Victorian Mourning Photography

There was a period of a few years when I couldn’t go anywhere without falling over mourning related items. In an antique shop in Nassau in the Bahamas (!?) I found a complete issue of the London Illustrated News covering the Duke of Wellington’s funeral.
A drawing from the Illustrated London News of the Duke’s funeral procession.
And I found the issue below focused on the death of Queen Victoria while in England.

In addition, I regularly found mourning photographs, or postcards, featuring royal figures. The advent of photographs, and especially daguerreotypes in 1839, made portraiture available to everyone and it was soon adapted for mourning purposes, with Queen Victoria embracing the medium wholeheartedly. Due to published images of Queen Victoria and her family in mourning for Prince Albert like those below, it soon became the vogue to have photos made of oneself in mourning.

In addition, the old fashioned mourning, or momento mori, memorabilia issued upon the deaths of public figures also adapted photographs into their designs.

Photographs were also taken during public funerals, like that for Queen Victoria below.


When Napoleon III died, the Illustrated London News of January 25, 1873 ran the following engraving, which was drawn from a post mortem photograph taken by Mssrs. Downey. By this time, photographs of mourners and funerals had taken a back seat to photographs of the dead themselves.

This is one of several postcard photos of Edward VII from my collection and it was the first time I’d been confronted with an actual photograph of a corpse, albeit a royal one. It prompted me to do more research into the topic and, while I initially found the photo of the dead king unsettling, I now see it as downright benign when compared others that exist.

Warning: While I’ve decided not to include the most unsettling mourning photographs I’ve found in this post, the following images were chosen as representative of the genre and may still prove disturbing to some viewers.
It must be remembered that photography was relatively expensive during the Victorian period. The vast majority of the public did not have photographs of themselves or their families, much less paintings, busts or other likenesses. Therefore,
to a certain degree, it’s understandable that people considered the death of a loved one to be their last chance to have an image taken of them. Hence, an entire industry in mourning photography sprang up. The widest sector of these photographs deal with the death of a child and are often heartwrenching.

Whilst the very nature of these photographs is decidedly creepy, one can understand a mother, or father, wanting such a rememberance of their child. However, the very nature of these photographs also lends them a macabre air, often helped along by the composition used by the photographer. The photograph below looks like a piece of promotional material from The Shining Four.
On a creepiness scale of 1 to 10, it rates a 15.
This photo is just inexplicable.
Disturbing as photos of prepared corpses may be, they are far more understandable than the photos taken of the dead who have been placed in various poses, such as the one below.  
 
I chose to use this photo of parents sitting on either side of their deceased daughter as representative of the posing of the dead since it’s the least offensive. There are photographs of children and adults propped up in attitudes of play and in prayer. There’s a particularly macabre photo of a dead fireman who has been propped up on a stand like a mannequin, dressed in uniform and wearing his hat. All of these photos have one thing in common – it is evident in each that the subject is deceased. The “lifelike” poses aren’t fooling anyone. In some cases, the dead, white, unseeing eyes of the subject aim straight at the camera.

And lest you think that mourning photography was confined to humans, here is a Victorian photograph of the pet cemetary in London’s Hyde Park.

 

And here is another photo of four grieving women, this time mourning a dog and looking much less creepy than the four females in the previous photo above.

Should you wish to see the mourning photos I chose not to use in this post, visit photographer Paul Frecker’s site here and a gallery hosted by the Museum of Mourning Photography here.

The Wellington Connection: The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Duke of Wellington is connected to the Charge of the Light Brigade through his association with Lord  Fitzroy Somerset (at left), who was both his military secretary and his nephew by marriage.

Field Marshal FitzRoy James Henry Somerset, Baron Raglan (1788 – 1855), was a British soldier who distinguished himself particularly in the Spanish parts of the Napoleonic campaign. He was badly wounded by five stab wounds to the shoulder at the Battle of Buçaco, after Fuentes de Onoro became brevet-major, as a volunteer helped storm Ciudad Rodrigo, and subsequently led the storming of Badajoz, and personally secured and quickly held one of the gates before the French could respond.

