The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Lydia Thompson

Lydia Thompson

A Woodburytype portrait of Lydia Thompson (1838-1908), the Queen of Burlesque.

Born Eliza Hodges Thompson on 19 January 1838 in the parish of St.Paul’s, Covent Garden, Lydia Thompson first appeared on stage at the age of fourteen in the dance chorus at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1852. She gained fame in Thomas Selby’s The Spanish Dancers in which she caused a small sensation with her parody of the Spanish dancer Perea Nina.

From 1855 she was touring Europe, and in 1868 she was appearing before American audiences. After a well-publicized arrival, her first appearance was at Wood’s Museum and Metropolitan Theatre in New York on 28 September 1868. What had been intended as a six-month tour eventually last six years, and Lydia Thompson didn’t return to Britain until 1874. The sex symbol of the nineteenth century made her last appearance in burlesque in 1888, by which time her voice was not what it once had been. By 1899 her financial circumstances were straightened enough for a benefit to be held for her the Lyceum Theatre. Her last stage appearance was in 1904.

Lydia Thompson died in London on 17 November 1908.

She was married twice, the first time in John Christian Tilbury, who was killed in a riding accident fifteen months after their marriage. Her second marriage (which may or may not have been legitimate) was to manager Alexander Henderson. Her daughter Zeffie Tilbury (1863-1950) became a film actress, appearing in sixty-eight films between 1917 and 1941, including The Grapes of Wrath in 1941.

Photographer unidentified.


Code: 124658
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