The Iconography of John Sobieski Stuart

In my previous post about the Sobieski Stuarts (and my non connection with them) I reproduced the above photograph, which is attributed to the noted early Scottish photographer, David Octavius Hill, who had set up a photographic studio with Robert Adamson in Edinburgh in the 1840’s.

Hill was one of the first to produce artistic photographs and in the course of his work photographed many of the great and the good of 1840’s Scotland.

I’ve stared at this photograph, and blown it up to as large a size I can display and I find the iconography quite fascinating.

Firstly, Sobieski Stuart seems to be wearing a frock coat styled after the manner of a British cavalry officers’ undress frock coat.

Such coats are still worn today by members of the British Royal Family on state occasions, and if you search for ‘nineteenth century British undress uniform’ you can turn up a number of images from tailors that make uniforms for re-enactors.

The salient point is that they are usually dark blue and have quite an elaborate set of cross ties, that when done up, would give a frogged appearance, but of course one never actually does them up or at least no one does in later photographs.

Interestingly, Sobieski Stuart has them buttoned up – I have no idea when the fashion for leaving them dangling started, and perhaps in the 1840’s this was how one wore them. However, by the time of the Crimean War some officers were leaving them undone


British Officer, Crimean war

Note also that in Sobieski Stuart’s photograph  the small decoration in approximately the place an officer would wear a medal ribbon or similar decoration as seen in the above image of a Crimean war British officer wearing an undress frock coat.

So we can say that Sobieski Stuart – even though he was a Welsh charlatan – is trying to project the image of being an officer and a gentleman.

And there is the hair and beard. In a time when few people, even among the great and the good, had elaborate haircuts the hair and beard are styled to look a little like those of Charles I

(image CC-BY from British Museum)

In short he is is trying both to make himself like the romantic and doomed Charles I, and yet suggest he is an officer or at least someone who has seen valiant service.

I find it interesting that, at a time when photography was so new, he would take the trouble to present himself so elaborately …

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Nothing to do with Bonnie Prince Charlie

Every so often I mess about with family history. Not seriously. Really I do it to keep my skills in tracing documents back through the archives up to speed and to practice reading nineteenth century handwriting.

The only real mystery was my maternal grandfather, and that wasn’t really a mystery at all, more, that as he died when my mother was three, her memories of him were hazy, and perhaps confused with other early memories of uncles and aunts.

However, I started using MyHeritage, an ancestry company to back up the relationships map, for no reason that my brother had started on his own family history project using MyHeritage.

One side effect of this is that I get the ‘you’ve got matches’ emails that they send out as a tease to get you to sign up.

Usually they are things I already know, or in the case of Hanna Mathiesen, a false positive, even though Hanna’s turned out to be more useful than I first thought.

And then I got this email a few days ago:

Screenshot 2020-12-06 132038

William Cargill I knew about – in 1808 he married Magdalene Salmond and in 1816 he and Magdalene had a daughter Ann, who married one of the innumerable James Moncur’s in my family tree.

Magdalene’s father was Robert Salmond, and while I havn’t researched any of them, we must be looking at a date earlier than 1775 for Robert’s birth.

Screenshot 2020-12-06 132903

Now, as I have not researched William Cargill. I don’t know what he did for a living, but I’m reasonably certain it was nothing particularly grand.

So what of the other two names mentioned?

Well wikipedia (plus a bit of inspired googling) turned up this family tree:

Screenshot 2020-12-06 141056

so we can say that Charles de Rohan was the offspring of Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and immortalised for ever on shortbread tins.

Charles de Rohan had the following offspring

Screenshot 2020-12-06 140935

which initially all looks rather neat. (Except it isn’t)

Remember the story about Charles de Rohan being smuggled on a British ship to avoid assassination by agents of the Elector of Hanover?

Well, at this time the elector of Hanover was none other than Mad King George of England, and one could see that Charles de Rohan by his existence, could be a threat to the legitimacy of the Hanoverian dynasty, except that by then the Stuart claim was dead, and no real threat.

So what about this John Carter Allen?

He undoubtedly existed, and was an admiral. He had a number of children, including Thomas Allen, who appears to have been born before his father was married, suggesting he was illegitimate. His mother has never been identified.

