MISS VIOLET CAMERON: SCANDALOUS STAGE ACTRESS

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CAMERON FRONT

Violet Cameron (1862-1919), was an English stage star. She was the niece of burlesque legend Lydia Thompson. Cameron  began her stage career as a child in 1871. She played several child roles at the Drury Lane Pantomime theatre. As an adult, she played many prominent roles in the most important English theatres. In 1886 she came to America and played in “The Commodore” and “Kenilworth”. In 1893 she had great success in the stage play “Morocco Bound”. She was involved in several scandalous love affairs during her stage career.  The top cabinet card was a product of Elliot & Fry, a prominent London photography studio. The second cabinet card was produced at the studio of W & D Downey in London, England. The third portrait of Violet Cameron is also by Downey. She looks lovely in her ruffly dress and her plunging neckline (relative to the cabinet card era) highlights her necklace. The reverse of the cabinet card has the stamp of Charles Ritzmann of New York City indicating that it was once owned by the esteemed purveyor of theatrical photographs. The fourth photograph of Miss Cameron once again comes from the Downey studio. She appears to be wearing a wedding dress in this cabinet card portrait. To view other photographs by these two studios, click on the category Photographer: Elliot & Fry or Photographer: Downey.

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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have researched Violet for several years, and have found nothing to substantiate the accusation above, which also appears in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, that she had “several scandalous love affairs”. She had one notorious one for several years with the Earl of Lonsdale, well-documented in the pages of the Times, but I have found no reference to any other lovers. Poor Violet…poor Lady Lonsdale!

  2. P.S. She was not the niece of Lydia Thompson. They simply had step-fathers who were brothers!

  3. In a contemporary journal, I have come across the potential divorce action involving Lord Lonsdale, which was cancelled when de Bensaude declared that he believed in the innocence of his wife. My interest is in a woman cited as a potential witness in this action, whose name, or nickname, appears to be ‘Ryall’, or ‘Ryah’, as it usually appears in quotes. I am trying to identify her.

    Was she an actress, or a friend of Violet Cameron’s?

  4. I think you may be looking for Sophia Row, who was a witness in one of the cases against De Bensaude in August 1887. She was one of Violet’s servants.

  5. I should also retract my comment that it was the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography which accused Violet of several scandalous love affairs. My sincere apologies to the author of the biographical note therein. It was yet another website which produced the original accusation, and I suppose it was then copied by various people. As I said, the only scandalous affair she had was with Lord Lonsdale!

  6. I think the woman I’m looking for may have had the surname ‘Storey’, and have had a son, Ernest, in about 1877. She may have been nicknamed “Ryah”.

    She’s definitely not Sophia Row.

  7. I’ve now discovered her name was ‘Maria Story’, or Storey. The ‘Ryah’ was a phonetic spelling of presumably a nickname from Ma(ria). She had a son in November 1877.

    Does this name mean anything in connection with Violet Cameron?

    • No, it doesn’t ring any Cameron bells, but I’ll check my notes! Where did you encounter Maria Storey?

  8. I believe Miss Cameron was the unfortunate prey of self-serving press elements of that time. This got exaggerated in later retelling. Judging by the ‘family tree’ she and Lydia Thompson were not blood related, though connected someway otherwise. Both sharing the birth surname, Thompson, confuses the issue, but is actually coincident. However, be wary! Closer perusal of the ‘family tree’ becomes murky and serious never- answered puzzlements remain. Doubt everything! It is recorded that Violet Cameron was raised by Lydia Thompson and Alex Henderson. Feasible … and, if true, this would suggest that much of her young years were spent in boarding schools … not unlikely shared with Lydia’s daughter, Zeffie, and two of Alex’s many, and scattered, offspring (these two girls were from Australia) … of which school records have been reported. Lydia and Alex were gone for years at times. (This is not the place, but Alexander Henderson’s life might vie as one of the most fascinating and unlikely you have never heard of.)

  9. As a descendant of Violet’s aunt, I have meticulously researched her life, and written a full biography. She was not the niece of Lydia Thompson, though the two families were connected, and Lydia was very helpful at various stages of Violet’s career. Although she was close to Lydia, Violet never lived with her, being brought up by her own mother Mary, and educated in the St Pancras area where she was born. Mary and her sister Elisabeth, a professional actress, launched Violet’s stage career in 1871 when she was eight, without assistance from Lydia or Henderson, who were abroad from 1868 to 1874, -they certainly did not “raise” Violet!
    Violet rapidly became a child star and by the age of fifteen, she was both famous and successful. She retained an unblemished reputation and was immensely popular. In 1884, she married in mysterious circumstances, a David de Bensaude, calling himself a wealthy merchant, but the marriage proved a disaster, and she accused him of violence and extortion. In 1886, Violet embarked upon an affaire with the Earl of Lonsdale, a married man. This ignited a blistering press campaign against her, which reached horrendous proportions when she and her Company attempted a tour of America later that year. American websites have been grossly influenced by the American papers of 1886, which are still available in the U.S. archives. Violet obtained a legal separation from de Bensaude on grounds of his cruelty, in 1887. Other than that, there is absolutely no evidence of “several scandalous affaires”. Although the relationship was curtailed in 1889, Violet had two daughters by the Earl and remained devoted to him for the rest of her life. She never re-married or, as far as we know, had any other relationships. She continued to act intermittently into the twentieth century, and died at Worthing in 1919. She was remembered with breathless affection by twentieth century theatre historians.

    • Hi, I am an undergraduate student at the Ohio State University and I am in a class titled “Spectacles of Agency and Desire: Dance Histories and the Burlesque Stage”. I have been researching Violet Cameron and came across these comments and I would be really interested in knowing more about her biography. Any more insight or resources you could give me would be very helpful to our research!

      • I wish that I could provide you with resources pertaining to Miss Cameron. There are a few brief biographical sketches of her readily available on the internet. I do not have any lesser known references to tell you about. I would suggest doing some searches of newspapers of her era to discover more information. I was unable to locate any biographies about Miss Cameron. Hopefully, some of the Cabinet Card Gallery’s visitors may have some ideas to share that may aid you in your research. I wish you the best of luck and please leave a comment on this site about any particularly interesting information you discover about Violet Cameron.

  10. Beautiful. You have neatly cleared up the questions … and it all fits. Thanks … now I can just go back to enjoying looking at her portraits.

  11. The Balcombe Tunnel murderer, “Lefroy” was obsessed with Violet and talks about her in his autobiography which he wrote before his execution in 1881. The story can be found in my book “The Trail of the Serpent” published in 2004. James Gardner


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