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Smythe, Arthur J. The Life of William Terriss Actor. Westminster: Archibald Constable, 1898. Arthur J. Smythe was an author and journalist, the son of James Francis Smythe who was a Baptist Minister and great great grandfather in the male line of this site.
Richard A. Prince was also known as William Archer and William Archer Flint. Princes real name was Richard Millar Archer. He was born on the Baldoran Estate - where his father was a ploughman - near Dundee, in 1858. He grew up with a reputation of being soft in the head and by the time he left school he had aspirations about becoming an actor. By 1887 he was appearing in bit-parts in the London theatres.
William Terriss was one of the leading actors of the time. He had been born William Charles James Lewin in London on 20th February 1847. Before becoming an actor he had tried his hand at a variety of occupations, including silver mining in America and sheep farming in the Falklands. Terriss had met his wife while holidaying at Margate and they were married in 1868. They had a daughter, Ellaline, who was born while they were in the Falklands. He got his first serious role on the stage in 1871 when he was cast as Robin Hood in Rebecca, based on Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. Over the next few years he established himself as one of the countrys most popular actors.
In December 1885, when she was twenty-four years old, Jessie Millward joined Terriss in The Harbour Lights and the pair established themselves as romantic leads together. Their romantic alliance was not limited to the theatre as the pair were lovers off-stage as well.
The pair toured the country and America together for many years before appearing together in Harbour Lights. The year was 1897 and, in the interim, Terriss and Prince had become acquainted with, perhaps, Terriss getting the struggling younger actor in various productions that he had a hand in. Prince had also, in the intervening years, become more mentally unstable, he had become known as Mad Archer, and was desperate for regular work. He was often resting and was close to destitution. During the run of Harbour Lights, in which Prince had a minor role, Terriss took offence to something that Prince had said about him and had the man dismissed. Terriss, however, was not without generosity and sent small sums of money to Prince, via the Actors Benevolent Fund. He also used his influence to get the Scot small parts in touring productions. Prince was, though, becoming more unemployable and was frequently sacked from the plays that he did occasionally get parts in.
By December 1897 Prince was in a desperate state. He had pawned all his clothes except the ones that he wore, lived on a diet of bread and milk and was in arrears with his rent at his Buckingham Palace Road lodgings. On 13th December he had to be forcibly ejected from the foyer of the Vaudeville Theatre. He had tried to obtain a complimentary ticket by showing his card, which read Richard Archer Prince. Adelphi Theatre, but had been refused when he confirmed that he was not currently working there. At that, he became abusive and had to be removed. It was either the same night, or the next, that Jessie heard shouting coming from Terrisss dressing room in the Adelphi. It was Prince and Terriss arguing. Terriss told Jessie, That mans becoming a nuisance. On 16th December a letter arrived for Prince that told him that the Actors Benevolent Fund was ending his grant. He was now at his wits end.
That afternoon Terriss spent playing poker with friends and later dined with one of them, Harry Greaves, at Miss Millwards flat. Around 7pm Jessie left to go to the theatre to ready herself for the evenings performance. They followed soon afterwards, in a cab. They alighted and walked the short distance to the Adelphi. When he got to the pass-door entrance in Maiden Street, Terriss felt in his pocket for the key. As he did so a man ran out of the shadows and plunged a kitchen knife into his back. As Terriss turned, the knife struck him again, in the side of his body, and a third blow hit his chest.
Jessie Millward was in her room. She heard Terriss arrive and then all went quiet. Suddenly alarmed she ran down the stairs and, with Lottie, her maid, saw Terriss leaning against the doorframe before he collapsed. She yelled for help and the company quickly rallied around. Doctors and the police soon arrived. Greaves had caught hold of the assailant, who had offered no resistance. It was Prince. In his pocket police found the bloody knife. He told police, I did it for revenge. He had kept me out of employment for ten years, and I had either to die in the street or kill him. Terriss died shortly afterwards in the arms of his lover.
Prince appeared at the Old Bailey on 13th January 1898. He initially pleaded guilty with provocation but changed this on the advice of his counsel to not guilty. The defence attempted to prove insanity, with doctors and even his mother giving evidence that he was of unsound mind. At 6.35 that evening the jury retired to consider their verdict. They returned half an hour later and pronounced Prince guilty, but according to the medical evidence, not responsible for his actions. To Princes great relief the judge sent him to Broadmoor asylum. Confined to the hospital, he became heavily involved in entertainment for the inmates and conducted the prison orchestra.