John Carter Allen’s father, Carter Allen had married a woman name Emma Hay, and on that basis said he had a connection to the Earldom of Errol, the Errols’ surname being Hay. It’s worth noting that Mary Hay the 14th Countess was well known as  a Jacobite sympathiser and the story of Erroll connection could have had an influence on his children and grandchildren. Certainly he was well enough taken with the story to add the name Hay to his.

Thomas Allen had an undistinguished naval career, and while he claimed to have been a captain, seems not to have progressed beyond the rank of lieutenant.

However he did marry reasonably well, to Catherine Matilda Manning, and in time had three children, John, Matilda, and Charles.

This isn’t a story of Regency married bliss however, around 1807 he took up with a younger woman, Ann Salmon, who had been born in Hackney in 1790, and with whom he had five children. Sometimes the name is given as Salmond, and I’m guessing that Ann Salmond or Salmon was a descendant of one of Robert Salmond’s siblings.

Thomas never claimed (as far as I’m aware) to be grandson of Bonnie Prince Charlie, but in the 1820’s his two legitimate sons adopted the surname Stuart, and claimed to be descendants of Bonnie Prince Charlie

John Sobieski Stuart  c 1845 (attribution etc)

The claim of descent from the Young Pretender is, of course, bollocks.

The genealogist Antony Camp has researched them extensively and found no evidence for their descent from Charles Edward Stuart. It’s just possible Thomas Allen was the son of Charles Edward Stuart, but there’s no evidence to support it.

However, not only did  the brothers claim descent from Charles Edward Stuart, they also perpetrated a monumental hoax, the Vestiarium Scoticum, which claimed to be a history of the clans of Scotland and their tartan. Immensely popular as the romantic tartan myths took off in the 1840’s the book was not debunked until well over a century later.

The Vestiarum filled a need. After the ‘45, the Dress Act had broken the oral history of tartan and the significance, if any, of the various tartans.

In fact many of the associations were invented by weavers in central Scotland who started weaving tartans for the Highland regiments and sought approval for various designs from clan chiefs.

With the birth of highland romanticism in the early Victorian era there was a need to invent a whole history for tartan, and this is what the Sobieski Stuarts proceeded to do. Their claimed descent from Bonnie Prince Charlie of course lent an air of legitimacy to their hoax – a case of ‘if one lie doesn’t do it, tell a bigger one’.

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Did Charlotte Bronte smell?

When you visit old early nineteenth century houses one thing you notice is the absence of a dedicated bathroom. The Brontes didn’t have one in Haworth, nor did Hamilton Hume in Cooma Cottage.

Privies, yes, sometimes, as can be seen Mr Seller’s house on Quality Row in Kingston on Norfolk Island, but no bathrooms.

And of course, the reason for this was that before the advent of piped water and household hot water services, having a bath was a major undertaking.

Heating even enough water for even a classic tin bath would have been a major undertaking, so most people made do with a ewer and a basin, and even then would most likely have washed in cold water, which would have been a character forming experience in a Haworth winter.

So, while most people did wash, it would have been more of a hurried sponge down with a cloth, and even then, perhaps not every day.

Equally, people did not was their day to day clothes as often as we do. Clothes were expensive – remember just about everything had to be hand made so people had fewer clothes, and washing them would have involved heating a large copper of water – hence the idea of Monday as washday.

So, if we were to stand next to Charlotte a a bus stop, we would probably notice a slight smell of body odour, just as when travelling in poorer countries one sometimes notices a slight smell of body odour, even where the culture emphasises washing.

She probably wouldn’t have smelled terrible.

Women in England typically did not wear underpants until at least the 1840’s – Rowlandson and his contemporaries took great delight in drawing cartoons showing society ladies unfortunate enough to slip on the stairs or fall off their horses and accidentally display their bare bottoms – which probably would have helped with hygiene, especially in the warmer months, but I suspect that even so there would have been a hint of body odour.

And this of course begs a question – colonial Sydney, even Hobart ,was warmer than the Yorkshire moors, and people would undoubtedly have sweated more and smelled more, especially over the summer months …

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Caribbean Slavery and the Highland Clearances

Back in August I wrote about how the payout from the emancipation of slaves in West Indies may have financed the development of the squatocracy and their landholdings in Australia.

I’ve just come across an interesting discussion paper that argues that a similar thing may have happened in Scotland.

The argument goes something like this: a number of owners of sugar estates (many of whom let us not forget, were Scottish), suddenly found themselves cash rich from their emancipation compensation payments, and saddled with suddenly unprofitable sugar estates.