He was the eighth and youngest son of Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort, by Elizabeth, daughter of Admiral the Hon. Edward Boscawen. His elder brother, General Lord Edward Somerset (1776–1842), distinguished himself as the leader of the Household Cavalry brigade at the Battle of Waterloo. Fitzroy Somerset was commissioned onto the 4th Light Dragoons on 9 June 1804, being promoted to Lieutenant on 30 May 1805. In 1807 he was attached to the Hon. Sir Arthur Paget’s (later Marquess of Angelsey) embassy to Turkey, and the same year he was selected to serve on the staff of Sir Arthur Wellesley in the expedition to Copenhagen. In the following year he accompanied Wellesley to Portugal, and during the whole of the Peninsular War was at his right hand, first as aide-de-camp and then as military secretary. Lord Hardinge later remarked that he had first become acquainted with Lord FitzRoy Somerset at the battle of Vimiera, “when we of the same age were astonished at the admirable manner in which he then performed the duties of aide-de-camp, and at the great respect with which he was treated by Sir Arthur Wellesley. It was remarked on all occasions that if there was a word of advice to which that great man would listen with unusual patience, it was that which proceeded from Lord FitzRoy Somerset. During the whole period that the Duke of Wellington was in the Peninsula—with the exception, I believe, of a short time when he was in England for the benefit of his health—Lord FitzRoy Somerset was at his right hand. He was present at every one of those actions which illustrate the career of our great commander; on every occasion he was foremost in the field, and he displayed the same valour and courage which have so conspicuously marked his conduct in the Crimea.”

On 6 August 1814 he married Lady Emily Harriet Wellesley-Pole, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Mornington,  the Duke of Wellington’s niece. As Lady Shelley tells us, “On August 5, 1814, the Duke dined with his regiment at Windsor, and on the following morning returned to town to be present at Emily Pole’s marriage with Lord Fitzroy Somerset. While passing through Brentford the wheel of his carriage came off twice. The Duke immediately sprang into a market cart, in full costume as he was, and arrived at the church only a few minutes after the time fixed for the wedding. He gave the bride away, and then dressed for the opera. I met him there, and he took care of me to the carriage.”

Between the Napoleonic campaigns, Lord Somerset was secretary to the British embassy at Paris and when Napoleon returned to France he once more became aide-de-camp and military secretary to the Duke of Wellington. At Waterloo his arm was injured and amputated. At the end of the surgery he told orderly not to take away his arm until he had removed a ring that his wife had given him. He quickly learned to write with his left hand, and on the conclusion of the war resumed his duties in Paris.Wellington recommended him as the aide-de-camp to the Prince Regent, a post that was given on 28 August 1815 together with the rank of Colonel. Raglan returned to the British embassy at Paris and remained there as secretary until the end of 1818 when the allied armies were withdrawn from France.  For two short periods in the 1820s he was MP for Truro. In 1819 he was appointed secretary to the Duke of Wellington when Wellington became Commander-in-Chief of the army after the Duke of York died on 22 January 1827 and from 1827 till the death of the duke in 1852, Somerset served as his Military Secretary at the Horse Guards. Wellington described him as ‘a man who wouldn’t tell a lie to save his life’.

Somerset’s political career culminated in his being appointed a Privy Counsellor in 1852, when he was created Baron Raglan.

 

At the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1853, Raglan was chosen to command the British troops, despite the fact that he was sixty-five years old and had never led troops in the field. He left London on 10 April and reached Constantinople at the end of the month. In 1854, Raglan (at left) was made full General and joint commander of the Crimean campaign in co-operation with a strong French army under Marshal St. Arnaud and afterwards, up to May 1855, under Marshal Canrobert. Here his diplomatic experience stood him in good stead in dealing with the generals and admirals, British, French and Turkish, who were associated with him; however, the trying winter campaign of the Crimean War showed that becoming a General was a step too far for Raglan. His failure to give coherent or timely commands on the field of battle led to numerous mistakes, and his blind ignorance of the growing rivalry between the Earl of Lucan and the Earl of Cardigan would have tragic consequences in the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade.

