Saturday, September 17, 2016

"Mutiny and Horrible Massacre at Sea" (3)

So what else can be found for some of the other people involved in this drama? 

Captain Robert L. McNally, who knew he was about to die and left the poignant note reproduced in the first instalment of this saga (read it here) is variously described as simply British or as a native “of Dublin” in the news reports of the day, and with not much else to go on, proves difficult to establish his exact origins. There are a number of mariners of the same name and similar age to be found in the records, but none can be confirmed beyond doubt as being him. 

Just one of the possibles from records on merchant seaman,  Robert McNally of Dublin 1836  

Hong Kong c.1840 as McNally would have known it
What is intriguing, however, are the couple of sentences from The South Australian of 9 March 1949 indicating that Captain McNally was well-known in China and had also escaped another violent adventure some years earlier. 
“… Poor McNally was well known and much respected in China. He escaped the dangers of the Borneo expedition, in which the Hon. Mr Murray was killed, but he was fated to a death of violence …”
This refers to an almost forgotten episode from the era when a new generation of merchant adventurers had ambitions to follow in the footsteps of Sir Stamford Raffles and open up trading opportunities in the Far East and other areas coming under British influence. While the story of Sir James Brooke, the White Rajah of Sarawak is well-known, much less so are the escapades of The Honourable James Erskine Murray who looked to the other side of the island of Borneo. It appears that Robert McNally was wounded in the escape and this is an interesting enough story to warrant a separate blog post in due course. 

Thomas Gannon, the sixteen year-old navigator hero in this saga, appears likely to be the son of Thomas Gannon, a grocer, of 4 Duke Street [now Sardinia Street] in Lincoln's Fields Inn, London, and his wife, Ann Morling. The couple were married in Stepney in 1829, and their son Thomas baptised on 2 September 1832. 

Thomas the apprentice a year before the mutiny

Other than this one for Second Mate in 1852, there are no further maritime certificates available for Thomas Gannon and his whereabouts remain a mystery until a surprising death notice for a Thomas Gannon born in 1832 (parents Thomas Gannon and Ann Morling) who died at the Alfred Hospital in Prahran [Melbourne] Australia in 1905. Unfortunately, the Melbourne cemetery records do not show where he was buried and the notice in local newspapers does not mention any family members.

When did he arrive in Australia? What else had he been doing between his brief moment of fame out in the Pacific Ocean at the age of sixteen and his death aged 73? Did he leave a widow or any descendants and did they know about his adventure on board the Amelia?

John Smith, the leader of the group against the mutineers was also known as Jan Smit, born in Rotterdam. With such a common name both in England and Holland this makes for even greater difficulty in trying to track him down. 

The Glasgow Gazette of 18 August 1849 is one of the few newspapers to go into financial detail about what was saved and lost during the mutiny and massacre on the Amelia.
“The dollars amounted to 287,634. Among the papers found on board were three bills of lading with corresponding letters of advice and instructions from Jocker, Torre and Co. of Mazatlan, one for 150,000 dollars, consigned to Messrs. Turner and Co. Hong Kong but for account and risk of Messrs. Finley Hodgson and Co. of London, another for 120,000 dollars to Messrs. Turner and Co. of Hong Kong in payment for a cargo previously ordered for shipment in the Amelia on her arrival in China. The third bill of lading was for 1,379 dollars, in favour of Mr J. A. Durran of Macao; 16,304 dollars were landed, for which no bills of lading or other document could be found.
We have now the gratification to state that Jan Smit of Rotterdam, whose conduct on this occasion is above all praise, has been presented with 1,100 pounds by several of the insurance companies and also with a sextant by Ashdown of Finch Lane, with the following inscription:
Presented to Mr Jan Smit of Rotterdam, by the Corporation of the Royal Exchange, the Corporation of the London, Indemnity Mutual Marine, the Marine, and the Alliance, Marine Insurance Companies of London, in testimony of their high estimation of Mr Smit’s services, and their special appreciation of the fidelity and courage displayed by him in securing the schooner Amelia of Glasgow, and her valuable cargo, out of the hands of mutineers during her voyage from Mazatlan to China, in the year 1848. London, August 1, 1849.
£1,100 was a vast fortune for an ordinary sailor to receive and would be around £80,000 today. Did Smit/Smith use his windfall to retire from the sea?

