History Website for Dibdin, Aglio, Rowntree, Guise, and other Families
History   Homepage Picture Gallery Photo Gallery Museum Articles Sitemap
Dibdin HomePage

Charles Dibdin




Tom Bowling 
written by C.Dibdin

Link to The Life and Times of the Dibdin - Aglio Family 

DIBDIN, CHARLES (1745-1814), British musician, dramatist, novelist, actor and song-writer, the son of aparish clerk, was born at Southampton on or before the 4th of March 1745, and was the youngest of a family of eighteen. His parents designing him for the church, he was sent to Winchester; but his love of music early diverted his thoughts from the clerical profession. After receiving some instruction from the organist of Winchester cathedral, where he was a chorister from 1756 to 1759, he went to London at the age of fifteen. Here he was placed in a music warehouse in Cheapside, but he soon abandoned this employment to become a singing actor at Covent Garden. On the 21st of May 1762 his first work, an operetta entitled The Shepherds Artifice, with words and music by himself, was produced at this theatre. Other works followed, his reputation being firmly established by the music to the play of The Padlock, produced at Drury Lane under Garricks management in 1768, the composer himself taking the part of Mungo with conspicuous success. He continued for some years to be connected with Drury Lane, both as composer and as actor, and produced during this period two of his best known works, The Waterman (1774) and The Quaker (1775). A quarrel with Garrick led to the termination of his engagement. In The Comic Mirror he ridiculed proniinent contemporary figures through the medium of a puppet show. In 1782 he became joint manager of the Royal circus, afterwards known as the Surrey theatre. In three years he lost this position owing to a quarrel with his partner. His opera Liberty Hall, containing the successful songs Jock Ratlin, The Highmettled Racer, and The Bells of Aberdovey, was produced at Drury Lane theatre on the 8th of February 1785. In 1788 he sailed for the East Indies, but the vessel having put in to Torbay in stress of weather, he changed his mind and returned to London. In a musical variety entertainment called The Oddities, he succeeded in winning marked popularity with a number of songs that included Twas in the good ship Rover, Saturday Night at Sea, I sailed from the Downs in the Nancy, and the immortal Tom Bowling, written on the death of his eldest brother, Captain Thomas Dibdin, at whose invitation he had planned his visit to India. A series of monodramatic entertainments which he gave at his theatre, Sans Souci, in Leicester Square, brought his songs, music and recitations more prominently into notice, and permanently established his fame as a lyric poet. It was at these entertainments that he first introduced many of those sea-songs which so powerfully influenced the national spirit. The words breathe the simple loyalty and dauntless courage that are the cardinal virtues of the British sailor, and the music was appropriate and naturally melodious. Their effect in stimulating and ennobling the spirit of the navy during the war with France was so marked as to call for special acknowledgment. In 1803 Dibdin was rewarded by government with a pension of £200 a year, of which he was only for a time deprived under the administration of Lord Grenville. During this period he opened a music shop in the Strand, but the venture was a failure. Dibdin died of paralysis in London on the 25th of July 1814. Besides his Musical Tour through England (1788), his Professional Life, an autobiography published in 1803, a History of the Stage (1795), and several smaller works, he wrote upwards of 1400 songs and about thirty dramatic pieces. He also wrote the following novels: The Devil (1785); Hannah Hewitt (1792); The Younger Brother (1793). An edition of his songs by G. Hogarth (1843) contains a memoir of his life. His two sons, Charles and Thomas John Dibdin (q.v.), whose works are often confused with those of their father, were also popular dramatists in their day.

Taken from: http://40.1911encyclopedia.org/D/DI/DIBDIN_CHARLES.htm


Charles Dibdin – Actor , Playwright, Songwriter
1745 - 1814

Taken from the Booklet: Life and Times of the Dibdin Aglio Family

Other family members referred to in this chapter:

 Thomas Dibdin                           brother of Charles Dibdin
Charles Isaac Mungo Dibdin
  brother of Thomas John Dibdin
Thomas Frognall Dibdin
           nephew of Charles Dibdin

On the internet there are available detailed biographies for many of the Dibdin’s referred to. Interesting is the The Contemplator's Short Biography of Charles Dibdin but for very full biographies the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - is particularly thorough for both Charles and his son Thomas John.







Executions on Tower Hill after the Battle of Culloden

Charles Dibdin was born in the year of the second Scottish uprising – 1745. Bonnie Prince Charlie won the battle that year but lost the following year at a battle at Culloden Moor and had to escape to exile in France. Those captured were taken to London and executed on Tower Hill.

