Miss Prue in Congreve’s “Love for Love” on 27 March 1742, a role that suggests she must have been more than 11 years of age at the time. Subsequent to her November 1744 appearance as Monimia she took on a number of leading parts at Covent Garden and at the Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, in 1745-46. After three years in Dublin, she returned to Covent Garden and triumphed as Belvidera in “Venice Preserv’d” on 20 October 1748. Quickly she became a great rage both on and off the stage, playing such roles as Imoinda in “Oroonoko”, Volumnia in “Coriolanus”, Statira in “The Rival Queens” and Anne Bullen in “Henry VIII”. She also entered into a relationship with George Montgomery Methan that would last some five years before she moved on to John Calcraft of Grantham, who would not marry her, but by whom she had a daughter and was supported in great style in a grand house in Parliament Square. In the autumn of 1750 Garrick was successful in his campaign to bring Bellamy to Drury Lane, where she appeared on 28 September as Juliet to his Romeo (G0967). He was 33 and she was about 19. The production was rivaled by Barry and Mrs Cibber in the same roles at Covent Garden, provoking the famous ‘Romeo and Juliet War’ that lasted 12 nights until the Covent Garden production faltered and Garrick and Bellamy added a triumphant 13th night. Though Mrs Cibber had greater beauty and tragic expression, Mrs Bellamy showed a natural loveliness and amourous rapture. As one observer put it, ‘For my own part I shed more tears in seeing Mrs Cibber, but I am more delighted in seeing Mrs Bellamy.’ She spent another three seasons at Drury Lane and then returned to Covent Garden, where off and on she was engaged for the remainder of her career. During that time she had a succession of paramours, including the actors West Digges and Henry Woodward. George Ann retired in 1770 to a residence in Strand-on-the-Green, near Kew, where despite having been recipient of several legacies she lived in some privation. She died on 16 February 1788 in Eliot’s Row, St George’s Fields, having lived under the rules of the King’s Bench and having suffered from a broken ankle that never healed and required her to need help to walk, George Anne Bellamy was always a great public favourite, but she ranked just below the great actresses of her day, Mrs Cibber and Mrs Pritchard. Her beauty well suited her for roles like Juliet and Cordelia, and with tears at her command she excelled as Monimia. In addition to Lindo’s portrait (G0054) and the scene from “Romeo and Juliet”, she was pictured in a number of paintings and engravings (see BDA 2: 19-20).
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