FAIRBROTHER, ANNE (baptized Amelia) (Hill), actress, dancer, and dance teacher; b. in London and baptized 15 July 1804, one of six children of Robert Fairbrother, dancer and acrobat, and Mary Bailey; m. c. 1826 Charles John Hill, and they had two sons and one daughter; d. 1896 in Montreal.
The Fairbrothers were a popular theatrical family associated with London’s Drury Lane Theatre. All the Fairbrother children apprenticed there. Anne made her début as Cora’s child in Pizarro, by Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan, and became a regular member of the corps de ballet around 1816. Between 1819 and 1825 she danced and acted in minor roles at the Surrey and Sadler’s Wells theatres. About 1826 she married Charles Hill, a talented actor from a Covent Garden theatrical family. For several years the Hills toured Britain to gain experience, but Anne’s own career was impeded by childbirth.
In 1830 the Hills returned to London, where Anne appeared at the Drury Lane and Surrey theatres as a dancer and pantomime actress. They transferred to Covent Garden in 1835; Anne was promoted quickly to principal dancer and had considerable success in pantomime. From 1837 to 1840 the Hills worked in provincial theatres, where Charles functioned as an actor-manager. Bankruptcy at Brighton’s Theatre Royal, caused by his mismanagement, forced them to flee to America.
The Hills made their American début at New York’s Park Theatre on 2 Sept. 1840. As an entr’acte dancer Mrs Hill quickly became a favourite with audiences, who, according to theatre historian Joseph Norton Ireland, considered her “one of the most versatile and useful actresses.” Following three years of extensive touring, the Hills moved to Montreal, making their début on 26 June 1843 with John Nickinson*’s company at the Theatre Royal. Early the next month the Montreal Gazette stated that Anne was the “most graceful dancer we have seen” and that she “astonished and delighted the lieges of Montreal by her charming performances.” When the theatre closed each winter, the Hills ran a dancing academy and assisted amateurs in mounting plays.
During the summers from 1846 to 1849 the Hills toured Upper Canada, playing substantial seasons in Toronto and Hamilton as well as shorter stands in countless other towns. Anne Hill danced and acted, her husband served as manager and character actor, son Charles John Barton played romantic leads, daughter Rosalie was second dancer and ingénue, and younger son Robert Herbert was box-office manager. Members of local amateur dramatic societies were invited to take supporting roles. On occasion public response to the touring Hills was slight, and the result was financial hardship, but in some communities the troupe was warmly received. “We had been so long destitute of any public exhibition that, even had the entertainment been a very inferior one,” the Dumfries Courier of Galt (Cambridge) claimed in 1846, “we would gladly take advantage of it; but the one thus presented to us in our destitution was not only excellent in its selection, but well played, having all the advantages of novelty, taste, good costume, thorough stage management, and accurate knowledge of stage effect.”
In 1849 violent demonstrations in Montreal over the Rebellions Losses Bill forced theatres there to close [see James Bruce*]. The Hills moved to Toronto to join Charles Kemble Mason’s new company, which played lengthy seasons at Toronto’s Royal Lyceum and Hamilton’s Theatre Royal. As a result of Barton’s marriage to American actress Olivia Crook and Rosalie’s forthcoming marriage to Hamiltonian MacDonald Bridges, the family troupe disbanded in 1851. That spring, in announcing a benefit for Mrs Hill, the Toronto Patriot attested to her ability as a dance instructor, stating, “She has won the esteem of all, not merely by her grace and elegance and consequent success in this department, but also by her extreme good temper, good sense and kindness of disposition. As a performer her merits are well known; but the extent of her histrionic exertions in favour of others is known only to a few.”
During the 1850s Charles and Anne Hill toured widely through the United States and Canada, with occasional trips to Montreal to visit their son Robert. At the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Mrs Hill, who had separated from her husband, settled in Montreal. She continued her acting career for many years and was appearing in a benefit for the Home of the Friendless in Detroit when her husband died on 24 Sept. 1874. Anne Hill remained active in Montreal’s professional and amateur theatre until her death in 1896; according to historian Franklin (Thomas) Graham, “She retained to the last a fund of anecdotes and reminiscences.”
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Geneal. Soc. (Salt Lake City, Utah), International geneal. index. Victoria and Albert Museum, Theatre Dept. (London), Playbills: Drury Lane, Sadler’s Wells, Surrey theatres (London), 1800–40; Brighton, Eng., theatres, 1820–40 (microfiches). Leader, 1852. Montreal Gazette, 1843–52. Toronto Patriot, 1843–52. J. N. Ireland, Records of the New York stage from 1750 to 1860 (2v., New York, 1866–67; repr. 1966). Franklin Graham, Histrionic Montreal; annals of the Montreal stage with biographical and critical notices of the plays and players of a century (2nd ed., Montreal, 1902; repr. New York and London, 1969), 140. P. B. A. O’Neill, “A history of theatrical activity in Toronto, Canada: from its beginnings to 1858” (phd thesis, 2v., La. State Univ., Baton Rouge, 1973). Kathleen Barker, “The decline and rise of the Brighton theatre, 1840–1860,” Nineteenth Century Theatre Research (Tucson, Ariz.), 8 (1980): 29–51. Mary Shortt, “Touring theatrical families in Canada West: the Hills and the Herons,” OH, 74 (1982): 3–25.