The sugar estates were disposed of, and the cash used to buy land in Scotland, and where there was a crofting population that had not been cleared in the first wave of the Clearances, they were ‘encouraged’ to migrate, to free the land for the more profitable sheep.

It’s an interesting, and somewhat provocative idea …

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The Port Fairy mailbox

Back in 2018, I wrote how there was still an early Victorian short door mailbox still in use in Port Fairy.

At the time the mailbox was looking a bit faded and unloved, and in need of a coat of paint.

Well I was back in Port Fairy a few days ago and can report that the mailbox has a bright new coat of paint, including a touch of gold on the crown, rim, and door handle:

and that it is still in use.

If you look round the back at the base you can clearly see the manufacturer’s name – G Couch, Engineer, Alliance Iron works, Melbourne

as there is on all short door and long door mailboxes, as in the example in the Flagstaff Hill collection in Warnnambool

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Sir Humphry Davy and Frankenstein


Humphry Davy, the noted chemist, and technology evangelist (satirized by Rowlandson above) was a friend of William Godwin, and was also known for his experiments with electricity, including building a truly ginormous voltaic pile around 1806.

Remarkably, Davy was also friends with both Robert Southey and Simon Taylor Coleridge through Davy’s work with nitrous oxide, or laughing gas. Davy, as well as conducting scientific work on its properties would also invite friends round for a sniff and then ask them what they experienced, something vaguely reminiscent of the twentieth century experiments with psychedelic drugs.

Mary must have heard talk of his experiments and demonstrations and may even have seen some of them, including perhaps the jumping frogs leg experiment pioneered by Galvani.

What’s interesting and less well known is that Shelley was also fascinated by galvinism and had his own voltaic pile in his rooms at Oxford.

Whether Davy ever met Shelley and Mary together is unknown, but he certainly knew of them and perhaps a little of their scandalous lives.

It would seem unlikely if they didn’t cross paths, as Davy was a regular visitor to northern Italy and what is now Slovenia, as evidenced by this plaque on a house in Podkoren on the Sava river that I was surprised to come across when we were on holiday in 2015

S6301658 (2)

(There’s a story about this plaque: It was originally put up in the 1890’s and the inscription was in German as Podkoren – or Wurzen as was – was part of the German speaking part of Austria Hungary. Come the end of the first world war and the dissolution of Austria Hungary, Podkoren ended up in Yugoslavia. At some point in the 1920’s, someone took down the original plaque, flipped it over, and recarved the inscription in Slovenian … )

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Mary Shelley and the Bracknell vegetarians

In among other things, I’ve been continuing to delve into Mary Shelley’s time in Dundee.

It’s all taken longer than I meant it to, in part because I bought a couple of books on the subject and one of them took nine weeks to arrive. However I’m finding the exercise quietly fascinating.

We often talk about social networks, but in both Percy Bysshe Shelley’s and Mary’s escapades, we can see them at work.

For example, William Godwin knew Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Mary would have heard Coleridge read or recite the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, including the journey south to the south pole. That combined with the stories of the Dundee whalers, and the sight of the whale ships towing their catch up the Tay, must have had a powerful effect on Mary, who of course had never seen arctic or antarctic ice.

When she saw the Mer de Glace glacier on Mont Blanc, it must have seemed like the site of her gothic imaginings of the polar ice fields.

The other interesting thing I’ve come across is that Shelley was a vegetarian. That itself is not exactly news, nor is the fact that Cornelia Turner gave Shelley Italian lessons, and perhaps something more, before her husband abruptly terminated the relationship in mid July 1814, shortly before Shelley eloped with Mary.

Given Shelley’s promiscuity, his proclaimed belief in free love and his often expressed wish to live in a sort of Romantic hippy commune, it wouldn’t be surprising if he had had a relationship with Cornelia.

However, what interested me was the social network aspect of this. Cornelia’s father was a friend of William Godwin, and it was William Godwin who introduced Cornelia to her husband.

Cornelia’s parents were both members of the politically radically Bracknell group of vegetarians, and it’s not difficult to surmise that Shelley’s espousal of vegetarianism would have given him an entree into the group, after his failure to obtain the lease of Nantgwyllt in the Elan valley.