The Charge of the Light Brigade was a disastrous charge of British cavalry led by Lord Cardigan against Russian forces on 25 October, 1854 during the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. Subsequently Raglan was pilloried by the press, rightly or wrongly, for the conditions which led to so many troops being unfit to serve, falling seriously ill or dying, and being responsible for the incompetent chain of command and poor tactics which led to Inkerman and then the Charge of the Light Brigade. To be fair, much of the responsibility must fall on authorities in the UK, and appalling logistics from there.

Today, the incident is best remembered as the subject of a famous poem entitled The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, whose lines have made the charge a symbol of warfare at both its most courageous and its most tragic.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Oddly enough, despite Raglan’s military unpopularity, he was put in charge of the general assault on Sebastapol on 18 June 1855 – the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. It was to be preceded by a two-hour cannonade but the French commander decided at the last moment to attack at daybreak, a decision that Raglan reluctantly accepted. The result was disastrous. The French columns were driven back with heavy loss. Raglan ordered the British forward against the Redan where the two leading British columns met a murderous fire of grapeshot and musket fire. Raglan felt responsible for the failure. He was already suffering from dysentery and on the evening of 28 June he died. His body was taken to a ship called the Caradoc with the full military honours and the seven miles of road from his headquarters to Kazatch Bay were lined with troops. The ship reached Bristol on 24 July; Raglan was buried privately at Badminton on the 26 July.

IT’S A DOG’S LIFE – Part Three

Suspense by Sir Edwin Landseer

As we have seen, the British, both royal and non, love their dogs, so it should be no wonder that they turned their minds to the benefit of canines at large. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed in a coffee shop in 1824 by a group of men that included the anti-slavery activist William Wilberforce. It was the first animal welfare charity to be founded in the world and sought to prevent the abuse of working animals, entertainments (cock-fighting), and slaughterhouse conditions. In its first year, the Society brought sixty three offenders before the Courts. It was granted its royal status by Queen Victoria in 1840 to become the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

One of the RSPCA’s members, Mary Tealby, went on to found the world’s first successful animal sanctuary, the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year (find special issue stamps here). The institution both responded to and influenced the British public’s attitude towards animal welfare during its early years. Mary Tealby, who had separated from her husband and moved to London in 1860, first resolved to found a “canine asylum” after the death of a starving dog she had attempted to nurse back to health. Struck by the plight of London’s strays, she established the Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs in a stable in an Islington mews.

Low Life by Sir Edwin Landseer
This dog collar once belonged to Charles Dickens and was sold at auction for $11,590 by Bonhams, NY.

The Times launched a scathing attack on the Home on 18 October 1860 – “From the sublime to the ridiculous – from the reasonable inspirations of humanity to the fantastic exhibitions of ridiculous sentimentalism – there is but a single step… When we hear of a ‘Home for Dogs’, we venture to doubt if the originators and supporters of such an institution have not taken leave of their sober senses.”

However, other Victorians were ready to support the cause, including Charles Dickens. He published a piece in the magazine All the Year Round in 1862 about the home, calling it an “extraordinary monument of the remarkable affection with which the English people regard the race of dogs.” His sentimental prose gave the home a much-needed seal of approval: “It is the kind of institution which a very sensitive person who has suffered acutely from witnessing the misery of a starving animal would wish for, without imagining for a moment that it would ever seriously exist. It does seriously exist, though.”

