Bessie Bonehill

singer-comediennne / 1890s



London's Favorite Artiste

from Tony Pastor: Father of Vaudeville

(Page 131)

"On July 31 (1898), Tony returned from Liverpool... the biggest news that (he) revealed to the press was the signing of Bessie Bonehill, a leading star of English music halls. Knowledge of her fame had already reached America and managers had been vying for her attention. Tony captured her, and he planned to make Bessie the star vaudeville attraction in New York.

...On October 21, the 14th Street Theatre opened. All other theatres in New York had been playing for almost two months. No matter. Seats were sold out in advance and the buzz of the town was Tony's American introduction of Bessie Bonehill. She did not disappoint.

Entering the stage for her first appearance in America, Bessie was greeted with a standing ovation. With a soft, sympathetic voice, an attractive personality and a magnetism that quickly captured her audience, she began to sing. She was frequently interrupted in the middle of a song. Her first two songs were done in full evening male attire, her third in a newsboy suit and her fourth dressed as a naval attache. Her expressive face and lithe form were in accord with the song lyrics. Audiences quickly discovered she was a singer, an actress and a dancer. At the conclusion of her set, audiences were on their feet applauding for a full five minutes. Floral greetings were numerous and lavish. The best news followed when Tony announced that Bessie would play at the theatre for six weeks."


information from The Hamlet People

Born 17 Feb 17, 1855 West Bromwich, Sandwell, West Midlands, England (While a few some sources indicate she was born in the United States, most indicate she was born in England.) Name at birth: Betsey Bonehill. She adopted the stage name of "Bessie Bonehill," which was the name almost universally used. Her gravestone says "Betsey Smith otherwise Bessie Bonehill."

Richard Bonehill: "Bessie started as a coon singer and clog dancer with her two sisters . She became very famous in both The United Kingdom and in America as one of the first male impersonators. Her particular forté was the singing of patriotic songs warning foreigners - particularly the Russians - to keep their hands off our Empire."

Her initial appearance in America was at Tony Pastor's Theater on Fourteenth Street, New York City, in 1889.

Died: Aug 22, 1902; Portsea, Portsmouth; Hampshire, England (Buried: Portsmouth, Kingston Cemetery; Hampshire, England)

She married Louis William Abrahams in London in 1877 and they had three children before his death at 33 in April 1889. (source: Era (Dramatic & Musical) Almanack of 1889 by Edward Ledger)

In 1890 she married William Robert Seeley in Erie, NY. They would have a child and he would adopt her children from her previous marriage.

American address: Deer Hill Farm

This property, said to have been about two to three miles north of Sayville village on Broadway, was purchased in about 1896. She called it Deer Hill Farm.

Sayville was home to several vaudeville performers during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. They, including Bessie Bonehill, became active in the affairs of the community, performing benefits and sponsoring (along with the seemingly unlikely patronage of the local fire department) the Sayville Opera House. It was said to have been an architectural gem. In January 1961 a massive fire destroyed the building, leaving only one wall and the chimney. It is now a parking lot.


Bessie Bonehill in a professional theatrical picture.
She frequently played the role of a male impersonator.


Brooklyn Eagle, 11 July 1902. p. 7..CHARMS OF DEER HILL FARM, BESSIE BONEHILL'S HOME.

Fifty Acres of Forest and Meadow, Lawns, Gardens and Orchards, A Natural Beauty Spot.
THE OWNER'S FAVORITE RETREAT
Sketch of the Career of Miss Bonehill, Who is Now Dying at Portsmouth, England
(Special to the Eagle.)

Sayvilee, L.I., July 11— Bessie Bonehill, the well known vaudeville actress, who is now dying of cancer in Portsmouth, Eng., was brought from England, her native country, to America by Tony Pastor, when 12 years old. She had already exhibited wonderful talent, both as a singer and dancer, and soon became on of America's stage favorites. She has since returned to England to fill many seasons' engagements at the most popular theaters throughout the United Kingdom and has always been greeted with the greatest enthusiasm.

The actress has been twice married. By her first husband she had three children—Misses Marion and Lena and a son, Jack Seeley, they having taken the name of their stepfather, William Seeley, Miss Bonehill's second husband. These three children also developed talent for the stage and have never been without a season's engagement. By her second marriage Bessie Bonehill had one son, William Seeley, now 12 years old, who is at school in Boston, where he lives with his aunt.

From the news article. Best available image

HOUSE AT DEER HILL FARM Showing Bessie Bonehill Caressing Pet Dog

Bessie Bonehill's song, "Buttercups and Daises," has long been one of her most popular renditions, and she has rarely appeared here or in Europe without the audiences calling for the song. In many ways has Miss Bonehill endeared herself to Sayville People, having taken a personal interest in the various local enterprises. When the Sayville Hose Company's new opera house was opened, Miss Bonehill, though just home from a long foreign engagement, kindly consented to appear gratuitously, and delighted all who heard her. On that occasion, the actress had her physician stationed behind the scenes, he he was called upon between the acts to administer stimulants, enabling her to carry out her part of the programme. That was the beginning of her present serious illness.

