The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Florence St John

Florence St John

Born Margaret Florence Grieg on 8 March 1854 at Tavistock in Devon, she began to perform at the age of eight, first in singing concerts and later with touring variety groups. She eventually played in a large number of light operas, winning special success as Germaine in Les Cloches de Corneville and in HB Farnie’s English-language version of Offenbach’s Madame Favart. She also appeared several times with the D’Oyle Carte Opera Company. In 1900 she abandoned opera for drama, playing Nell Gwynne in English Nell as well as other comedy parts. She retired in 1910 and died in London on 30 January 1912, aged 56.

She was four times married; firstly, at the age of seventeen, to a naval officer by the name of Alfred St John, who died of tuberculosis in 1874. She married, secondly, Lithgow James of the D’Oyle Carte Company but soon deserted him for her co-star in Madame Favart, French actor and singer Claude Marius, who was still married to the dancer Laura Gerrish, formerly of the Colonna troupe. The couple set up home together in Twickenham, then later in New Bond Street, but it wasn’t until 1885, after they had both divorced their respective spouses, that they were able to marry. A son was born shortly after the wedding but Florence soon took up with Arthur Cohen, a young journalist she had met in Brighton while convalescing from a lung complaint. Relations with her husband naturally soured; the two frequently bickered and on at least one occasion Marius struck Florence. He also took a lover of his own, a young actress called Marie Luella. By 1888 Florence had had enough and instituted divorce proceedings. Although she was able to prove her husband’s adultery, the jury found him not guilty of cruelty and since two causes were then necessary for a wife to divorce her husband, the judge only granted a legal separation. Marius died of cancer in 1896 and Cohen became Florence's fourth husband, though in 1902 that marriage also ended in the divorce courts.

[Much of the above information concerning Florence’s private life is taken from Barry Anthony’s Murder, Mayhem and Music Hall, published in 2015.]

Photographed by W and AH Fry of Brighton.


Code: 126433
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