Photo-sleuthing – The “I”s have it!


Victorian photograph albums were, in the main, the preserve of women. Often maiden ladies who made themselves unofficial archivists of their extended family, they would organise the pictures – owner on the first page, owner and family on the next, then friends and relatives in matching couples, usually men on the left, women on the right. The identity of that careful compiler is crucial to identifying the rest of the album.

I was pretty certain that the owner of this album was a woman. The pearlised grey cover decorated with floral tracery was frankly girly. Sadly, about one third of the photos was missing. Of the rest, six had names and dates on the reverse and six had been named or initialled for “E. J. Hughes”.

First was the portrait of “Major H Legge, 9th Lancers, to E J Hughes, Umballa Jan.y 1884.” Heneage Legge was the fifth son of the 4th Earl of Dartmouth and a Colonel in the 9th Lancers. His regiment took part in the 2nd Afghan War (1878-1880) and afterwards carried out garrison duties in India.

Heneage Legge

The second named photo was captioned “Beatrice Hildebrand July 1884” “EHJ”. Beatrice was the daughter of Colonel Godfrey Hildebrand and Margaret Ann Lake, born in 1873 in Chakrata, India. By 1884, Beatrice was back in England and had her photo taken by Lambert Weston & Sons of Dover and Folkestone.

Beatrice Hildebrand

The third named photo showed the angelic children of the Rev. John Moore Lester, who had been born in Bombay to Major General Frederic Parkinson Lester and Charlotte Fyvie. He was incumbent at Holy Trinity, Ayr in 1884 and later moved to the parish of Shifnal in Shropshire.

Edie, Guy, Dorothy and Sonny

The next photo shows two of the daughters of Sir Samuel White Baker, explorer, big game hunter and abolitionist. He met and fell in love with his second wife in a Bulgarian slave market. Although outbid for her by the Ottoman Pasha of Vidin, he secured her escape by bribing her attendants, and the couple ultimately married. (Queen Victoria disapproved of this irregular match and would not receive them at court.)

Agnes Crawley Boevey & Ethel Lindsay Baker

The last identified photo had been helpfully autographed across the front “Joseph H Gubbins”. Born in Co. Cork, Joseph was a keen yachtsman and a member of the Royal Northern in Rhu. It was trawling through the censuses looking for his extended family that I saw his sister, Frances, married to Major Edward Honywood Hughes. The 1871 census revealed Edward and his sister, Edith Isabella, living with their grandparents at the magnificent Strete Raleigh House in Devon. Was this my “EJH”? It was so close!

Joseph Hartopp Gubbins

I showed the initials to my husband, whose school teacher parents wrote a careful old-fashioned script. “That’s an ‘I’, not a ‘J’!” Edith Isabella Hughes turned out to be the perfect example of an album keeper – unmarried, rich and from a large extended family which is now awaiting identification in her album. Meantime, a practical lesson to take away from this is the importance of reading old writing carefully. Enumerators got it wrong, transcribers get it wrong – if in doubt, check the spelling!

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