Jane Elizabeth Vezin (18271902), by L. Bertin
Vezin [née Thomson; other married name Young], Jane Elizabeth [Eliza] (18271902), actress, was born while her mother, the actress Peggy Cook, was on tour in England. Her father was George Thomson, a merchant; her maternal grandfather was James Cook, a bass singer, and her mother's aunt was the actress Mrs West. At an early age Eliza accompanied her parents to Australia, and when she was eight, in Sydney, she earned the reputation of a child prodigy as a singer and dancer. In 1845 she was playing at the Victoria Theatre, Melbourne. On 6 June 1846, at Holy Trinity Church, Launceston, Tasmania, she was married to Charles Frederick Young (18191874), an eccentric, undisciplined, but versatile actor. She supported the well-known actor G. V. Brooke during his Australian tour of 1855, when she appeared with him as Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing, Emilia in Othello, Pauline in The Lady of Lyons, and Lady Macbeth.
The Youngs returned to England with their daughter, and, as Mrs Charles Young, Eliza made her first appearance on the London stage under the management of Samuel Phelps, at Sadler's Wells Theatre, on 15 September 1857, playing Julia in The Hunchback. She was enthusiastically received. During the seasons of 1857 and 1858, when the bill changed two or three times a week, she performed most of the leading parts in Phelps's productions, making striking successes in a variety of roles, including Rosalind in As You Like It, Clara Douglas in Money, Portia, Desdemona, Fanny Stirling in The Clandestine Marriage, Cordelia, Mistress Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Lydia Languish in The Rivals, Pauline in The Lady of Lyons, Lady Townly in The Provoked Husband, Viola in Twelfth Night, and Juliet.
During the summer vacation of 1858 Eliza Young had appeared at the Haymarket and Lyceum theatres, playing at the former house on 10 July, the last night of J. B. Buckstone's five years' continuous season, the Widow Belmour in A. Murphy's The Way to Keep Him. In March 1859 she was at the Lyceum under Benjamin Webster and Edmund Falconer. At the opening of the Princess's Theatre under the management of Augustus Harris senior (24 September), she played Amoret in John Oxenford's Ivy Hall, in which Henry Irving made his first appearance on the London stage. When Phelps reopened Sadler's Wells Theatre, under his sole management, on 8 September 1860, Mrs Young appeared as Rosalind, acting for the first time with Hermann Vezin, who appeared as Orlando. She remained with Phelps through the season of 186061, adding the parts of Miranda in The Tempest and Donna Violante in Susannah Centlivre's The Wonder to her repertory. Her chief engagement during 1861 was at the Haymarket Theatre, where on 30 September she played Portia to the Shylock of the American actor Edwin Booth, who then made his first appearance in London.
Her marriage to Young had broken down: he moved in with a dancer who bore his child, and in May 1862 Eliza obtained a divorce. On 21 February 1863, at St Peter's Church, Eaton Square, she was married to , whom she immediately accompanied on a theatrical tour of the provinces. Afterwards she acted opposite him in Westland Marston's Donna Diana, at the Princess's Theatre (2 January 1864). On the tercentenary celebration of Shakespeare's birthday at Stratford upon Avon, in April 1864, she acted Rosalind. There followed a long engagement at Drury Lane Theatre, under F. B. Chatterton and Edmund Falconer, where she first appeared on 8 October 1864 as Desdemona, in a powerful cast which included Phelps as Othello and William Creswick as Iago. She repeated many of the chief parts she had already played at Sadler's Wells. She made a great hit as Marguerite in Bayle Bernard's Faust (20 October 1866). At the Princess's Theatre, on 22 August 1867, she gave a very beautiful performance of the part of Peg Woffington in Charles Reade's Masks and Faces. Again with Phelps at Drury Lane, during the season of 18678, she played Lady Macbeth (14 October 1867), Angiolina in Bayle Bernard's The Doge of Venice (2 November 1867), and Charlotte in Isaac Bickerstaff's The Hypocrite (1 February 1868).
Less important London engagements followed at the St James's Theatre. During March 1874 Eliza Vezin toured in the chief provincial cities with her own company, again playing parts of no great interest. At Drury Lane Theatre she reappeared under Chatterton as Lady Elizabeth in Richard III (Cibber's version; 23 September 1876), as Paulina in The Winter's Tale, with Charles Dillon (28 September 1878), and later in the season as Mrs Oakley in Colman's The Jealous Wife. She then joined the company at the Prince of Wales's Theatre in Tottenham Court Road, under the management of the Bancrofts, where she appeared on 27 September 1879 as Lady Deene in James Albery's Duty, an adaptation from Sardou's Les bourgeois de Pont Arcy. There followed an engagement at the Princess's with Edwin Booth in the season of 188081.
After playing Olga Strogoff in H. J. Byron's Michael Strogoff at the Adelphi (14 March 1881), Eliza Vezin fulfilled her last professional engagement at the St James's Theatre, under the management of Hare and Kendal, on 20 October 1883, when she gave an effective performance as Mrs Rogers in William Gillette and Frances Hodgson Burnett's Young Folks' Ways.
Mrs Vezin was a graceful and earnest actress, with a sweet and sympathetic voice, a great command of unaffected pathos, and an admirable elocution. Comedy as well as tragedy lay within her range, and from about 1858 to 1875 she had few rivals on the English stage in Shakespearian and poetical drama.
The death of her only daughter (from her first marriage) in 1901 unhinged her mind. At Margate, on 17 April 1902, she eluded her nurses, and flung herself from her bedroom window, with fatal result. She was buried at Highgate cemetery.
J. Parker, rev. J. Gilliland
H. Morley, The journal of a London playgoer from 1851 to 1866 (1866) · C. Scott, The drama of yesterday and today, 2 vols. (1899) · AusDB · The Athenaeum (26 April 1902), 540 · W. M. Phelps and J. Forbes-Robertson, The life and life-work of Samuel Phelps (1886) · H. B. Baker, The London stage: its history and traditions from 1576 to 1888, 2 vols. (1889) · The life and reminiscences of E. L. Blanchard, with notes from the diary of Wm. Blanchard, ed. C. W. Scott and C. Howard, 2 vols. (1891) · S. D'Amico, ed., Enciclopedia dello spettacolo, 11 vols. (Rome, 195468) · D. Cook, Nights at the play (1883) · B. Hunt, ed., The green room book, or, Who's who on the stage (1906) · F. Hays, Women of the day: a biographical dictionary of notable contemporaries (1885) · J. Knight, Theatrical notes (1893) · C. E. Pascoe, ed., The dramatic list (1879)
L. Bertin, photograph, NPG [see illus.] · photographs, NPG · woodburytype carte-de-visite, NPG
Wealth at death
£3329 14s. 1d.: probate, 14 May 1902, CGPLA Eng. & Wales