This English carte de visite (CDV) is one of the most popular in my collection, if Flickr views and Pinterest re-pins equate to evidence, that is. It shows a young British widow—identifiable as such by the white ruching on her black bonnet—squatting in the background, having just propelled her black-clad daughter toward the photographer. The widow stares forward forlornly, her hand over her mouth, indicating without words her shock and concern for their future. It is a candid, painfully honest pose, and one rarely seen in types of images. She is no “Hidden Mother,” but a vital element of a tableau meant to convey the message, “This is his orphan.”
The reverse stamp on the CDV reads “T. Bennett, Photographer, 46 Foregate Street and Church Street, Malvern.” According to research conducted by the creator of Photographers of Great Britain and Ireland, 1840-1940, Thomas Bennett “opened his first studio in Worcester in 1856. At different times, he operated at five studios in Worcester and three in Malvern under his own name and the business continued under the name of Bennett & Son and Bennett & Sons until at least 1916.”
“The 1861 census records the [Bennett] family living at his shop at 46 Foregate, Worcester, where he is described as a Lay Clerk (of the church) and photographer. His firm Thomas Bennett and Son is thought to have been established about 1856. His branch in Great Malvern was possibly the second photographic studio” in that town—this information gleaned from the Malvern Records Office. Bennett threw open the doors of his Malvern studio in 1868 and the CDV of mother and daughter could not have been taken long afterward.
Helpful Flickr historians pellethepoet and EastMarple1 spotted one of Thomas Bennett’s studios in the foreground the CDV below. The building at bottom righthand corner, with the word “photos” just visible above the door, was almost certainly where this Worcestershire widow brought her daughter to mark their terrible loss in a fixed image that could never be denied.
My CDV appears on many Pinterest pages, and in particular, one where in the comments it is suggested that this little girl is dead, held up by props, or suspended with wires.
This is not a deceased child. In the photo, her eyes were caught while tracking the photographer, and she supported herself to a degree through her hand, wrist, and arm. One of her feet was slightly lifted as she prepared to take a step.
Bodies were not embalmed at the time this image was taken. That preservation process came into practice during the American Civil War as a way of returning bodies of dead Union soldiers to their families. It was not widely used in the United States or Great Britain for another 40 to 50 years.
Dead bodies that are not embalmed do not stand on their own, even during rigor mortis, without some sort of brace or rigging. There is no evidence in the historic record that these types of devices were used during regular postmortem photography. Sometimes unidentified bodies or murder victims such as Katherine Eddows, a victim of Jack the Ripper, were propped up to be forensically photographed.
Further, it should be asked why a mother would chose to allow the corpse of her dead daughter to be held up by wires or clamped in some sort of brace when she herself could have cradled the body—as is seen in so many other postmortem images?
The props that photographers did use were to keep people still, not to hold them up, as is clearly seen in the photograph below. Ω
“Mothers, I believe, intoxicate us. We idolize them and take them for granted. We hate them and blame them and exalt them more thoroughly than anyone else in our lives. We sift through the evidence of their love, reassure ourselves of their affection and its biological genesis. We can steal and lie and leave and they will love us.”—Megan Mayhew Bergman
I wish all mothers a happy day of love and peace. For all you have done and will do, you are saluted.
“I bought this for 6d. at a Rummage Sale at Ealing Broadway Methodist Church. It was thrown out by Mrs J. W. Allcock.”—Thomas Inwood, 1939
The first photographic image of human being was captured in 1839, when at about 8 a.m. one fine Spring day, photographic pioneer Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre sat up his camera in the window of the Diorama in Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 3rd arrondissement, for an exposure that lasted up to 12 minutes. Although the street was crowded with both persons and horse-drawn traffic, none of them remained still long enough to register save one man on a corner to whom a bootblack attended. We will never know who he was, but this 19th Century Frenchman holds a special place in mankind’s history.
