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Thomas John Dibdin


Married to Nancy Hillier

Son of  Charles Dibdin  

Father of  T.C.Dibdin 


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

DIBDIN, THOMAS JOHN (), English dramatist and song-writer, son. of Charles Dibdin, the song-writer, and of Mrs Davenet, an actress whose real name was Harriet Pitt, was born on the 21st of March 1771. He was apprenticed to his maternal uncle, a London upholsterer, and later to William Rawlins, afterwards sheriff of London. He summoned his second master unsuccessfully for rough treatment; and after a few years of service he ran away to join a company of country players. From 1789 to 1795 he played in all sorts of parts; he acted as scene painter at Liverpool in 1791; and during this period he composed more than 1000 songs. He made his first attempt as a dramatic writer in Something New, followed by The Mad Guardian in 1795. He returned to London in 1795, having married two years before; and in the winter of 1798-1799 his Jew and the Doctor was produced at Covent Garden. From this time he contributed a very large number of comedies, operas, farces, &c., to the public entertainment. Some of these brought immense popularity to the writer and immense profits to the theatres. It is stated that the pantomime of Mother Goose (1807) produced more than 20,000 for the management at Covent Garden theatre, and the High-mettled Racer, adapted as a pantomime from his fathers play, 18,000 at Astleys. Dibdin was prompter and pantomime writer at Drury Lane until 1816, when he took the Surrey theatre. This venture proved disastrous and he became bankrupt. After this he was manager of the Haymarket, but without his old success, and his last years were passed in comparative poverty. In 1827 he published two volumes of Reminiscences; and at the time of his death he was preparing an edition of his fathers sea songs, for which a small sum was allowed him weekly by the lords of the admiralty. Of his own songs The Oak Table and The Snug Little Island are well-known examples. He died in London on the 16th of September 1841.

Taken from : http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/D/DI/DIBDIN_THOMAS_JOHN.htm


Thomas John Dibdin (1771–1841) was the illegitimate son of Charles Dibdin and an actress named Mrs Davenet (alias Harriett Pitt) with whom he had an affair during his first marriage. Thomas was a dramatist and songwriter, creating largely comic and light, entertaining works. John Braham (?1774–1856) was a composer and vocalist – most renowned for his piece The Death of Nelson (1811)

taken from Royal Museum Greenwich http://www.rmg.co.uk


Taken from  The Life and Times of the Dibdin - Aglio Family 

Thomas John Dibdin - Actor , Playwright, Songwriter        
son of Charles Dibdin 1771 - 1841

References from:
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

 Thomas was born at 5 Peter Street (now Museum Street), Bloomsbury, London.


“Dibdin was the son of Charles Dibdin, a song-writer and theatre manager, and of "Mrs Davenet", an actress whose real name was Harriett Pitt. He was apprenticed to his maternal uncle, a London upholsterer, and later to William Rawlins, afterwards sheriff of London. He summoned his second master unsuccessfully for rough treatment; and after a few years of service he ran away to join a company of country players. From 1789 to 1795 he played all sorts of parts; he worked as a scene painter at Liverpool in 1791; and during this period he composed more than 1,000 songs.”

Thomas was, in effect, the same generation as Agostino Aglio but a few years older and brought up in London in the theatre world, a world in which Agostino was going to be involved for quite some time during his life. When Thomas’s father turned against him, his Godfather, David Garrick, supported him. By the time that Agostino was entering the Napoleonic Revolution in Italy Thomas had written his first play and was indicating great potential.

By 1803, when Aglio had arrived in England, Dibdin had already worked and travel extensively throughout the country and had established himself in London. The problems of travelling around London and for that matter up and down the country must have been similar to those experienced by Aglio and train travel would only just have been coming in at the end of his life. Bearing in mind that both Aglio and Dibdin had both worked in the theatre world and both been scenery painters, it is interesting to speculate as to whether or not they ever met up.

As will be mentioned later both were working in the Haymarket, although in the two different theatres there and both had been in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Thomas John Dibdin maybe by T C Dibdin


 Thomas married, in 1793, the actress Anne Hilliar and by 1802 had cause riots in London over a comic opera “Family Quarrels” and a play, and “The Jew and the Doctors”. This was one year before Aglio arrived in England as an immigrant.


It is moderately easy to imagine him and his wife living and  working in London using either a hackney carriage or walking to get around the centre of London but the prospect of travelling from London to Manchester and then on to Chestor is daunting.

How much stuff did he have to take with him? How long did the journey take ? What about the problems of travelling to Inverness?

Anne Hilliar maybe by T C Dibdin

 From the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

 “In 1791, at the jointly managed Liverpool and Manchester theatres, Dibdin achieved his goal of a theatre-royal appointment. With only hours' notice, he played Mungo—‘that most favourite of all my father's favourite characters’ (Reminiscences, 1.111)—in Isaac Bickerstaff's The Padlock when the Manchester Theatre reopened after a fire.

Over three years he established himself as a scene-painter and gained valuable experience in stage management; he also performed a season at Chester. In summer 1792 he played as far north as Banff and Inverness.”

The reference to Mungo may explain why his brother Charles Isaac Mungo Dibdin was given that name by his father who wrote the music for in Isaac Bickerstaff's The Padlock.