What happened to the inscribed sextant? Is it still held in some family collection or museum, or was it disposed of? 

Not an Ashdown sextant, but probably similar to that presented to Jan Smit
With every discovery, there are still many more questions flowing from this saga of death and drama on the high seas. If anyone reading this can shed more light on the story or has knowledge of any of the individuals involved, please do contact me via the comments.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"Mutiny and Horrible Massacre at Sea" (2)

Finding out about the individuals involved in the tale of mutiny and massacre at sea from my previous post (read here) has had its challenges, not least in the various spelling of names.

Francis Cooke (or Cook) and his business ventures are mentioned in rather obscure works such as Commerce and Contraband on Mexico’s West Coast in the Era of Barron, Forbes and Co., 1821-1859 and Notes of Cases in the Ecclesiastical and Maritime Courts, Volume 6, but surprisingly, it is items from February 1849 editions of the Indian newspaper Friend of India that provide much more information about who Francis Cooke was, that his brother was Charles Northcote Cooke of the Bank of Bengal whose name appeared on Indian banknotes of the era and wrote books on banking.

The confirmation of Francis' death comes later in an obituary column:
October 3. Murdered, at Sea in the Pacific Ocean, on board the schooner Amelia, of Glasgow, on her passage to China, FRANCIS COOK, Esq., formerly of Great Prescot Street, London, but late of Mazatlan, new Mexico, North America, aged 44 years.
Francis’ wife was Sarah Selina Patterson, daughter of William and Sarah Patterson of No. 4 White Bear Court, Aldgate. She was born on  3 March 1804 and baptised on 1 April at St. Botolph, Aldgate, LondonShe married Francis Cooke on 19 May 1832 at All Hallows, London Wall.

A daughter, Sarah Eliza, was born in December 1834, but died in May 1835. Another child, Francis Cobon, was born in January 1843 but sadly also did not survive and his death is recorded in the following year at the age of only 18 months. These losses add another tragic layer to all that Sarah Selina had to endure. If other children were born when they lived in Mexico and who may have survived, the records are not easy to trace.

Nor can anything be found from the tantalising snippet in the Friend of India article that states Mrs Cooke was forced to witness an earlier mutiny at sea and was detained in Rio de Janeiro for two to three months giving evidence. 

Sarah Selina is missing from all the English Census Returns, perhaps because of living abroad or there are errors in her name, but she died in London on 13 July 1869, her last address being 45 Gloucester Street Belgrave Road and she is buried at Norwood Cemetery, Lambeth, London. Her effects were less than £800 in her Probate.

The next post will see what can be found about some of the other individuals involved.

Monday, July 25, 2016

"Mutiny and Horrible Massacre at Sea" (1)

This business announcement in The London Gazette of Friday, November 10, 1848, may seem routine but behind it lies an amazing and terrifying tale of mutiny and murder on the high seas.

NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between William Ballingall, John Kelly, and Francis Cooke, at Mazatlan, in the Republic of Mexico, under the firm of Ballingall, Kelly, and Co. was dissolved, on the 21st of August last, so far as respects the said Francis Cooke. - Dated this 6th November 1848.
Wm. Ballingall.
Jno. Kelly,
By Wm. Ballingall, his authorised agent.
Francis Cooke,
By Wm. Ballingall, his attorney duly authorised.

Mazatlan, c. 1845, Wikipedia
This was years before international telegraphic communication became viable. What could not possibly have been known in London at the time the Notice was published was that Francis Cooke, the ex-partner of Ballingall Kelly and Co, was dead - cruelly murdered at sea on 3 October 1848.

