I have several old photographs that are a bit of a mystery. They were taken in Penrith, Cumberland, in formal studio settings. The photographs have come to me via a cousin, who was given a photograph album belonging to a distant cousin in the Smith family. Most of the people in the album can be identified as Smiths or relations of Smiths.
However, there is a set of photographs containing people whom I cannot identify. These are the “mystery photographs”. I hope by adding them to my blog that someone will have an idea of their identity.
The photographs in the album are wonderfully clear even though they are only 4″ by 2.5″ (about 10 cm by 6 cm) in size. Most of them were taken by the same photographer; on the backs of these particular photographs, it says “T H S Melt, Photographer, 26 Arthur Street, Penrith”. Because the photographs were taken in Penrith, the people portrayed may be Smiths from Melmerby. (I wrote an earlier post about the Melmerby Smiths after 1821 on this blog.)
Judging by the clothes the people are wearing, the photographs were probably taken in the early to mid-1870s. If I choose the date of 1875 and then find the Melmerby Smiths who were adults in that year, I might get close to finding out who these people are. But I recognize this is only a guess.
I would welcome any ideas you have about the people portrayed as well as when the pictures were taken. If you know anything about the photographer “T H S Melt”, that would be helpful as well. I could not find him in any on-line listing of 19th century photographers.
In 1875, the head of the Smith family in Melmerby was John Smith who was 60 years old at that time; his wife Mary Smith (nee Hardy) was 53. Their children at that date were:
- William Smith, aged 26
- George Hardy Smith, aged 23
- Mary Ann Smith, aged 21
- Agnes Smith, aged 19
- Hannah Smith, aged 17
- John Smith, aged 14
- Christopher Smith, aged 10
The arrangement of people in such formal portraits is usually significant. I think the man seated in the centre is the head of the family. The focus of the picture appears to be on the young woman seated at the front with a young man beside her. Was this photograph taken on the occasion of a betrothal? The woman standing behind the head of the family is a widow, based on the black dress and the small black head-dress she is wearing. The older woman seated on the left also seems to be a widow.
Well, who are they? Here is my guess.
The man seated in the centre is John Smith.
The bearded man standing on the right bears some resemblance to the head of the family (and it is not just the whiskers); I think they could be brothers. John’s younger brother William Smith and his wife Elizabeth Smith (nee Harrison) lived in Gamblesby and they were both 50 years old in 1875. I think it is William and his wife who are standing together on the right of the picture.
The young man standing at the back on the left has his arm around the shoulders of the older woman next to him; she is wearing a striped dress. I think this is George Hardy Smith and his mother Mary Smith (nee Hardy).
The young woman seated at the right bears a strong resemblance to George Hardy Smith so is probably one of his three sisters. Maybe it is Mary Ann Smith although it could be his second sister Agnes Smith. (I suggest the latter possibility because Mary Ann was living with the Hardys in Park Head at the time.)
The widow standing behind the head of the family could be John Smith’s sister Ann Dobson, who was married to Benjamin Dobson; he had died in 1866.
I do not have any idea who is the older woman seated on the left. It is not John Smith’s mother because she died in 1868. Nor is it Mary Smith’s mother, Eleanor Hardy, who died in 1864. Possibly she is related to the young woman seated at the front?
The couple at the front of the group is the biggest puzzle of all.
Is the young man William Smith, John and May Smith’s eldest son? If so, is the young woman his fiancee? And what is her name?
An alternative is that the young woman is a Smith but it is unlikely to be one of John Smith’s daughters; none of his three surviving daughters ever married. Another possibility: is the young woman the daughter of Ann Dobson? She had an older daughter Margaret who never married. There was a second daughter Mary but I have no information about her life.
Definitely a mystery.
Below are individual portraits of four of the people in the group picture. I have no idea why only these few portraits were in the photograph album. It might have been expected there would be portraits of the two people at the front of the group but I do not have those. In any case, the following images help to show more clearly four of the people in the group photograph.