About six years ago Miss Bonehill bought an old abandoned farm, known as the "Barr Homestead," situated three miles north of Sayville. The farm comprised about fifty acres, half of which was cleared. It being elevated and giving evidences of deer abounding in the vicinity, Miss Bonehill named the place "Dear (sic) Hill Farm," and for the past five summers she has spent her vacation with her family at this exceedingly quiet retreat. Soon, by the labors of both the actress and Mr. Seeley, "Dear Hill Farm" was converted into a beauty spot, Mr. Seeley occupying much of his time in building artistically constructed rustic work of cedar, forming shady nooks and arbors. At the main entrance Mr. Seeley built a handsome rustic gateway, which is arched over the drive, showing close pancling in the gates, while on the face of the arch is set in cedar the name "Dear Hill."

Their was an old apple orchard on the place and Miss Bonehill had several hundred additional fruit trees set out; many acres were devoted to the smaller fruits.

The house at Deer Hill, though very old, contained a sufficient number of rooms for the family and has been made exceedingly cozy and comfortable. On the front is a broad piazza, partly enclosed with lattice work, over which the honeysuckle has woven a pretty screen. The exterior of the house is painted the color of English brick. The parlor, or sitting room, walls are covered with paper of neat design and from the walls hang several life size portraits and paintings of the owner and members of her family. In the same room there is an ever open piano, with music lying all about. In all the rooms may be seen vast quantities of curios, bric-a-brac, etc., collected by Miss Bonehill during her many tours of the old world.

A feature of the grounds is a pump, located in a shady nook, from which water of exceptional purity and coolness is drawn. It is said that Miss Bonehill has often remarked that in all her journeyings she has never tasted such delicious water as drawn from th well on Deer Hill Farm.

It is among these scenes which surround her beloved Long Island home that Miss Bonehill has found a rest, a few weeks at a time, far away from the hurly burly.

During the past few years Miss Bonehill has experienced no a few losses, misfortunes and financial reverses. Two of her fine carriage horses were burned to death when her barn at Deer Hill was consumed by fire. Then her father, William Bonehill, was accidentally asphyxiated in New York City while his daughter was absent in Europe; next came the death of Mr. Seeley's father [actually, it seems to have preceded it], which occurred at Deer Hill. A year ago Miss Bonehill and her family were in a railroad disaster in Africa, in which a number of people on the train were killed, and at which time Miss Bonehill lost all of her stage paraphernalia, which was consumed in a burning car. Owing to the Boer war she was obliged to cancel an important stage engagement in South Africa, and now comes her present sickness, which, according to authoritative reports, is likely to prove fatal. Yet in the midst of all these reverses Miss Bonehill has not closed her heart and purse to the appeals of the needy, and it is known that during the past year she has sent cash contributions to the broken down members of the stage in England alone of upward of $1,000, beside responding generously to like objects in America.

Miss Bonehill is now in Portsmouth, surrounded by her family, where the anzious watchers notice daily a gradual diminution of the invalid's physical strength.

On June 22, in response to a cablegram expressing the wishes of the dying woman, Miss Lillian C. Rogers of Sayville, accompanied by the actress' two daughters, the Misses Marion and Lena Seeley, left America for England. Miss Rogers is betrothed to Jack Seeley, and the marriage took place on July 11.

Miss Bonehill had planned to expend $4,000 on her residence at Deer Hill this year, where she hoped to soon retire and spend her remaining days in rest.

For the twelve months past, the farm has been in charge of Superintendent Cheever, and exceedingly intelligent young Englishman, who was a neighbor of the Bonehills before they came to America, and it was about year ago, when Miss Bonehill and family were filling a stage engagement in England, that the actress and Mr. Seeley invited Mr. Cheever to come with them to America. He partially consented to take the ocean journey, when Mr. Seeley went and purchased Mr. Cheever's ticket and booked him for the passage to America.

When Mr. Cheever was met by an Eagle reporter at Deer Hill yesterday it was plainly to be seen that his interest and present care was divided between America and England, for said he: "No finer character is ever met among mortals than is found in Bessie Bonehill. She has been a friend as true as a mother to me, and I am deeply sorrowful over her present situation."

2.[S731] Email: Richard Bonehill, Bessie Bonehill of Sayville, Long Island, NY & William Seeley, her husband; EMail; 4 January 2010; John Deitz. It was a real pleasure to receive your email . It is always good to hear from someone with a mutual interest. You will be pleased to hear that I can confirm much of your information , correct a little and hopefully add a little. All my family history information is based on documentation.