(Nantgwyllt is now underwater, having been submerged when the Elan valley dams were built to supply Birmingham with water. Nantgwyllt Anglican church, while worth a visit on its own account, is a late Victorian confection built to replace the medieval church which was also submerged beneath the Elan valley reservoir).

So, wheels within wheels …

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Collodion what?


Yesterday I was puzzling over the rise in the use of the word collodion as a term for early photographs. The term derives from the collodion process (or wet plate process) which allowed photographs to be made using glass plates rather than the metal plates used in daguerreotypes.

The collodion process meant that multiple images could be made from a single negative, rather than daguerreotypes which only allowed you to make a single image at a time.

Not surprisingly, the invention of the collodion process in 1851 took the world by storm and rapidly displaced the daguerreotype as the preferred photographic process. As can be seen from the advert above (from the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian on 10 November 1854), people who continued to style themselves as daguerreotypists (because people knew what than meant) advertised that they in fact used the newer collodion process in their work.

The collodion process was what Lewis Carroll, an enthusiastic amateur photographer used to take his pictures of Alice Liddell.

So, in what contexts was the word collodion used?

I looked at Welsh Newspapers Online between 1850 and 1860 to look and see what word followed collodion. I only looked at the English language newspapers – the Welsh language newspapers are a confusing mixture of Welsh editorial and mixed English and Welsh language adverts.

And this is what I found

Collodion 7
Collodion Photographic 3
Collodion Plate 2
Collodion Picture 2
Collodion Process 10
Collodion Portraits 8

Most of the uses of collodion referred the mechanics of the process, plate, process, and so on, but quite a number referred to the use it was being put to, eg Collodion Portraits, to emphasise that the images were being taken with this new technique …

So I then used the Google Ngram viewer with the British English Corpus for the period 1850-60 to compare the use of the terms collodion, collodion portrait and collodion plate with the terms daguerreotype and photograph


Which basically shows that the change was from daguerreotype to photograph. While collodion in combination with various words was used, this was in contexts to emphasise that the new process was used, rather then for the images themselves …

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And the winner is …

Following on from my trying to work out when we started calling photographs photographs, I though I’d use the Google Ngram viewer one more type to look at the relative usage of the following terms for photographs over the period 1840 to 1880:

The terms I checked were:

  • daguerreotype
  • calotype
  • ambrotype
  • tintype
  • collodion (the name of the wet plate process)
  • photograph

The results were a little surprising

Annotation 2020-09-05 161319

while daguerreotype was indeed the most common term before 1855, the term collodion, as in collodion process was a pretty common term.

I then checked to see if the term collodion process was the term actually in use

Annotation 2020-09-05 163344

which it clearly wasn’t.

What this means I’m not sure, I’ll have to go and look at usages of collodion in context …

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When did we start calling photographs photographs?

The first photographic images widely used were known as daguerreotypes after the technique used.  (There were other techniques and names in the 1840s and 50s, eg calotype, ambrotype, but daguerreotype was the first.)

Later on we started calling them the more generic term photograph, but exactly when did we start doing that?

For example Beard, the first commercial daguerreotypist in Britain, was still calling them daguerreotypes as late as 1855, but the diarist Francis Kilvert, writing in 1870, refers only to photographs.

Well to find out I did some very simple investigations – first of all I used the Google Ngram viewer to look at the yearly occurrence of the term daguerreotype in the English corpus:

ngram of daguerreotype

which gives us a peak usage of the term around 1853 or 1854.

Again using the Google Ngram viewer I compared the occurrence of the term daguerreotype versus photograph over the period 1840 to 1860:

photo vs daguerre ngram

and we can see that the crossover occurred around 1855.

To sanity check this I then checked the relative occurrence of the two terms in both Welsh Newspapers online and the NLA’ s Trove. As the Trove dataset is richer I graphed the two of them separately to stop the Welsh data being drowned out the Trove data.



So, in the Welsh data we see that the data more or less matches the Google Ngram data with the crossover occurring about 1855. Interestingly, the Trove data shows something else, with both terms being used equally in the first few years of the 1850’s, with use of the term photograph taking off in 1856.

1855 of course was the date of Roger Fenton’s seminal Crimean War images, and in reports of the exhibition of his photographs, reporters use the term photograph, rather than referring to the particular technique used, suggesting perhaps that this helped drive the initial adoption of the term in preference to daguerreotype …

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