In the 21st Century, we possess both still and moving images of our family and friends, but in the 1830s faces of loved ones could be preserved only by personal memory, sculpture, portraits, caricatures, or silhouettes. The vast majority of people were born and died leaving no visual legacy. This quote from Henry Fitz, Sr., captures the enthusiasm that resulted from the release of the daguerreotype process by the French government as a gift to the world 19 August, 1839: “Here is a similitude of heavenly origin! Of a wonderful power! A supernatural (so far as man’s agency is concerned,) agent! An effect produced by the light of heaven; absolutely creating man’s perfect image and identity [emphasis mine].” (The Layman’s Legacy, Volume II, 1840.)
Millions of daguerreotypes—the vast majority of them portraits—were created in the the heyday of the art. Of those, it has been estimated that several hundred thousand survive. In A Curious & Ingenious Art: Reflections on Daguerreotypes at Harvard, author Melissa Banta explains, “Like painters of miniature portraits, they adopted the convention of placing a decorative mat and a sheet of glass over the plate. They used thin paper tapes to hold the assemblage together and to protect the image from shifting. Sometimes they enveloped the entire packet in an ornate metal rim, known as a preserver. This tiny composite fit snugly into a velvet- or stain-lined case made of leather, wood, or thermoplastic, or into a frame. Such decorative touches lent the daguerreotype much of its intimacy and charm. Fortuitously, these same elements protected the plate from its worst enemies: abrasion, airborne contaminants, and corrosive substances.”
Despite the care in their making, countless daguerreotypes succumbed to attempts to clean ills that become acute over time, including “surface dust, white or beige mold spiders, silver tarnish, blue or brown spots and areas of scum deposits that were caused when the older glass leached out some of its impurities onto the surface,” notes experienced restorer Casey A. Waters of Fine Daguerreotypes & Photography. “Less common elements are daguerreian measles (tiny black dots sometimes visible through an 8x loup), a white or bluish haze (but not tarnish), residue from wax on the copper side of the plate, and exfoliation of or bubbles in the silver layer.”
There is another reason that many of these precious historic relicts are now lost: Their inheritors tipped them in the rubbish bin. We see the same phenomenon today—grandchildren or other distant relatives hurry through possessions after a death, keeping only what appears valuable at that moment. Unidentified images of people who mean nothing to the inheritors are discarded.
The daguerreotype at the top of this article was mercifully saved from oblivion and now resides in the James Morley Collection. “I bought this for 6d. at a Rummage Sale at Ealing Broadway Methodist Church. It was thrown out by Mrs J. W. Allcock. 37 Hillcroft Crescent. Ealing W5. Spring 1937,” wrote Thomas Ernest Inwood (b. 1871) on a slip of paper inside the daguerreotype’s case. James Morley ascertained that Inwood lived at 8 North Common Road, Ealing, in 1937, when he spent his 6d. on this portrait of an unknown adolescent, seeing in it what others could not. “This is a Daguerreotype Portrait. About 1845. These photos were taken between 1842-1857. The Chief Librarian at the Victoria & Albert Museum said it was a splendid specimen & well worth retaining. Centenary of Photography 1839-1939. 12 January, 1939.”
The Allcock family lived at 37 Hillcroft Crescent, Ealing, in 1937, headed by John William Allcock, and including his wife Mabel, née Hewson, and daughter Ruth. John Allcock was a Wesleyan Methodist Minister, born in Litchurch, Derbyshire, in 1870 to railway messenger William Allcock (1828-1903) and his wife Sarah Naylor Gott (1839-1919). If the daguerreotype’s young subject is an Allcock, he was from William’s generation. Ω
Upon receipt of the carte, I scanned, enlarged, and enhanced the image. Immediately I became aware of motion blur caused by the child’s arms moving during the exposure.
Within eBay’s vintage and antique photo subcategory, every slightly odd-looking baby is a dead baby. I confess that when I saw the listing for the carte de visite (CDV) above, I thought this was an infant gone, never to grow up, forever to sleep, dressed in angelic white and buried in a tiny coffin so unfairly made-to-fit, her grave topped by a small stone lamb. This was cruel fate; this was a Victorian postmortem. But those who explore the Victorian propensity to mark gut-wrenching loss via photography should take this story as cautionary tale, not unlike one I featured last November, “To Be, or Not to Be, a Victorian Postmortem.”