The first reports came from the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) via The Polynesian and the Quaker publication The Friend. They were picked up a few months later in Australian newspapers but it was to be almost a year before the story finally filtered into the British press, all with slight variations in names, fact and focus.

Most of the reports were copied from the original with the heading of “Mutiny and Horrible Massacre at Sea” and this synopsis from The Friend of 1 November 1848 sounds like the blurb of a swashbuckling historical novel or movie, except it all happens to be true:

“Three Spanish Americans mutiny, and murder English and Spanish Captains, Mates and a passenger - Mutineers take the vessel - A Hollander, a Norwegian, a Portuguese, a Frenchman and a Spaniard concert to recapture the vessel - They are successful - The Hollander kills the three mutineers and takes command of the vessel - The vessel navigated to Sandwich Islands by an English apprentice boy, 16 years old - Two females on board arrive safe - etc. etc.”

The Glasgow schooner Amelia sailed from Mazatlan, Mexico on 9 September 1848, bound for Hong Kong. On board were two Captains, Ramon Alva and Robert McNally, in charge of an international crew. Francis Cooke and his wife Sarah Selina, and her maid, Mary Hudson, were the passengers. There was also approximately $300,000 gold and silver specie on board (equivalent of upward of $7 million today). It would have been difficult to keep such a valuable cargo secret and three Mexicans on board hatched a plot to get rid of the ship’s officers, take over the vessel and sail it and its contents to Peru.

A commotion on deck in the early hours of 3 October was the first indication of trouble. Captain Alva and Francis Cooke went topside to investigate, whereupon both men were attacked by the Mexicans. Alva managed to alert Captain McNally before dying. When Francis Cooke tried to escape to his cabin he was stabbed in the back and then thrown overboard. The first and second mates were also killed. McNally barricaded himself in and wrote this last note, clearly sure of his fate:

“Half-past four, a.m. - Captain Alva lying stabbed to the heart, in the cabin; the mutineers have got a muster, and are determined on my death. It will soon be daylight, and then the scoundrels will see their way. At present, they are afraid of my pistols. I will sell my life very dearly. Unto the Almighty I commend my spirit. Robert L. McNally”

Mrs Cooke and her maid must have been terrified as they locked themselves in their cabin while the mutineers negotiated with McNally who promised to show them the necessary course for Puerto Malabrigo in Peru in exchange for putting him and the two women in a boat. “Trusting to their faith”, McNally went on deck without his pistols. He called to the two women through the cabin skylight not to come up as the boat was not yet ready, but they were his last words. He probably knew that the men had no intention of letting him live. He had just stepped away from the skylight when he was picked up and thrown overboard.

The three mutineers then ordered all sail to be made, collected up the gold and silver and forced all crew members to sit with them and take a share. Many other documents and valuables were destroyed as they revelled in dressing up in the clothes they found belonging to the dead men, as well as indulging in Captain Alva’s private supply of cigars and claret. Their ultimate plans for the two women can only be imagined.

As the mutineers got progressively more drunk and excitable while gambling with the gold doubloons and silver, five of the surviving crew members plotted to take back the ship. Led by John Smith (Jan Smit in later accounts), they eventually succeeded, with Smith personally despatching the three Mexicans with an axe. But the ship had been damaged and a return to Mazatlan out of the question. Thomas Gannon, aged just sixteen, one of the ship’s two apprentices, was the only one who understood something about navigation. After consultation with Mrs Cooke, it was agreed they would try for the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) where they eventually arrived on 12 October 1848.

The local authorities made a thorough examination of the ship’s inventory and were pleased to announce to the British Consul General that not one member of the loyal crew had secreted or appropriated anything for themselves and the specie was deposited intact into government vaults.
From "Hawaiian Islands", 1848 by Rev. Hiram Bingham

And it is here that the story abruptly ends as far as most newspaper reports go. But it is what happened to the participants both before and after the event that always intrigues me in such extraordinary tales.

