Valentine Vousden - "whom all old Dubliners will remember"

Valentine Vousden was one of Ireland's most well-known and best loved public entertainers. His career went up and down in roller-coaster style. He enjoyed tremendous popularity in his lifetime, but at times he was down and out.

He was a singer, song-writer, actor, story-teller, comedian, mimic, ventriloquist, variety artist and occasional commercial traveller, perfoming in vaudeville and music halls throughout the land, and in England, New Zealand and the United States.

The Irish entertainer of Carlow, William McNevin, later adopted the stage name Val Vousden.

Valentine Vousden was born in 1821, and in 1844 he married Sarah Ann Hawthorn in the English Potteries (Stoke on Trent), Staffordshire. Both were of full age and both were resident at the time in Stanley, a small village some 5 miles from Stoke.

Sheet music cover of Man Know Thyself: written, composed and performed by Valentine Vousden.

Valentine described himself as an "Artist", and gave his father's name and profession as Peter Vousden, Reporter. Peter and Eliza (née Moore) of Moor Street, Dublin had at least three children; there are known baptismal records of Elizabeth (1811), Henry (August 1821) and Teresa (April 1825), and substantial evidence for a fourth, Peter, who lived in London with his wife Jane formerly Cochrane nee Irving, at least between 1840 and 1861; they had a daughter Leonora who emigrated to the United States where she married Thomas Francis Meagher.

Valentine was in fact the aforementioned Henry. His father is the same Peter Vousden of The Morning Post The proceedings against O'Connell had a farcical character. The Government summoned the reporters of the Dublin newspapers present at the meeting to aid them in securing the conviction of O'Connell, though they had no power to compel them to give evidence. At the police-court proceedings, Vousden, the reporter of the Morning Post, was asked: "Pray, what were the precise words which O'Connell used with reference to Bolivar? [Simon Bolivar, the Latin American revolutionary leader]" "I have not my notes about me." "Oh, but surely you can recollect," said the magistrate. "I have no accurate recollection on the subject," replied the reporter, "and even if I had, I do not think the Press the proper medium through which the business of a common informer should be transacted." who in Dublin in 1824 was called to give evidence in the trial of Daniel O'Connell, a leading Irish nationalist of the day. O'Connell was prosecuted (unsuccessfully) for inciting rebellion. [Dónal Ó Conaill (6 August 1775 - 15 May 1847), known as The Liberator, or The Emancipator.]

Sarah Ann was born 13th June 1821, christened 29th July 1821, daughter of Thomas Hawthorn, clock maker, and Maria Davies. The 1841 census has two Thomas Hawthorns living in Stoke who were clock makers, one at Slack Lane, Hanley, the other at Bleak Hill, Burslem. Living in the same house as the latter was Sarah Hawthorn, 20 years of age, an inn-keeper, and she may have been the future Mrs. Vousden.

In the 1851 Census Valentine and Sarah Ann were living and working in Stanley Street, Salford, Manchester. Valentine described himself as a Professor of Dancing and Sarah Ann was a milliner. We presume that Valentine and Sarah Ann separated, or that he was widowed and perhaps re-married, although we do not have details of either event. However, between 1860 and 1876 Mary Ann Burgess was the mother of nine of his children.

The first three children were born in England. Valentine and Mary Ann's child Mary Ann was born in Stourbridge, Worcestershire in 1860, when Valentine described himself as a commericial traveller. An England-born daughter and son of Valentine and Mary were Cecily Ann ("Annie"), born 1862 and Francis Burgess in 1864, both in Brentford. Annie later emigrated to Australia where she married Donald Alexander Shaw in Townsville, Queensland in 1891.

Still in England, on 27 December 1865 there was a "mass baptism" of five children of Valentine and Mary Ann at St. Mary the Virgin Parish Church, Twickenham: Francis Burgess (born 1864), Cecily Ann (born 1862), Cecily Mary (probably Mary Ann born 1860), Arthur (presumably the one born in Dublin 3 months earlier), and Valentine (born 1861).

I have found records of seven more children born to Valentine Vousden and Mary Ann Burgess, all in Dublin: Arthur Burgess (21 September 1865), Elizabeth Esther (21 April 1867), Mary Emily Burgess (5 December 1868), Christopher MacGuiness (30 April 1870), Agnes Margaret (2 January 1872), Peter (28 July 1874) and Joseph (31 May 1876). Joseph died in infancy (1876) and Peter died in 1880, aged 6 years.

I have not found out what happened to Sarah Ann née Hawthorn after 1851, except that she died in the Stoke on Trent area in 1871. Moreover, I have not found any record of a marriage between Valentine and Mary Ann Burgess. However, there is a record of the death of Mary Ann Vousden, age 40 years, in Dublin South in 1877 which is likely to be her. Moreover, Valentine re-married to Mary Ann Anderson in 1880 at the St. Mary Pro Roman Catholic Cathedral in Dublin. Once again, he gives his father's name as Peter Vousden, and this time that of his mother too, Eliza Moore.

New York Daily Tribune: advertisement and review.

Valentine was performing internationally by at least 1866, for on 1 January 1867 the New York Daily Tribune carried a notice of that evening's performance at the Clinton Hall and elsewhere on the same page was an enthusiastic review of the previous evening's entertainment.

We know that Valentine Vousden was in north Wales in 1874, probably passing through on his way back home, for the Anglesey Easter Quarter Sessions were blessed with his presence. On 28 January 1874 he was tried at Holyhead for "interfering with the comfort of a fellow passenger on the London & North Western Railway". He was summarily convicted and ordered to pay 10/- plus 13/6d costs forthwith or be imprisoned at the county gaol in Beaumaris for 7 days. We do not know what choice he made.

