George Anne Bellamy – The Promiscuous Actress

George Anne Bellamy was born in Fingal, Ireland. She was the illegitimate daughter of James O’Hara, 2nd Baron Tyrawley, and his wife, an actress with the last name of Seal, who ended up in a fight with Tyrawley over him acquiring a mistress and, to spite him, accepted a proposal of marriage from a Captain Bellamy. A few months after her marriage, “to the inexpressible astonishment and dissatisfaction of the [Captain],”[1] George Anne Bellamy appeared. She was born on St. George’s Day in 1727, and through a misunderstanding was given the name George Anne instead of Georgiana. According to Bellamy, the Captain was so exasperated at her surprise birth, “he left the kingdom, and never saw or corresponded with my mother afterwards.”[2]

George Anne Bellamy

George Anne Bellamy in half-length portrait as the Comic Muse. Courtesy of the British Museum.

Tyrawley, in the meantime, agreed to claim Bellamy as his own, and, when Bellamy was four years old, he placed her in a convent at Boulogne where she remained until she was eleven years old. Tyrawley then became Ambassador to Russia and left Bellamy in the care of a quality caretaker “with an annual allowance of 100l.”[3] However, Bellamy’s mother, who was now destitute and lured by money, “prevailed upon her [14-year-old daughter] to quit her protectress and … live with her.”[4] This resulted in Tyrawley stopping Bellamy’s allowance and completely abandoning her.

Soon after Tyrawley abandoned her, John Rich, a director and theatre producer at the Covent Garden Theatre, overheard Bellamy performing Othello. He was so impressed he engaged her as an actress at the theatre. However, Bellamy’s first time on stage almost became her last. When the curtain went up, she froze:

“[No inducement could] rouse her from her stupidity till the fourth act, when, to the astonishment of the audience, the surprize [sic] of the performers, and the exultation of the Manager, she felt herself suddenly inspired, and acquitted herself throughout the whole of this most difficult part of the character with the greatest eclat.”[5]

From that point forward, Bellamy was beloved and her triumph complete. “[T]he other performers, who half an hour before, regarded her with pity, crowded around, and loaded her with gratulations [sic].”[6] Her fame rose rapidly, and she acquired many admirers, among the foremost of these admirers was Lord Byron and a man named Mr. Metham.

John Rich, Courtesy of Wikipedia

John Rich. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Eventually, Bellamy became enamored of Metham. She then accepted his attentions but iIn the meantime, Bellamy’s father, much to her surprise, returned. According to biographer John Galt:

[He] insisted that she should accept the hand of [a] Mr. Crump … This she refused; high words arose between them; and the result was … she eloped with Mr. Metham [much to the chagrin of her father].”[7]

Unfortunately, a happy marriage with Metham was not in the cards: He was a gambler, and, Bellamy, who by now had acquired a taste for expensive things, reconciled with her father. Metham’s gambling became embarrassing, and the more embarrassing his gambling debts, the more Bellamy’s affections waned. At last she began to think of other men and “some fancy … got into her head that she might be able to captive the French King.”[8] When that failed, she returned to London where she made several romantic attachments, including one with Henry Fox (the 1st Lord Holland) and his relation, a clerk named John Calcraft. She also returned the stage and “commenced a career that promised no honour and only hopes of emolument.”[9]

When the theater season opened again, Bellamy played Juliet opposite David Garrick, an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century, and was a pupil and friend of Dr. Samuel Johnson. Bellamy also ended her relationship permanently with Metham and then became “all but in name, the wife of Calcraft.”[10]

George Anne Bellamy

David Garrick and George Ann Bellamy in the roles of Romeo and Juliet. Courtesy of British Museum.

From there her career and her finances traveled downhill. She became buried in debt, left Calcraft, and traveled to Scotland to avoid debtor’s jail. She then gained a new paramour named Digges. Unfortunately for her, the relationship with Digges did not work out either. She left him and returned to London, where within a few years her circumstances became even more desperate:

“Her professional enchantments had ceased, her beauty faded, and the charm of her natural buoyancy of spirits was dissolved; she was now forty-five years of age, friendless, and with a tainted reputation.”[11]

Bellamy’s friends had been reduced to the Duke of Montague and the Earl of Spencer. So, on 24 May 1785, a benefit was held in her behalf with the hopes that she would be redeemed on stage. “Her doom, however, was sealed.”[12] That same year she published a six-volume memoir titled An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy, but how accurately she described her life remains questionable. As she had no money, to survive, “she advertised, under a fictitious name, for the place of a servant.”[13] She then became a housekeeper to an elderly gentleman, but housekeeping did not keep her out of jail. In 1786, she was incarcerated (once again) for debt, which was the same year that Queen Marie Antoinette gave birth to her daughter Sophie Béatrix.

On 16 February 1788, George Anne Bellamy died. She remained rejected by the public that had once lauded and loved her. In fact, when she died there was hardly any notice of her passing, although the Reading Mercury gave a brief one line statement:

“Mrs. Bellamy, formerly a celebrated Actress; she had seen many vicissitudes of fortune, and largely experienced much distress.”[14]

George Anne Bellamy by F. Lindo that was exhibited in 1833. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

References:

  • [1] “Abstract of the Life of George Anne Bellamy,” in Stamford Mercury, 8 April 1785, p. 4.
  • [2] The European Magazine: And London Review, Volume 7, 1785, p. 242.
  • [3] Ibid., p. 243.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Galt, John, The Lives of the Players, 1886, p. 220.
  • [7] Ibid., p. 228.
  • [8] Ibid., p. 229.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] Ibid. p. 230.
  • [11] Ibid., p. 236.
  • [12] Ibid., p. 238.
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] “Died,” Reading Mercury, 25 February 1788, p. 2.

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