The CDV’s backstamp is that of “John Davies, Portrait & Landscape photographer, BelleVue High Street, Weston-super-Mare. Formerly with the late T. R. Williams, London, Photographer to the Queen and Royal Family.” There is also a handwritten inscription: “Alice Maud Culley, 8 weeks old, Aug. 1879.”
Upon receipt of the carte, I scanned, enlarged, and enhanced the image. Immediately, I was aware of motion blur caused by the child’s arms moving during the exposure. Alice Maud Culley wasn’t dead. I could then plow into the public records because of the fortuitous identification upon the reverse.
Alice’s mother, Mary Jane Stayman, was a dressmaker who may have created the ensemble in which she was photographed.
Alice Maud Culley was the daughter of Henry Edward Culley. He was born in 1847 in Cockfield, County Durham, England, a village on the edge of Teesdale. Alice’s mother, the beautiful and elegant woman pictured, was Mary Jane Stayman, a dressmaker who may have created the ensemble in which she was photographed. In 1851, Mary Jane was born in the historic Teesdale market town of Barnard Castle. The town takes its name from the venerable fortification at whose foot it grew, which was erected in the 12th Century by Bernard de Balliol and rebuilt by Richard III.
Alice’s maternal grandparents were Thomas Stayman (d. 1893) and Elizabeth Stokell, the former of whom was born in 1817 in East Layton Yorkshire; Elizabeth was a native of Winston, Durham, born 1811. They married in early 1839 in Teeside. By 1851, the Staymans lived in Barnard Castle, the census reporting that Thomas worked as an agricultural laborer with his wife and children Ann (b. 1840), Elizabeth (b. 1841), John (b. 1842), Margaret (b. 1846), Thomas (b. 1849), and baby Mary Jane living in the home.
In 1861, the Staymans lived in Galgate Street, Barnard Castle, only a few doors from the Teesdale Union Work House, built in 1838 to hold approximately 140 of the paupers of Union’s 44 parishes. Later, the family lived in Baliol Street.
Alice’s father, Henry Culley, was the son of William Blakey Culley (1817-1893), a flax worker, and Maria Snaith (1817-1880). The family appears on the 1851 Census of Hartwith cum Winsley, Yorkshire—a smattering of houses in the ancient parish of Kirkby Malzeard in the West Riding, now part North Yorkshire. Henry’s eldest sisters Eliza and Jane were, at this date, both “factory girls;” his older brothers William and John were scholars but also factory workers; the youngest children—Margaret, Henry, and Robert were under their mother’s care at home.
By 1861, the Culleys removed to Barnard Castle. William Culley listed his employment as “flax dresser.” Henry was then the eldest child still living at home, with his brother Robert and youngest sisters Maria and Elizabeth. All of them attended school and Henry’s good, clear signature remains on extant documents.
The new trooper swore an oath to “defend Her Majesty, Her Heirs, and Successors, in Person, Crown, and Dignity, against all enemies.”
Henry’s elder brother John joined the British Army’s 2nd Regiment of the Life Guards, formed in 1788 as the monarch’s main mounted protectors. Military attestation papers state that John brought his brother into the same regiment on 27 May, 1868, when Henry was a 19-year-old blacksmith. The following day at Marylebone, the new trooper swore an oath to “bear true allegiance to Her Majesty, Her Heirs, and Successors” and to “defend Her Majesty…in Person, Crown, and Dignity, against all enemies.”
The records also include a description of Henry: He was 6′ tall with a fresh complexion, hazel eyes, and sandy (later described as “reddish brown”) hair. His medical exam related his appearance in even more detail: He weighed 162 pounds; the circumference of his chest over the nipple was 37″; his muscular development was “middling;” he had been vaccinated against smallpox in childhood but was revaccinated two days after joining the army. We even know that on 27 May, 1868, whilst he sat for the military physician, his pulse was 72 beats and his respiration was 20 inspirations per minute.
