The daughter of George De Camp, real name possibly De Fleury, she was born in Vienna 17 January 1774 into a family of musicians and dancers. Brought to England, she appeared when six years old at the Opera House, as Cupid in a ballet by Jean-Georges Noverre. After playing at the age of eight in a theatre directed by M. Le Texier Zélie in a translation of La Colombe by Madame de Genlis, she was engaged for the Royal Circus.
George Colman took her for the Haymarket Theatre. Her first performance at the Haymarket was in The Nosegay on 14 June 1786 with James Harvey D’Egville in the presence of the royal family. On 21 June she danced in The Polonaise, and on 7 July she appeared in a ballet entitled Jamie’s Return with James Harvey and his brother George D’Egville.
She was then secured by Thomas King for the Drury Lane Theatre, where on 24 October 1786, she played Julie, a small part in John Burgoyne’s Richard Cœur de Lion. Her father had left her in England for Germany, where he died while she was still young; she picked up English, and played juvenile and small parts.
She first caught the public taste 15 August 1792 at the Haymarket, when, in a travestied Beggar’s Opera she performed Macheath to the Polly of John Bannister and the Lucy of John Henry Johnstone. Biddy in Miss in her Teens (David Garrick), Adelaide in The Count of Narbonne adapted from the Castle of Otranto, Gillian in the Quaker, and Lucy in The Recruiting Officer were then assigned her; and she played some original parts, including Lindamira in Richard Cumberland’s Box Lobby Challenge.
In singing parts she was allowed at times to replace Nancy Storace and Anna Maria Crouch. She was the original Judith in The Iron Chest (George Colman the Younger), and Florimel in Kemble’s Celadon and Florimel (from The Maiden Queen). Miranda in the Busybody, Page (Cherubin) in Follies of a Day, (Figaro), Le Mariage de Figaro, and Kitty in High Life Below Stairs (James Townley) followed.
At the Haymarket, 15 July 1797, she was the original Caroline Dormer in The Heir-at-Law (George Colman the Younger), and in the same year she played Portia and Desdemona, followed at Drury Lane by Katherine in Katherine and Petruchio, and Hippolito in Kemble’s alteration of The Tempest.
For her benefit, 3 May 1799, she gave at Drury Lane her own unprinted play of First Faults. In 1799 William Earle printed a piece called Natural Faults, and accused Miss De Camp in the preface of having stolen his plot and characters. In a letter to the Morning Post of 10 June, she denied the charge, and asserted that her play was copied by Earle from recitation. John Genest considered that Earle’s statement ‘has the appearance of truth.’ Lady Teazle, Miss Hoyden, Lady Plyant in The Double Dealer (William Congreve), Hypolita in She would and she would not, Little Pickle, and Dollalolla in Tom Thumb were some of the other parts she played before her marriage to Charles Kemble, which took place 2 July 1806.
As a Kemble
Accompanying the Kembles to Covent Garden, she made her first appearance there, 1 October 1806, as Maria in the Citizen, and remained there for the rest of her acting career. Her comedy, The Day after the Wedding, or a Wife’s First Lesson, 1808, was played at Covent Garden for the benefit of her husband, who enacted Colonel Freelove (18 May 1808), while she was Lady Elizabeth Freelove. Match-making, or ‘Tis a Wise Child that knows its own Father was played for her own benefit on the 24th; it is also assigned to her. It was not acted a second time, nor printed.
She also assisted her husband in the preparation of Deaf and Dumb. Among the parts now assigned her were Ophelia, Mrs. Sullen, Violante, Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing, Mrs. Ford, and Juliana in the Honeymoon, and the like. In 1813–14 and 1814–15 she was not engaged. On 12 December 1815, she made an appearance as Lady Emily Gerald in her own comedy Smiles and Tears, or the Widow’s Stratagem.
She then disappeared from the stage until 1818–19, when she played Mrs. Sterling, and was the original Madge Wildfire in Daniel Terry’s musical version of Heart of Midlothian. For her own and her husband’s benefit she played Lady Julia in ‘Personation,’ 9 June 1819, when she retired. A solitary reappearance was made at Covent Garden on the occasion of the début as Juliet of her daughter Fanny Kemble, 5 October 1829, when she played Lady Capulet.
She died at Chertsey, Surrey, on 3 September 1838.
Besides Fanny Kemble, her daughter Adelaide Kemble was known on the stage. A son John Mitchell Kemble was a classical scholar.
Her brother occasionally acted fops and footmen at Drury Lane and the Haymarket, and was subsequently an actor and a cowkeeper in America. Her sister Adelaide, an actress in a line similar to her own, was popular in Newcastle upon Tyne.