Nancy Dawson was famous for dancing the hornpipe during her short career on the London stage (1756-63). The tune to which she danced was quickly named after her and became popular as a ballad tune. After her death, “Nancy Dawson” was used as a name for race horses and boats and the tune took on a life of its own, while the dancer was forgotten. During her stage career she had been slandered in so-called Genuine Memoirs (quickly pirated as Authentic Memoirs) and attacked in satires over her liaison with the comic actor Edward Shuter. However, the tune’s popularity with sailors and a set of bawdy words made to it in the early nineteenth century led to her acquiring a reputation of being little more than a common prostitute. This paper attempts to sift fact from fiction about her life and character and considers errors and omissions in her entries in the Biography Dictionary of Actors and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.