Henry Culley and May Jane Stayman married at the Register’s Office, Teeside, Durham, on 26 September, 1869. Mary Jane’s elder brother Thomas became a blacksmith, as did Henry, so it is possible that the couple met through her brother, or perhaps they became acquainted long before, during their adolescence in Barnard Castle. The 1871 Census, taken on 2 April, placed Mary Jane, then pregnant, in her hometown with her family. She may have visited before the birth or spent part of her pregnancy there. Her child, Henry Edward, Jr. (Oct. 1871-31 July, 1930), safely arrived later that year in St. Pancreas, London.
In late October 1872, Henry committed a breach that separated the couple for six months. His records note that on 28 October he was placed in confinement for insubordination. The following day he was tried and imprisoned until 16 April, 1873. When released, he was no longer a trooper, but made a horse-shoeing blacksmith for the regiment instead. He then settled into military life without further incidents, his commanding officer noting “Habits regular. Conduct very good.” After two years, he was promoted to corporal-farrier on 28 June, 1875.
The image at right shows an unknown corporal-farrier dressed as Henry would have appeared on parade. The Farriers’ uniforms were sombre blue and they wore axes at the side. When on parade, troopers drew their swords and the farriers drew the axes, as pictured.
At the time of his promotion, Henry and Mary Jane had a second son Charles Snaith, born in 1874 at Barnard Castle (d. 1950). A third, John Stayman (d. 1973) arrived 12 July, 1876, at Windsor. Alice Maud, the first daughter, came into the world in late Spring 1879, either at Regent’s Park Barracks, St. Pancras, London, or at the Knightsbridge Barracks at Windsor.
When she was two months of age, she traveled with at least her mother and likely with her father and gaggle of brothers to the Somerset holiday town of Weston-super-Mare, where the Birnbeck Pier offered a pleasant walk in the salt air and the little boys could play at the water’s edge.
At some point during their holiday, Mary Jane dressed herself in fashionable raiment and Little Alice Maud in what may have been her christening dress. At Davies’ gallery on the busy High Street, mother and daughter sat together for their portrait, which I hold in my hand today, 138 years later.
Of the photographer, “John Davies was born in Tetbury 1839. He was apprenticed to a watchmaker in London; however his interest in scientific instruments was such that he designed and made” at least two brass and mahogany orreries sold in 2009 by a descendant, wrote Dreweatts Donnington Priory Salerooms, which sold the objects. “Photography was another interest which resulted in him setting up in business, in partnership with his brother Martin, as photographers, printers, booksellers, and stationers at 14 High Street, Weston-super-Mare, in 1873. ‘Davies Brothers’ continued to trade after John’s death in 1919 until the premises was destroyed in an air raid in 1942.”
Henry Culley’s medical record states that he suffered from the effects of a “predisposition” to haemoptysis—acute bronchitis with coughing of blood.
In 1881, the Culleys lived at 40 Red Hill Street, St. Pancras, according to the census. Mary Jane was pregnant with another boy, Thomas Alfred George (d. 1968), who was born that summer. Emma May arrived in 1883 and Frederick Barnabas (d. 1969) in early 1885.
Corporal Henry Culley had begun to suffer greatly from the negative health effects of his career. His medical record states that as early as 1869 he suffered from a “predisposition” to haemoptysis—acute bronchitis with coughing of blood. He had tonsillitis in June 1870 from “catching cold in the stables,” bronchitis from “exposure” in March 1873, and “acute rheumation”—probably of the hands—in July 1875, also caused by exposure.
Henry received a severe burn to his foot in June 1877 (one hopes a hot horseshoe was not the cause); another attack of rheumatism followed in July 1882. The final entry to his record was “paralysis (local)” on 12 May, 1886. Whether the cause of this condition was a stroke or otherwise, it left him permanently unable to perform his duties. Shortly thereafter, Henry was “discharged in consequence of being found unfit for further service.”