Firstly I can confirm that William R Seeley was the second husband of Bessie Bonehill . When I first started researching Bessie I was rather confused because of the use of stage names and nicknames but I was eventually able to establish the truth. William R Seeley was the stage name of William Robert Smith and Bessie Bonehill was the name used by Betsey Bonehill (Christened Betsey not Elizabeth) and buried as Betsey Smith otherwise Bessie Bonehill.

The basic details are as follows ; Elias Bonehill m Rebecca Rodway 1846 They had five children including Betsey Bonehill b 17 February 1855 West Bromwich. Betsey married Louis William Abrahams 20 September 1877 Shoreditch. They had three children ; Selina Abrahams 1878 ( aka Lena Hilbon) Michael Elias Abrahams 1880 (aka Jack West) Marion Rebecca Bessie Abrahams 1881 (aka Dappa Grey) In 14 September 1890 Betsey married William Robert Smith in Saint Pauls Episcopal Church , Buffalo , Erie , New York. They had one child ; William Smith b about 1891

Other information ; Bessie Bonehill died 21 August 1902 in Portsmouth , England and was buried as Betsey Smith otherwise Bessie Bonehill . I can confirm that the double act Seeley and West comprised of William Robert Smith and Michael Elias Abrahams (please see photograph attached)

I have been researching the Bonehill family history (when time allows) for the past thirty years and have a great deal of information but I hope the above is of interest . To date I have been able to trace my family back to 1650 . In 2003 I published a book entitled ‘England's Gem’ (now out of print ) the story of Bessie Bonehill. Following additional research I hope to finish the ‘all dancing and singing’ 2nd Edition this year . This research took me to Sayville , New York and Washington in 2006 . The trip proved to be very useful which included a trip to The Smithsonian Institute who have a couple of Bessie's stage costumes .

3.[S542] New York Times, 22 Aug 1902. Obituary..

4.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 22 August 1902, p. 3.

5.[S463] Brooklyn Eagle, 23 January 1894. p. 5.. HOLMES' THEATER

Elizabeth Bonehill had reason to be proud of her reception at this theater last night, where she appeared in a musical comedy called "Playmates," which was written for her by W. R. Seeley [William R. Seeley]. Miss Bonehill is an exceptionally clever little actor. The author's purpose in the composition of this comedy was, of course, to give the star an opportunity to display her abilities as a singer and dancer. William Frogdon (William H. Maxwell), head of the New York firm of Frogdon & Co., has in his employ two young men, Gussie Crotchett (W. R. Seeley) and Jack Wellington (Bessie Bonehill). Jack is in love with Alice Frogdon (Minnie Thurgate), the daughter of his employer. So is Gussie. The latter, who adds a disrespectful postscript to a note which Jack has sent to Alice and which the father finds, brings down upon Jack the old man's ill will. Then Frogdon, who has "played the races," fails in business and Jack sells papers for a living. In the second act there is a shipwreck and in the third and last Frogdon is re-established in business, Jack receives a legacy, which by mistake was going to Gussie, and everything is as it should be. Miss Bonehill's most taking songs were entitled "Playmates" and "Buttercups and Daisies." She sang several others which were received with approbation. Viola and Myrtle Arlington gave the mirror dance, a clever piece of work, which they are said to have originated. Miss Bonehill, Minnie Thurgate, Myrtle Arlington and Maud Allen Pearson danced the minuet. Annetta Zelna who took the part of Eliza Frogdon, William's maiden sister, and A. Borelli burlesqued Italian opera in an amusing manner. The latter played the piano in seemingly impossible postures. Seeley and Kerwin West appeared in instrumental duets. There was a large audience. Next week Hugh Fay, in "Old Chums," will be the attraction.

This article is one of the few places where Bessie Bonehill has been given the name "Elizabeth." It's also possible that Kerwin West was Bessie and William's son, John "Jack" Seeley. Later father and son had an comedy instrumental act known as Seeley and West, where Jack used the stage name Jack West.

6.[S542] New York Times, 22 Aug 1902. Obituary.. BESSIE BONEHILL IS DEAD. The Well Known Vaudeville Actress Had Been Ill for Three Months in England.

London, Aug. 21.—Bessie Bonehill, the vaudiville artist, died to-day at Portsea, Borough of Portsmouth.

Bessie Bonehill was at one time one of the best known light opera and vaudeville actresses on the American stage. She had been ill for three months with cancer.

Very few vaudiville artists have enjoyed the prominence and popularity that Miss Bonehill obtained a dozen years ago, when Tony Pastor found her in London and brought her here to appear in his theatre. Those who saw the now almost forgotten light opera "Little Christopher," will remember that Miss Bonehill took a lively and important part in it.

