Gustavus Vaughan Brooke was born on 25 April 1818 at Hardwick Place, Dublin. Legend has it that at the age of 14 he appeared in Edmund Kean’s place – during one of Kean’s benders – at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, as Virginius, Douglas, Young Norval and William Tell. After touring the Irish and Scottish theatres, described as the Irish Roscius he appeared in London at the Victoria as Virginius. On 3 January 1848 at the Olympic he acted Othello and caused some stir, and was hailed as the successor to Kean. That year he also played Shylock, the role in which he is pictured in the Garrick Club (G0094). He acted in America in 1851-52; his attempt at management of the Astor Place Opera House in 1852 was a disaster and he quickly abandoned the venture. He returned to play again in London and then went to Australia, where another attempt at management in Melbourne left him penniless. By then he was a hopeless drunkard, all his great promise dissipated. In 1866 he set out again for Australia, but his ship ‘The London’ went down in the Bay of Biscay, with the loss of almost all passengers, including Brooke.
Brooke had a noble presence, a fine voice, and ‘a careless, happy-go-lucky spirit.’ His promise ended in an acting style that had turned to rant. But there are some 20 engravings of Brooke in various roles, signifying his one-time popularity and talent. W. J. Lawrence wrote “The Life of Gustavus Vaughan Brooke” (1897). (DNB, OCT)