I recently wrote an article for this site about Sarah Maria Adcock, an eighteenth century actress who was known for her love affairs just as much as she was applauded for her comedic talents. Both of her parents were actors and she was literally a child of the theatre. She would have known no other world than that of the itinerant player: visiting fairs, playing summer regional theatre at York and Bath, booking in for long engagements at Dublin and Edinburgh (with Mrs Inchbald), until finally that first moment on the boards of Drury Lane and Covent Garden.
Once upon the stage she would have been surrounded by those of a similar ilk. Season after season she would have observed the same faces, the same personalities and would have grown to know some of them intimately. This was not just because London theatre had become a professional machine employing the same people year after year, but because of extended familial relationships. Nepotism was prevalent in the entertainment industry. And just like in the ‘Potteries’ where whole families were engaged in every aspect of the pottery industry, families dominated the theatres. From stage door keepers, costumers and prompters to musicians, singers, actors and composers, marriage brought the professional players together and their offspring continued the legacy.
Early on in the century it seems that it was the sons and daughters of artisan workers that stepped out to begin a career in theatre: the engraver’s daughter, the instrument maker and the bookbinder’s sons. We do not know where Sarah’s father William Adcock came from or anything of his father, but he might have shared a lineage with Abraham Adcock the son of a stocking weaver. Her mother on the other hand appears to have had some interesting theatrical links, though these are conjectural and based on tertiary sources.
Her brother was actor ‘Gentleman’ John Palmer (1728-1768) described by the Theatrical Review as:
‘an easy and judicious actor … [whose] performance of the parts of Gentlemen, might be proposed as a model, if he was not a little given to mouthing; and if he would give his body and gait a little more steadiness, then, these two faults excepted, he is very good in his kind, and has beauties that are entirely his own’.
He first came to the attention of David Garrick in 1748 and was offered the role of Townley in Edward Ravenscroft’s The London Cuckolds, and he followed this with Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice.
He was essentially typecast in similar roles throughout his whole career and was particularly adept at ad-libbing his way out of trouble. However, the DNB writes that he may have been possessed of a greater versatility beyond bland representations of ‘Gentlemen’, as he was considered for Farquhar’s Plume as well as Horner in William Wycherley’s The Country Wife.
In 1761 he married the actress Hannah Mary Pritchard daughter of Garrick’s leading lady Hannah Pritchard and her actor husband William. Hannah Pritchard’s biographer records that the couple had two children; the son William Vaughan Palmer (1762-1822), took a commission in the army, and the daughter Alicia Tindal Palmer (1763-1822), became a novelist.
Sadly John Palmer’s career was cut short, he died in 1768 the victim of a wrongly prescribed medical prescription. His place in theatrical history was superseded by his namesake the more famous John Palmer, but his familial relationships exemplify the chain of links between the theatrical families of the eighteenth century.
MJ Holman @mishjholman