Now without a prestious position or income, former Corporal-Farrier Culley and his brood left London for Leeds, Yorkshire, taking up residence there before the birth of Edith Victoria on 21 June, 1887 (d. 1966)—her mother having labored through the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Before the 1891 Census, there was yet another daughter born named Ethel. (A tenth child and final son, Sam, would be born in 1894 when his mother was 43. He died at age 13 in 1907, the only Culley child not to reach adulthood.)
On Sunday, 5 April, 1891, the census takers found the Culleys at 57 Anchor Street, Hunslet, Leeds. Henry, aged 42, and his teenaged son John worked as advertisers for Watson’s, soapmaker. Joseph Watson and Sons ran their soapworks out of Whitehall, Leeds, and I believe that Henry and John Culley may have been two of many individuals who walked the streets wearing large painted banners and boards, pitching products such Watson’ Matchless Cleanser and others the soapmaker sold.
A decade later, the family was still almost fully intact at 57 Anchor Street. Henry had taken work as a porter and the girls as assistant chemists and apprentice bonnet or cigar makers. One son was a postman, another a steam engine fitter.
Alice married Tom Booth the following summer on 3 August at St. Mary the Virgin Church, Hunslet. The son of Yorkshireman James William Booth (b. 1856) and Jane Briggs (b. 1859), he followed his father’s trade of glass bottlemaking. Tom was born 10 September, 1879, and baptized at age ten at St. Mary the Virgin. Much like Alice, he had grown up in a terrace house bursting with siblings—for at least some of that time at 11 Springfield Place on Woodhouse Hill. Alice gave birth to a son 1 June, 1902, who was named Harry after her father. A daughter, Ellen, was born 1 July, 1908.
In 1911, the final census to which we have access, Tom, Alice, and their children lived at 1 Balmoral Grove, Hunslet, with Harry and Ellen. Mary Booth was born in 1911 and Alice Booth in 1913. I hope that when the 1921 Census becomes available in 2022 (or sooner, if genealogists have their way), that the stories of the Booth children can be added to meaningfully.
Harry Booth wed Agnes Bell in the same church as his parents, St. Mary the Virgin, on 17 March, 1928. His namesake grandfather and his grandmother almost certainly attended the service. Henry Culley would live another two years, dying in January 1930, aged 81. Toward the end of that year, Alice Maud Culley Booth, the not-dead infant of the summer of 1879, followed him out of life. (Her husband outlived her by 13 years, dying in June 1843, also in Leeds.)
Mary Jane lived to see her granddaughter Ellen marry Thomas Reginald Wilson, a boilermaker, the son of John William Wilson, cable layer, on 16 March, 1935, also at St. Mary the Virgin. Mary Jane passed away at age 87 in early 1938. On 8 March, 1948, Harry Booth, then of 2 New Pepper Road, died at 128 Beckett Street, Leeds. The estate he left was £399 14s. 6p. His wife Agnes died in late 1960, with her daughter Ellen Booth Wilson following in 1965. Ω
The posing of mother and child may also deliberately highlight the loss of her long and well-cared for hair.
This stunning tintype, circa 1875, of an American mother and infant, is owned by collector and Your Dying Charlotte contributor Beverly Wilgus, who notes, “This little tintype is not as much a ‘hidden mother’ as a mother who chose to put the emphasis on the baby. I do wonder about her very short hair. One explanation could be that she has been very ill, maybe after a difficult birth, and her hair was cut short for comfort.”
It is possible that the woman pictured suffered from puerperal sepsis (called childbed fever) in the aftermath of delivery, which had been combatted, in part, by hair cropping. If true, this mother surely thought the tintype image celebratory—even triumphant: She had survived; her magnificent reward was the healthy infant draped over her shoulder, offered visually to posterity.
