Sir William Don

Hi, all, I’m back! As you may have noticed, the Bad Book Covers post on Vanity Fair I promised on October 28 never materialized, largely because I was hosting a conference with my friend @VictorianMasculinity and barely had time to sleep, let alone to blog. I’m *hoping* November is going to be a slightly quieter month for me and think I can probably resume my normal blogging schedule. The Vanity Fair post is still in the pipeline and with any luck will be released soon.

I stumbled across this story on the Victoria forum at Indiana, which is a great resource that links scholars together so they can ask research questions and get recommendations. There was a really interesting thread going around on the forum recently for stories about aristocrats who had lost their fortunes and scholar Patrick Scott pointed us to the disreputable career of Sir William Don (1825-1862).

He was the 7th baronet of an old baronetcy, going back to 1667, and succeeded to the title as an infant. He went to Eton, as you do, participated in the ridiculous Eglinton Tournament in 1839 at the age of 14, and entered the army at age 17.

He became an aide-de-camp to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, but then ‘retired’ at the age of 20 in 1845, deeply in debt. He had to sell the family home and all its contents at auction, which earned him the astonishing amount of 85,000 pounds-all of which went to his creditors.

He married in 1847, moved to America and became an actor for five years (1850-1855), discovered after that time that he still owed a further 7,000 pounds, and then went back on the stage, this time as a comedian.  I don’t know what happened to his first wife (presumably she died?) but he married for a second time in 1857, this time marrying an actress (the scandal).

They went to Australia in 1861 and he, having taken to playing female characters in burlesques, eventually took his own theatre company to Tasmania. He died in Hobart Town in March 1862, leaving three daughters but no son. The title passed to a distant cousin and continued to this day.

Let’s put him on the list of people who should have a film made about them immediately.

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2 Responses to Sir William Don

  1. Pingback: Hugh Lowther, Lord Lonsdale | BizarreVictoria

  2. Pingback: BizarreVictoria: Celebrating 4 Years | BizarreVictoria

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