Brooke, Gustavus Vaughan (1818–66), actor, was born 25 April 1818 at 40 Hardwicke Place, Dublin, eldest among two sons and two daughters of Gustavus Brooke (d. 1827), an unsuccessful property dealer, later county inspector of police for Longford, and a freeman of Dublin, and Frances Brooke (née Bathhurst). He attended (1826–8) Lovell Edgeworth's school at Edgeworthstown, and occasionally conversed with his sister Maria (qv). Educated for the legal profession at the Rev. William Jones's academy in Gardiner St., Dublin, he decided instead to become an actor. A dashing young man, he enjoyed displaying his prowess at athletics and fencing. The sudden indisposition of Edmund Kean (1787–1833) gave him the opportunity to play his first major role as William Tell on Easter Tuesday 1833 at the Theatre Royal, Dublin. He did well and was engaged for some months by the Theatre Royal. For the next fifteen years he travelled throughout Britain and Ireland, performing with some success the great Shakespearean roles of Hamlet, Romeo, Macbeth, and Othello. In January 1848 he played Othello at the London Olympic to public acclaim, and embarked on a successful run of three years on the London stage, mostly in the major Shakespearean roles at the Marylebone and the Olympic, though occasionally appearing in Irish comic parts. He often returned to Ireland to give performances, or for periods of rest. He was admired especially for his tall commanding figure and sonorous voice, although some critics considered his acting mannered and unsubtle. From 1851 to 1853 he toured the United States, performing in Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, and Baltimore. His Othello was particularly well received at the Broadway Theatre, New York, on 15 December 1851. In May 1852 he began to manage the Astor Place Opera House, New York, but he had no gift for management and the venture foundered after a few weeks.
Returning to London in June 1853, after some time he was engaged by George Coppin to give 200 performances in Australia and New Zealand. He arrived in Melbourne 23 February 1855, and played throughout Australia and New Zealand, including several performances in the goldfields. In Australia his acting was generally admired but his repeated ‘final’ farewell performances (1857–61) became a standing joke with audiences; his last performance on the Melbourne stage was on 28 May 1861. While in Australia his marriage broke up and he began to drink heavily, sometimes appearing on stage drunk, especially when touring provincial venues. He made a large amount of money but lost most of it in an unsuccessful attempt to manage the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, and was £1,500 in debt when he left. In Australia he became known as ‘father of the drama’, ‘his failings only rendering him more popular with the excitable inhabitants’ (Lawrence, 275). He returned to London, where his reappearance as Othello at Drury Lane was not well received; his melodramatic style was now dismissed as coarse and dated, and even his voice, his main asset as an actor, had been impaired by his drinking. Having fallen from favour in London he decided to return to Australia, after a farewell tour in Ireland. At his Dublin performance he failed even in his favourite part of Othello. His last appearance was in Belfast as Richard III (23 December 1865). He finally sailed for Melbourne with his sister Fanny on the passenger steamer London, which left Plymouth 5 January 1866. They sailed as Mr and Mrs Vaughan, presumably to avoid his many creditors. The vessel was buffeted by strong winds in the Bay of Biscay and sank on 10 January 1866 with the loss of 220 lives, including Brooke. Heavy seas prevented most of the lifeboats from being launched and only sixteen crew and three passengers survived. They reported that Brooke behaved courageously during the shipwreck, working manfully at the pumps in an effort to save the ship. A memorial fund raised £300, mostly from Belfast and Dublin, and was used to buy a lifeboat, the G. V. Brooke, which operated out of Poolbeg.
He married first (1851) Marianne Bray and secondly (1863) Avonia Jones, an American; both were actresses.