Biography

Francis Gibson (1753-1805)

The Whitby collector of customs Francis Gibson was a poet, playwright and fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. Since 1792 he had been collecting material for a “Guide to Whitby and the vicinity” which he never completed, however, he did include some of his local knowledge in a three act tragedy called Streanshall Abbey; Or, the Danish Invasion which was performed at the Whitby theatre three times during the 1799-1800 winter season by Samuel Butler’s company.

In the 1790s, local fears of French invasion on the vulnerable North-East coast stirred up memories of Viking invasion and the Danelaw. Gibson was drawing upon these preoccupations in what appears to be a North Riding rival to John Home’s Scottish tragedy Douglas, a play which was also set against Danish invasion. A local review of a Whitby performance in the Hull Packet declared that the play “for regularity of plot, dignity of sentiment, and an elegant simplicity of diction, may vie with many of our modern productions” and a review of the published play in The British Critic declared there was “a great deal of spirited and good writing in this performance, and the characters are generally well and consistently supported.” Gibson’s play must have served to encourage pride in the local community and galvanise patriotic resolve on the vulnerable northeast coast during this period.

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