Jean Margaret Davenport, the Infant Phenomenon

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Jean Margaret Davenport

Pretty and clever, Davenport began her acting career at a young age with her father’s help. Born in 1829 in Wolverhampton, her father managed the Richmond Theatre and also acted. He had left the Bar for the stage. She was only eight when she first appeared on the stage. She played the Little Pickle in The Manager’s Daughter and appeared in Shakespearian plays as well.

Dickens may have used the father and daughter pair as the basis for his characters, Crummies and the Infant Phenomenon in Nicholas Nickleby. This rumour upset Davenport’s father who wrote several letters to papers denying it.

The father and daughter travelled to America in 1838 on the steamship, Sirius, one of the first steamships to cross the Atlantic. Jean Margaret Davenport appeared in The Manager’s Daughter there. A critic called her a ‘little gem’ in The New York Times. She also played a role in Richard III.

They decided to return to Europe where they continued to act. Jean Margaret Davenport also studied music but she decided on drama as her career. She played roles in many Shakespearean dramas, including the lead character of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. She received high praise for this starring role. The young girl was educated by private tutors while acting.

Jean Margaret Davenport Marries

Davenport returned to America and continued to act in many plays. In 1860 she married the handsome, hard-drinking Frederick W. Lander, a soldier who became a brigadier-general in the Civil War. He died a few years afterwards, leaving Davenport a relatively young widow.

The actress played her part in the Civil War. Soon after the war began, she met a rebel nicknamed ‘Ficklin’. He told her that he and six others were ‘going to do a thing within 48 hours that would ring around the world.’ At the time there were fears that the Virginians would attack Washington.

Mrs Lander rushed to see President Lincoln to warn him about the attack. She told John Hay, one of President Lincoln’s secretaries, about the threat. He was apparently very pleased to meet her because he used to have a crush on her!

During the war, Lander and her mother took charge of a hospital at Port Royal in South Carolina. They were highly praised for doing this.

Lander returned to acting after the war. She appeared in a play called Mesalliance, which she had translated herself. She also toured as Queen Elizabeth 1 and Lady Macbeth. She was praised by critics for her acting in Macbeth.

The actress eventually retired. She lived in a beautiful house at Massachusetts Bay. Here she entertained famous actors and artists of her generation. She died at 74.

Sources

  1. Winter, William, The Wallet of Time, Moffat, Yard and Company, New York 1913.
  2. Ecelberger, Gary L., Frederick W. Lander, The Great Natural