6. Photographic portraiture

In the interest of progressing the argument in some sort of logical order this dissertation has so far been looking at Friends' attitudes towards, and interest in, photography in general, before moving into photographic portraiture. This is in reality, however, an arbitrary distinction that has to a degree interrupted the historical narrative. In any case, it has been impossible to adhere to it rigidly. Nonetheless, this approach now necessitates revisiting these mid-Victorian decades, with an eye to portraiture specifically.

The earliest occasion on record, on which a Quaker, or someone brought up within Quakerism, was photographed, was when Lewis Weston Dillwyn and his daughter Mary were in Cheltenham in 1841, and as Dillwyn recorded in his diary, 'Miss Mary and I had our likenesses taken at a new Photographic Institute which within these few days has been opened, and I afterwards attended a lecture by Mr Goddard on photography.' (1) It seems that Dillwyn had three daguerreotypes taken; at this time, of course, his son John Dillwyn Llewelyn was already experimenting alongside Antoine Claudet. (2)

William Lucas and his wife had their likenesses taken by an American daguerreotypist in August 1851; 'We had to wait a long time and felt a good deal spent. The operation was not a pleasant one.' (3) Lucas also had a daguerreotype of his mother, but he didn't favour it, as it showed her when in ill health and 'under that painful restraint which was shown in her countenance when the attempt was made to get her likeness'—this is not so much a reference to a head clamp, but to her diffidence as a Quaker at having her portrait made. (4)

An 1855 letter from Jonathan Abbatt is interesting for giving a glimpse of how Quakers displayed photographs, as well as of the experience of being photographed:


I enjoyed myself in Manchester on 4th day along with my brothers, we all got our likeness in a group to send to my Uncle in America who has not seen any of the family for 12 years wont he see a fine lot of lads!!! I also have got a copy for our own mantle piece to hang along side my sisters, and should dearly like the different members of thy own family either singly or in a group including conspicuously thy venerable Grandmother I should prize it much. (5)

Henry Doubleday wrote of his experiences with Maull and Polyblank in 1863 (6), describing having had a long chat with the 'operator' about photography, finding him very communicative, as soon as he found out that Doubleday knew something about the subject; he wrote favourably of the studio's product. (7)

In discussion with library staff at Friends' House, a feeling was expressed that there was a tendency for Quakers to be photographed when on holiday, or when in London for Yearly Meeting. Little evidence has been found for this, beyond the single possible exception of a carte de visite of Joseph Bevan Braithwaite, taken in Athens by Margaritis et Constantin. (8) Additionally, though not really portraits, there are the interesting four unposed, apparently candid, stereographs by Samuel Francis May, apparently taken in the courtyard of Devonshire House, of the Yearly Meeting gathering of 1865 (one is shown below, courtesy of Friends House Library). (9)

stereography by Samuel Francis May, taken in the courtyard of Devonshire House

The first advertisement for a professional portrait photographer to appear in The Friend was in February 1847: 'John Charles Constable respectfully informs Friends that he has very recently acquired a knowledge of Daguerreotyping, with its latest improvements, from one of the most skilful operators in France; he has also Voigtlander lenses of extraordinary powers, which enable him to take portraits, and copy paintings, engravings, &c.' Constable also advertised for sale photographic copies of portraits of Joseph John Gurney and Elizabeth Fry, as well as copies of the famous 'William Penn's Treaty with the Indians'. This is fascinating, as showing how these images were, in effect, the thin end of the wedge. Constable, describing himself as also a portrait painter, also advertised his willingness to copy daguerreotypes or miniatures in oils. He gave a correspondence address in Limerick, but no indication of the location of his studio. (10) It does not appear that Constable's enterprise was a success, as nothing further has been found of his career in photography. (11)

It is seven years before a further commemorative portrait of a well-known Friend—making use of photography—is advertised, with W. & F.G. Cash's January 1854 advertisement for a portrait of George Bradshaw, 'taken from a Daguerreotype likeness.' (12) W. & F.G. Cash were successors to the publisher Charles Gilpin, with premises at 5 Bishopsgate Street Without, in the City of London, later to be the premises of the publisher Alfred W. Bennett (1859-66), and also used by the studio photographers S.F. May (1865-68) and C.A. Gandy (1868-90). (13)