1745 was the same year that Jonathan Swift, satirist and author of Gulliver’s Travels died. This is mentioned because Swift also wrote an article “ A Modest Proposal”

A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, is a satirical essay written and published anonymously in 1729. Swift suggests that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. This mocks heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as British policy toward the Irish in general and is mentioned here simply to indicate how the problems in Ireland were there even 100 years before the famine in the 1800’s.

 George the II was on the throne but he seemed to have spent much of his time in Hanover, so the English must have felt ruled by a German. During his reign, England was a war in Europe and beyond and had many victories such that on his death in 1760 when he passed the kingdom on to his grandson George III, England had a secure and expanding Empire.

 Charles Dibdin was born in Southampton on March 15, 1745, one of fourteen to eighteen children of a poor silvermaker. (Facts vary)

Charles applied for the position of organist at Waltham in Hampshire, but was rejected. After being a chorister at Winchester Cathedral, Dibdin went to London at age 15 with the encouragement of his brother Tom who was 19 years older and who found Charles a job tuning harpsichords for a music seller in Cheapside. Tom was the brother who was a sea Captain and after he became ill at sea, died in South Africa . He is celebrated by Charles in the song Tom Bowling

 Charles composed songs for the harpsichord, but without his brother's influence, his employer refused to publish them. Dibdin eventually found a publisher, Thompson, of St. Paul's Church-yard, who paid him three guineas for six ballads.

Charles Dibdin had come to London in 1760 the year that George III mounted the throne and with the help of his son, later to be Prince Regent and George IV, radically changed the face of London to look more as we see it today.

 It seems that Charles met David Garrick who took him under his wing and helped him a lot, later becoming God father to his son John Thomas, however Garrick probably grew to dislike Charles’s lifestyle and they eventually fell out.


David Garrick by Angelica Kauffman

David Garrick (19 February 1717 – 20 January 1779) was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century, and was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson.

This is not the article in which to explore the growth of the British Empire but let it be said that England was taking over the world.

Robert Clive was in India and 1756 was the year of the Black Hole of Calcutta episode. It can be understood that the British Navy was key to this expansionist success and for this reason Dibdin’s songs about sailors and seafaring were a great success and very much encouraged by the establishment.

It was said his sea songs were worth ten thousand sailors to the cause of England and were officially appropriated by the British navy to use during the war with France.

We are reminded that Charles was born in Southhampton and that his brother Tom was a sea captain so his affinity to the sea can be understood.

Tom died at sea in 1780 at the age of 53.

Charles’ song Tom Bowling, probably referring to his brother, first appeared in The Oddities which was performed at The Lyceum in 1789. The song is also known as the Sailor's Epitaph.

Words of the song      Details about Tom and the Music


Thomas Dibdin -  born 1726 died 1780.

At the age of 25 commanded the 'Eagle Galley', a Sloop-of-war with 28 guns and a compliment of 220 men. The Sloop-of-war patrolled the Bristol Channel. Under Lord Chatham's administration possibly went to war? Married first wife in 1759. She died whilst he was abroad (India?). He then became a rover around the Indian Ocean. Married Elizabeth Compton in Calcutta in 1775. Lived in Nagore & Calcutta, India. Became ill after being struck by lightening in Jedddah, Saudi Arabia. Died aboard Danish Vessel 'Hoysom' on his return voyage to England and buried in an unmarked grave in Cape Town, South Africa.

From Simon Dibdin


George III had settled on the throne and within two years he had bought Buckingham House in 1762 and converted it into the Palace with the help of such as Dr. Johnson, Robert Adams and Josiah Wedgewood. It seems that the aristocracy in England were going through the same state of indulgence as was seen in Continental Europe.


In 1770 Captain Cook had found Australia and New Zealand, claiming them for England and by so doing, generating further expansion to the British Empire.

Music and Art became a significant part of social life in London with the encouragement of George, Prince of Wales who did much to encourage artists and musicians.

In 1764 Mozart at the age of 12 years old came, with his family, to this country and had played for Royalty. However life in London was more difficult that expected and after about a year the family returned to the continent.

In 1778 Dibdin was appointed the exclusive composer for Covent Garden at a salary of 10 pounds per week. However, his relations with managers and performers were poor, and the scandal of his liaison with one of the chorus singers caused a great deal of turmoil. According to his account he was the victim of "ill-treatment and breach of faith."

He left Covent Garden and became one of several parties to build the Circus Theatre (later the Surrey Theatre). Dibdin was appointed sole manager for life and was to be paid one fourth of the profits. This opened 1782

View of the Royal Circus in St. George's fields,
etching, John Lodge (engraver), London, 1782.

Charles, as so often happened, fell out with his partners.