The London Gazette announcement adds an extra bit of mystery. Why did Francis Cooke resign from the partnership? Was he striking out in business on his own account? Who is the mysterious Carlos Cook[e], an extra passenger for China listed in some early reports but not others? 

Not least, the fact that Mazatlan, the Mexican port city from which Amelia had just sailed with all that cash on board, had just experienced great turbulence in having recently been occupied by the United States during the Mexican-American War. Surely this must have had some bearing?

From Hawaii, obviously all survivors went their separate ways and there are some snippets to be found. The Polynesian reported that Mrs S. S. Cooke and servant sailed to Mazatlan on the John A. Robb on 4 November 1848. Some British newspapers report in August 1849 that Jan Smit/John Smith received a £1,100 reward from the insurance companies and a sextant engraved with their appreciation. Did the young navigator, Thomas Gannon, not get any similar token in recognition of his achievement?

My next post/s will delve further into some of these individuals via what is accessible through genealogical and other sources in an attempt to find out more about this interesting collection of people. What is astonishing is that it looks as if this wasn't the first mutiny at sea that Sarah Selina Cooke had to endure.

If anyone reading this knows about Mazatlan during this era and the British businesses that operated there, or anything else about the lives of major players in this saga please do contact me.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

"Twas the cushiest job we ever had"

The current centenary of the 1916 Battle of the Somme can provoke many emotions in those who have witnessed some of the memorial services or re-enactment events, either in person or online. The poetry and music of the era can still touch us deeply a hundred years later.

But often it is the parodies of hymns or other popular songs that demonstrate the importance of humour, cheek and irreverence in keeping spirits up when faced with insurmountable odds and an awareness that death was around the corner. This recently colourised photo of cheery young lads from Yorkshire marching off to their destiny and taken 100 years ago today (3 July 1916) encapsulates all of that.

Soldiers of the 10th (Service) Battalion (1st Hull), East Yorkshire Regiment
marching to the trenches near Doullens on the Somme (National Army Museum)

I learned some of these songs from my North Country father who, although too young to be in the War himself, had a fair repertoire of them, with words censored for my tender ears when necessary. Here are just a few - please follow the links to YouTube or Vimeo recordings to listen to them.

To the tune of  the hymn, The Church's One Foundation, click here

We are Fred Karno's Army,
What bloody use are we?
We cannot fight, we cannot shoot,
So we joined the infantry.
But when we get to Berlin,
The Kaiser he will say,
"Hoch! Hoch! Mein Gott,
What a jolly fine lot
Are the ragtime infantry!"

We are Fred Karno's Army,
A Jolly lot are we,
Fred Karno is our Captain,
Charlie Chaplin our O.C.
But when we get to Berlin,
The Kaiser he will say,
"Hoch! Hoch! Mein Gott,
What a jolly fine lot
Are the boys of company C!"

To the tune of Red Wing, click here

Oh, the moon shines tonight on Charlie Chaplin,
His boots are crackin' from want of blackin'
And his little baggy trousers they'll need mendin'
Before we send him to the Dardanelles.

Charlie's real boots
This bit of doggerel is a bit hard to find anything about and no recording, but the imagery of the buns combined with the eagle flitting off always made me laugh!

At the cross, at the cross
Where the Kaiser lost his hoss
And the eagle on his hat flew away
He was eating currant buns
When he heard the British guns
And the dirty old bugger ran away.

Kaiser with eagle but sans buns (Wikipedia)
How anyone could find gassing funny is difficult for us to imagine these days, but the dark humour is certainly evident in this one.

Gassed last night and gassed the night before,
Going to get gassed again if we never get gassed any more.
When we're gassed, we're sick as we can be,
'Coz phosgene and mustard gas is much too much for me.

