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Darwin Correspondence Project

1.3 Thomas Herbert Maguire, lithograph

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This striking portrait of Darwin, dating from 1849, belonged to a series of about sixty lithographic portraits of naturalists and other scientists drawn by Thomas Herbert Maguire. They were successively commissioned over a period of about five years, c. 1848–1852, by George Ransome, offspring of a Quaker family of industrialists (manufacturers of iron machinery etc.) in Ipswich, Suffolk, to represent Vice-Presidents, Honorary Members and other patrons of the Ipswich Museum. The Ransome family was the main force behind the founding and financing of this museum in 1846–1847, and George Ransome became its Honorary Secretary. The idea was to instruct local people in the rudiments of natural science through the exhibits, and also through the museum’s library and lectures or classes held there. Ransome’s own portrait in the Maguire series (to which Darwin subscribed) was ‘published by his friends in testimony of their admiration of his great exertions in promoting the study of natural history among the working classes’. The museum’s ethos was strongly religious and supportive of natural theology, with the entomologist Revd William Kirby, author of one of the Bridgewater treatises, as its first president, and his friend Revd John Stevens Henslow – Darwin’s Cambridge mentor – as its second (appointed in 1850). Henslow’s parish was only about fifteen miles from Ipswich, and he continued to lecture there and support the museum’s activities over a period of years. Correspondence makes it clear that Darwin’s commitment to the Ipswich project partly stemmed from a sense of obligation to Henslow. Occurring before the publication of Origin of Species, it occasioned no embarrassment or difficulty on religious grounds. In return, Henslow persuaded Ransome to give Darwin a full set of the lithographs, not just a few impressions of his own portrait.  

The print series featured many leading scientists of the day who had contributed to the Ipswich Museum enterprise, including Murchison, Yarrell, Gould, and Jardine as well as Henslow and Kirby. According to a report in the Athenaeum in 1849, the original intention was simply to provide a ‘tribute and a record’ of the ‘disinterested assistance’ of these benefactors; ‘but so many applications have been made for copies by the friends of those whose portraits have been taken that it has been determined to issue a limited number of large India proofs’, with profits from the sales going to the museum. The Gardeners’ Chronicle reported that these prints were obtainable in London from the lithographic printers Rowney and Hanhart: ‘We believe that no such collection of contemporary portraits has ever before been offered to the public, which will prove most ungrateful if it does not second Mr Ransome’s benevolent intentions by speedily carrying off the whole of the small impression that can be purchased.’  

In 1851 the scope of the project was expanded further still, again through the activities of George Ransome. His ambitions for the promotion of science in Ipswich were not restricted to the Museum and the portrait series: these ventures were to underpin his larger project of attracting national and even international attention to the town. As a secretary of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, he was instrumental in securing the Association’s decision to hold its July 1851 meeting in Ipswich. Furthermore, this date coincided with that of the Great Exhibition in London, when many foreign visitors were in Britain, swelling the audience for the BAAS gathering. At this stage Maguire’s series of lithographs, which had, until then, been published only sporadically and in a limited edition, was issued as a set for general sale at the BAAS meeting and across the nation. Hence they are now often referred to as the BAAS series. When Prince Albert himself visited the Ipswich conference in 1851 amid great celebrations, he too became a patron of the Museum, and Henslow presented him with a bound set of the portrait lithographs – a gift which led on to royal commissions for Maguire. The Times report on the Prince’s visit noted that the BAAS, then celebrating its twenty-first anniversary, had ‘done much . . . to give coherence to the body of British savans’, and the same could be said of Maguire’s series of portraits. They were evidently reissued at various times in slightly differing formats, and often produced as chine collé, i.e. the paper receiving the image was bonded to a heavier supporting sheet during the printing process. Some impressions have facsimiles of the sitters’ signatures; others have the corners of the portrait image bevelled to give an octagonal format, perhaps to facilitate their placing in the mounts of albums. 