The sitter was lucky—a scarce survivor of a bitter scourge. “Childbed fever killed at the cruelest moments. It was described as a ‘desecration,’ an aspect of the natural world that felt almost deliberately evil. What caused it? Some thought ‘a failure of uterine discharge;’ others, a little later, called it ‘milk metastasis,’ noting that the internal organs of the women who died seemed covered in milk. Eventually it was accepted that the fluid was not milk at all. It was pus,” wrote Druin Burch in a Live Science article, “When Childbirth Was Natural, and Deadly.” When obstetricians and midwives talked of “delivering women,” he explained, they meant delivering them from the deadly perils of childbirth.
Puerperal sepsis from Streptococcus pyogenes is transmitted via unsanitary conditions during delivery. In an age before antibiotics, the takeover of its host was medicinally unstoppable. Between 1847 to 1876, an estimated five deaths resulted after each 1,000 live births, with puerperal sepsis causing up to half of those losses. “There was no cure available: doctors merely prescribed opium, champagne, and brandy-and-soda, trying to ease the passing, rather than making a vain attempt to cure a mortal illness,” wrote Judith Flanders in her 2003 book Inside the Victorian Home.
Yet against the odds, this mother survived.
In the Little House series, Mary Ingall’s lovely blonde hair was cropped during the throes of scarlet fever in a bid to save her life.
That hair should be cut during a high fever steamed from a long-held notion that it could drain the energy of the seriously ill; cutting it also allowed heat to escape the body thus lowering the patient’s temperature. In the popular Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, for example, Mary Ingall’s lovely blonde hair was cropped during the throes of scarlet fever in a bid to save her life. (As an aside, JSTOR Daily points out, “Pediatric historian Beth A. Tarini believes the term was inaccurately used to describe viral meningoencephalitis in Mary Ingalls, whose disease rendered her completely blind.” The article is a fascinating read.)
Whenever a woman’s hair was cut for medical reasons, it was mourned by her family and friends as a brutal loss. Long and well-cared for tresses were considered a Victorian woman’s chiefest treasure. Writers of the age reflected the obsession in their literary works. “No other writers have lavished such attention on the physical properties of women’s hair: its length, texture, color, style, curliness. There is scarcely a female character in Victorian fiction whose hair is not described at least perfunctorily, and often the woman’s hair is described in incredible detail. The brown, neatly combed heads of virtuous governesses and industrious wives; the tangled, disorderly hair of the sexually and emotionally volatile women like Hetty Sorrel and Catherine Earnshaw; the artfully arranged curls of the girl-women like Dora Spenlow Copperfield and Isabella Linton are all familiar, even conventional elements in Victorian character description.” wrote Elizabeth G. Gitters in “The Power of Women’s Hair in the Victorian Imagination.” (PMLA Journal, October 1984).
In a culture that all-but worshiped long female hair, caring for it was a rigorous process. It was an an era before shampoo and available cleansing options often contained caustic or drying elements. Women instead brushed their hair to redistribute the natural oil whilst often adding in tonics or perfumes. The brushing regimen was done daily by some women, such as the singer Aline Vallandri, for upwards of a half hour. Mrs. Walker, who published a 400-page tome in 1840 titled Female Beauty, as Preserved and Improved by Regimen, Cleanliness and Dress, recommended the use of a soft brush for at least ten minutes, twice a day, after the hair had been combed and brushed with a hard brush to remove dandruff and dust, such as soot from coal burning fires.
Other cleansing tricks written about in the 19th Century include the use of baking soda and vinegar, rum, and black tea, as well as egg yolks and rosemary as conditioning agents. Ladies could powder their hair and then brush it after the excess oil was absorbed—as descendants of these women do today with dry shampoo. Ω
“Because I feel that in the heavens above
The angels, whispering one to another,
Can find among their burning tears of love,
None so devotional as that of ‘Mother,’
Therefore, by that dear name I have long called you,
You who are more than mother unto me.” — Edgar Allan Poe
A quick note: I will be having surgery on Tuesday, 4 April, and will be taking at least a four- or five-day hiatus to recover. I will return as soon as possible. Promise.