Sue Young Histories

Thomas Edgar Pemberton (1849-1905)

November 26, 2013

book  Thomas Edgar Pemberton (1849-1905) was ‘… theatre historian and playwright, born at Heath Green Cottage, Birmingham Heath, on 1 July 1849, was the eldest son of Thomas Pemberton, the head of an old-established firm of brass founders in Livery Street, Birmingham, and his wife, Lucy Johnston. The novelist Sir Max Pem__berton (1863–1950) was his brother …’ (From

Thomas Edgar Pemberton was a friend of James John Garth Wilkinson and is listed in both of his address books at 2 Norfolk Road, Edgebaston, Birmingham (Swedenborg Archive Address Book of James John Garth Wilkinson dated 1895. _See also Swedenborg Archive A183r _Address Book of James John Garth Wilkinson ‘Where is it’ dated 1.10.1892).

From,Thomas_Edgar(DNB12) ‘… biographer of the stage, born at Birmingham Heath on 1 July 1849, was eldest son of Thomas Pemberton, J.P., the head of an old-established firm of brass founders in Livery Street, Birmingham. Charles Reece Pemberton [q. v.] belonged to the same old Warwickshire family. Educated at the Edgbaston proprietary schools, Pemberton at nineteen entered his father’s counting-house, and in due course gained control of the business of the firm, with which he was connected until 1900.

Of literary taste from youth, Pemberton long divided his time between commerce and varied literary endeavours. His industry was unceasing. After the publication of two indifferent novels, Charles Lysaght: a Novel devoid of Novelty (1873) and Under Pressure (1874), he showed some aptitude for fiction in A Very Old Question (3 vols. 1877). There followed Born to Blush Unseen (1879) and an allegorical fairytale, Fair-brass,‘written for his children. At his father’s house he met in youth E. A. Sothern, Madge Robertson (Mrs. Kendal), and other players on visits to Birmingham, and he soon tried his hand at the drama. His comedietta Weeds, the first of a long list of ephemeral pieces, mainly farcical, was written for the Kendals, and produced at the Prince of Wales’s Theatre, Birmingham, on 16 Nov. 1874. His many plays were rarely seen outside provincial theatres.

He came to know Bret Harte, and his best play, Sue, was adapted with Bret Harte’s collaboration from the latter’s story The Judgment of Bolinas Plain. Originally brought out in America, it was subsequently produced at the Garrick on 10 June 1898. The partnership was continued. Held Up, a four-act play by Harte and Pemberton, was produced at the Worcester theatre on 24 Aug. 1903. One or two unproduced plays written by the two remain in manuscript. On Bret Harte’s death in 1902 Pemberton wrote Bret Harte: a Treatise and a Tribute. In succession to his friend Sam Timmins, Pemberton was the dramatic critic of the Birmingham Daily Post from 1882 until he retired to the country at Broadway in 1900.

As a theatrical biographer, Pemberton made his widest reputation, writing memoirs of Edward Askew Sothem (1889); the Kendals (1891); T. W. Robertson (1892); John Hare (1895); Ellen Terry and her sisters (1902); and Sir Charles Wyndham (1905). He was personally familiar with most of his themes, but his biographic method had no literary distinction.

*An excellent amateur actor, Pemberton frequently lectured on theatrical subjects. In 1889 he was elected a governor of the Shakespeare Memorial theatre, Stratford-on-Avon, and showed much interest in its work. He died after a long illness at his residence, Pye Comer, Broadway, Worcestershire, on 28 Sept. 1905, and was buried in the churchyard there. *

Pemberton married on 11 March 1873, in the Old Meeting House, Birmingham, Mary Elizabeth, second daughter of Edward Richard Patie Townley of Edgbaston, who survived liim, with two sons and three daughters. Besides the works cited, Pemberton published ‘Dickens’s London’ (1875), Charles Dickens and the Stage (1888), and The Birmingham Theatres: a Local Retrospect (1889)…’

Of interest:

Oliver Pemberton (1825-1897), brother of Thomas Edgar Pemberton, of Birmingham led a nasty attack upon homeopathy in 1875 and his circular was published in full in The Lancet. _(Anon, The Monthly Homeopathic Review, _(1882). Page 464. See also Anon, The Homeopathic World, Volume 23, (1888). Pages 446-447, 451 and 465. See also Anon, The British Homeopathic Review, Volume 19, (1875). Pages 181, 239 and 273). However, there was a slight pull back _’… In justice to Mr. Oliver Pemberton he wished to say that he had been exceedingly friendly to homeopathists since 1875… (THW Vol 23, page 465)‘. _This may have been because Oliver Pemberton’s hand was forced to attack homeopathy because of his position in the town, but behind the scenes, his brother Thomas Edgar Pemberton was a friend of Garth Wilkinson’s.

