Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Francis Nesbitt McCrone (1810–1853)

by H. L. Oppenheim

This article was published:

Francis Nesbitt McCrone (1810?-1853), actor, was born in England. He arrived in Sydney in January 1842 and made his début at the Royal Victoria Theatre on 3 March in the title role of R. B. Sheridan's Pizarro. He appeared on the programmes as 'Mr Nesbitt from the Theatres Royal Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool', and the critics were almost unanimous in their praise for 'his noble and commanding appearance, his full, rich and mellow voice, his graceful, appropriate and expressive action'. As Richard III and Shylock he soon established himself as favourite with the Victoria's audiences. In May he played Othello, considered his best part, and followed this with many of the leading parts from the repertoire of the tragedian in the classic tradition, e.g. The Iron Chest and The Mountaineers by G. Colman junior; Rob Roy MacGregor by I. Pocock; Brutus by J. H. Payne; William Tell by J. S. Knowles. Some critics warned that far too great demands were made on the strength of the 'best actor in the Southern hemisphere', especially since he was handicapped by lack of proper support from untrained local performers. But the management of the Victoria Theatre utilized Nesbitt's popular appeal to the utmost; this popularity remained unshaken by occasional disappointments when Nesbitt was too drunk to play.

For his benefit in February 1843 Nesbitt played Ravenswood, a dramatization of Sir Walter Scott's novel, for which he claimed authorship; there is reason to believe, however, that this play, performed only once, was written by Nesbitt's friend Edward Geoghegan, the convict author who also wrote for him the controversial tragedy The Hibernian Father, first performed in May 1844.

In May 1843 Nesbitt left the Victoria Theatre for Joseph Simmons's short-lived City Theatre and a month later he sailed for Launceston where with other leading players from the Sydney and Hobart Town theatres he played for three months at the Theatre Royal Olympic under the management of F. B. Watson. In November he made his début in Hobart at Mrs Clarke's Royal Victoria Theatre; his initial success was great but fresh incidents of 'indisposition' led to his dismissal in February 1844. He returned to the Sydney Victoria Theatre, where he was warmly welcomed, yet a critic noted that 'his playing has decidedly not improved in his absence'.

In November 1844 after the first performance of Coriolanus Nesbitt suddenly left Sydney for Hobart. The next year saw him playing and, for brief periods, as manager at Launceston and at the Melbourne Pavilion and Queen's Theatre. In January 1846 he was back at the Sydney Victoria Theatre for a limited number of performances in his famous tragic parts; but public taste was turning away from the classical tradition towards a new realism in acting which contrasted sharply with Nesbitt's declamatory style. 'His greatest fault', wrote a critic now, 'lies in the uninterrupted employment of his powerful voice. He introduces no alteration of light and shadow … this soon becomes wearisome'. Of his Prospero was written that 'there is too much austere declamation—too frigid an elaborateness in the delivery … the impersonation was one unbroken monotony'.

With a steady influx of trained actors and with his own growing reputation for unreliability Nesbitt's days as the star of Australia's theatre were running out. He left for California in October 1849 and returned about two years later; while playing in Geelong he collapsed and died on 29 March 1853, aged 42. A tombstone in his memory was erected by 'a brother tragedian', G. V. Brooke.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Nesbitt, Ravenswood: A Tragic Drama in Three Acts (Syd, 1843)
  • plays submitted to the New South Wales Colonial Secretary, 1843-50 (State Records New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

H. L. Oppenheim, 'McCrone, Francis Nesbitt (1810–1853)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Nesbitt, Francis



29 March, 1853 (aged ~ 43)
Geelong, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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