Monday, 16 June 2008

Another portrait from the Cape Town studio of W. Lawrence

Having come across my previous article featuring a colourised carte de visite from the studio of Lawrence Brothers of Cape Town (South Africa), Joanne Savile recently sent me another portrait from this studio.

Image © and courtesy of Joanne Savile

Joanne asked:
I have a photo with "W. Lawrence, Photographer, Caledon Street Cape Town" on the back which looks pretty early too. I think it is my gg-grandmother Mary Black who emigrated there in 1858 and married in Capetown January 1860. She left South Africa 1869/70 and died in 1884. I'm guessing this might be an engagement /pre-wedding photo. What do you reckon? If I'm correct she would have been 18/19 yrs old at the time.
Image © and courtesy of Joanne Savile

Unfortunately dating photos is rarely as cut and dried as we might wish. The hair style, with just the lobes of her ears showing, is typical of the early to mid-1860s, perhaps between 1860 and 1865. You can just see the outline of a hair net which, although commonly worn by women, often doesn't show up well in photographs of the period. The clothing is also characteristic of this time, with rounded shoulders, the sleeves widening considerably downwards from just above the elbows, a lace collar, and a cameo brooch at her neck.

However, there are a number of things which lead me to think that this particular photographic print was perhaps produced slightly later. As cartes de visite were only introduced by studio photographers in 1860/1861, it seems rather unlikely that this particular example could have been taken on or before your gg-grandmother's marriage in January 1860. Also the style of the CDV, i.e. a vignetted cameo half-length portrait, would be a little unusual for the early 1860s, and I think it more likely to have been produced in the late 1860s. The design on the reverse of the card mount suggests it was not much later than the late 1860s.

This disparity between the apparent date of the portrait and the date of the photographic print suggests, at least to me, that it may have been a later copy of a photographic portrait taken in the early 1860s, perhaps even on or around the date of your gg-grandmother's marriage. The vignetting, i.e. the fading at the edges, could also have been done at the time of making the copy. If this is the case, then it is a good copy - many copies, particularly from that era, show a marked loss of definition and contrast compared with the original. Also it is worthwhile noting that the original may well have been an ambrotype photograph, rather than a CDV, particularly in light of your view that it may have been taken c. 1860.

Joane subsequently sent me some more information about her gg-grandmother, as well as a scan of another photograph of her, taken some time later after she had returned to live in England.

Image © and courtesy of Joanne SavileImage © and courtesy of Joanne Savile

"Mary was born on 14 September 1841 at Corrie Common, Hutton & Corrie, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, the eldest child of Peter Black and Catherine. She emigrated with her family to South Africa in 1858 where she worked as domestic servant to Rev Mr Douglas in Cape Town. She married a fellow Scot, John Cramond on 3 January 1860 at the Scottish Church in Cape Town. Mary and John had four children in South Africa: John (1863), Catherine (1866) Mary (1867) and Janet (1869). Her father and sister died in 1866 and were buried in St. John's Cemetery, Wynberg, Cape Town, along with Mary's younger sister, Isabella."

"Most of the family left South Africa for Cleator, Cumberland, England around 1870. They probably chose Cleator as John Black (Mary's brother) was settled there already, working as an engineman at the local iron ore mines. Mary's other two brothers and husband all found work at the iron ore mines as engine fitters/mechanical engineers. Mary had her fifth child Alexander at Leconsfield Street, Cleator on the 19 January 1871. She went on to have another eight children, all in Cleator, before dying at the birth of her 13th child Robert in August 1884, aged 42. Her children generally fared well and most of them kept in touch with each other. One went back to South Africa, six emigrated to New York, two to Australia, two remained in Cleator, Cumberland, one daughter died in childbirth in Scotland, and a son died aged 8, three years after Mary."

The photographer Joseph Warwick was originally a coal miner who moved from Lambly in Northumberland to Carlisle around 1882. He operated a studio at 46 Sheffield Street until at least the early 1890s, although he was also a book deliverer (1891) and life assurance agent (1901). The later portrait shown above was probably taken shortly before Mary died, between 1882 and 1884.

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