Victorian Photographer: Henry Davis of London (1825-1900)

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The Photographer Henry Davis (1825-1900)
24 Cornhill, London E.C. 1862-69

The Photographer Henry Davis (1825-1900)

Henry Davis was born in 1825 in England, the son of John and Mary Ann (Crofts) Davis.
Even as a young boy he was interested in things mechanical and technical, and he was a tinkerer. All through his life he enjoyed experimenting in practical sciences: electric batteries, cables and wires, microscopes, telescopes, and other technical equipment engaged his interest, but his greatest involvement was with photography.

Learning the daguerreotype process and the wet plate process, in his early twenties Henry opened a photography studio in London. At that time photography was considered an art form, and photographers were artists making pictures by the mysterious and technical operation of the camera, instead of a brush.

In 1859 Henry Davis married Martha Victoria Taylor, a young lady he and his family had known for 12 years; one of his gifts to her was an image of himself on glass, inserted into a brooch.
Henry Davis Photographer
On their wedding license his occupation is listed as "Artist." Three years later, on the birth certificate of his oldest son Henry Wall, his profession was given as "Photographer," an acknowledgement that the practice had achieved recognition.

For 10 years he supported his family through his photography studio. Between 1860 and 1876, Henry Davis and Martha had nine children, three boys and six girls. Two died in childhood and two in early adulthood, and only the oldest and youngest sons married and had children. Inspired, perhaps, by their father's involvement with chemo-mechanics, sons Henry Wall and Charles Stanley went to technical schools and became mechanical engineers, working as pulp and paper engineers.

In 1870 Henry Davis was employed by "Lord Lindsay" [James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford and 9th Earl of Balcarres, Lord Lindsay of Balcarres, Baron Balniel in the peerage of Scotland, and Baron Wigan in the peerage of the United Kingdom] to be the official photographer for an astronomical expedition to Spain to photograph a solar eclipse.

In 1871 there was as expedition to India to record another solar eclipse, and in 1874 they went to the island of Mauritius to photograph the transit of Venus.

Letters to his wife and children are in humorous counterpoint to Henry's formal and technical reports from those trips. In 1876, shortly after the birth of Charles Stanley, Lord Lindsay appointed Henry Davis as his "librarian" and technical assistant as the two drafted and published papers and books on astronomy, illustrated with photographs instead of drawings.

Until 1882 the Davis family lived at Windgate House, Wigan, Lord Lindsay's estate in Lancashire., where there was an observatory with a large telescope and other instruments.

In Spain 1871
1870 Spain solar eclipse expedition: H. Davis, seated left, Lord Lindsay seated center

India 1870 1871 India solar eclipse expedition: H. Davis at telescope, Lord Lindsay standing, center.

In 1882 the family returned to London, where Henry went into business as a railway light freight agent with an office located on Hackney Road, Shoreditch; he continued in that business until his death in 1900.

Henry Davis Photographer Martha Davis
Photographer Henry Davis 1829 - 1900, self-photo
Martha Victoria (Taylor) Davis 1837- 1925

[Text adapted from an essay by HD's son Charles Stanley Davis, edited and enlarged by great-grandson Stuart Charbula, and great-granddaughter Xenia (Blom) Cord. All photographs were taken by Henry Davis and are property of the family; they may not be duplicated.]

Webpage constructed by Roger Vaughan information help from Xenia Cord.

Below: A Carte-de-visite of an unknown woman taken in the studio of Henry Davis c.1864
from the collections of Roger Vaughan

Roger Vaughan 2014

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