And yet another visitor—who was there at the same time as Trelawny—was Fanny Kemble, a member of the celebrated acting family, the Kembles, who lit the London stages for decades. Her father, Charles Kemble (brother to the talented performers John Kemble and Sarah Siddons), was part-owner of the Theater Royal, Covent Garden, and when Fanny was nineteen, he decided to “risk” casting her as Juliet in a production of the Bard’s play in October 1829. Charles was having financial “issues.” Fanny had not performed on the stage before—despite her family’s long history.
She was an immediate hit—and crowd favorite. Among those seeing her were William Makepeace Thackeray and Washington Irving. The latter was a family friend, and, according to a 1982 biography of Kemble, She ran to him with great excitement following a production when he called on the Kembles to offer his congratulations. She remained a London stage favorite and soon was traveling around for assorted reasons—performing, sight-seeing, working for social reform. (She was virulently opposed to slavery.) This is not the place to dive into Kemble’s remarkable life—but just to see what she had to say about Niagara Falls, a site she was visiting, as I said, at the same time as Trelawny. Who’d claimed to have swum the river below the Falls.
On August 1, 1832, Fanny and her family set sail for America, where they’d planned a performing tour—a tour that was very successful for them. Fanny kept a journal of that visit, and very near the end of it, she records her visit to the Falls. She and her family had met Trelawny late in June 1833, on a steam-boat departing from New York Harbor, heading up the Hudson River. Trelawny—no surprise (oh, did he ever attach himself like a refrigerator magnet to sturdy (and sexy) notables, wherever he found them!)—swopped in. Here’s what Fanny says in her journal that day:
Mr. Trelawney [sic] came and stood by me for a considerable time after we started. It is agreeable to talk to him, because he has known and seen so much. He has traversed the world in every direction, and been the friend of Byron and Shelley. … he is an uncommon man, and it is very interesting to hear him talk of what he has seen, and those he has known.