Off the stage Miss bonehill was Mrs. William Seeley. She had a country home at Sayville, L. I., which is called Deer Hill Farm. She lived there until last year, when she went to England. Mrs. Seeley was the mother of three children*, "Jack" Seeley, Leona Hilton, and Daffa Grey, all of whom are members of the Weber & Fields Company.

When, a month ago, it became evident that she could not live Mrs. Seeley sent for her children. They were with her when she died.

Miss Bonehill was born in this country, but was taken by her parents to England while she was very young. Since her return, after being engaged by Tony Pastor, whe had resided here almost continuously. * In this article, that she had only three children is likely erroneous.

7.[S729] Bonehill web site, December 2009; Bonehill/Bonell Family History: http://www.bonehill3.freeserve.co.uk/family.htm.

8.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 19 July 1901, p. 3.. "Miss Bessie Bonehill and Messrs. Seeley and West arrived in New York by steamer last Saturday, having been somewhat delayed by foggy weather. They came to Sayville on Sunday, receiving a very cordial welcome, after an absence of about six months, during which they have made a most successful tour of the British Isles." Seeley would have been William Seeley, Bessie Bonehill's husband. West would have been Jack West, Bessie's son.

9.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 15 Mar 1901. p. 3.. "We received this week a copy of the Music Hall, a London Theatrical magazine, in which is a full page illustration of Miss Bessie Bonehill, singing "God Save the King." Bonnie Bessie has completed an eight weeks' engagement in London and is now playing at the Empire Theatre, Birmingham, England."

10.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 14 Dec 1900. p. 3.. "Bessie Bonehill, Will Seeley and Jack West were in town on Monday and paid a visit to their summer home. They sailed for Europe on Wednesday."

11.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 4 Dec 1896. p. 3.. "Miss Bessie Bonehill has returned has returned to the city and this week is playing at Weber & Fields Music Hall."

12.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 15 June 1900. p. 3.. "Miss Bessie Bonehill, the actress, her husband, Wm. Seely (sic) and her son Jack who have been playing an engagement in South Africa and in various parts of England, Scotland and Wales, returned home last Saturday. They are so pleased with their foreign experience that they will probably go again next season."

13.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 15 Dec 1899. p. 3.. "Miss Bessie Bonehill has finished her engagement at the Empire theatre, Johannesburgh, South Africa, and is now playing a six weeks engagement in Dublin, Ireland. With the new year, Miss Bonehill begins a twenty weeks run in London, after which she will return to Sayville to spend the summer at her country seat, Deer Hill Farm, north of this village. Seeley & West are at present playing in England." In this article, Seeley is her husband William Seely, and West is her son, Jack West (aka, John Seeley).

14.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 5 Aug 1898. p. 3..

STARS EVERY ONE. Programme for the Benefit to be Given in the Patchogue Lyceum.

The benefit performance for St. Lawrence's Roman Catholic church which is to be given in the Patchogue Lyceum next Monday evening will be one of the finest things ever seen in this section combining as it does a number of star performers never before seen together. The fact that all are well known locally makes the interest in the event unusually lively and probably the attendance from Sayville will be fully as large as that from Patchogue. The advance sale already very nearly covers the whole house. The following will be the programme:

1.Overture .......... Selection Prof. Benjamin Micheals.

2.Mr. Al Laurence and assistants in Living Pictures. (A) "Love is Lighter Than a Butterfly." (B) "Rock of Ages." (C) "Paint" (D) "Me and Jack." (E) "Jack and Me." (F) "The Angelus." (G) "Cupid and the Butterfly." (H) "The Bath." (I) "Nature's Mirror." (J) "Hagar and Ishmael."

3.Miss Lena Hilborn & Grey, Miss Dappa Vocalists and Dancers

4.Mr. James F. Hoey Comedian.

5.Miss Dorothy Drew Songs and Dances.

6.Mr. Will Seeley & West, Mr. Jack, Comedy Instrumentalists.

7.Mr. George W. Monroe, Monologue.

8.Miss Bessie Bonehill, Character Impersonations.

9.Mr. Al Laurence and Company In Patriotic Tableaux Vivants, "The Drummer Boy." "Toral's Surrender to Shafter, "Columbia Crowning Heroes of '98." (Star Spangled Banner.)

10.Rev. Father T. S. Duhigg will make a few remarks.

St. Lawrence the Martyr Roman Catholic Church is located in Sayville, NY. The original church, build in 1896, was destroyed by fire on April 25, 1967. Father Duhigg was the founding priest.

15.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 12 Aug 1898. p. 3.. A GREAT SUCCESS.Local Theatrical Talent in a Benefit Performance.

Probably the finest vaudeville entertainment ever given in Suffolk county was the benefit performance in the Patchogue Lyceum on Monday evening for St. Lawrence Roman Catholic church, of Sayville. The talent was all from this village and more than half of the audience as well.