Mungo was a stage negro of a very different stamp, and the first of his race. He figured in The Padlock, a comic opera, words by Isaac Bickerstaffe, music by Charles Dibdin, first presented at Drury Lane in 1768. Mungo was the slave of Don Diego, a West Indian planter. It was written for and at the suggestion of John Moody, who had been in Barbadoes, where he had studied the dialect and the manners of the blacks. He never played the part, however, which was originally assumed by Dibdin himself. Mungo sang:

“Dear heart, what a terrible life I am led!
A dog has a better that’s sheltered and fed.
Night and day ’tis the same;
My pain is deir game;
Me wish to de Lord me was dead!
Whate’er’s to be done
Poor black must run.
Mungo here, Mungo dere,
Mungo everywhere;
Above and below,
Sirrah, come, sirrah, go;
Do so, and do so.
Oh! oh!
Me wish to de Lord me was dead!”



It is notable that Thomas did scene painting bearing in mind that we would see him as an actor and writer however perhaps like so many of the Dibdin family, he was a polymath or Renaissance man.

Following joint engagements at Rochdale and Huddersfield, Dibdin and his now pregnant wife journeyed in deep winter 1793–4 to South-west Wales, where, for Henry Masterman's lively company at Haverfordwest and Carmarthen, Dibdin wrote and performed a new song weekly. Early in 1794 their first child, Maria, was born; and Comic Songs (1794), probably Dibdin's first publication, appeared under his Merchant pseudonym.

In parallel with his writing and managing career, Dibdin in 1802 joined his brother Charles in acquiring for £1400 a quarter-share in Sadler's Wells, which by 1805 was making good returns. But theatrical speculation was always uncertain, and their involvement in the Dublin theatre about the same time lost the two brothers nearly £2000.

On Thomas Harris's retirement in 1809, Dibdin left Covent Garden - Anne having departed a year earlier - and bought a cottage at Betchworth, in Surrey, with a view of settling and it was there that his son Thomas Colman Dibdin, who was to grow up to be an artist, was born.

The use of the name Colman is significant as Thomas had work with and was friends with George Colman Junior who also was a playwright and theatre manager.

He intended to write free from London's temptations but soon found himself drawn back into the London life and theatre world.


Dibdin was prompter and pantomime writer at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane until 1816, when he took over the Surrey Theatre.

The Theatre Royal was another theatre that had employed Agostino Aglio in 1806.

The Surrey was in fact the old Royal Circus in St George’s Field in Lambeth that his Father had opened some years before in 1782. It is interesting that this was in 1816, just 2 years after his father had died, perhaps he felt that he could succeed with the theatre where his father had failed only two years after he opened it.

A view of The Royal Circus in St George’s Fields

This venture proved disastrous, and in 1822 he became bankrupt with debts of £18,000


 From Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
“At this juncture Dibdin accepted a three-year summer contract as stage-manager at Morris's Haymarket, at £200 with one benefit, while Ann superintended the women's wardrobe for ‘a very trifling salary’” 
This time in the Haymarket was a disastrous period and Thomas  ended up in King's Bench Prison in 1824, the same one that Aglio had entered a few years before.

It is interesting that 1806 Agostino Aglio was busy across the road at the Majestic painting a backdrop.

It is almost mystical how the two families, the Dibdins and the Aglios moved in such similar circles and eventually in 1878 some couple of generations later they join when William Joseph Dibdin married Marian Aglio.

One would think that once in debtor prison would be enough and that a man with his capability would somehow sort life out so that he and his family could be a little more settled. But no! Life had to go on in the same adventurous way.

After this he secured the stage-managership of Sadler's Wells, beginning on 4 April 1825 at £400 per annum, Dibdin moved to the spaciousness of Myddelton Square in the nearby New Town and hoped to start afresh. His contract was renewed at intervals and he continued to write burlettas for Sadler's Wells until mid-1828, shortly before Ann Dibdin's premature death on 29 August. He married Catherine Court at St Pancras on 9 April 1829 and at the age of fifty-eight began a new family.

In 1827 he published two volumes of Reminiscences; and at the time of his death he was preparing an edition of his father's sea songs, for which a small sum was allowed him weekly by the Lords of the Admiralty. Of his own songs, "The Oak Table" and "The Snug Little Island" were popular at the time.

Again in  1834 he spent nearly a year, reportedly in a condition of near starvation, in Horsemonger Lane debtors' prison ( near the present day Newington Causway); and in 1838 he wrote despairingly to the fund's managers that ‘the situation of my Family and self becomes daily more critically painful’

This was only 6 years before he died at the age of 70 years old.

From Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – Assessment
Open, forthright, but companionable in nature, Dibdin cultivated a wide circle of friends, including George Colman junior, Charles Farley, Benjamin Thompson, Douglas Jerrold, Sam Russell, and Thomas Harris (almost a surrogate father). He was ‘poet laureate’ of the Covent Garden Beefsteak Club. However, most of his closest friends (and his brother) predeceased him and, in the last decade of his life, with the responsibilities of a young family, the shocking consequences of his indigence deprived him of much of his spirit.”


Links to Works

Book: The Reminiscences of Thomas Dibdin

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