Isabella, born in 1746, was the daughter of the elder Lewis Hallam and a member of a large family of performers who were responsible for the development of the American theatre. When many of the clan left for the new world in 1752, Isabella was left in the custody of her aunt, Ann Barrington, who carefully guided the youngster’s early stage career. Isabella began, as did many child actors, playing the Duke of York in “Richard III”, in this instance at Covent Garden Theatre on 22 September 1752; that night her aunt was seen as Lady Anne. Isabella made her first ‘adult’ appearance on 10 April 1761 as Juliet to Ross’s Romeo, with Ann Barrington playing Lady Capulet. The youngster also danced that evening and in later appearances showed her talent as a singer and guitarist. Over the years at Covent Garden (and in the summer of 1773 at Liverpool), she acted a formidable repertoire of important roles in comedy and tragedy, among them Cordelia in “King Lear”, Jessica and Portia in “The Merchant of Venice”, Ophelia in “Hamlet”, Hermione in “The Winter’s Tale”, Lady Macbeth, Mrs Ford in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” – to name only some of her Shakespearean characters. From 7 April 1765 she was advertised as Mrs Mattocks, having married, against the wishes of her relatives, the mediocre actor and fairground singer George Mattocks. Though the marriage lasted for years, both were unfaithful.
Isabella Mattocks appeared in so many roles at so many theatres in and out of London that she attracted much critical attention over the years, but most of the comments were guarded. In 1773, for instance, the “Macaroni and Savoir Vivre Magazine” said, ‘She has an exceeding good natural voice that stamps her a very good second singer; which, on the whole, from a pleasing person, together with a good share of judgement, renders her one of the most useful performers in the theatre she is engaged in.’ Francis Gentleman in “The Theatres” in 1772 called her ‘figure happily dispos’d, tho’ small,/ Striking in nought, agreeable in all …’ And so they went, damning with faint praise a performer who was well liked, but not very well liked.
Mrs Mattocks made her final stage appearance on 7 June 1808. Her husband had died in 1804, leaving her little; she had managed her career successfully, however, and left a comfortable estate to her daughter Isabella Anne, whose husband squandered it. But Isabella Mattocks left many friends in the theatre; they gave her a benefit at the King’s Theatre in 1813 that brought in £1092. She died at her house in High Street, Kensington, on 25 June1826. (BDA [EAL]