There are few connections between the Bronte family & photography but
it was all around them in the 1840s.
This is a timeline listing some of the main events in Bronte history alongside
important events in photographic history and lists the opening of the early Yorkshire
Watch a six-minute video explaining the
evolution of photography - by George Eastman
portraits, the pantograph,
the camera obscura, Thomas Wedgwood etc).
Photography was at an experimental stage in the late 1830s and
there were two main types of photos; calotypes and daguerreotypes.
A camera was used to produce a sharp, very detailed image of superb quality on a
silvered copper plate. The downside was that, due to the mirror-like surface, the image could
only be viewed from certain angles.
Watch a six-minute video explaining
daguerreotypes - by George Eastman
Unlike calotypes, there was no negative so copies could only be made
by photographing the daguerreotype. Almost all daguerreotypes are reversed images so any text, a
shop sign for example, would appear back to front. If a copy was made the image was reversed again,
correcting the orientation, as seen below.
Above: Example of an 1840s daguerreotype (left) and an
1850s collodion copy (right).
The marks around the edges of this daguerreotype were caused by the silver surface
reacting to the metal frame; the photographer has tried to avoid this when copying the
Watch a six-minute video
explaining calotypes - by George Eastman
A camera was used to produce a paper negative and from this many positive prints
could be made.
This produced a soft image but it lacked detail due to the grain of the paper.
Above: Examples of calotype
photos on paper taken by Hill & Adamson between 1843 & 1848; they visited York in
By 1840 it was clear, from a commercial point of
view, that the daguerreotype was the winner. Gradually, throughout the 1840s, daguerreotype
portrait studios opened in cities, large towns and resorts across Europe.
The Bronte family were well read and had a keen interest in art, but whilst they may have seen
articles about the new art of photography, it would have meant little to
them. In common with most people in 1840, they had never seen a
Branwell Bronte also had a deep interest in art and attempted a career
as a portrait painter in Bradford. This lasted less than a year and in 1840, after a brief
period as a tutor in Broughton in Furness, he began work as a clerk for the Leeds &
Manchester Railway Company.
time the three sisters had finished their education and were seeking positions, either as
assistant teachers in private schools, or as governesses within
Classified adverts were
published in the Yorkshire press and Anne Bronte was employed as governess for
the Robinson family at Thorp Green Hall, Little Ouseburn, near York, from May 1840 until June
first photographic studio in England opened in London in March 1841 but the
Brontes were hundreds of miles away in Yorkshire.
Charlotte was governess for the White family
at Underwood House, Rawdon, near Leeds between April and December 1841. Living under
someone else's roof was not easy for the sisters and
planned to open a school of their
would require further education and Aunt Branwell helped finance
Charlotte and Emily's study at a school in Belgium. Anne remained at Thorp Green
the death in 1821 of Maria, Rev Patrick Bronte's wife, her sister (Aunt)
Elizabeth Branwell (right), moved from Penzance to Haworth to help raise his
Charlotte and Emily travelled to Belgium, arriving in Brussels in February
1842. They spent the following nine months at a boarding school, the Pensionnat
Heger, in rue d’Isabelle. Charlotte was 25 and Emily 23 years old.
In March 1842, just a few weeks after their arrival, the
first photographic studios in Brussels opened; these were probably the first in Belgium.
One1. was in the Bazar
Pantechnique, the old Royal Stables in rue Ducale; this was south-east of the park and about 500
yards (450 metres) from the Pensionnat Heger.
A second studio opened in competition, operated by the Brand Brothers
(Baptiste, Antoine & Julien). They were established opticians with a shop in rue du
Marché Aux Herbes (Grasmarkt). This was north-west of the Park, about half a mile from the
The Brand Brothers (les Frères Brand) were opticians to the Queen of Belgium and
in August 1842 made a daguerreotype portrait of Prince Philippe of Belgium
(below). It is strange to think that this photo was taken either at the studio or the Royal Palace,
within a mile of Charlotte and Emily Bronte at the Pensionnat Heger.
There is no evidence that the sisters knew about these
photographic studios, though there would have been publicity in the press and
society talk. Charlotte and Emily were busy studying during term time but
they remained in Brussels during the summer holidays.
Example of a daguerreotype - a photo on
silvered copper plate. A portrait of Prince Philippe of Belgium, (1837-1905)
by Frères Brand, Bruxelles, August,1842. The clarity of
this photo is surprising given that it was taken in the earliest years of commercial
photography and that the subject was only a 5-year-old. Exposure times varied
depending mostly on the amount of light but from 1845 they were reduced to a few
seconds. To view an enlargement of this photo visit the gallica website and use your mouse scroll to zoom.
