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13 November 2014

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You are in: Cornwall > History > Historical Events > A Scandalous Star

Ann Cargill

A Scandalous Star

When the packet ship, The Nancy, was wrecked off the Isles of Scilly in 1784 one of the victims included Ann Cargill, one of the most famous and highest paid Opera singers of the time and whose numerous affairs and elopements had scandalised London.

Ann Cargill, was born Ann Brown and was the Britney Spears of her day. The daughter of a London coal merchant she made her debut at the age of 11 singing the role of Titania in Thomas Arne’s The Fairy Prince at Covent Garden in 1771.

Ann Cargill and baby

Illustration of Ann Cargill and baby

She soon became a star and was taking leading roles in musicals, comic operas, and comedies at Covent Garden until she ran off with the playwright and gunpowder maker Miles Peter Andrews making her the subject of much gossip in the London papers.

Her father then won a court order over her, which she defied and ran off again to the theatre where in 1776 she was cast as the lead role in John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. Her father attempted to recapture her as she made her way to the theatre, but he was thwarted by the audience and members of the theatre.

Numerous Elopements

Three years later she broke her contract and eloped again to Edinburgh with a Mr Cargill who was using the name Doyle to evade his many creditors. They married and she returned to London to be cast in MacHeath where the male roles were played by women and the female ones by men.

Illustration of Ann Cargill in The Tempest

Illustration of Ann Cargill in The Tempest

In both 1779 and 1780 she was the world’s highest-paid actress and during the height of her fame she set off for India to join her latest lover, although it was rumoured that she soon transferred her affections to the ships captain John Haldane, known as the unluckiest commander in the British East India Company.

In India her performances went down a storm and she commanded the highest fee's making her rich beyond her wildest dreams, she was also showered with gifts by rich admirers.

The Last Voyage

She was forced to leave India after the British Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, told Parliament that “an actress should not be defiling the pure shores of India”.

She left for London on December 1783 on the East India packet ship The Nancy, captained by Haldane. Three months into the journey the ship ran into fierce storms off the Isles of Scilly. It was a hopeless situation and there was no lighthouse to guide them and the ship was wrecked on treacherous rocks west of the Scillies.

The press reported that her body was found naked with an infant clasped in her arms, later that the child was not her own, and then that her body was with the captain's in his cabin. She was buried at St Mary's Church, Isles of Scilly.

All 36 crew and 13 passengers aboard drowned and the ghost of Ann Cargill, The Nancy's best-known victim, is said to haunt Rosevear.

last updated: 18/09/2008 at 14:49
created: 18/09/2008

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