The pretty little theatre, which by the way was designed by a Sayville architect, was filled to the doors by a fashionable audience, who enjoyed the performance especially owing to their acquaintance with the actors. Al. Laurence, who acted as stage manager, and to whom a large share of the credit for a performance without a hitch is due, opened the programme with living pictures of which were the titles: "Love is Lighter than a Butterfly," "Rock of Ages," "Paint," "Me and Jack," "Jack and Me," "The Angelus," "Cupid and the Butterfly," "The Bath," "Nature's Mirror,"Hagar and Ishmael." They were very beautiful and artistic.

Miss Lena Hilbon and Miss Dappa Grey followed in songs and dances, their fresh young voices and graceful, modest ways quickly winning favor with the audience, most of whom knew them as daughters of Bessie Bonehill.

Jimmie Hoey convulsed the audience by announcing "I will now proceed to sing George Avery's favorite song, "Oh! What a Night it Must Have Been." His imitations were clever and his appearance as the bearded lady, singing, "Merry Marriage Bells" to his own cowbell accompaniment was very funny.

Dainty and pretty Dorothy Drew sang and danced to the delight of all and with consummate art did some high kicking which was a revelation because of what it did not reveal.

Seeley & West, know here respectively as husband and son of Miss Bonehill, are an excellent musical team and do a very amusing turn, introducing a number of novelties. The young man is especially well known and popular among the boys of Sayville, though few of them knew of his talents.

George Monroe, the inimitable "Aunt Bridget" was very clever indeed in a monologue introducing the fat and happy Irish woman, whom most of us haven't known for years, but who never becomes tiresome. His brogue and his jokes are better than ever and his local hits, especially those at the expense of "Pat" Whelan provoked much merriment.

The most charming feature of the evening's programme, however, was Bessie Bonehill in character impersonations and clever songs. In male parts she has no rival. Petite and graceful she flits on and off the stage changing with wonderful rapidity from one character to another. First a gay young blade in XVII century costume; then a modern young man in evening dress; a newsboy, poor and ragged; and then a brave young man o'warsman gracefully waving a silken flag in time with a patriotic song. Miss Bonehill now numbers all Sayville among her admirers.

Father Duhigg in a few well chosen words thanked the actors who had taken part and Manager Colton, who had done so much to make the affair a success and also expressed his thanks to the audience who had responded so generously.

In conclusion Mr. Laurence gave some very fine patriotic tableaus vivants, "The Drummer Boy," "Toral's Surrender to Shafter" and lastly "Columbia Crowning the Heros of '98" while the audience arose and sang "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The affair netted the church very nearly $400.

16.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 25 Aug 1899. p. 3. Bessie Bonehill's Foreign Tour. Bessie Bonehill, the actress, completed an engagement in Buffalo last Saturday night, arrived here on Sunday, packed up on Monday and on Tuesday went to New York accompanied by her husband Will Seeley and son, Jack Seeley (known on stage as Seeley & West) whence they sailed on Wednesday on the White Star Line steamer Majestic for Liverpool, en route to Johannesburg. After playing an eight weeks engagement in South Africa they will return to England for 20 weeks in London and the other large cities of the United Kingdom. Probably they will go to Paris the following season. The Misses Bonehill, known on stage as Hilbon & Grey, will remain in this country, having a forty weeks engagement with Webber & Fields.

17.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 17 November 1899, p. 3. Bessie Bonehill in South Africa.

Landlord James F. Rorke and Mr. Fred Johnson have recently received copies of Transvaal newspapers from Jack Seeley and Miss Bessie Bonehill who are playing a theatrical engagement at Johannesburg. The Standard and Diggers' News, The Johannesburg Star and the Transvaal Critic all have highly complimentary references to Miss Bonehill and to Seeley & West, although war news naturally occupies the greater part of their attention. The following from The Standard and Digger's News, the best known paper in the Transvaal, indicates that the talents of our Sayville friends are much appreciated in South Africa:

"Thank goodness there is one place in Johannesburg where you can get away from "the situation," and that is the Empire. Messrs. Alexander and Hyman deserve every credit for their enterprise and pluck in carrying on their music-hall in these times, and in giving us such first-class artistes as appeared last night, when the new company showed for the first time. Bessie Bonehill is the star, and those who saw her years ago in England and America must acknowledge that she is as clever and artistic as ever. She has a good voice, a splendid stage presence, dresses well, and established herself as a favorite at once. Seeley and West are clever instrumentalists, and humorous in their business. The show, which concludes with a number of new pictures, is an excellent one, and, in good times, would crowd the house night after night. There was a good house last night, hardly a seat being vacant."