They're warning us, they're warning us,
One respirator for the four of us.
Glory be to God that three of us can run,
So one of us can use it all alone.

Another bit of sacrilege with a hymn, What a Friend we have in Jesus, is this version from the 1969 film "Oh What a Lovely War":

When this lousy war is over,
No more soldiering for me.
When I get my civvy clothes on,
Oh, how happy I shall be.

No more church parades on Sunday,
No more putting in for leave.
I shall miss the Sergeant-Major,
How I'll miss him, how he'll grieve.

Anyone who remembers that movie, can't possibly forget the closing sequence - it is still one of the most moving scenes in the history of cinema and its relevance in this centenary week is particularly poignant. To the tune of They Wouldn't Believe me:

And when they ask us, how dangerous it was,
Oh, we'll never tell them,
No, we'll never tell them:
We spent our pay in some cafe
And fought wild women night and day,
'Twas the cushiest job we ever had.

And when they ask us,
And they're certainly going to ask us,
The reason why we didn't win the Croix de Guerre,
Oh, we'll never tell them,
No, we'll never tell them,
There was a front, but damned if we knew where.

Oh ,What a Lovely War - vast fields of crosses, a still shot from closing sequence

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Kings of Photography (2)

Without any in-depth biographies on William and Daniel Downey, any research into their private lives has to rely mainly on what is accessible via family history resources.

It’s well known that during the Victorian age, an individual’s public face was often quite different from the private one and what went on behind the scenes was often covered up if there was a risk of shame or disgrace that resulted in being ostracised by society or ruined financially. Queen Victoria was the symbol of strict morality and family values and she would not look kindly on any divorced person in her presence, nor was she particularly sympathetic towards those who suffered from mental disorders. 

So, not expecting to find much more than is usual in the Census Returns or the occasional archival newspaper report,  it was therefore a surprise to discover some references that point to a more intriguing background to the Downey brothers which, given their positions close to royalty, could have damaged their successful business had this information reached the ears of their clients, especially the Queen.

Bethnal House c. 1870s
There is no way to avoid the fact but Daniel Downey died in a madhouse - albeit a discreet one tucked away in the East of London and which catered to people who could afford the fees - in this case, Bethnal House at Bethnal Green

The paragraph on Daniel in the now-defunct photolondon website states he died of an epileptic convulsion on 15 July 1881. Without seeing the actual death certificate, it is presumed this is true, as Bethnal House is shown as his address in the National Probate Calendar and also appears in this Chancery Division notice from the London Evening Standard  of 6 December 1881.

This notice raises further questions. The Plaintiff, Elizabeth Jane Downey (b. 1867) was one of Daniel’s children by his first marriage to Elizabeth Smith Beloe who had died in 1873. Daniel left no Will and Administration of his estate was granted to the Defendant, his second wife, Mary Stratford, whom he had married in 1876 and with whom he had a further two children.

Daniel left nearly £4,500 (around £400,000 today) and undoubtedly there would have been a tussle to make sure his earlier family received their fair share. Nothing further appears in the newspapers, so it is presumed there was a settlement, although Mary Downey was to be the subject of a future legal matter.

(As to Daniel’s epilepsy, it is not known how long he suffered from it but it is highly possible that this could have been caused by his exposure for so many years to the dangerous chemicals, including mercury, used in early photographic processes.)

On 24 August 1892, Lucy Ellen, second wife of William Downey and about 20 years younger than him, filed for divorce, citing Mary Downey. The third paragraph of the petition states:
That from March 1891 until 14th August 1892, the said William Downey has frequently committed incestuous adultery with Mrs Mary Downey, his deceased brother’s wife at 10 Nevern Square and at Shoreham in the County of Sussex.
The divorce didn’t go through and was dismissed in February 1893. It is interesting to speculate on what might have happened. William certainly was staying at Mary’s house in Shoreham in the 1891 Census along with other family members so there might be substance to the allegations. 

