Behind the scenes Photography Visual Collections

Who Am I? Unidentified Daguerreotype New To Our Collections

Attempting to identify a Victorian gentleman

Last year we had the chance of acquiring an interesting daguerreotype for our growing photography collection, of a gentleman thought to be named John Rylands.  The limited provenance that was provided pointed to him not being our own John Rylands but from the Warrington Rylands family. Nevertheless, we deemed it a worthy addition to our early photography collection so went ahead with the purchase and would attempt to identify him once it was in our possession.

I first compared it to the images we have of our John Rylands. As the daguerreotype was a process used c.1839-1860 and he died in 1888 aged 87, those dates kind of fit with the age of the gentleman in the photograph. Unfortunately, the images we have are of John in later years but I can see some similarities around the mouth and hairline.

I was able to discount John Rylands senior of Warrington (1785-1848) due to the timeline. He had nineteen children, one of which was named after him. Not finding any images of John Rylands junior online, I contacted Warrington Archives, hoping they would be able to help. I received a prompt reply from Archives and Heritage Officer Philip Jeffs and there followed an exchange of interesting images and information. The only image he was able to find of John junior is one of him in later age that was commonly used in company literature. At first, I was more or less certain that he was our daguerreotype gentleman but on closer inspection, I feel the noses are quite a different shape.  What do you think?  Can you see a resemblance?

Portrait of John Rylands Junior of Warrington. Image courtesy of Warrington Archives, Culture Warrington.
Our daguerreotype and the image of John Rylands Junior of Warrington side-by-side for comparison.

Philip sent me images of the two brothers who took over the business with John junior, and their sister Julia who all bear a family resemblance – to each other and the gentleman in the daguerreotype.

L to R: Thomas Glazebrook Rylands; Peter Rylands; Julia (Rylands) Morris. Images courtesy of Warrington Archives, Culture Warrington.

It’s difficult not to get further drawn into the family history when researching something like this. More so in this instance as I have been a resident of Warrington for most of the past 35 years. The Rylands name, and the town’s wire industry in which they were prominent, are hard to ignore – we have a Rylands Street, Warrington Rylands Football Club and our rugby league team are nicknamed ‘The Wire’.  It seems that perhaps the reason I have been unable to source more than one image of John Rylands Jnr is that, after the death of his first wife, he married the governess to one of his brother’s children who was more than 30 years his junior.  Maybe not the fact she was so much younger than him – his father had remarried a much younger woman also – but that she was a domestic employee of the family.  Most of the Rylands material in the Warrington Archives come from the descendants of Thomas Glazebrook, who disapproved of the marriage.

So, in conclusion, it seems we might never know this gentleman’s true identity.  Perhaps you have a connection to the Warrington Rylands family and have further images of John Rylands junior which we could use for comparison, or even recognise him as someone else completely different. If so, please do contact me as I would love to solve this mystery.

Many thanks to Philip Jeffs of Warrington Archives, Culture Warrington for his invaluable assistance in this endeavour.

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