18.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 13 Dec 1901. p. 9.. "Mr. W. R. Seeley, Miss Bessie Bonehill and son Jack sailed for Liverpool on the Oceanic Wednesday morning, after enjoying a five months rest at their Deer Hill Farm on Broadway avenue. They have engagements in all the principal cities of Europe, including a month's stay in Berlin. They will return to Sayville about July 1st. Meanwhile, it is said, that plans will be drawn for a $4,500 country residence to be built upon Deer Hill Farm. The work, however, will not commence until the early part of June." This article provides the middle initial in a contemporaneous account with Bessie Bonehill, suggesting that the William R. Seeley, proprietor of the Better 'Ole in Brookhaven and the husband of Bessie Bonehill are the same.

19.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 11 Apr 1902. p. 3.. Breezy Bessie Bonehill.

In connection with an excellent portrait of our own "Bonnie Bessie" Points on People, a London publication has the following: "Everybody on the variety stage both here and in America takes off his hat to Miss Bessie Bonehill" said a veteran of the halls to me the other day. And so it is. She is so natural and withall so good-natured, whether on or off the boards, that in virtue of her engaging personality she is admired and respected by a vast circle of friends and in her profession has a place of her own, which no one else could quite fill. Her reputation is world-wide, and our metropolis if for the moment "crowned with the sparkle of a 'star'" in that this Queen B is retained by the London Pavilion for the delight of the West; and outlying managers, North, East and South have already secured a brief portion of her patronage. After a tour in our provinces she will return home to Long Island for a short rest before proceeding to San Francisco and thence to the Antipodes: later she will go back to America via. Japan, China, Egypt and England, whence a visit is to be made to South Africa.

20.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 8 Feb 1901. p. 3.. Bessie Bonehill's English Admirers.

Then following pleasant reference to our own Bessie Bonehill is taken from a late issue of "The Free Lance" a London theatrical magazine:

"There is no question about the art of the music-hall. It must be quick, spontaneous, sharp, decisive, and up to time. There is little value in posturing, posing, or attitudinising during a short turn. A music-hall artist has to catch the audience on the hop, and to be able to fling his or her individuality and electricity over the footlights without a moment's hesitation.

If you want an example of what I mean, I implore you to go and hear such an artist, as Bessie Bonehill, not only sing, but influence her audience. She left us admirable in her own line: she comes back to us infinitely better than she went. In one of her songs this clever and refined lady desires the audience to join in the chorus of one of her songs whose refrain has been gently suggested. In order to attain her desired end she literally tickles the audience. She leads them on bit by bit, purely by art and influence to a point of perfection. First they sing sulkily, then they sing sincerely, lastly they sing enthusiastically "with heart and voice," but only an artist can produce the desired result. I do not say that the ting has been done before, but never with such magical charm as by Bessie Bonehill. It is a treat to hear and to note her exquisite method of pronunciation. To hear some actresses on the stage we have to strain our ears; but a music-hall artist, male or female, who could not be heard distinctly would not be worth a pinch of salt."

21.[S542] New York Times, 5 Nov 1889, p. 4. ANOTHER BRITISH ARTIST.

Mr. Tony Pastor's latest acquisition, Miss Bessie Bonehill, direct from London and set down on the play bill as "England's greatest character and descriptive singer," was enthusiastically welcomed last night and overwhelmed with floral offerings, after the correct and truly orthodox fashion. Miss Bonehill, besides being lithe and frisky, strident as to voice and nimble as to feet, is evidently a public performer of extended experience. Her command of the stage is something remarkable, and she is as much at home in masculine garb as if to the manner born.

The songs of the English concert halls, as set forth by Miss Bonehill, are likely to become popular with Mr. Pastor's audiences. One of the cleverest "musical artists" before the public, Miss Lillie Western, and a really entertaining male impersonator, Miss Millie Hylton, are on view here this week.

This is the earliest article in the New York Times that mentions Bessie Bonehill.

22.[S463] Brooklyn Eagle, 21 Aug 1902. p. 3. Obituary.. Except for the date of her death, her obituary provided no additional information than that already reported in previous issues of the paper.

23.[S542] New York Times, 22 Aug 1902. Obituary.. BESSIE BONEHILL IS DEAD. The Well Known Vaudeville Actress Had Been Ill for Three Months in England.

London, Aug. 21.—Bessie Bonehill, the vaudiville artist, died to-day at Portsea, Borough of Portsmouth.

Bessie Bonehill was at one time one of the best known light opera and vaudeville actresses on the American stage. She had been ill for three months with cancer.

Very few vaudiville artists have enjoyed the prominence and popularity that Miss Bonehill obtained a dozen years ago, when Tony Pastor found her in London and brought her here to appear in his theatre. Those who saw the now almost forgotten light opera "Little Christopher," will remember that Miss Bonehill took a lively and important part in it.

