Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles Frederick Young (1819–1874)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

Charles Frederick Horace Frisby Young (1819-1874), comedian, was born on 5 April 1819 at Doncaster, Yorkshire, England, eldest son of Charles Young, actor, and his wife Isabella, née Frisby. Brought up in the theatre, he graduated from his father's company and played in London, scoring a success as Noah Claypole in a dramatized version of Oliver Twist at the Royal Surrey Theatre in 1838. Inspired by nautical dramas, he spent about five years in the navy and the merchant service. In 1843 as a second officer he arrived in Van Diemen's Land, where he met his sister Emma, first wife of actor George Herbert Rogers, who persuaded him to return to the stage.

Young appeared as Michael in William Tell with Francis Nesbitt at the Victoria Theatre, Hobart Town, under Mrs Clarke's management; in 1845 he played in George Coppin's company at Launceston. At Holy Trinity Church he married Jane Elizabeth (Eliza) Thomson with banns and Church of England rites on 6 June 1845; she bore him at least two children. Tasmanian born, ELIZA was a 16-year-old dancer in the company, which included her mother Martha Mary Thomson. Young opened for Coppin in Melbourne on 21 June as Claude Melnotte in the Lady of Lyons at the Queen's Theatre Royal. Coppin described him as 'a very versatile actor; in his early days equally good in tragedy, comedy, burlesque, and could sing and dance well'.

In October the Youngs left Coppin because Mrs Thomson considered she was underpaid; they returned to Hobart where they kept a hotel and Eliza taught dancing. From 1849 he managed the Queen's Theatre, Melbourne, for John Thomas Smith; his company was joined by J. P. Hydes and in 1850 they became joint lessees. As Pizarro in W. M. Akhurst's Rolla of Ours, Young established his reputation as 'a perfect burlesque actor'. In 1854 he took over as sole lessee of the theatre, paying £300 a year. Next year he joined G. V. Brooke's company and opened on 26 February as Rodrigo in Othello; Eliza played Emilia. On 6 November they began a season of their own at the Prince of Wales Theatre.

In 1857 Young with Eliza and their daughter returned to England; he became 'a great favourite in London [in] low comedy and burlesque', playing at the Strand, Sadler's Wells, the Royal Lyceum and Royal St James's theatres. Eliza by 'study' had become a beguiling actress and on 15 September made a success as Julia in J. Sheridan Knowles's The Hunchback at the Sadler's Wells Theatre; she made more money than her husband. Violent tempered and often intoxicated, Young maltreated his wife and in 1860 lived with a dancer Miss Soward, who bore him a child; in May 1862 Eliza divorced him.

Meanwhile Young had returned to Melbourne in the Empress of the Seas on 11 August 1861. He appeared at the Theatre Royal as Squire Wannop in A Friend in Need, written expressly for him by Sydney French and William Sorell. His Dido, Queen of Carthage, 'was full of the richest and most diversified humour … untinctured by vulgarity'. In 1863, he supported T. Barry Sullivan at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, but later left the company after a disagreement. In 1869 he acted with Walter Montgomery in Sydney. Celebrated for his grave-digger in Hamlet, Touchstone in As You Like It, Stephano in the Tempest and Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice, he was congratulated by the Duke of Edinburgh for his performance as Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing on 22 March 1869.

In Sydney in 1870 Young played in the Corsican Brothers, and in January 1871 he supported Charles Matthews at the Prince of Wales Opera House, and was the theatre's leading comedian when it was burnt down on 6 January next year. His health was undermined by his 'exceedingly sanguine, nervous temperament, and the professional slights he experienced preyed upon his mind'. After suffering from epilepsy for eighteen months, he died on 29 January 1874 at William Street, Woolloomooloo, and was buried in the Balmain cemetery. He was survived by his second wife Ellen, née Curby, whom he had married in Melbourne, and by their son and two daughters. An obituarist claimed that Young's 'nautical training made him almost unequalled in that rôle of the drama; while, his excellent voice, musical knowledge, and masterly and artistic dancing, combined with much natural wit, and a keen appreciation of the ludicrous, made him unapproachable in burlesque'.

In 1863 Eliza had married Herman Vezin, an American actor. As Eliza Vezin she was successful on the London stage in many plays with her husband but refused to return to Australia for Coppin. She died at Margate, Kent, England, on 17 April 1902.

Select Bibliography

  • P. McGuire et al, The Australian Theatre (Melb, 1948)
  • A. Bagot, Coppin the Great (Melb, 1965)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 28 Oct 1850, 2, 3 Sept 1861
  • Times (London), 16 Sept 1857, p 10, 15 May 1862, p 13
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22, 23 Mar 1869
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 28 Feb 1874.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Young, Charles Frederick (1819–1874)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 April, 1819
Doncaster, Yorkshire, England


29 January, 1874 (aged 54)
Woolloomooloo, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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