But a divorce would have been utterly disastrous for William’s good standing with Queen Victoria, so was Lucy persuaded or forced to drop the petition for the good of all involved? Surely she wouldn’t have taken such a drastic step without solid proof?

The subsequent Census Returns show them together again. Did Lucy forgive her husband or did she stay on in sufferance? Being a divorced woman in that era would have been disastrous for her and more than likely she had no option but to put up and shut up. Given William’s close connection to some of the most glamorous and beautiful women of the age, princesses and actresses, if he did have a roving eye, there is no knowing how many flirtations or affairs he might have had over the years.

His earlier life throws up a possibility of another disgruntled wife. Back in 1871, William’s first wife Caroline - who was about 10 years older than him - lived on her own at the 9 Eldon Square, Newcastle, premises of W. & D. Downey. She is shown in the Census as “wife of a dentist”. Why is she described so? Did the Census-taker mishear? Or was it deliberate, a private joke? Was Caroline being modest to avoid questions or did she not want to associate herself with her husbands fame and business any longer?

Eldon Square, Newcastle, c. 1963 Tyne & Wear Archives
(most since demolished for shopping centre)

It happens that in the same 1871 Census, William can be found at the Ebury Street address in London where he had his studio, and with him are two unmarried women with the surname of Walton, both described as “dressmakers” from Ireland.

While one should never leap to conclusions from a Census Return in an era where the term dressmaker often had loose connotations, there is no doubt a married man in his forties with a 16 year old maidservant and two women in their twenties sleeping under the same roof does raise the eyebrows just a little. Curiously enough, on that same night another Walton woman (Letitia) is an Irish visitor at Daniel Downey’s house in Windsor.

Many famous names connected with Ebury Street

Subsequent research shows that Letitia Walton and her daughters/sisters ran either a dressmaking or millinery shop in Ebury Street for many years and were probably genuine providers of apparel to the upper classes or possibly the theatre. Perhaps the Downey brothers helped the Walton dressmaking business to get a start, but why or under what circumstances is impossible to know without some serious archival research

When William Downey died in 1915, he left a massive fortune of £207,000, the equivalent of about 10 million pounds today. No family members are shown as Executors in the Probate and finding out the beneficiaries would require access to documents beyond the scope of this blog, but when Lucy Ellen Downey died in 1924 she had an estate valued at £1,419 (modern value £50,000) left to her son and daughter. 

Then, surprisingly, another Probate for Lucy is listed for a year later, this time for £8,500 (or £300,000 today) with two different women named as administrators, neither of whom appears to be a family member. Another tangled web that points to possibly some confusion on the whereabouts of assets in Lucy’s estate and other claimants to her money.

It makes one wonder what other curious matters are to be found hidden away in the Downey family history.

Nevern Square where Lucy Downey lived until 1924

Some more Downey photographs of the beautiful and powerful on this Pinterest page.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Kings of Photography (1)

Dear friend Downey, you are the king of photographers and the most amiable of men.
[Sarah Bernhardt, 1886]

William and Daniel Downey were pioneers in photography in mid-Victorian Britain. They took many thousands of photographs including some of the most memorable images of the most important individuals of the age, as once described in the Pall Mall Gazette, of -
... Emperors and Empresses, Kings and Queens, Sultans, Princes of Blood, Princesses of Blood, Peers of the Realm, Peeresses of the Realm, Soldiers and Statesmen, Men of Letters and Women of Letters, Queens of Beauty, Private Beauties and Beauties of the Boards.” ...
In 1901, when Mr William Downey was awarded the Royal Victorian Medal by King Edward VII, an article was written in the Shields Daily Gazette giving some background to their story and how they came to get involved in photography at the highest level of society.

