Gustavus Vaughan Brooke, born in Ireland in 1818, was an experienced actor by the age of 14. He toured England, Scotland and Ireland, and later the United States, playing the great tragic parts of Romeo, Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth.
During 1855 and 1856 he toured Australia and New Zealand including the goldfields, playing to enthusiastic audiences.
Portrait of Brooke
Courtesy of the La Trobe Collection
State Library of Victoria
Gustavus Brooke was known as a great actor in Australia.
"Mr Brooke, the great tragedian. Shakespeare may be said to have crossed the line with Brooke."
"In Australia, where he had always been looked upon as the Father of the Drama..."
Back in England his career was far less successful, and he was returning to the colonies in 1866 when his ship sank, saddening many in Australia who regarded him as "the Father of the Drama".
"1866... The London, in which Brooke had quietly arranged to voyage to the Antipodes, was an iron screw ship of some 1,429 tons register. Deeming it impossible to turn the ship round, Captain Martin gave orders to set the engines at full speed. It was blowing a complete gale at the time, and no sooner had the instructions been obeyed than a heavy cross sea struck the vessel, washing away the starboard lifeboat and staving in the starboard cutter. All afternoon the doomed ship laboured greatly, and kept taking in green seas over the port side. Giving no thought to himself, [Gustavus] rushed on deck to do what he could for the others. It now became the captain’s sad duty to inform the ladies that nothing short of a miracle could snatch them from destruction. [Asked if he would join crew and passengers in the last lifeboat] "No! No!" replied Brooke. "Good-bye. Should you survive, give my last farewell to the people of Melbourne."