The second known Quaker professional was William Pumphrey of York (1817-1905), one of a number not known to have advertised in the Quaker press (up to 1870). Pumphrey had started as a science teacher at the Quaker school in York, but as an enthusiastic photographer bought his licence from Samuel Walker, York's first practising photographer, in July 1849, and ran his business there till 1854. Throughout this time he frequently lectured on scientific and kindred subjects; indeed, he continued to lecture—including to Bootham boys—even after taking up his post as superintendent of a private lunatic asylum in York. He was fond of travel, bringing home many photographs of the scenery of Switzerland and elsewhere, which he took pleasure in showing to his friends with the magic lantern. In 1866 he was to organise an exhibition of Yorkshire Fine Art and Industry, in the grounds of Bootham Park Hospital, in which he entered two revolving stereoscopes, each containing 50 of his stereo views. (14)

In 1856 a third professional studio photographer entered the field. Charles F. Ravis, of Bristol, 'optician and photographic artist', retailing stereoscopic pictures and stereoscopes and optical instruments, including Smith and Beck's achromatic microscopes, advertised in The Friend from May to October that year that he was also taking photographic portraits daily, by both glass and paper processes. Given the unusual name, it seems likely that this was the C.F. Ravis who had been on the staff of Bootham School in 1848, with William Pumphrey. (15)

In May 1859 The British Friend commended to its readers an advertisement in its columns for a commemorative work on the late Mary Wright, who had recently died in her 104th year. Though the editor doesn't mention the fact, it is significant that the second part of the advertisement very conspicuously announces that photographs of Mary Wright, and her four descendants, were for sale from Jane Jowett of Leeds (as below, courtesy of Friends House Library). (16)


photo of Mary Wright and five generations of her family

The Friend, the following month, carried an A.W. Bennett advertisement for 'an excellent Photographic Likeness' of the late Joseph Sturge. (17) A descendant, Peter Marshall Sturge, pointed out to the author in an email this year that several members of the Sturge family had been photographed prior to 1860, notwithstanding the fact that they were then fairly strict Quakers, wearing plain dress and using plain speech. (18)

In May 1861 Bennett advertised, in The Friend, catalogues for the Exhibition Photographs of Francis Bedford, for whom he was wholesale agent. (19) The following month saw an advertisement from W. Wood, jr, of Liverpool, selling stereoscopes and stereographs, as well as a Quakerly understated advertisement from a new professional photographer, Samuel Fry of Forest Hill, who:

Respectfully reminds Friends that he is prepared to take photographs by his instantaneous process, of wedding parties, family groups, etc. Also of houses, gardens, and general scenery, of any description. On application, specimens and terms will be sent. (20)

Fry's was perhaps the first successful photographic studio, of those that advertised in the Quaker press. He was still advertising in The Friend in February and March 1863, now at his new 'Portrait Establishment' in Gracechurch Street, offering cartes de visite at 10 for 10s., and now with special arrangements for copying paintings, engravings and faded photographic portraits. (21) Notably, too, Fry managed to get the same small display advertisement in The British Friend in May 1863. (22) Fry's business continued at Gracechurch Street till 1865 (23), before moving to Kingston-on-Thames (24), where he was still working as a Photographic Artist at the time of the 1881 census. (25)

After the extensive debate on the issue in the 1840s, The British Friend had nothing further to say on the subject of portraiture throughout the 1850s. As this is the very period when photographic portraiture was beginning to become a commonplace (26), the silence is tantalising. Possibly the editor felt the subject had been aired sufficiently. Or possibly too much was changing to make it easy for an editor to adopt a fixed position. However, in 1862 he published an anonymous review of a slim memorial pamphlet by John Ford entitled The Sabbath School Teacher; a Memoir of Richard E. Tatham. The work appeared with a solitary albumen portrait tipped in as a frontispiece (see image reproduced below, courtesy of Friends House Library). (27) The reviewer wrote:

albumen portrait of Richard E. Tatham

We must be further honest to our convictions, and say, that we have been sorry to observe an occasional deviation on the part of the editor . . . in so far as he may have had a hand in prefixing a portrait of the deceased. Indeed we have no unity with the application of photography in this direction, because of its inevitable tendency to foster personal vanity; and the extent to which it is now carried among Friends we look upon as one, among other proofs, of the inroad of a worldly spirit. (28)

This time, however, the conservative position was challenged. In the following issue James Backhouse—who was himself preparing for the press a memoir of George Washington Walker, with a photographic portrait frontispiece—argued that


