John Stewart, Photographer.
The Stewart family & Charlotte Bronte's publisher.
John Stewart's family were linked to Smith, Elder & Co. (Charlotte
Bronte's publisher), in three different ways:
John Stewart and Alexander Elder Murray had
been partners in Stewart & Murray, printers, London (1838-41). The printers did a great deal of
work for Smith, Elder who acquired it in 1855.
John's brother, Patrick Stewart, was a partner in Smith,
Elder & Co., but in 1848 it was discovered that he had been defrauding them. The sums
involved were enormous, over £30,000, and the fraud nearly destroyed the publishers.
Patrick Stewart continued to work for Smith, Elder & Co. for two years before moving
to India where he committed suicide in 1852.
John's sister, Margaret Brodie Stewart married the famous
astronomer and photographic pioneer, Sir John Hershel. Although Hershel wasn't involved
in the running of the publishers he had large sums invested in it. Hershel' s book
'Astronomical Observations made at the Cape of Good Hope' was published in
1846 by Smith, Elder & Co., about the same time as they published Charlotte
Bronte's 'Jane Eyre'. Herschel was sent one of the first copies of Charlotte's novel
and he became one of the first Jane Eyre fans.
Edinburgh, London, Nantes & Pau.
John Stewart's family moved from Edinburgh to London, probably about
1830, and he formed a partnership with Alexander Elder Murray, creating Stewart & Murray,
printers about 1838.
John married Matilda Grahame, daughter of James Grahame (1790-1842) of Nantes, France in July, 1839 and
amongst those who travelled there for the ceremony was his brother-in-law, John
Stewart left the partnership in the printing company
in 1841, moved to live in Nantes and then, about 1846, to Pau in the Midi
Pyrenees. He spent time in France and England though his occupation is unknown.
In the 1850s, Stewart took up photography and joined a group of
artists which became known as l'École de Pau. The photographers included Henri Victor Regnault, Jean-Jacques Heilmann, Farnham Maxwell-Lyte, Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard & Pierre Langlumé.
More biographical information on the Luminous Lint website.
Stewart was a founder member of Pau Golf Club and there is a website
(in French) with some information on him:
Pages 28-32, Pau Golf Club 1856 WHO'S WHO 1856-1962 Par Raphaël Rossoni - Edition
There is a photograph of him on the Pau Golf Club website.
John Stewart, Arthur Nicholls & Elizabeth Gaskell.
In the winter of 1856-7 John Stewart was staying in London and Smith & Elder
had a problem. This was a year after Charlotte Bronte's death and Elizabeth Gaskell was
writing a biography which was to be published by them. She wanted the 'Richmond Portrait' of
Charlotte copied as a photograph so an engraving could be made for the frontispiece.
Originally, Charlotte's widower, Arthur Nicholls refused permission but later
relented under pressure from Gaskell's friend, the overbearing Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth. Gaskell
was going to commission a Manchester photographer to do this but it seems Mr Nicholls didn't trust
her. Instead, Nicholls arranged (through Smith, Elder & Co.) for John Stewart to carry out
In a letter (early Nov 1856) to George Smith, Elizabeth Gaskell writes:
“Mr Stewart is a first rate amateur photographer; gone out to Iceland by
Danish Government’s request to take boiling springs and those sort of things,- has had to go
and show his photographs to the Queen, as the ‘crackest’ things of the kind in the Kingdom, so
I think he’ll do it well-& should he not take the view of house & village & moors
beyond? I know a very good view (drawing) very characteristic."
The Letters of Mrs Gaskell (no.317)
For some unknown reason Stewart made two visits Haworth in 1856.
Even before the biography had been suggested Gaskell had wanted a photograph of
the Richmond Portrait as a keepsake. She asked for one to be taken to include in her biography
of Charlotte. Arthur Bell Nicholls initially refused but later relented.
When John Stewart visited Nicholls he was "under a solemn promise" to
make just three copies; one was to go to the publishers to be engraved and the other two were to be
returned to him.
Late January or early February 1857 Stewart made a third visit to Haworth, this
time to take some views of Haworth Village, Church & Parsonage for Mrs Gaskell. These would be
a selection of views which Gaskell could choose from to be used as an engraving for the
frontispiece of the biography.
We believe that the photo at the Bronte Museum, of the Parsonage viewed from the
Church Tower (above), is one of these. It is not known how many photos Stewart took but
he sent three to Mrs Gaskell.
Mrs Gaskell wanted a photo to show the Parsonage and Church but was disappointed
with the result because the Parsonage appeared too small (as in the above photo). Hardly the
photographer's fault that the buildings are not closer together! On 4 February 1857, Gaskell
forwarded the three photos to the publisher, George Smith:
"The views disappoint me a little; but he is very good to have taken so
much pains about them. They give an idea of wildness and desolation; but not of height and
steepness, & of the fine sweeping moors beyond. The Parsonage is that square house by
itself to the\behind/left of the church-very faint in all owing to the distance."
The Letters of Mrs Gaskell (no.338)
In the end Gaskell decided not to use the landscape photographs and
sent one of her own sketches to be engraved (above) for the frontispiece.
Artistic license allows the buildings to be larger and closer.
The photographic copy of the Richmond Portrait was used to create the engraving
(above) enabling the public to see Charlotte Bronte for the first time.
Elizabeth Gaskell's biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë was
published in March 1857.
Both John Stewart and Elizabeth Gaskell were in France in
Stewart sent a photograph of Richmond's portrait of Charlotte to Elizabeth
Gaskell in November 1856. The following February he sent her three photos he
had taken of Haworth. At some point after this he returned to his home in Pau,
In February 1857, on completion of the biography of Charlotte Bronte, Mrs
Gaskell left Manchester to stay in rue du Bac, Paris, and visited Mary Clarke Mohl. She visited Mary at her famous literary salon on several
other occasions over the years. 2.
John Stewart exhibited a photograph of his brother in law, John Hershel, at the
Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition in October 1857.
1. No mention of a photo of the Bronte sisters
has been found in Gaskell's letters. Stewart sent a photograph of the Richmond portrait
of Charlotte to Gaskell, received by 11 November 1856. He was kept waiting by Mr Nicholls on
this first visit. For some unknown reason he returned to Haworth (before 6 Dec 1856). On a third
visit he took photographs of Haworth village, Church & Parsonage; he sent three to Gaskell,
received by 4 Feb 1857.
2. Elizabeth Gaskell, her two elder daughters & Catherine
Winkworth visited Paris and then Rome.
The 'Bronte Sisters Photo' was amongst items purchased in
the Paris region in the present century.