Events at Warminster

Even though I had a fair knowledge of what the word 'comedian' probably meant in Victorian England, I had to research it to make sure I hadn't got the wrong end of the stick completely.

A 'comedien,' in French means an actor and the word comedian in 19th century Britain was much closer to its French counterpart. It seemed fair to surmise that Francis and his family were a troupe of travelling actors who were either performing or between engagements in Wellingborough.

 At that point, Francis took on a completely different persona for me: not only was he English which was unexpected but he was also evidently travelling about with his family, performing every night to excited audiences. How must that have felt to a little boy of eight or nine? But that still left the question, how did he finish up in Auchtermuchty? Then I found this,

 "The Era", dated 16th February 1851:

"We have been requested to call attention to a case of real distress which has resulted from the death of Mr. Frederick Bullen, a comedian of some provincial celebrity. About a fortnight ago he, with his wife and four children, came to Warminster, Wilts, and engaged the town hall for a series of entertainments. The undertaking was a failure, and the loss to Mr. Bullen who, through distress and excitement, ruptured a blood vessel of the heart and suddenly expired. His widow and children are thus left totally unprovided for. Mrs. Bullen is, we are told, a person of considerable talent and it is hoped that somebody in the theatrical profession will obtain for her an engagement where it can be made available. She is staying with her children at the Red Lion Inn, in the above town, where we trust some sympathy and assistance will reach her."

I was amazed to find this newspaper article and at this point, I must thank Jim Bullen from Canada whose name came up when I googled 'Catharine Bullen.' It was evident that Jim had already been on the Bullen trail and as I investigated his site, it became apparent that he is a distant cousin, being descended from my great great grandfather Francis' older brother Alfred Glenister Bullen. On Jim's site are pictures of Catharine and Frederick, my great, great great grandparents who I saw for the very first time. This was not only a surprise but deeply moving.



Jim's picture of Catherine Elizabeth Bullen (nee Gibbs), my great, great great grandmother. She bears a strong resemblance to Hannah, my grandmother and her grand daughter. 

Putting all the elements of this sequence of events together seemed to build the following picture: Frederick and Catherine Bullen, travelling actors, arrived in Warminster in Wiltshire with their four children: Rebecca, Alfred, Francis and Mark aged 3 months, to undertake an engagement at the town hall. This appeared not to attract the audiences they were hoping for, causing Frederick a great deal of stress, culminating in his suffering a heart attack on February 7th 1851. The family were well known enough for this to have caused something of a stir in the acting profession, resulting in The Era's appeal. The Era itself is described thus in The Waterloo Directory of English Newspapers and Periodicals 1800-1900,

'In an 1856 advertisement, The Era claimed to be the "largest Newspaper in the World, containing Sixty-four Columns of closely-printed matter in small type. It is the only Weekly Newspaper combining all the advantages of a first-rate Sporting Journal, with those of a Family Newspaper. Literature and the Metropolitan and Provincial Drama has more space allotted to them in the Era than in any other Journal. The Operatic and Musical Intelligence, Home and Continental, is always most copious and interesting." The Era became regarded as "Invaluable for reviews, news, and general theatrical information and gossip. Also of value are the assorted advertisements by and for actors and companies"

I have no idea to what extent the hand of charity was extended by the acting profession to Catherine and her children but whatever was given enabled her to start out on the long road that led to her to Auchtermuchty and a settled family life.