On the daguerreobase website are other daguerreotypes by the Brand Brothers of
Brussels; a gentleman (1848), a Roman Catholic priest (undated) and a lady
Aunt Branwell, who had paid for Charlotte and Emily to be educated in
Brussels, died whilst they were there and so they returned to Haworth on 8
By this date a daguerreotype studio had opened in Leeds (below). Another
opened in Scarborough, for the duration of the summer season. This holiday
resort is where their sister Anne, as governess to the children of the Robinson
family, spent several weeks.
The brothers, Alfred & Wright Chadburn (opticians), opened a
photographic studio in Sheffield, the first adverts appearing 14 January
The three sisters inherited
about £300 each from their Aunt Branwell, mostly invested in railway shares paying good
Branwell joined his sister Anne as a tutor to the Robinson's children at Thorp Green Hall near
1843 Charlotte returned alone to the Pensionnat at Brussels, as a student
teacher. She spent the rest of the year there, becoming increasingly attached to her tutor,
Constantin Heger; he was though married with children.
Meanwhile, in Yorkshire, Edward Holmes obtained a license from Beard to take
daguerreotypes in Hull and by October 1843 had opened a studio at no.6,
January 1844 Charlotte left Belgium, returned to Haworth;
she writes letters to Constantin Héger
September 1844 A daguerreotype
studio opened in Regent Place, Bradford but closed about
May 1845. The same month Samuel Walker opened the first daguerreotype studio in York.
This was in Stonegate, close to Bellerby's, a library &
bookshop used by Branwell and Anne
26 September to 2 October 1844 the British Association for the Advancement of Science met in
York. David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson attended and
took calotypes (photos on paper from a paper negative) of many eminent Victorian
November 1844 Charlotte's plan
to open a school at Haworth Parsonage is abandoned.
December 1844 Anne &
Branwell, working for the Robinson's at Thorp Green Hall, return to Haworth for the holidays.
December 1844 Charlotte's friend, Mary Taylor, returns from
teaching in Germany. She stayed at Haworth Parsonage late December and/or early January
January to June
1845 Estimated date
that the 'Bronte Sisters Photo' was taken
(assuming that it does depict them, and
that it was taken in York).
18 January 1845 Anne and
Branwell Bronte returned to their employment Thorp Green Hall.
March 1845 Charlotte's close friend, Mary Taylor,
emigrated to New Zealand.
May 1845 Arthur Bell Nicholls, Charlotte's future husband,
was appointed as curate at Haworth, assisting her father, Rev Patrick Bronte.
June 1845 After five years, Anne Bronte's employment as a
governess for the Robinson family ended and she returned to Haworth. At the end of June,
Anne travelled with Emily to York.
July 1845 Branwell was dismissed after his affair with Mrs
Robinson was discovered by her husband.
June-September 1845 The Leeds Polytechnic Exhibition of Arts,
Industry & Science included a photographer installed in a temporary studio taking daguerreotype
portraits at half the usual cost.
William Henry Fox Talbot visited York in July
1845 and took calotype photos of several buildings including one of York Minster.
By August 1845 Ann Cooke had taken over the photographic studio in Hull from her
brother Edward Holmes. She had previously (1844) held the license to take daguerreotype photographs
in Lincolnshire and was one of the first female photographers in the United Kingdom. A studio
opened in Halifax the same year.
Above: An advert for Mrs Cooke's
studio in Hull, 1845.
Left: An advert from
1845 for The
Gallery, the Leeds daguerreotype studio. Photographs of well-known people such as Lord
Morpeth were taken and displayed at studios. This showcased the quality of the photographer's art
and was intended to attract the middle classes.
April 1846 the York Institute of Popular Science &
Literature held a bazaar in their newly-built lecture rooms in St Saviourgate. There was an
exhibition which included many artworks and included some of Samuel Walker's daguerreotypes of
"some of the principal inhabitants of York."
May 1846 Charlotte, Emily & Anne published a book of poems under
the pseudonyms, Currer, Ellis & Acton Bell; but it only sold two copies.
In the summer an itinerant photographer, Olivier Sarony, visited
Yorkshire towns and cities; this advert is from his visit to Bradford in August:
"to take LIKENESSES by the above new and perfect discovery."
Sarony went on to become one of the most successful photographers in the country with a palatial
studio in Scarborough and branches in other parts of England and Ireland.
