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Walter H. Fisher in W. S. Gilbert's The Happy Land in 1873

Walter Henry Fisher (1849 – 1890) was an English singer and actor of the Victorian era best known as a member of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and the creator of the role of the Defendant in Gilbert and Sullivan's 1875 opera Trial by Jury.[1] Beginning with much promise both in drama and as a versatile singer in opera, Fisher's career was limited by his struggle with alcoholism.

Early yearsEdit

Born in Bristol, Fisher was the son of Mary Ann (born 1825) and James Fisher (born 1812), a miniature artist and photographer.[2][3] Fisher was performing as early as 1866 in Bristol in Guy Mannering as Henry Bertram, followed by other roles at that theatre, such as Laertes in Hamlet, Malcolm in Macbeth and Sir William Brandon in Richard III.[4] He began his professional stage career in 1868 at Plymouth, at the Theatre Royal, in F. C. Burnand's burlesque Paris. Soon afterwards, he joined Captain Disney Roebuck's touring company, where he met his future wife Lottie Venne.[2] He first appeared in London in 1872 as Ambroise in Broken Spells at the Court Theatre.

A scene from The Happy Land, showing Gladstone (Fisher), Lowe and Ayrton.

The next year, in the same house, he played The Right Honourable Mr. G, an impersonation of W. E. Gladstone, in W. S. Gilbert's burlesque The Happy Land. Fisher's interpretation of Gladstone was appreciated by audiences but was revised on the order of the Lord Chamberlain. Fisher then continued to play in comedy roles but made his first London appearance in light opera as Maraschino in Giroflé-Girofla at the Opera Comique in 1874.[1] The Observer wrote of his performance, "It was for him a hazardous task to essay a character which is identified with Mario Widmer, one of the most fascinating jeunes premieres at present on the stage: and it is gratifying to say that Mr. Fisher suffered little if at all by comparison".[5] Fisher's good looks and pleasing voice led him to a promising early career "at the Philharmonic, Royalty, Olympic and other theatres [where] he became the original exponent of many notable operatic and dramatic works. By Messrs. Montague, James and Thorne, he was selected [to create] the part of Jack Wyatt (Two Roses) in the provinces."[6]

A scene from Trial by Jury. The Defendant (Fisher), with his guitar, clings to his new love.

Fisher joined the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in 1875 and was the original Defendant in Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury at the Royalty Theatre.[1] He also played Piquillo, the tenor lead, in the accompanying presentation of Jacques Offenbach's La Périchole.[7] Rutland Barrington wrote of Fisher, "He had a charming and sympathetic voice, and was one of the very few tenors it has been my good fortune to meet who could act as well as sing."[8] Fisher repeated the roles of the Defendant and Piquillo through the 1875–76 season, and on tour in 1876 with Richard D'Oyly Carte, he played the Defendant, Piquillo and a leading tenor role in La fille de Madame Angot. He also played the Costermonger in Carte's own one-act operetta, Happy Hampstead.[1] During this engagement, however, he "became unreliable" (a euphemism for alcoholism) and was asked to leave the D'Oyly Carte company.[6] In 1879, Fisher was back in London playing in Tita in Thibet as Brum opposite Kate Santley at the Royalty. The next year he was Hector in Madame Favart.[9] In 1881, he toured in the title role of Billee Taylor[10] and appeared in Bristol with his old company.[11]

Later yearsEdit

Fisher played the Rev Henry Sandford in the original production of The Vicar of Bray at the Globe Theatre in 1882.[12] He next appeared with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in the baritone role of Archibald Grosvenor in Patience with Carte's principal touring company in the Autumn of 1883. After another break from the company (he was again in Bristol for part of this period),[2] he reappeared with a D'Oyly Carte touring company in 1887. He was soon playing other baritone roles, Captain Corcoran in H.M.S. Pinafore and Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance, on tour until June 1888. He then returned to tenor parts, touring as Frederic in Pirates and Nanki-Poo in The Mikado until September 1888. The next year, Fisher had another engagement with a Carte touring company in 1889 in The Yeomen of the Guard as Leonard Meryll, filling in as Colonel Fairfax for the last week of the tour in December 1889.[1] The Manchester Guardian called his Leonard, "excellent … a great improvement on what we have previously seen and heard in the part."[13]

In 1872 Fisher married comedian Lottie Venne, with whom he had appeared on tour and in The Happy Land. Their children were the actor Henry James Fisher (born 1877) and the actress Audrey Fisher Welch (1873–1942).[14]

Fisher died in 1890.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d e Stone, David. Walter H. Fisher at Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 23 December 2003, accessed 18 November 2009
  2. ^ a b c Powell, p. 138
  3. ^ 1881 census for Bristol
  4. ^ Powell, pp. 67 and 90
  5. ^ The Observer, 4 October 1874, p. 3
  6. ^ a b Powell, p. 139
  7. ^ Stedman, p. 130
  8. ^ Barrington, Rutland. Chapter four, A Record of Thirty-five Years' Experience on the English Stage, Grant Richards, London (1908)
  9. ^ Dramatic Notes, Volumes 1–3, p. 80, D. Bogue, 1883
  10. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 13 September 1881, p. 8
  11. ^ Powell, p. 120
  12. ^ Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, 23 July 1882, p. 1; and Pall Mall Gazette, 28 July 1882, p. 2
  13. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 2 July 1889, p. 7
  14. ^ "Death of Miss Lottie Venne; Half-century on London Stage", The Argus Melbourne, Australia, 18 July 1928, accessed 17 November 2009
  15. ^ "Theatrical Gossip", The Era, 13 June 1896, p. 10


  • Powell, G. Rennie (Rennie Palgrave). The Bristol Stage, Bristol Printing & Publishing (1919)
  • Stedman, Jane W. (1996). W. S. Gilbert, A Classic Victorian & His Theatre. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816174-3.

External linksEdit