From ‘… _Born at Warstone House, Birmingham, on Aug 15th, 1825, of a family of manufacturers, the second son of Thomas Pemberton, a well-known brass founder and a JP for Birmingham. He was educated at King Edward’s School, Birmingham, whilst Dr Jeune and Dr Prince Lee were successively head masters, and at the age of 17 was apprenticed to Dickinson Crompton (qv), Surgeon to the Birmingham General Hospital. He studied at Queen’s College Medical School whilst Joseph Hodgson (qv) was a lecturer. He then went on to St Bartholomew’s Hospital under Burrows, Lawrence, and Stanley, having Savory as a fellow-student. _

After qualifying Pemberton returned to Birmingham as Physician’s Assistant at the General Hospital, then as Surgical Officer. In October, 1852, on the death of Richard Wood, he was elected Surgeon and held this position for thirty-nine years until 1891. In the Medical School he lectured on anatomy from 1853-1858, then on Surgery from 1867-1892. He took an active part in the transference of the Medical Department of Queen’s College to Mason’s College, on the Council of which he served, and was President.

In 1878 Sir Joseph Fayrer and Oliver Pemberton were elected to the FRCS as Members of twenty years’ standing. The occasion was notable as it was the first time the Council of the College had exercised this privilege. In 1885 Pemberton was elected to the College Council, a position which he held until his death. During the active portion of his life as a Surgeon to the General Hospital he was also Consulting Surgeon to the Skin and Lock Hospital and to the West Bromwich Hospital.

He published much. He was founder and promoter of the Medical Institute in 1874, was President of the Midland Medical Society, and was at one time on the Council of other Medical Societies in Birmingham. He gave the Address in Surgery at the Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association in Birmingham in 1872. He practised at 65 Temple Row. Simultaneously he served on the City Council from 1879-1891, rendering valuable assistance on the Health and Water Committees. He was much engaged in medico-legal work and was frequently an expert witness in criminal trials, notably in that of Palmer, the Rugeley poisoner, for the defence. He had been present at the post-mortem examination of Cook, and simply stated that the spinal cord was then so much decomposed as to prevent an opinion as to its state immediately after death.

In 1891, at the age of 66, he was elected Coroner for Birmingham, whereupon he resigned the post of Surgeon and that of City Councillor, and held the office until his death. He was described as an admirable coroner, very sympathetic and kind to witnesses, yet never failing to draw out all important points of evidence, whilst his directions to the jury were always clear and judicious. He attracted attention by a stately demeanour, a deliberate stride, and by peculiarities of dress; a wide-brimmed hat with a low crown, high boots worn over trousers, a long cloak thrown back over his shoulders. In recreation he gained repute as an angler.

He kept in good health, his general expression of good humour, kindliness of manner, robustness of character, and methodical habits were attractive. An attack of bronchitis was followed by one of intestinal obstruction due to malignant disease, for which he was operated upon by his colleagues, Bennett May and Gilbert Barling, but he died the same evening at Quarry House, Whitacre, near Birmingham, on March 7th, 1897. He was buried in Slinstoke Churchyard, his funeral being attended by the Lord Mayor, by representative citizens of Birmingham, and by colleagues. He married in 1851 the only child of Daniel Whittle Harvey, MP for Colchester, and Chief Commissioner of Police for London. Mrs Pemberton only survived a week, dying on the following March 13th, at the age of 70. They were survived by two sons and three daughters.

Edwin Ward’s portrait of Pemberton, a venerable, long-haired, bearded figure in a cloak, was engraved, and the engraving signed by him was presented, to the President and Council of the College in 1894.

Publications: Observations on Cancerous Diseases, 8vo, London, 1858. “On Excision of the Knee-joint.” - Brit Med Jour, 1859, 958. 977, 997. Clinical Illustrations of Various Forms of Cancer, etc, fol, plates, London, 1867. This was termed by Sir James Paget a “grand book and an example of good taste”. Pemberton’s Bradshaw Lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons, 1894, was on “James Syme (Regius Professor of Surgery at Edinburgh, 1833-1869): A Study of his Influence and Authority on the Science and Art of Surgery during that Period,” 8vo, Birmingham, 1895…’


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