An Irish Jaunting Car: the type that Valentine Vousden sang about and popularised.

Valentine Vousden was perhaps most well-known for his song "The Irish Jaunting Car", written in the 1850s, shortly after Queen Victoria visited Ireland and apparently rode in a jaunting car, also at the time of the Crimea War (both events are noted in the song).

The jaunting car is the Irish form of the sprung cart, a light, horse-drawn, two-wheeled open vehicle with seats placed lengthwise, either face to face or back to back. It was a popular mode of transport in 19th Century Dublin.

The original words to the song are debated and disputed. It was a time when songs were perhaps more for singing than for writing down, and probably the words were varied from time to time. However, the following is one version (rather English-sounding):

My name is Larry Doolan, I'm a native of the soil,
If you want a day's diversion, I'll drive you out in style,
My car is painted red and green, and on the door a star,
And the pride of Dublin city is my Irish jaunting car.


Then if you want to hire me, step into Mickey Mar's,
And ask for Larry Doolan, and his Irish jaunting cars.
When Queen Victoria came to Ireland her health to revive,
She asked the Lord Lieutenant to take her out to ride,
She replied unto his greatness, before they travl'd far,
How delightful was the jogging of the Irish jaunting car.

I'm hired by drunken men, teetotalers, and my friends,
But a carman has so much to do, his duty never ends;
Night and day both wet and dry, I travel near and far,
And at night I count the earnings of my Irish jaunting car.

Some say the Russian bear is tough, and I believe it's true,
Though we beat them at the Alma and Balaklava too,
But if our Connaught Rangers would bring home the Russian Czar,
I would drive them off to blazes in my Irish Jaunting Car.

Some say all wars are over, and I hope to God they are,
For you know full well they never were good for a Jaunting Car,
But peace and plenty - may they reign here both near and far,
Then we'll drive to feasts and festivals in an Irish Jaunting car.

They say they are in want of men, the French and English too,
And it's all about their commerce now they don't know what to do;
But if they come to Ireland, our jolly sons to mar,
I'll drive then to the devil in my Irish jaunting car.

"The Irish Jaunting Car" made an appearance in the American Civil War in the 1860s in the form of a famous song. Harry Macarthy, an Ulster born entertainer who billed himself as "The Arkansas Comedian", wrote a set of rousing patriotic verses for the Confederacy and set them to the tune of Vousden's song. Macarthy entitled his version "The Bonnie Blue Flag" in reference to the first unofficial flag of the Confederacy. When the Union army occupied New Orleans anyone caught singing, playing or whistling the song could be arrested and fined $25. It may be more correct to say that both "The Bonnie Blue Flag" and the "Irish Jaunting Car" are to the same tune as both seem to use the well known air "The Jolly Beggerman".

Other songs and ballads in Valentine Vousden's repertoire, mostly written and composed by himself, include: Are we fairly represented [Irish peasant song of '65, begins: "In these fine days"]; Contentment of Mind [begins: "Oh! Contentment is all that I ask"]; Good bye to ye Kitty; I've been to visit Erin's Isle; The Little Flower [begins: "To me a little Flow'r".]; Sarah Bell; Enough for the Day; and Man Know Thyself.

The Irish author James Joyce in his final work, Finnegans Wake (1939), weaves Valentine Vousden into his idiosyncratic narrative with the words: "since the Levey who might have been Langley may have really been a redivivus of paganinism or a volunteer Vousden".

In "Castle and court house; being reminiscences of 30 years in Ireland" (published 1911), the historian (also author of The History of Ulster from the Earliest Times to the Present Day) Ramsay Colles in Chapter XIV Public Entertainers, says:

The first public entertainer I had the good fortune to see was Valentine Vousden the ventriloquist and variety artist whom all old Dubliners will remember. Vousden used to sing a song about the Irish jaunting car, in the character of the driver. One verse of it ran something like the following:

Do ye want a car, yer honour?
Och, shure, here's the wan for you:
A rale Irish jaunting-car.
And it's painted green and blue.

The rest of the song was devoted to the glories of being "rowled out to Sandymount", "to pick cockles on the strand," or driving to "the strawberry beds and back to town again."

Vousden went through one or two fortunes. The last time I saw him was in January, 1900, when on the invitation of the Guardians, I visited the North Dublin Union with Mr T. W. Russell, M.P. Vousden was an inmate, and a very cheerful one, and I was able to shake hands with a man who had delighted me when I was a child.

The North Dublin Union in Grangegorman was the House of Industry, that is, the workhouse for Dublin north of the River Liffey. Built in 1772 and adapted in 1840, the main building has now been demolished (since 2003). It was open to "poor helpless men and women", "men who should be committed as vagabonds or sturdy beggars able or fit for labour", and "idle, strolling, and disorderly women as should be committed and found able or fit for labour".

Nazareth House, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex: formerly a convent & orphanage then a school. It has now been turned into about 150 residential homes, and its name changed to St James Place. The old chapel is being kept as a lounge for the residents.

But Valentine did not end his days in the workhouse. Somehow he managed to leave Dublin and make his way to England again, where on 31 October 1906 he died of odema of the lungs and old age. He died at Nazareth House, a Roman Catholic convent and orphanage in Wrestwood Road, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex.

News of Valentine's death spread around the world, a reflection of his international fame, with the New Zealand Times reporting his passing in its issue of 1 June 1907 and the New Zealand Tablet publishing an extensive piece on 27 June 1907.

Windsor Magazine: Volume 25, 1907

Also in 1907, the Windsor Magazine, a monthly illustrated publication produced by Ward Lock & Co from January 1895 to September 1939, included a reference to Valentine's many-sided contribution to humour in entertainment.

A thespian to the end, his death certificate gives his occupation as "Artist (Actor)".

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