SULLIVAN, Barry (1821-1891)

SULLIVAN, Barry (1821-1891)
christened Thomas Sullivan, son of Peter Sullivan and his wife, Mary Barry, was born on 5 July 1821, at Howard's Place, Birmingham. Both his parents were Irish. When he was about eight years old his father and mother died, and he was then put in the care of his paternal grandfather at Bristol. He was educated first at the school attached to the Catholic church in Trenchard-street and then at the Stokes Croft Endowed school. At 14 he entered a lawyer's office, but, seeing Macready in Macbeth and other parts, was so impressed that he decided to become an actor. In 1837 he joined a strolling company and at Cork was given an engagement at 15s. a week as a regular member of a stock company. By 1840 he was playing important parts, and having a good light tenor voice, occasionally sang in opera. But his ambition was to become a tragedian. In November of that year he obtained an engagement with Murray's stock company at Edinburgh, at a salary of 30s. a week with the understanding that he was to play "second heavy" parts. In a little while he was playing leading parts and in 1844 supporting Helen Faucit in The Merchant of Venice he took the part of Antonio, and was Petruchio to her Katharina in The Taming of the Shrew. He then went to Glasgow where he met and played with G. V. Brooke (q.v.), and during the next seven years had engagements throughout the provinces in Scotland and England. His reputation was growing, and on 7 February 1852 he made a most successful first appearance at the Haymarket Theatre, London, as Hamlet. He was now established as a leading actor and during the next eight years played principal parts in most of the plays of the period including Claude Melnotte in The Lady of Lyons with Helen Faucit as Pauline, and Valence in Browning's Colombe's Birthday with Miss Faucit in the part of Colombe. Towards the end of 1858 he went to America, and opened in New York on 22 November in Hamlet, followed by several others of Shakespeare's plays. Successful seasons were played at the leading cities in the United States and Sullivan returned to England 18 months later. In August 1860 at the St James' Theatre, London, he played on alternate nights, Hamlet, Richelieu, Macbeth, and Richard III, three performances being given of each play. In 1862 he sailed for Australia and made his first appearance at Melbourne on 9 August 1862.
There has probably never been at any other period so high a standard of acting as was to be seen in Australia between 1860 and 1870. G.V. Brooke was usually at his best in Australia, Joseph Jefferson (q.v.) was at the height of his powers and had not begun to restrict the range of his characters, and Sullivan had the advantage he sometimes lacked in later years in England, of always having excellent support from his companies. He was four years in Australia, most of the time at Melbourne, and his parts included Hamlet, Othello, Iago, Richard III, Macbeth, Shylock, Lear, Falstaff, Falconbridge, Charles Surface, Claude Melnotte, and Richelieu. He became established as a public favourite, and with the other great actors mentioned set a standard that was long an inspiration to later actors and managers. He left Australia in 1866 and after a holiday trip arrived in London early in September. In the following 20 years he was constantly playing in London, the provinces and in the United States. When the memorial theatre at Stratford-on-Avon was opened, Sullivan was selected to play Benedick and Helen Faucit emerged from her retirement to play Beatrice. On the following evening Sullivan appeared as Hamlet. On 4 June 1887 while at Liverpool he made his last appearance on the stage, his part being Richard III. His health had been uncertain for some time and in the following year he had a stroke of paralysis. He was so ill in August 1888 that the last rites of his church were administered, but he lingered until 3 May 1891. He married on 4 July 1842 Mary Amory, daughter of a lieutenant in the army, who survived him with two sons and three daughters.
Sullivan was five feet nine inches high and well formed. He developed early, worked hard, and never lost his high ideals. For a long period he was one of the finest and most finished actors of his period, though at times inclined to err on the robust side. He had had immense experience, and was steeped in the traditions of the stage, but never hesitated to make an innovation if he thought it was warranted. His education was excellent. In latter years he developed some mannerisms, but he never lost his popularity. In private life he lived somewhat austerely, and amassed a competence. But he could be generous in money matters and was a good companion, who, though at times impatient and passionate, was loved by his family and friends.
R. M. Stillard, Barry Sullivan and his Contemporaries, somewhat uncritical; W. J. Lawrence, Barry Sullivan, a biographical sketch; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; private information.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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