If you were asked to name a famous Victorian actor, the chances are that the name of Temple Edgecumbe Crozier is not one that would spring immediately to mind.
Indeed, but for a few historical journals on the London stage, in which he sometimes appears as little more than a footnote. Temple E. Crozier is just one of the many Victorian actors who trod the boards and was then forgotten.
Yet, for a few weeks in August 1896, Crozier’s name was appearing almost daily in the newspapers of the day – not, it must be said, for any great contribution to the acting profession, but rather for the manner in which he had left that profession.
WHO WAS TEMPLE CROZIER?
Temple E. Crozier was the son of the Reverend Temple Crozier, of Coston Rectory, Mellon Mowbray, a retired army chaplain, who formerly lived in Warwick.
According to one of the few obituaries that gave any details of his life and career:-
“In 1886 young Temple went to King’s College, Warwick, where he was a great favourite.
On leaving school Crozier went to Liverpool, where he was apprenticed to a firm of corn merchants.
After about eighteen months he left, and when next heard of, in 1893, he was in Leeds, where he had drifted, his resources exhausted, after an experience with portable shows in the county of Durham.
He thereafter made some advance in the profession.
He came to London in March of last year , and about last Christmas got an engagement in Newcastle, and finally, a couple of months ago, was engaged at the Novelty Theatre.”
He was, as far as Miss St Lawrence, an actress who had worked with him remembered “one of the most conscientious and promising young actors with whom she has ever been professionally associated.”
THE SINS OF THE NIGHT
On Monday 10th August 1896. he was appearing at the Novelty Theatre in Great Queen Street – the thoroughfare that runs from Holborn’s Kingsway to Covent Garden – where he was playing the part of the villain in the premier performance of the play “The Sins of the Night.” a melodrama written by Frank Harvey.
His character, a swarthy Spaniard by the name of Manuel Ramez, had seduced and murdered the sister of a Creole by the name of Pablo, who on this night was being played by fellow actor Wilfred Moritz Franks, with whom Crozier was said to have been extremely “chummy.”
In the fifth act of the play, Pablo was to confront Ramez and avenge his sister’s murder by stabbing her assailant through the heart.
STABBED ON STAGE
The audience watched, engrossed in the play, as the vengeful Creole confronted his adversary, raised the dagger and plunged it into his chest.
As the stricken Spaniard fell to the stage, Pablo stalked off stage uttering the lines “I have kept my oath – my sister is avenged – die, villain, die!’
At this point the curtain was to come down and then rise again for the actors to take their bows, and, once the applause had died down, the audience were to fan out of the theatre to begin their journeys home.
But, something was wrong.
CROZIER HAD BEEN FATALLY STABBED
Mr. Murray, another actor in the company, was the first to notice the change in Temple Crozier’s pallor and he went to assist. Meanwhile, Newman Maurice, stage manager and actor, realised that something had gone horribly wrong and, as he met Franks as he left the stage, he said to him, “My God, man, do you know what you have done.” He later recalled that Franks made no reply.
Rushing over the the stricken Crozier, who was lying on his back with the knife protruding from his chest, he hear the stricken actor whisper to Mr. Murray “Go away, I’m all right.”
Murray drew the dagger from his colleagues chest and asked him again if he was all right, to which Crozier replied, “It’s all right; don’t worry.”
At this point Crozier began to moan, his body went into convulsions and, within a few minutes, he was dead.
THE AUDIENCE HAD NO IDEA
The audience was still filing of the theatre, talking in excited tones about the wonderful drama they had just witnessed, none of them realised that, in the words of one newspaper report:-
“Mr. Temple E. Crozier lay dead behind the curtain, the victim of one of the saddest mishaps which ever cut short one young life, full of vigour and promise, and shadowed another until Time with merciful fingers shall dull the record of terrible disaster.”
THE POLICE ARRIVE
The first police officer on the scene was Constable Hall of E-Division, who immediately sent for a doctor, but Crozier was beyond medical help.
At 12. 35 am, Inspector Sara turned up and, observing the deceased on the stage enquired;- “How has this man’s death been caused?” He later testified that Franks replied, “I did it. It was an accident. It is a terrible thing.”
Sara promptly arrested Franks and charged him with manslaughter.
A TRAGIC ACCIDENT
At the subsequent inquest into Crozier’s death it was established that the whole thing had been a tragic, though avoidable, accident. Franks was meant to have used a stage dagger, which was harmless.
But, for some reason he had opted to use a real dagger on the night in question. At the supposed moment of impact he was meant to turn his hand aside so that only the side of his hand struck Crozier. But, for some reason, Crozier had lunged forward at that exact moment, with the result that the dagger had penetrated his chest, piercing the edge of his right lung and severing “a large, important blood vessel at the root of the heart,” to quote Dr Brumner, the physician who had been called to the scene.
THE CHARGES DISMISSED
At a subsequent court appearance before Mr. Lushington, the magistrate, it was agreed that no jury would convict Franks, and the charges against him were dismissed.
THE MORAL OF THE CASE
Summing up, Mr Lushington observed that “he hoped that the moral of the case would not be forgotten, and that in future edged tool would not be used in such exciting scenes.”