t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

Thomas Whiffin

Thomas Whiffin as Sir Joseph Porter

Whiffin as Sir Joseph Porter

Thomas Whiffin, or Whiffen, born of a musical family at Chatham on 1 June 1834, began his career as a chorister at Rochester Cathedral and matured to a tenor at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. He was also an accomplished violinist who could play in the orchestra, sing at Royal concerts, and was honoured with a solo at the funeral of Prince Albert in December 1861. He left Windsor about 1864 for other choral posts, transferred to popular entertainment, married the contralto Blanche Galton in 1868 and shortly afterwards they sought pastures new in America. There they had up and down careers for a few years including a brief engagement with the Parepa-Rosa Opera Company. They eventually achieved success in a pirated production of H.M.S. Pinafore in New York in 1879 with Thomas as a memorable Sir Joseph Porter. The illustration depicts him in the role. The Whiffins afterwards continued with successful careers in America with Blanche performing into her eighties.
Whiffin made his Rosa debut as Dandolo in the first Rosa performance of Zampa at the New York Academy of Music on 12 February 1872. Seven repeat performances followed before the end of the season. He sang no other role and this coupled with his engagement of only four weeks suggests that he was recruited solely for this opera which was staged late in the season probably to accommodate Charles Santley. Also Whiffin was well known in British theatrical circles; he was friend to Sir Arthur Sullivan and Charles Dickens to name but two, and Parepa would probably have at least known of him. A desire to help a struggling British artist may have influenced her.

Memorial tablet, Rochester Cathedral

Memorial tablet, Rochester Cathedral

Whiffin visited England in the summer of 1897 whilst recovering from typhoid fever contracted in New York. Sadly there was relapse and he died at Bengeo in Hertfordshire on 10 October. It was perhaps an unwise journey after a serious illness but he liked to visit his musical roots and especially Rochester cathedral where he is remembered with the memorial tablet shown in the illustration.

© 2020 John Ward. The Carl Rosa Trust is extremely grateful to Dr Andrew Ashbee for his generosity in providing the source material for this article.


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