Robert Bensley, sometimes mistakenly called Richard in the records, was a principal actor on the London stage for some 31 years. Details of his early life are confusing, but after military service, perhaps in the Marines in North America, he was introduced as a ‘Gentleman’ making his first appearance at Drury Lane Theatre on 2 October 1765, as Pierre in “Venice Preserv’d” (G0058). In that and the following season under Garrick’s management at Drury Lane he enjoyed moderate success in such roles as Hamet in “The Orphan of China”, Standard in “The Constant Couple”, Polydore in “The Orphan”, Constant in “The Provok’d Wife” and Horatio in “The Fair Penitent”. The next season, 1767-68, he went over to Covent Garden, where he remained engaged for eight consecutive seasons. He returned to Drury Lane in 1775-76, and was a loyal and busy actor there until his retirement in 1796. He also played at the Haymarket during summers and purchased a portion of the Bristol playhouse in 1772.
During his many years in London his repertoire included some 76 roles. About 23 portraits of him (including those at the Garrick Club) in his various roles were done by a number of artists. He first acted Hubert in “King John” (G0059) on 23 September 1767 at Covent Garden. At Drury Lane he played Prospero in “The Tempest” (G0057) on 1 January 1777, Harold in “The Battle of Hastings” (G0055) on 24 January 1778 and Oakly in “The Jealous Wife” (G0056) on 25 September 1788. Bensley was regarded as a serviceable but undistinguished actor whose experience carried him through his cast of characters with ‘a tolerable good grace.’ He had, according to one harsh critic, ‘neither face, voice, manner, or scarce any theatrical requisite.’ Garrick had nicknamed him ‘Roaring Bob’ – because of his old-style acting in the manner of James Quin. Nevertheless, Benson had a steadying influence upon the company, and his large repertoire and substantial knowledge of the drama entitled him to a place as a principal performer. Bensley died at Stanmore on 12 November 1817. The portrait in the Garrick Club (G0058) attributed to Roberts in PGC is now attributed to Ryley and shows Bensley as Pierre in “Venice Preserv’d”. (BDA)