Frederick Drummond Niblett, RSA (1861-1928), known as ‘Nibs’
Though too little known today, Frederick Drummond Niblett produced some of the most striking caricatures of the Edwardian period in a style reminiscent of the posters and illustrations of William Nicholson and James Pryde, who worked together as the ‘Beggarstaff Brothers’. Frederick Drummond Niblett was born in Edinburgh as possibly the youngest of three children of an English father, the commission agent, Francis Burgess Niblett, and his Irish wife, Eliza (née George). His uncle was Vice-Admiral H S F Niblett, and he too was intended for the sea. Educated at Fettes College, he then studied architecture, which led him into an artistic career. In the early 1880s, he worked from 17 Drummond Place (1882) and then from Albert Studios, Shandwick Place (1884), designing posters and painting portraits in oil and watercolours of churches. Two of his views of St Giles’ Cathedral were exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy (1882 and 1884).
Niblett is likely to have moved to London in the mid 1880s to establish himself as an illustrator.
His first illustrated book – Thomas Hood’s The Dream of Eugene Aram – was created in response to a dramatisation of the poem that was produced in London, and was issued in 1887 by a London publisher, The Leadenhall Press. Concerning a celebrated murder of the eighteenth century, Eugene Aram was dramatised by W G Wills, and first produced at the Lyceum Theatre in 1873, with Henry Irving in the title role. Irving had already made a party piece of reciting Hood’s original poem, and became associated with the part of Aram, though he reprised it only briefly in 1879 and 1880.
Niblett dedicated his book to Irving’s close friend, the actor-manager, John Lawrence Toole. Two decades later, in 1905, he would illustrate a ‘Henry Irving Souvenir’, as well as producing other caricatures of the actor. All this suggests an association between artist and actor or, at least, a strong theatrical interest.
In 1890, Niblett illustrated a second volume, N H Willis’s Dulcima’s Doom and other Tales, issued by the Edinburgh publisher Grant & Son. However, through the following decade, he evolved into a political cartoonist and caricaturist, contributing to a wide range of periodicals, under the pen name ‘Nibs’. These included The Crown (1906-7), Sketchy Bits (1909), Vanity Fair (1909-13) and The Bystander (1916).
Niblett was living, as a lodger, at 5 Sandland Street, Holborn, in 1891; at Langham Chambers, Portland Place, in 1896; at 84 Charing Cross Road in 1911; at 7 Charles Street, Knightsbridge, in 1907; and, as a boarder, at 94 Earl’s Court Road, Kensington, in 1911.
Frederick Drummond Niblett died in Margate, Kent, on 2 May 1928.