Off the stage Miss bonehill was Mrs. William Seeley. She had a country home at Sayville, L. I., which is called Deer Hill Farm. She lived there until last year, when she went to England. Mrs. Seeley was the mother of three children*, "Jack" Seeley, Leona Hilton, and Daffa Grey, all of whom are members of the Weber & Fields Company. When, a month ago, it became evident that she could not live Mrs. Seeley sent for her children. They were with her when she died.

Miss Bonehill was born in this country, but was taken by her parents to England while she was very young. Since her return, after being engaged by Tony Pastor, whe had resided here almost continuously. * In this article, that she had only three children is likely erroneous.

24.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 22 August 1902, p. 3. SAD NEWS FROM ENGLAND BESSIE BONEHILL DIED YESTERDAY MORNING A Popular Actress and Greatly Beloved Resident of Sayville who Passed Away After a Long Illness—Sketch of Her interesting Career.

Mrs. William Seeley, better known by her stage name, Bessie Bonehill, died yesterday morning at Portsea, Borough of Portsmouth, England. A brief cablegram received here yesterday morning conveyed the above sad but not unexpected message and caused deep and genuine grief throughout this village and her almost world-wide circle of admirers.

Bessie Bonehill was a native of England where she was born about 45 years ago. She early became a footlight favorite, appearing in male costume and singing English coster songs*. Her fame preceded her and when she first came to this country in 1889 and appeared at Tony Pastor's Theatre in Fourteenth street, her success was immediate and her male impersonations were the theatrical sensation of the winter. Her beauty, cheerful personality and her entire freedom from vulgarity were new then in male impersonation. Miss Bonehill was the first person to sing "Comrades." Attired as a newsboy she sang that ballad from one end of the country to another.

After filling her engagement at Tony Pastor's Miss Bonehill returned to England. But she was back in America the following season and for the next ten years she spent most of her time in the United States. For a while she ceased to appear in vaudeville and was the star of "Little Christopher" while that play was in its long run a Wallack's. After that she traveled at the head of her own vaudeville company. She finally settled in this country and members of her family came here. Her father died in New York about a year ago.

Accompanied by her husband and son who are also vaudeville performers, doing a musical comedy act and known as Seeley & West, she went to South Africa two years ago and she had long engagements in the principal cities of Great Britain and on the continent. She was much sought after and although beginning in a modest way she acquired the reputation of earning the largest salary every paid to any singer in vaudeville, and her engagements were booked months ahead. Accompanied by her husband and son, Jack, she went to England last fall intending to return about July 1st and go this year to Australia, where she had a long series of engagements for next season. She was taken ill during the winter and was obliged to cancel her dates for a considerable period and to take a rest. Later it was reported that she was suffering from a tumor and had been obliged to undergo an operation and then came the sad news that she had an incurable disease, cancer of the stomach, and tat despite her wish to return to her Long Island home it had been decided that she could not undertake the journey. Word was accordingly cabled to her two daughters and to Miss Lillian Rogers of this village, who was the fiancé of "Jack Seeley" urging them to come to England. They sailed on June 23 and on July 10, Jack Seeley and Miss Rogers were married in accordance with the wishes of the dying woman.

Mrs. Seeley had been married twice and had two daughters known as Lena Hilbou and Dappa Gray who have been with Webar & Fields and the Frohmans for the past two or three years. Besides her son, Jack, who was lately married she had a young son by her second husband and this lad, Willie, who has been living most of the time with an aunt in Boston, is now in England with the family. Mrs. Seeley was a devoted mother, idolized by her husband and children and was one of the most respected and highly esteemed women on the American stage.

The family came to Sayville six or seven years ago and purchased what was practically an abandoned farm, about two miles north of here, which they called Deer Hill Farm and which they have greatly improved and beautified. The old-fashioned farm house has became a very comfortable and charming furnished home, but it was the intention to have built this season a fine modern residence on the place. Miss Bonehill was immensely popular here, for she was always overflowing with good humor and took a lively interest in all local affairs and the welfare of our people, and she was extremely charitable and sympathetic. She was much in the plan to build an Opera House here and contributed her services for several benefit performances in aid of the building fund and was proud of her election to honorary membership in Sayville Hose Co. No. 1. Bessie Bonehill was a good, pure and true woman who did more for the American stage than some whose pretensions were far greater, and her death is mourned sincerely by members of the profession generally and especially by the people of Sayville. * In this article, a coster is one who hawks about fruit, green vegetables, fish, etc.

25.[S542] New York Times, 28 June 1902. BESSIE BONEHILL'S ILLNESS.
The Actress in London Sends for Her Daughters—Her Son's Fiancee Will Accompany Them

SAYVILLE, L.I., June 27.—Misses Marion and Lena Seely (sic), daughters of Bessie Bonehill, received a cablegram that announced their mother's serious illness and requested them to sail immediately for Europe, as she wants them near her when she dies. The daughters left Sayville for New York today. They will sail in the Umbria for Europe to-morrow.