William Downey was born in South Shields, County Durham, in 1829 and worked as a ship’s carpenter at the Middle Dock in Holborn and his brother Daniel, born in 1831, was a shoemakerThe 1851 Census Return shows them living with their widowed mother and sister at 13 West Pan Street. (Many early images of this area such as the one below can be browsed at South Tyneside Historic Images)

West Holborn from Laygate St to Hill St, South Shields c. 1896

By the middle years of the 19th Century, ships made of wood were being replaced by those of iron and carpenters were suffering more and more “slack time” between jobs. One day William chanced to drop into the chemist shop in Green Street, owned by a Mr Oates, who had become keen on the new invention of photography and was in the process of photographing a member of local publican Thomas Curry’s family. Much excited by what he saw, William went home and told Daniel about the “remarkable feat he had witnessed”. The brothers returned to Mr Oates where they had their own sitting and were then able to watch the amazing development of their portrait on the plate. 

An early subject, Robert Ingham, MP

Within a very short time, the brothers had set up their own photographic saloon in the Market Place, between St Hilda’s Church and Chapter Row. Some of their earliest customers included the local Member of Parliament, Robert Ingham, members of the Town Council, the Vicar of St Hilda’s and other local dignitaries.

St Hilda's Church c.1862, possibly by one of the Downey brothers

Their big break came when a Royal Order was sent by Queen Victoria, who was equally fascinated with the new photography process, commanding them to furnish Her Majesty with a series of photographs of the scene of the nearby Hartley mining disaster. Having recently become a widow herself, the Queen had great sympathy for the wives and families of the more than 200 men who died in the disaster. 

Hartley Coillery, 1862, William Downey

The Master Sinker and his men at Hartley

The success of this commission led to a new studio branch in Eldon Square, Newcastle, then Ebury Place, London. William Downey was commanded to take photographs of Alexandra of Denmark, the new bride of the Prince of Wales, and subsequently made regular visits to Balmoral and other royal residences to take photographs of other members of the royal family. Queen Victoria sat for the firm of W. and D. Downey numerous times. Many of her relatives all over Europe also became the subjects of Downey photographs.

The lesser-known eldest brother in the family, John Downey, also became a photographer and set up an independent family business, with his studio located at 17-19 Eldon Street, South Shields. 

In later years, William Downey became interested in very early moving pictures. Follow the link to see the famous piece of film of the Queen and family at Balmoral which was made by him late in 1896.

The secrets to the success of the brothers probably included a touch of natural Geordie wit and charm and William became known for his ability to make his often stiff and stuffy subjects relax and even the austere Queen was able to smile and laugh in his presence. Daniel died in 1881 but William continued to be involved in his business well into his eighties. He died in 1915.

Many famous photographs, including some of those below, are still copyrighted by Getty ImagesAnd literally hundreds more are to be found in  The Royal Collection as well as the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum and various other photographic archives around the world.

Queen Victoria's servant, John Brown

Princess Alexandra

Bell Scott, Rossetti and Ruskin
The Shah of Persia
Tsar Nicholas II

Sarah Bernhardt

Lillie Langtry

Franz Liszt
Oscar Wilde

Benjamin Disraeli

Perhaps one of the most famous images ever of Queen Victoria.
Taken by William Downey for her 1897 Diamond Jubliee 

It is ironic that if any photographs still exist of William himself, or his brother Daniel, or any members of their respective families, they don’t appear to be easy to access. This fuzzy one of the dapper William in old age comes from an early 20th Century newspaper report.

This web source carries a double exposure image of a man they suggest might be the eldest brother, John Downey, and it could be that among the images of unknown sitters in Downey collections around the world some are, in fact, of William or Daniel or their family members.

It is surprising that the brothers do not appear to have ever been the subject of any serious academic study or a comprehensive published biography, especially given their preeminence in the field of early portrait photography. It could be they purposely kept their private business out of the limelight due to their close connection to people in high places and a Queen who would not have been amused had she been informed on certain aspects of their personal lives ... more on that to come in the next post!

Some information on processes used by W. and D. Downey can be read in the Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography

More glamour girls of the age at Cabinet Card Gallery.