It later closed but in 1816 Thomas John Dibdin reopened it and it was named the Surrey theatre.

St. Georges Circus is at the junction between Westminster Bridge Road, Blackfriars Road and the London Road which leads down to the Elephant and Castle.


2016 view of St Georges Circus showing that the obelisk in the middle is still there. This has the inscription
“ One Mile from Fleet Street.”


Although we tend to think of the West End of London, north of the Thames as being the centre of “Theatre Land”, it should be remembered there is and always was considerable activity south of the river. The Globe Theatre was and now is between Blackfriars and London Bridge on the south side and in the last fifty years the South Bank has been developed as quite a cultural centre.


From the Elephant and Castle Junction the road leading out East was called Greenwich Road, the route to the whole Royal Greenwich maritime complex

South London. Taken from Smith’s New Map of London c.1830

In 1787 George (Prince of Wales) started building Brighton Pavillion , and in 1815 Nash started extension work.


For the well to do life must have been very exciting in the late eighteenth century and for those successful artists, artisans and writers there was plenty of opportunity if one’s luck held.

In 1768 Charles had a son Charles Isaac Mungo and then in 1771 another, Thomas John, both by his mistress Harriet Pitt ( Mrs Davenport), both sons working in the drama scene in London and around England. As will be explored in later chapters travelling must have been quite a challenge.

It seems that Europe was about to enter a period of turmoil and whereas painters were still making a living though beautiful and romantic works of art in the very classical style, encourage by such as the Prince of Wales, the publications of this period began to become very challenging. Schiller in Germany had produced “The Robbers” challenging the ways of the German aristocracy and in the 1793, Blake was challenging attitudes in this country towards woman with his poem “Daughters of Albion”. His publications  “Songs of Experience and Innocence” also can be seen as challenges any number of aspects of English Cultural life.

Later, Thomas Hood was writing comic verse but with a satirical bent and in one peom made reference to Charles Dibdin and no doubt much of Dibdin’s work would have been challenging.

England would have been well aware of the French Revolution of 1789, and there must have been tremendous tensions in this country over the immigration and support for the French aristocracy that was being slaughtered, and the righteous demands of the poor for fairness and democracy.

Fanny Burney was writing at the time novels of social commentary with a romantic/gothic touch such as Evelina published in 1778 and in1796 Camilla, A Picture of Youth.

On the proceeds of this later novel she was able to built Camilla Lacey on the Leladene estate where she settled with her husband Alexandre D’Arblay, a refugee from the French Revolution. This thread of connection is of interest in so far as in 1933 Lionel Dibdin bought the Leladene Estate with a view to developing it and had already bought and was in the process of building on the Betchworh Estate originally owned by D’Arblay.

Fanny Burney was an inspiration to Jane Austen who novels published from 1811 and 1818 looked at the lives of the fairly well to do members of English society. From reading her novels one would get little or no idea of that side of life that existed in the poor environs of London as we entered the Regency Period.

The introduction of Stone Lithography in about 1796 gave great opportunities to the publishing world and Charles Dibdin, and later his sons will have had access to this facility as did Agostino Aglio a few years later.

It was some years later, in 1847, that we saw the first of the Bronte novels, Jane Eyre, published, these novels showing some of the more rugged side of live in the North of England. Charles  Dickens seriously drew people’s attention to the lives of the poor in the London area with his first publications in 1836.

This period of enlightenment was well into the life of Thomas John Dibdin who, as will be seen later, was reasonably outspoken and did cause problems within London Society.

Aspects of life in London during the early nineteenth century will be explored further in the chapters relating to the Aglios and Thomas John Dibdin.

Charles Dibdin’s life was marred by scandal and misfortune and despite great acclaim he died poor.

He took up residence in Camden Town, where he suffered a paralytic stroke in 1813 after which the government granted him a pension of £200.

In 1810 a subscription dinner and concert was held for his benefit. This raised £640, of which £560 was invested in long annuities for himself and his family. He died on 25 July 1814 in comparative poverty, and was buried in St Martin's churchyard there. His widow placed a stone over his grave inscribed with a quatrain from "Tom Bowling".

On the west face of the tower of Holyrood Church in Southampton is a memorial plaque to Dibdin, where he is described as a "native of Southampton, poet, dramatist and composer, author of Tom Bowling, Poor Jack and other sea songs".


 In 1889 a Celtic cross memorial was erected, by public subscription, in St Martin's Gardens, Camden Town, after his original tomb collapsed. A verse from "Tom Bowling" is inscribed upon it:

His form was of the manliest beauty,
His heart was kind and soft,
Faithful, below, he did his duty;
But now he's gone aloft.