Arabella Hannah Brett

(February 16, 1783-September 1803)

Arabella Hannah Brett, sister of Francis Hodgkinson (nee Brett), was born on February 16th, 1783 at St. Paul, Covent Garden to William and Hannah Brett.[i] It was in England that Arabella grew up, until 1793 at the age of ten, when she sailed alongside her mother to America to join the Old American Company.[ii] There is no record indicating that she acting previous to her arrival in America, and she would not appear in a theatre until February 12th, 1795 when she performed in Inkle and Yarico as Narcissa.[iii]

From then on Arabella could be seen in roles as maids or young women of little note, but became better known for her singing roles. This viewpoint is mirrored in Dunlap’s impression of the young Arabella Brett; “a child in years, but a woman in appearance. She was devoid of personal beauty, but possessed a powerful voice, and achieved marked success as a singer.”[iv] Arabella’s voice was very much similar to that of her sister Francis’, and it is estimated they most likely sang soprano with “a range from about e^b’ to c#”[v] and according to multiple Daily Advertisers she could be seen regularly singing alongside Mrs. Broadhurst and Mrs. Tyler, performing the “Ting, Ting, Tang, Ta” as an interim piece for performances. While Miss Brett showed promise on the stage as both an actress and a singer, she never had the chance to fulfill this promise to the public. In September of 1803 Arabella Brett died of consumption, preceding her sister Francis Hodgkinson in death by a mere few days.[vi]



[i] Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, and Edward A. Langhans. A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers & Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800.Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973. 324-325. Print.

[ii] Susan Porter. “With an Air Debonair: Musical Theatre in America, 1785-1815.” Choice Reviews Online 29.10 (1992): 29-5614. 212. Print.

[iii] Joseph Norton Ireland. Records of the New York Stage from 1750 to 1860. New York: B. Blom, 1966. 133. Print.

[iv] George Oberkirsh Seilhamer. History of the American Theatre. New York: Haskell House, 1969. 314-315. Print.

[v] Porter, 213.

[vi] Ireland, 133.


By: Drew Smith