Dickens was not alone in supporting the cause and the Society and Home flourished and expanded despite society’s jeers. The following reports were listed in a publication called The Animals Friend in 1897:

The Committee of the Battersea Dogs’ Home have purchased the freehold of a large and picturesque piece of ground at Hackbridge, in Surrey, to be used as a sanatorium for the better dogs passing through their hands. When funds permit it is intended to erect kennels, and establish the dogs under thoroughly comfortable and healthy conditions. It will be a real home for them, where they will have the best of treatment and plenty of daily exercise. This is a step in the right direction, and we trust it will meet with the support it deserves. Our readers will be glad to learn that the deed of conveyance contains a clause binding the managers of the Home never; at any time, to sell dogs for vivisection or any experimental purpose whatever.

On January 22nd, 1896, Mrs. Williams opened the London Home for Lost and Starving Cats at 80, Park Road, Hampstead, and in the first year received, sheltered, and humanely disposed of 2,450 wretched, homeless cats ; some were sent to good homes, but 80 per cent, went to their last and long sleep in the Battersea lethel chamber. The number has reached now the large figure of 3,923, making an average of from 90 to 106 homeless cats received weekly. Mrs. Williams has pursued her work in the face of all sorts of sneers and laughs, but is deeply grateful for the progress of her rescue work in such a short time. The Home is under the patronage of their Graces the Duke of Portland and the Duchesses of Bedford, Wellington, Sutherland, and others, but the funds are very low, as the expenses average £8 weekly, and help is earnestly solicited. Inspection of the Home is invited. The report is sent free.

For the 100th anniversary of the RSPCA, Thomas Hardy wrote an ode entitled Compassion: “Cries still are heard in secret nooks/ Till hushed with gag or slit or thud… But here, in battlings, patient, slow/ Much has been won – more, maybe than we know.” In 1885, Queen Victoria became Patron of the Home, and it has remained under Royal Patronage ever since. Currently, Queen Elizabeth is the Patron and Prince Michael of Kent serves as President.

There’s No Place Like Home by Sir Edwin Landseer

By the end of the 19th century, animal charities were no longer the subject of ridicule and additional institutions had joined their ranks. The Kennel Club was founded in 1873, and Frances Power Cobbe set up the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection in 1875. The National Canine Defence League was founded in 1891, while 1903 saw a Swedish countess, Emily Augusta Louise Lind-af-Hageby, establish the Animal Defence and Anti-Vivisection Society in London.

IT’S A DOG’S LIFE – Part Two

Queen Victoria owned many breeds of dogs over her long lifetime, including Pugs and Dachsunds and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
The Royal Collection © 2010,
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
RCIN 2105644

Looty, the first Pekingese dog in Britain, brought by Captain Dunne, 99th Regiment, from Yuanming Yuan, the Summer Palace near Beijing, as a gift for Queen Victoria in April 1861. Dunne had found Looty in the burned out remains of the Summer Palace at Pekin, curled up amongst soft shawls and rugs in one of the wardrobes.

 

During a trip to Italy in 1888, the Queen purchased a sable red Pomeranian she named Marco and brought him back to England. Marco weighed only 12 pounds and many dog historians point to him as being the instigator of the desire to breed smaller Pomeranians. Marco went on to compete under the Queen’s name in many dog shows and he won many honors. Victoria also bought three other Poms on the same trip to Florence in 1888 and the most famous next to Marco was a cute little female named Gina who also became a champion at London dog shows.

 

 

Queen Victoria and a favorite Pom, Turi


Dogs and dog shows nowadays seem such a large part of British life but it wasn’t until 1803 that the first Great International Dog Show was held at the Agricultural Hall, Islington, two classes being provided for Bulldogs, while the first Crystal Palace Show was held in 1870.

 

Crufts Dog Show, now a British institution, dates back to 1891. Its founder, Charles Cruft, managed a dog biscuit manufactury and eventually held a sales position for the firm that allowed him to travel and gain valuable exposure to many different dogs and dog enthusiasts. In 1878 he was asked to promote and organize the canine portion of the Paris Exhibition, and became involved with dog breeds shortly thereafter. His debut dog show took place in Islington, North London in 1886.
Queen Victoria had Poms bred at the kennels at Windsor, which prompted English dog fanciers to begin breeding smaller and smaller Poms, and when the adult dogs began to hit below eight pounds they were called Toy Pomeranians. In 1891, Queen Victoria showed six Poms at the Cruft’s Dog Show. In 1888 the first American Pom was entered into the American Kennel Club’s stud book, and in 1892 the first Pom to be shown in America was entered in a dog show in New York.