They will be accompanied by Miss Lillian Rogers, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. H. T. Rogers of Sayville, whose engagement to Bessie Bonehill's son, John Seely, was announced some time ago. The actress expected to return from Europe in time for the wedding next month. It is understood that the marriage is to be at the bedside of the stricken mother in London.

The report at one time was that Bessie Bonehill was suffering from a cancer, but that was denied, and the growth was referred to as a tumor. The cablegram today was taken to mean that the case is one of cancer.

26.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 27 Jun 1902. p. 3...Bessie Bonehill Cannot Return.

The announcement made two weeks ago that Mrs. William Seeley, known on stage and all over the world as "Bessie Bone," was dying of cancer in London, proves too well founded. It was then hoped that she would be able to return to America and to her home in Sayville; and the arrangements had been made to sail yesterday, but it now appears that she has failed so rapidly as to make this impossible, for on Wednesday the Misses Seeley received a cablegram urging them to sail for England on the first steamer. At the same time "Jack" Seeley cabled to his fiancé, Miss Lillian Rogers of this place, saying "Mama is sinking. Come to England." Mr. Seeley and Miss Rogers were intended to be married here next month. She has gone to New York today with the sisters of her intended husband and they are to sail in company to-morrow at 11 a. m. on the Cunard line steamship, Umbria. Mr. Seeley and Miss Rogers will have a quiet little wedding in accordance with the wishes of Mrs. Seeley, immediately upon the arrival of the party in England.

27.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 21 Mar 1902. p. 3.. "We are now glad to learn that Miss Bessie Bonehill, who had been seriously ill in London, is now recovering."

28.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 12 September 1902. p. 3.. "A letter to the editor of the News from Mr. Wm R. Seeley says that Mrs. Seeley (Bessie Bonehill) was buried at Portsea in accordance with her own request. She had been a great sufferer but passed away in perfect ease at last. It was a great funeral, her many friends and her popularity with the profession being attested by the large attendance and the masses of flowers, there being upward of 60 large floral pieces. A collection of clippings from the foreign theatrical and illustrated papers all speak in the warmest terms of praise for the graceful, accomplished and versatile actress, the cheery little woman, and the devoted wife and mother. Mr. Seeley and party sailed on Saturday last from Glasgow where they were obliged to go to obtain passage on account of the overcrowding of the steamers by returning tourists. They will no doubt reach Sayville the early part of nest week."

29.[S533] FindAGrave.com, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=10786431.

30.[S463] Brooklyn Eagle, 11 July 1902. p. 7...(See main entry under Bessie Bonehill.)

31.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 2 December 1898. p. 3.. "The barn at Deer Hill Farm, the summer home of Bessie Bonehill, the well-known actress was destroyed at an early hour on Tuesday morning, together with two horses, a cow, a goat, pigs, etc. A surry and a lumber wagon were the only articles saved. The barn is said to have stored in it a number of musical instruments and a quantity of other stage paraphernalia, which will make the loss considerable. Miss Bonehill is playing an engagement in the city and her husband, Mr. Wm. Seeley is playing at St. Paul, Minn. Both were notified of their loss by the young man who has charge of the place during the winter. He says that he has no idea how the fire originated."

32.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 21 Sep 1900. p. 3.. "S. A. Fisher has just finished erecting a fine new windmill upon Miss Bessie Bonehill's place north of this village."

33.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 13 Dec 1901. p. 9.. "Mr. W. R. Seeley, Miss Bessie Bonehill and son Jack sailed for Liverpool on the Oceanic Wednesday morning, after enjoying a five months rest at their Deer Hill Farm on Broadway avenue. They have engagements in all the principal cities of Europe, including a month's stay in Berlin. They will return to Sayville about July 1st. Meanwhile, it is said, that plans will be drawn for a $4,500 country residence to be built upon Deer Hill Farm. The work, however, will not commence until the early part of June."

34.[S604] Suffolk County News (Sayville), 20 Dec 1901. p. 3.. "We were not fully informed it seems regarding the cottage which is to be built for Miss Bessie Bonehill who sailed for Europe with her husband and son last week. The plans have already been approved and Builder Nelson Strong has the contract and will begin work this winter. Shortly before his departure Mr. Wm. Seeley bought from Fred Johnson a tract of land consisting of about 14 acres fronting their present home, Deer Hill Farm. We understand that the new House is to be a very handsome one."

35.[S730] Sayville.com, 2 January 2010; The Sayville Opera House: http://www.sayville.com/news.asp?news=242.

36.[S463] Brooklyn Eagle, 11 July 1902. p. 7..


Tony Pastor's 14th Street Theatre / NYC / Vaudeville Program / November 18, 1889


Return to Vaudeville Acts Index