Robert GOMERY, Actor
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Early Acting Life

Robert Gomery was born in Bloomsbury, London c.1778, and is thought to be the son of Michael Gomery and his wife Mary Parry (daughter of John Parry, Gentleman of Compton Street, Bloomsbury). In his will dated 4 December 1792, John Parry leaves five guineas each to "John and Robert, sons of my daughter Mary Gomery".

Robert worked as an actor and singer in London between 1797 and 1816. On 29th May 1797 he appeared as one of the Spahis (a Turkish cavalryman) in Sadak and Kalasrade at Sadlers Wells; and in the same season he appeared as Red Beard in Blue Beard, Black Beard, Red Beard and Grey Beard.

In 1801/2 Robert was being paid one pound per week for appearing at the Drury Lane Theatre, which is actually situated on Russell Street not far from Drury Lane, and is the oldest English theatre still in use today. It was built by the dramatist Thomas Killigrew for his company of actors, the King's Servants, as the Theatre Royal under a charter from Charles II, opening on 7th May 1663 and prospering until destroyed by fire in 1672. The second Theatre Royal was rebuilt on its present site in 1674 with Sir Christopher Wren as architect. Drury Lane was rebuilt on a huge scale in 1794, designed to seat 3,600 people. When this new "fireproof" theatre burned down in 1809, another was designed by Benjamin Wyatt and opened in 1812.

Clown at the Theatre Royal, Bath

The Theatre Royal in Beaufort Square, Bath opened on 12th October 1805, and Robert Gomery appeared in it's inaugural performance of Richard III. It would appear he spent some time in Bath as on 8th November 1807 in the parish church at Weston near Bath, his natural son by Elizabeth Medows Boyce was baptised with the name Robert Montgomery. Why Robert Junior should be baptised as Montgomery is not known but it could be that his father sometimes used this name on stage. Elizabeth Medows Boyce "kept a school at Bath" and subsequently left Bath and married a respectable schoolmaster.

Robert became well known as a clown with the Bath Theatre. The English clown was descended from the Vice character of the medieval mystery plays, a buffoon and prankster who could sometimes deceive even the Devil. The traditional whiteface makeup of the clown is said to have been introduced with the character of Pierrot (or Pedrolino), the French clown with a bald head and flour-whitened face who first appeared during the latter part of the 17th century. First created as a butt for Harlequin, Pierrot was gradually softened and sentimentalized. The pantomimist Jean-Baptisit-Gaspard Deburau took on the character in the early 19th century and created the famous lovesick, pathetic clown, whose melancholy has since remained part of the clown tradition.

The most famous of the English clowns was Joseph Grimaldi (18th Dec 1778 London - 31st May 1837 London), who was a boyhood companion of Robert Gomery. Grimaldi made his stage debut at the age of two years at the Sadler's Wells Theatre, and appeared there until 1806 when he joined the Covent Garden Theatre. His best known role was as the clown in the pantomine Harlequin and Mother Goose (1806). Grimaldi was the best known clown in the history of pantomine; his nickname Joey came into colloquial use in England as a synonym for a clown. In his memoirs he mentions Robert Gomery, or "friend Bob" in the re-telling of an amusing story:-

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Robert Gomery's clown was said to be the only one of it's kind, a "blending of English clown and Gallic Pierrot - quaint, easy" and "combining a sort of pictorial diablerie (magic) with the farcical". He was known among his fellow actors as the "gentleman clown". It seems that gentleman is a word often ascribed to this man.

He still found time to appear on stage in London, making his debut at the Haymarket Theatre on 17th June 1814 as Francisco in The Tale of Mystery, and in 1816 he was a member of the English Opera performing at the Lyceum in the Strand. His last appearance on the Bath stage, and also the last reference I have found to his stage career, was as Master Heriot in the Fortunes of Nigel on 7th December 1822.

Marriage and Final Years

Less than two months before his final stage appearance Robert Gomery married Ann Power on 17th October 1822 at Walcot parish church, Bath. Ann Power had previously been the mistress of Sir Andrew Bayntun for many years and had ten or twelve children by him. Sir Andrew bequeathed her the house at 7 Lambridge, and a good income. Robert and Ann Gomery lived at this address until her death in 1844 - the 1841 Directory for Bath gives "Gomery, Robert; Gent. of Lambridge." After his wife's death Robert moved to Walcot Buildings in Bath where he died on 14th June 1853 aged 75 years. In his will dated 11th February 1852 he leaves everything to his "intended wife Sophia Jane Lydiard of Batheaston near Bath, spinster and her heirs, executors, administrators and assigns for ever."

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A Biographical Dictionary of Actors in London 1660-1800, by Philip Highfill
Will of Robert Gomery, PROB11/2175 f259
Will of John Parry, PROB11/1229 f96
Notes and Queries 1856
Encyclopaedia Britannica
The Cambridge Illustrated History of British Theatre, by Simon Trussler
Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, by Joseph Grimaldi, edited by Charles Dickens aka "Boz", first published 1838 by Richard Bentley
Last revised: 1 September 2006
Linda Hansen 2000 - 2006