Of course, Queen Victoria was not the only Royal to have been fond of dogs. Elizabeth of York, mother of King Henry VIII, was known to have bred and kept greyhounds. There was King Charles and his spaniels, which were also kept by King Edward VII and George V, while Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, kept pugs.  In 2009, British news outlets reported that Prince William gifted his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, with a chocolate Labrador. And then there is the Pembroke Welsh Corgi . . . . . . . .

 

Part Three Coming Soon!

IT’S A DOG’S LIFE

Queen Victoria was a devoted dog lover and owner throughout her life and raised more than 15 different breeds of canines.

Perhaps the most famous of these dogs remains Dash, who was her faithful companion during her childhood. The artist Sir Edwin Landseer first won Victoria’s favour when he painted Dash, a King Charles spaniel. Dash had been presented to Princess Victoria in 1833 by the vile Sir John Conroy, personal secretary to her mother, the Duchess of Kent. No doubt Conroy hoped that Dash would mitigate the ill feelings Princess Victoria harbored towards him due to his machinations. Princess Victoria and Dash were soon inseparable and he lived by her side, with the Princess dressing him in scarlet jacket and blue trousers, and at Christmas she gave him three India-rubber balls and two bits of gingerbread decorated with holly and candles. There is a scene in the movie, Young Victoria, which illustrates how the newly crowned Queen returned home from her coronation in order to bathe Dash. Dash also appears in a garden scene in the film.

 

When Dash died in 1840, three years after she became Queen, Victoria buried him herself at Adelaide Cottage, and had inscribed on his tombstone: `Profit by the example of Dash, whose attachment was without selfishness, his playfulness without malice, and his fidelity without deceit.’

 

A bronze statue of Islay stands in Sydney, Australia

Then there was a Skye terrier called Islay, the little dog Victoria came to love most of all. She taught him to beg for treats. Combined with a pair of wet, soulful eyes, Islay’s gentle begging earned him treats galore from the household and visitors alike. Once again, Landseer was inspired to capture one of the Queen’s dogs, sometimes in the act of gathering tasty morsels.

 

Islay was the inspiration for Landseer’s painting entitled `Dignity and Impudence‘, one of his most successful works.

 

Islay also features prominently in a painting Landseer created in order to amuse the Queen at Balmoral. It shows the terrier doing his begging act before a macaw, who sits high on his perch holding a large biscuit, which he is feeding two lovebirds. Next to Islay at the bottom of the painting is Tilco, a Sussex spaniel, who nurses a wound on his nose inflicted upon him by the macaw after he’d tried to take the biscuit away. When Landseer unveiled the work before the Queen at Balmoral, Lord Melbourne was said to have commented, “Good God! How like!”

 

“Queen Victoria at Osborne” painted by Sir Edwin Landseer
Queen Victoria and Sharp

In later years, Queen Victoria’s favorite dog and constant companion was Sharp, a smooth-coated Border Collie, born in 1854.  A statuette of Sharp in silver gilt dominated her dining table.

 

Sharp lived for 15 years. A statue of him stands over his grave in Windsor Home Park, Berkshire, England. After Sharp, Queen Victoria was given another Collie named Noble.

From Queen Victoria’s Journal of a Life in the Highlands – Sunday, September 14, 1873:

My favorite collie Noble is always downstairs when we take our meals, and was so good, Brown making him lie on a chair or couch, and he never attempted to come down without permission, and even held a piece of cake in his mouth without eating it, till told he might. He is the most “biddable” dog I ever saw, and so affectionate and kind; if he thinks you are not pleased with him, he puts out his paws, and begs in such an affectionate way.

Part Two Coming Soon!