Beginnings of a Theatrical Life

Catherine or Catharine as it's spelled on her birth certificate, is a bit of an enigma, although one thing is sure: she shines out as a redoutable and resourceful woman who triumphed in adversity.

According to her birth record she was born in Harrold in Bedforshire and baptised on October 19th 1800. Her father is named as Harry Gibbs and her mother is also Catherine Elizabeth. This is elaborated somewhat on her death certificate from Auchtermuchty in 1873 which tells us that her father was Henry Proctor Gibbs and he was a 'Sarjeant (sic) in the East India Company's Service. Her mother is named again as Catherine Elizabeth m.s. (maiden surname) Tippet. Next to each of the names is written 'deceased ?' which suggests that Catherine is unaware of whether or not her parents have died. I'm not sure if this means that she had become estranged from them but it certainly suggests a distinct lack of contact between them.

During my research, it has not yet been possible to find Catherine's parents, other than their names on her birth certificate. There is mention that her mother was from the Bath or Bristol area and that there were connections with Scotland which may explain the choice of Auchtermuchty as a destination.

I cannot find any brothers or sisters born to Catherine's family. It appears that she is an only child and the first time after her birth that i find her officially documented is in Pallot's Index but she's not called Gibbs but Bowskill!  I know it's her because as her children are born, their father is named as the man she married and she returns to her given surname of Gibbs. It must be assumed at this stage that Bowskill was the name she had chosen to act under but again, frustratingly, I can find no mention of an Elizabeth Bowskill on the stage at that time. None the less, she married Frederick Thomas Bullen in Newport Pagnell in 1822 or did she?

The reasons that I have some doubts about Frederick Thomas etc; are twofold; in Pallot's marriage index, his names are written in the wrong order not once but twice and the entry is listed 3 times under Bullen, Buller and Butler. In fact, Buller as the last name is listed on more than one occasion and their first son, Frederick Henry Hastings Bullen dropped Bullen altogether for much of his career. I have a sneaking suspicion that Catherine's husband's name may not have been Bullen but Buller or Butler while he decided which would sound best for his career in the theatre.

If Catharine was born in Harrold and married in Newport Pagnall, the distance is about 10 miles or so. 


The wedding is also recorded in the Buckinghamshire Parish records:

Text: Frederick Thomas Augustus Buller & Catharine Elizabeth Bowskill 14 Mar 1822
Book: March Buried (Burial)
Collection: Buckinghamshire: - Registers of Marriages, 1558-1837


Catharine's parents are not mentioned on her marriage certificate; maybe they were not in the country or maybe they would not give their approval to her marriage to a budding young actor who could not make up his mind if he was called Butler, Buller or Bullen.