. . . considering that our all-wise Creator has given us an individual physiognomy to mark our personal distinction, and by the simple, yet curious art of photography, permits of this being represented on paper, I do not see its objectionableness, as in expensive portraits, subject to the flattery of the painter. The unrenewed mind will often cherish personal vanity at its natural face, and in many other respects equally foolish, the fruit of the sinful condition of the heart; but this does not seem a valid reason for excluding people from seeing the reflection of their own faces in a glass; and surely a photograph cannot foster personal vanity in the dead. (29)

The reviewer exercised his write to reply, with a response immediately below Backhouse's letter, in the following terms:


The reasoning of our dear friend in regard to portrait-taking is specious rather than sound. Because a thing is permitted, it is not safe thence to argue that it is right. Evil of every sort is permitted; but this differs from its being sanctioned, else the perpetrators would be innocent. Looking into a mirror is not a parallel case. By so doing, an individual may cherish personal vanity; but he does not carry the mirror about with him as he may his photograph, and say to, or leave his friends to say, "What a correct and beautiful likeness!" Every body is aware that a photograph cannot foster vanity in the dead; that is not the objection, but, as it can be made to flatter, as well as the brush of the painter, does it foster this feeling in the living relations? We are to have a portrait of G.W. Walker. Will it lead the reader of the memoir to form a juster appreciation of the character of the deceased? We expect not. We wish our friend had limited his advocacy to this, perhaps a less objectionable application of the art, and not attempted to justify it in the direction to which it is being carried to such an extreme, for at best a very questionable purpose. (30)

But the very instance chosen by the original reviewer is revelatory of how attitudes were changing. The editor of the memorial volume concerned, John Ford, was superintendent (31) of Ackworth School, and as such in a position of considerable influence. Far from being diffident about the propriety of the work, Ford recorded in his diary, on the day of its publication, that he had thirty copies, 'most of which I intend to distribute to young friends.' (32)

The December issue of The Friend ran the Harvey, Reynolds & Fowler advertisement already noted (reproduced on the previous page), promoting in particular its growing collection of carte de visite portraits of Friends. (33) Evidently by now no longer showing resistance, The British Friend too, in May 1863, carried an advertisement for Harvey, Reynolds & Fowler's 'Original and most Complete Collection of carte de visite portraits of members of the Society of Friends', with new additions every month. (34) Still available for inspection at Friends' House is the complete 1863 listing of this company's Friends' Portrait Gallery of cartes, all priced 1s. 3d. (35) There is evidence, though, that Friends may not have welcomed this new line with quite as much enthusiasm as at first might appear, for in May and June 1865 the company advertised—again in The British Friend—that they were selling off a large surplus stock of card portraits of Friends, at half price. The June issue also carried a separate advertisement for carte de visite portraits of the late Peter Bedford. (36) The British Friend advertised Ford's Memoir of Thomas Pumphrey 'With Portrait' in August 1866, with no adverse reference to the portrait at all in the subsequent (November) review. (37)

Showing evidence of official acceptance of photographic portraiture, The Friend carried an advertisement in December 1864 for a group portrait—available as carte de visite or in larger, 8¼" x 6¼", format—of the members of the London Yearly Meeting's committee, who had recently been engaged in visiting Friends in Ireland. (38) Another striking example is that, not long after the retirement in 1865 of John Ford, Superintendent of Bootham School, the Quaker boarding school in York, as part of the presentation to him by his old scholars he was given a folding glazed screen, containing no less than 257 of their portraits. (39)

photo of Ackworth masters, by William Pumphrey, 1859

Ackworth masters, by William Pumphrey, 1859

Samuel Francis May (40) has been mentioned in passing already, as a Quaker studio photographer. In May, September and December 1865 he advertised in The Friend that he had built 'commodious Photographic Rooms' at 5 Bishopsgate Street, and was now 'prepared to execute likenesses in every style.' (41) In June 1866 he advertised in The British Friend the availability of new cartes de visite of John Henry Douglas, Murray Shipley and Richard Noah Bailey. (42) May's business continued till 1868 (43), but by November that year his studio had been taken over by C.A. Gandy, who produced 'Superior Cartes de Visite, Cabinet, and Drawing Room Portraits', and offered enlargement to life-size, if required. (44) Charles Alfred Gandy (45) had previously worked with the London School of Photography, and with Nicholas Bros. of Madras. (46) Taking photos daily, by February 1869 he offered 'Superior colouring, in oil or water', and—rather endearingly—'Country Residences, Groups, Croquet Parties, &c., photographed.' (47) In May that year he gave notice that S.F. May's negatives were in his possession, from which copies could be had until 1st July, after which the plates would be destroyed. (48) Gandy continued practising as a photographer at 5 Bishopsgate Street till 1890, then took his business to Old Broad Street till 1893. (49)

