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Cathcart, James Faucitt (1828–1902)

by Helen M. Van Der Poorten

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

James Faucitt Cathcart (1828-1902), actor, was born in England, son of James Cathcart, theatrical manager, and Fannie, née Hubbard. He was the elder brother of Mary Fanny Cathcart and Rowley (b.1832), actor. Cathcart made his stage début in infancy and while still young was discovered at Liverpool by Charles Kean who later engaged him as juvenile lead actor in Queen Victoria's Christmas 'Windsor Theatricals'. His acting under Kean in 1850-59 at the Princess's Theatre, London, taught him a dependence on leading actor-managers which he was never to shake. Even Cathcart admitted that he had planned to make a permanent career for himself as supporting actor to Kean. When Kean's management of the Princess's expired in 1859, Cathcart followed him to the provinces and in 1863 begged to be engaged in the Kean party which was to tour Australia, where his sister was living. At this time Cathcart seems to have been married, although his wife did not accompany him to the colonies.

Cathcart arrived at Melbourne with the Keans in September 1863 and departed with them from Sydney in July 1864. Their Australian début on 10 October 1863 was at the Haymarket Theatre, Melbourne, playing in opposition to the Barry Sullivan management at the Theatre Royal. In the colonies Cathcart's duty was to understudy his manager and to attend all rehearsals for him; in this way he became a proficient and sometimes humorous imitator of Kean's style. When the tragedian collapsed at Sydney in January 1864 Cathcart played King John in his place, to approving audiences.

Although, like his sister, Cathcart was invariably received with excitement and applause, the critics of Melbourne and Sydney joined in condemning him for his exaggerated gestures and over-careful pronunciation. The Melbourne Punch, 28 April 1864, referred to him as 'the posture-making Mr. Cathcart' and Kean wrote from Sydney that Cathcart was 'not at all liked here by the Box people'. Yet he was popular enough for Kean to complain later that 'Mr. Cathcart … has become inflated with the praises he has received in Australia'. During this tour of the colonies and his later visit with the Keans to America Cathcart suffered continual bouts of illness from drinking, and annoyed his employers with practical jokes, bad debts and abuse. He remained with them, however, until Kean's retirement in 1867.

Cathcart joined Sullivan as his leading support in 1873, and made himself indispensable to the tragedian in Shakespeare because of his expertise and realism in stage swordsmanship. With Sullivan he toured America in 1875 and 1876, but again Cathcart's drinking often prevented him from performing. Back at Drury Lane Theatre, London, in September 1876 he played under Sullivan in Richard III and Macbeth.

In May 1879 Cathcart returned to Melbourne on the insistence of his sister. At the Melbourne Theatre Royal he played leading roles, including Richard III and Othello. The Argus now welcomed him as a 'masterly delineator of Shakespeare', praising the finish of his performances, though observing that his voice had not gained much in power. Always versatile, Cathcart continued to perform throughout Australia for over twenty years. He acted under leading managers such as J. C. Williamson, George Musgrove and Charles Holloway, and as a member of the Brough and Boucicault Comedy Co. developed into a fine comic actor. In October 1894, when George Rignold revived Julius Caesar at Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney, with himself starring as Mark Antony, Cathcart played Brutus and was considered the outstanding performer. From this time on he sustained a reputation as 'the best Shakespearian scholar on the Australian stage'. In November 1899 Robert Brough organized an afternoon benefit for him at the Princess's Theatre, Melbourne. There Cathcart described himself as 'one of a bygone age' and admitted that his old-fashioned acting style made it difficult for him to find employment. He died at St Kilda on 18 December 1902, aged 74.

James Cathcart was a well-liked actor, and remarkably polished in secondary roles, but he was never able to thrill audiences as a major tragedian. Clearly he was too weak ever to free himself from star-managerial control, and in the colonies was always considered inferior to his sister. He settled in Australia just in time to acquire a reputation as one of the last outstanding Shakespearian actors.

Select Bibliography

  • R. M. Sillard, Barry Sullivan and his Contemporaries, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1901)
  • correspondence under Charles John Kean (National Library of New Zealand).

Citation details

Helen M. Van Der Poorten, 'Cathcart, James Faucitt (1828–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cathcart-james-faucitt-3179/text4765, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 13 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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