The quality of Maguire’s portraits, as much as the eminence of the sitters, explains their success. The Athenaeum’s writer thought, ‘The heads are all well drawn – with a true perception of the several individualities. They are touched with spirit – yet executed with delicacy and elaboration.’ The Gardeners’ Chronicle agreed that many were ‘faultless as resemblances, and, wherever Mr Maguire has had the opportunity of drawing from the original, are beautiful specimens of lithographic art’. At the same time, Maguire created a sense of unity by the consistent three-quarter-length seated presentation of his sitters, and by the personal dignity with which they are invested. All are formally dressed, yet generally relaxed and urbane: while enlightening the public about developments in natural history, the Ipswich Museum project was also intended to augment the prestige of scientists themselves. Appearing a few years before the rise of photographic ‘cartes de visite’, the series promoted the idea of celebrating personal and national achievements through galleries of portraits of eminent men, which might be used in extra-illustration of books, framed or mounted in albums, or reproduced in other media; for example, a photographic reproduction of Darwin’s head from the Maguire print appears in one of Francis Galton’s family albums. Maguire evidently excelled in the accuracy of his likenesses, yet even they were destined to lose out in comparison with the new medium of albumen photographic prints. Darwin thought that the portrait of Henslow was ‘very like, but I am not quite satisfied with it: I like in some respect the Photograph better’. In fact Maguire almost certainly referred to photographs as an adjunct to his drawings from life, although it is not clear whether this occurred in the case of Darwin.    

As so often, the portrait of Darwin differs significantly from those of his scientific peers. Where Hooker and Lyell are at ease, elegant and impressive, Darwin, though half-smiling, appears agitated by his own intense thoughts, self-conscious and awkward in his pose. Darwin told Henslow, ‘My wife says she never saw me with the smile, as engraved’, but that otherwise she considered the portrait ‘very like’. His stress and excitement in these years, when the theory of natural selection was taking shape in his mind, would become even more evident a few years later in the drawings by Samuel Lawrence and in photographs taken by the firm of Maull and Polyblank.  

  • physical location Wellcome Library, London. Copies also exist in the British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings, the Yale Center for British Art, the Royal Collection and elsewhere. 

  • accession or collection number Wellcome Library reference: iconographic collection 764.1; photo no. L0003785 

  • copyright holder Wellcome Collection; copyrighted work made available under Creative Commons 

  • originator of image Thomas Herbert Maguire; signed and dated in the image, bottom right, ‘T.H. Maguire, 1849’. 

  • date of creation 1849 

  • computer-readable date 1849-01-01 to 1849-12-31  

  • medium and material lithograph, printed by the firm of M & N. Hanhart. 

  • references and bibliography Francis Galton’s album of Darwin/ Galton family portraits, from the Galton archive of University College London, now housed at the National Archives, Kew, GALTON/1/1/12/3/1. ‘Our weekly gossip’, Athenaeum, no. 1141 (8 Sept. 1849), pp. 913–914. ‘Review. Portraits of Honorary Members of the Ipswich Museum. Published by George Ransome, F.L.S., Honorary Secretary’, Gardeners’ Chronicle, 42 (20 October 1849), pp. 662–663. Letters from Darwin to Henslow: [7 Oct. 1849], DCP-LETT-1283; 20 Nov. [1849], DCP-LETT-1272; 17 Jan. [1850], DCP-LETT-1293. Letters from Darwin to George Ransome, 27 [Aug. 1849], DCP-LETT-1335, and 25 Oct. [1849], DCP-LETT-1261. Letter from Ransome to Michael Faraday, 6 June 1851, in Frank A.J.L. James (ed.), The Correspondence of Michael Faraday, 6 vols (London: Institution of Electrical Engineers, 1991–2012), vol. 4, pp. 305–306, letter 2433. Report on ‘British Association for the Advancement of Science’, dated from Ipswich, Times (3 July 1851), p. 5. ‘Visit of Prince Albert to Ipswich’, Times (4 July 1851), p. 5. [John Ellor Taylor], A Guide to the Ipswich Museum (1871): copy in the archive of Colchester and Ipswich Museums. Janet Browne, ‘”I could have retched all night”: Charles Darwin and his body’ in Christopher Lawrence and Steven Shapin (eds), Science Incarnate: Historical Embodiments of Natural Knowledge (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1998), pp. 240–287 (pp. 257–263). Steven J. Plunkett, ‘Ipswich Museum moralities in the 1840s and 1850s’, in Christopher Harper-Bill, Carole Rawcliffe and Richard G. Wilson (eds), East Anglia’s History: Studies in Honour of Norman Scarfe (Woodbridge: Boydell Press and University of East Anglia, 2002), pp. 309–331. Louise Miskell, Meeting Places: Scientific Congresses and Urban Identity in Victorian Britain (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 59, 82, 84. J. van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, pp. 140–141.  


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