The September issue of 1869 noted Gandy's cartes de visite among its 'Reviews and Notices of Books Received.' (50) The same column, in 1867, had noted W.T. Robertson's Photographs of Eminent Men, particularly for its 'striking' portrait of the Quaker Dr Thomas Hodgkin. (51)

To complete the picture, so far as it is known, of professional portrait photographers who were Quakers, it is necessary to look beyond the confines of the national Quaker press. Five more have been identified:

1. The studio on Cheltenham promenade opened on the 13th September 1841 (Gernsheim 1982: 130).

2. Morris (1980): 6.

3. Bryant & Baker, eds (1934):II.452.

4. There was also a painted portrait of his mother, but Lucas found that even more exceptionable, as simply uncharacteristic of the woman. ibid. I.22.

5. Letter of 23rd April 1855, to Mary Dilworth; in Abbatt (1988): 218-19.

6. Maull & Polyblank traded under this name at two London addresses (Gracechurch Street & Piccadilly) from 1856 to 1865 (Pritchard 1994: 85).

7. Mays (1978): 86-7. One should probably not read too much into this, but Maull and Polyblank's is the only professional studio (apart from those actually run by Friends) to which a reference has been found in the columns of The Friend (in the anonymous review of Frith's 'Stereoscopic Views in Egypt, Nubia, &c.', 180:224, Dec 1857).

At about the same time Agnes Yates had her first experience of being photographed, with her toddler brother and baby sister.—Yates (1939): 39-40:

. . . Clarence, poor wee boy! was thoroughly frightened. We had never seen a camera before, and the man in his anxiety to get a good picture seemed to us alarming. So the poor boy started to cry at the top of his voice, and all our Mother's and Susan's coaxings were of no avail. At last sterner methods were tried. He was shut up in the dark coach house, until he would promise to be good. Happily Mary remained quite placid, and I felt very superior. The promise was finally given, and the sobbing little prisoner was released. He allowed himself to be put again in the pram . . . and soon the camera snapped, and the photo was secured. But now you will not wonder that the poor little boy looks so glum and cross? and don't you see the conscious virtue on his sister's face.

8. Album at Friends' House Library, 95/A52. It is not suggested that only foreign holidays were referred to; but of the attributable portraits encountered in the course of this research, virtually none emanated from even British holiday resorts, and those that did were associated more with residents than visitors.

9. Friends' House Library 84A.161-4

10. His advertisement concluded in the following terms: 'The remarks of an eminent writer, on portrait painting, may be equally applicable here;—"In the hands of Reynolds it was employed in diffusing friendships, in renewing tenderness, in quickening the affections of the absent, and in perpetuating the presence of the dead."' The Friend V.50 advertisement sheet 3, Feb 1847.

11. Mathews (1974) notes a W. Constable practising in Brighton, 1854 or later, though there is no reason to associate the two (p. 94). Only two William C. Constable's appear in the 1881 census index for Great Britain, neither of whom was a photographer at this date. One was a brewer in Arundel, the other a schoolteacher in Tynemouth. The latter was certainly a Friend, and in 1870 had advertised his Bishop-Auckland boarding school in the columns of The British Friend (XXVIII advertisement p. 6, Mar, and XXVIII:90, Apr); in that year he said he had been a teacher for many years; his death at North Shields in 1897, aged 76, was recorded in the Annual Monitor for 1898.

12. The Friend XII advertisement sheet 2, Jan 1854.

13. loc. cit.; The Friend XII advertisement sheet 1, Apr 1854; The Friend XVII.198:118, June 1859; The Friend 56:7, Aug 1865; The Friend 95:298, Nov 1868; The Friend 99 advertisement sheet 10, Feb 1869; The British Friend XXIV:158, June 1866; Mathews (1974): 102; Pritchard (1994): 62, 86.

14. Adamson (1985): 1, 6; Annual Monitor (1909); Murray (1986): 21-41; the 1881 census recorded him as living on dividends in York (TNA: RG 11/4727).