March 1847 the railway from Leeds was extended to
Keighley, not far from Haworth. During the year daguerreotype studios opened in Harrogate,
Wakefield and Whitby.
Charlotte's Jane Eyre was published in October
1847 followed in December by Emily's Wuthering Heights
and Anne's Agnes Grey. These were all published under pseudonyms.
Charlotte began using the word "daguerreotype" in her letters with perhaps the
earliest mention on 12 January 1848. This was in a letter concerning Jane
Austen's Pride and Prejudice and was sent to the critic, George Henry Lewes: “An
accurate daguerrotyped portrait of a commonplace face: a carefully fenced, highly cultivated
garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers: but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no
open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck.”
A daguerreotype was taken on 10 April 1848 of the Chartist
meeting at Kennington Common, London. This demonstrates how, even without good light, a photo could
be taken in a few seconds; it can be viewed HERE (external website - then click on the + icon to
Anne's Tenant of Wildfell Hall was published in June
1848; the following month Charlotte & Anne travelled to London, revealing to
the publisher that they were not three brothers but three sisters.
Branwell Bronte died on the 24 September 1848.
Emily Bronte fell ill in the week following Branwell's funeral; she died on 19
Anne Bronte died at Scarborough in May 1849 and was buried at
St Mary's Church, Castle Hill.
In October 1849, Charlotte's novel 'Shirley' was
published and is thought to be the first writer to use the word 'daguerreotype' as a
verb in a novel.....
"struck on her vision with painful brightness . . . as vividly as
"Caroline saw a shape, a head that, daguerreotyped in that attitude and
with that expression, would have been lovely."
"Mr. Yorke, if a magic mirror were now held before you, and if therein
were shown you your two daughters as they will be twenty years from this night, what would you
Daguerreotypes were sometimes referred to and marketed as "magic
mirrors" because of the mirror-like surface. Of course, they could only show you
the past, but they really were magic in the 1840s. For the first time in history an
accurate image of a family member, friend or loved one could be preserved.
In this novel Charlotte based the character 'Rose Yorke'
on her friend, Mary Taylor.
Charlotte visited London in May 1850 and sat for her
portrait by George Richmond. The following October she stayed in Windermere and met Elizabeth
Gaskell, her future biographer.
The sculptor, Joseph Bentley Leyland, (who had been Branwell Bronte’s
closest friend) died 28 January 1851. A daguerreotype of him survives.
Like Branwell, Leyland enjoyed 'socialising' and was usually heavily in debt, but he
managed to have a photograph taken which would have cost a guinea (£1.05p).
Charlotte visited the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, London.
Daguerreotypes were images on a silvered copper plate but in
the early 1850s a new type of photograph appeared. Collodions
were photographs on glass and the great advantage was that they were easier
and cheaper to produce. They almost completely replaced the daguerreotype by the end of
Watch a five-minute video explaining the
collodion process - by George Eastman
Although collodion replaced the older process most members of the public still
referred to them as daguerreotypes and the term "to daguerreotype" meaning "to photograph" was used
for many years after. In the UK today these 'collodions' are often called 'ambrotypes'
but the latter is really an American term.
Like daguerreotypes, almost all collodions were reversed images so any
visible text, in a shop sign for example, would be back to front.
Below: An advert for Marchbank, photographer, Bradford, 1853 with
the cheerful slogan: "Remember, a good likeness is all that can be
rescued from the grave."The price of a basic daguerreotype throughout the 1840s was
about a guinea (£1.05p) but collodions were far more affordable. Marchbank was charging 6s 6d
(32½p) for a collodion portrait.
Arthur Bell Nicholls (left) had his photo taken in the 1850s or
1860s; he married Charlotte Bronte 29 June 1854 but the
marriage lasted just nine months as Charlotte died 31 March
Elizabeth Gaskell began compiling her biography of Charlotte in
1856. John Stewart, a friend of Charlotte's publisher, visited Haworth to
photograph the 'Richmond Portrait' of Charlotte. Photos were rarely reproduced in books until the
1880s so an engraving (right) of the photo was made to illustrate the biography.
John Stewart returned to Haworth Parsonage in February 1857 and
whilst there took photos of Haworth Village & the Parsonage; the photo to the left
may have been one of these.2.
One reason why the researcher believes that the 'Bronte Sisters Photo' was
copied at this time is the similarity between these photos in the unusual hand cut
passe-partout (the border between the frame and the photograph). Another reason
is that John Stewart lived in France and this is where the photo was found.
About this time the two group portrait paintings of the Bronte
sisters were photographed, either for Charlotte's widower or the
Bronte's servant, Martha Brown.
Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte was published in March
1857 and Charlotte's novel The Professor was posthumously published
In the late 1850s several photos were taken of Rev Patrick
Bronte, probably collodions, and were reproduced in the 1860s 70s & 80s as small
paper prints on a card mount - carte de visites.
The first carte de visite photos were produced in England in
1860. These were small photos on a card mount and were popular until the 1880s,
when larger 'cabinet photos' were the norm. The advantage over collodions were that they
were cheap, unbreakable and could be sent through the post. They could
be stored in a personalised book, the photograph album.
Daguerreotypes had been outmoded by the glass collodion photos of the 1850s
and these in turn were largely replaced by carte de visites in the 1860s and cabinet
photos in the 1880s, though not completely.
Front & reverse of a carte de visite
photo from the 1870s or 1880s by William Smith, a photographer with studios at no.14, New Briggate
& 57, Park Lane, Leeds. This is an unusual example depicting a black man and woman.
When purchased in 1979, these were said to
be relations of Pablo Fanque: there is a resemblance so perhaps this is one of his sons.
Curiously, the studio was very close to King Charles Croft, in The Headrow,
the site of Mrs Fanque's death in 1848.
Most carte de visites were portraits taken in studios but others were
mass-produced, featuring royalty, politicians, clergy , actors and other famous people. Some were
topographical - scenic views, of the seaside, castles, churches & buildings. They became very
collectable and were often exchanged.
Several different views exist of Haworth Parsonage & Church, Patrick Bronte
and Charlotte (someone copied the engraving of the Richmond Portrait in 'The Life') and places
associated with the family.
The Rev Patrick Bronte died in 1861 having outlived his wife
and five daughters. Arthur Bell Nicholls (Charlotte’s widower) left Haworth for Ireland taking with
him many portraits and documents.
1. There was an advert in a newspaper:
“Photographic portrait establishment of the Royal Polytechnic Institution of London, and at the
Bazar Pantechnique, near the Park in Brussels. The photographic process for making
portraits is an improvement of Monsieur Daguerre’s method. Mr Richard Beard has just obtained a
patent for Belgium. Portraits taken by this method require several seconds of exposure only and
possess a softness and a delicacy which can only be obtained by the process of Monsieur
de Bruxelles, 11 March 1842).
The Bazar Pantechnique was a shopping centre
or arcade which existed in the early 1840s; the building had previously been the Royal
Stables. It also housed a shop selling hunting and riding equipment and the workshop of the
sculptor, Pierre-Joseph Feyens, who in 1841 had created a marble bust of Leopold I of Belgium.
For a map giving the approximate location of the Pensionnat Heger in rue
d’Isabelle (streets long since demolished) and the Bazar Pantechnique (Royal
Stables) CLICK HERE. For images of the building (Royal Stables): Écuries royales de Bruxelles
2. This is probably the earliest photo in the
Bronte Parsonage Museum. Permission would have been needed to carry bulky camera,
collodion equipment and chemicals through the church - and a lot of strength to carry them up
the stairs to the tower. The glass plate had to be coated with a chemical mixture, placed in
the camera whilst still wet, picture taken, glass plate removed and then developed, all within
about ten minutes. The plate then had to dry.
This photo would have originally been viewed as a
reversed image with the collodion (image) side facing the front and protected by the glass in
front. At some later date it has been turned round.
3. "On Sunday
morning last, at the Parsonage, Haworth, Mr. Branwell Bronte, son of the Rev. P. Bronte, incumbent
of Haworth. This announcement will, no doubt, be read with sincere regret, by those in different
parts of the country who have had the pleasure of his acquaintance, he having been extensively
known from the situation he formerly held on the Leeds and Manchester Railway, and since then, as
tutor in a gentleman's family, near York; he has however, lately lived with his father and sisters
at the Parsonage, Haworth.
The talents and accomplishments of this young
gentleman have very rarely been excelled. Gifted with great natural quickness, an acute perception,
and a solid judgement, he was, so far as his mental endowments were concerned, admired by all who
knew him, while his bland and urbane manners and remarkable conversational powers, charmed and
captivated all by whom he was surrounded.
His premature death - in his 31st year - has
thrown his aged and respected father, and his three sisters, into the deepest sorrow, and his
friends are ready to acknowledge that the brightest ornament of the social circle has gone. His
mortal remains were conveyed to their final resting place, in Haworth Church, on Thursday last,
amidst a crowd of sympathising spectators." Leeds Times, 30 Sept 1848.