15. The Friend XIV.161:96, May; 115, June; 136: July; 174: Sept, 194: Oct. Pollard (1926): xvii. And see illustration on p. 73

16. The British Friend XVII:126, 133, May 1859. Jane Jowett died in 1861, aged 51 (Annual Monitor). The four descendants were representatives of the four generations younger than her own. This remarkable photograph can still be seen at Friends' House, showing the face of a Friend born in 1755, the earliest birth year for any British Friend for whom photographs survive. Friends' House Library photo 10/15 (reproduced on the previous page).

17. The Friend XVII.198:118, June 1859.

18. Sturge (2000).

19. The Friend May 1861, advertisement p. 8.

20. The Friend 192 advertisements, June 1861.

21. The Friend 26:48, Feb 1863; 27, Mar 1863.

22. The British Friend XXI, May 1863.

23. Pritchard (1994): 62.

24. Mathews (1974): 102.

25. Public Record Office RG 11/835.

26. The carte de visite was patented by Disdéri in 1854, and introduced into England by A. Marion & Co. in 1857; the number of photographic portrait studios in London rose from 66 in 1855 to over 200 in 1860—by 1861 there were 35 in Regent Street alone (Gernsheim & Gernsheim 1971: 118, Gernsheim 1988: 23, 192-93, McCauley 1985).

27. Ford (1861).

28. The British Friend XX:16-7, Jan 1862.

29. The British Friend XX:40, Feb 1862. But Joseph John Gurney had recorded in his diary in 1844 that 'We are stepping a little forward in the way of clearing our delightful mansion, of those things which may be stumbling blocks to others--to wit, the looking glasses' (Isichei 1970: 153).

30. loc. cit. The same issue nevertheless carried an advertisement for the Memoir of George Washington Walker, 'with a Portrait.'

As to photography being made to flatter, one is reminded of Alfred Chalon's reply to the young Queen Victoria, when asked if he were not afraid that photography would ruin his profession: "Ah non, Madame! photographie can't flattère" (Gernsheim & Gernsheim 1971: 64).

31. sc. headmaster. See photo on p. 126

32. Thompson, ed. (1877): 129.

33. The Friend 24:289-90, Dec. 1862.

34. The British Friend XXI:128, May 1863.

35. Bound into the copy, there, of Smith (1870).

36. The British Friend XXIII.127 & 128, May & June 1865.

37. The British Friend XX: 204 & 273, Aug & Nov 1864.

38. The Friend 48:296, Dec 1864.

39. Beck, Wells & Chalkley (1888): 210.

40. 1842-1900; scholar at Bootham 1855-57—OYSA (1935).

41. The Friend 56:7, May, Sept & Dec 1865.

42. The British Friend XXIV:158, June 1866.

43. Pritchard (1994): 86; May appears not to have worked again as a professional photographer, though continuing as an amateur; he became a partner in a firm of chemists' sundrymen, in Birmingham—OYSA (1935), and Annual Monitor.

44. The Friend 95:298, Nov 1868.

45. 1840-1914.

46. Mathews (1974): 102; Gandy (2000).

47. The Friend 99 advertisements p. 10, Feb 1869.

48. The Friend 101:118, May 1869.

49. Pritchard (1994): 62.

50. The Friend 105:217, Sept 1869.

51. The Friend 84:292-93, Dec 1867.

52. Digest of marriages, Friends House Library; Ackworth School Centenary Committee (1879); not found in 1881 census.

53. 1806-95.

54. 1842-93.

55. Recorded as a photographer there, in 1881.

56. Weston (1898) Reminiscences; Annual Monitor; 1881 census.

57. Son of James Allan, perfumer.

58. Digest of marriages, Friends House Library; 1881 census.

59. 1832-1908.

60. Dictionary of Quaker Biography, Annual Monitor, 1881 census (TNA: RG 11/1418), Fleck & Poole (1999).

61. By this later period Quaker amateur photographers were also taking portraits. William Dillworth Crewdson (1799-1878), for example—a Kendal banker, who had formally left the Society of Friends in 1835 at the time of the Beacon controversy (a contemporary secession), but nevertheless continued in close association with Quakerism—is said to have made himself a master of the medium, which 'brought him the precious power of surrounding himself with pictures of the many dear friends in whose love he delighted to dwell.' Crewdson (1879): 9-10, Dictionary of Quaker Biography.


© 2001–2024 Benjamin S. Beck

Chapter 7


Back to start




Ben Beck's home page