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Archive for the 'Artists' Category

Thomas Davidson, Deaf Artist – “he became a kindly hearted, liberal thinker”

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 16 May 2014

Thomas Davidson, R.A. (1842-1919), was an artist of great skill.  He specialised in historical naval scenes, and also created memorable paintings illustrating the work of Emily Brontë .   He had a close association with St. Saviour’s Church in Oxford Street, London, including  being part of the Deaf and Dumb Debating Society, the R.A.D.D., and on the Committee of the Charitable and Provident Society for the Deaf and Dumb (Ephphatha).

Gilby says in his as yet unpublished memoirs, “The Men and women who were the backbone of the social club at St. Saviour’s, and who were very often seen there, were Thomas Davidson, the artist, Samuel Bright Lucas (son of Mrs.Margaret Lucas, foundress of the British Womens Temperance League), C W. Moore, the wood engraver, a friend of Brangwyn and other artists, W. Emerton the Emersons, W. H. Boughten, H. G. G. Ayshford, the wood engraver, and Hay Taylor.”

Davidson was born in London on 17th of January 1842, son of ‘Thomas Davidson Esq. of Hyde Park Corner’ (Deaf and Dumb Magazine).*  The family came originally from Kelso in Scotland (British Deaf Mute).  Losing his hearing aged four, young Thomas was sent as a private pupil to Thomas Watson, at the Old Kent Road Institution, then afterwards to a ‘hearing’ school in Clapham.  He is said to have thought oral education important.  He attended the School of Art at Marlborough House, (later home to the Prince of Wales) “under the two Whichelos” according to Gilby (Ephphatha).  He also studied under “Mr. Carey of Bloomsbury, Mr. Leigh of Newman Street, and Mr. Alex. Johnston of Fitzroy Square” before going to the Royal Academy for ten years (Deaf and Dumb Magazine).  The British Deaf Mute puts a Mr. Hatherly in there as well and I expect that it would be possible to research all these people to put Davidson’s development as an artist into context.  Thomas was also the winner of Royal Academy silver medals, and in 1868 he shared a studio in Paris with Claud Calthorp, “attending M. Bonnett’s atelier”.

Davidson Nelson 001

Davidson married in 1871 and had a large family with his wife Charlotte Douglas McHeath, who was also an exhibited artist.  In 1881 they were living at 82 Park Road, Hampstead.  His second son Douglas became a student at the Academy, while other children became an architect and a ‘news correspondent in Holland’.

Davidson died in Walberswick in Suffolk where he had retired, in November 1919.

“Looking towards the Altar, and on the right, a great picture by Thomas Davidson (himself deaf and dumb) called Ephphatha dominated the Church and decidedly was its principal adornment.  We give an illustration of this picture, though the reproduction by no means conveys a proper idea of the glorious golden sunset which fills the rear ground.” (Gilby, Memoirs)

st. saviour's interior

In Peeps Into the Deaf World, Roe quotes Davidson,

All the deaf should read a great deal, and that will give them more knowledge of the world, past and present. I am a great reader, and have read history, biography, books on travel, religion, and novels, besides the daily newspapers, and it is a great comfort – this reading – to one who is deaf, and to whom little is said.

In his obituary (Ephphatha), Gilby says that his “opinions and methods in art were conservative, but in many ways he was in advance of his time, and he became a kindly hearted, liberal thinker.”

The picture of Davidson here is by his friend C.W. Moore (Deaf and Dumb Magazine, 1879)


British Deaf-Mute, 1895, 4(40), 66. (illus)

Deaf and Dumb Magazine, 1879, 7(82), 152-54. (illus)

Silent Worker, 1897

W.R. Roe, A distinguished deaf-mute artist, Peeps into the Deaf World, 1917, p.262-7 (illus)

F.W.G.G[ilby], Mr. Thomas Davidson, Ephphatha, 1920, no.45 p.576

* Thomas Davidson  This website lists his father as George, but as he is listed as Thomas Davidson Junior in the list of subscribers to St. Saviour’s (for 1861-2) on the same page and at the same address as another Thomas Davidson, it seems clear that that website is in error.  We are grateful to Dr. W. J. Lyons for this information.

Sign alphabet exhibition – Royalty and the Deaf

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 2 August 2013

Another item I did not get around to posting during the exhibition.

Royalty and the deaf, with some striking facts about the deaf and dumb, their alphabet, and a few signs. Watford, H.Ash, 18–?

The author of this pamphlet, Harry Ash (1863-1934) was clearly following the pattern of the Deaf artist William Agnew (1846-1914) who painted a series of pictures showing Queen Victoria using finger spelling to communicate with a deaf woman on the Isle of Wight; the “Royal Condescension” paintings of 1883, 1889 and 1900.

In an autobiographical piece for The British Deaf Mute (Vol.4 (44) p.113-4, 1895) Ash describes how the education system changed while he was at the Old Kent Road School.

At sixteen I left the home paradise with three first prizes – for general proficiency, for religious knowledge, and for good fellowship, besides a prize for freehand drawing. Perhaps I should have written better English had there not been a complete change in the system of Instruction, from sign-manual to oral.

Click onto the images for a larger size.

Ash Royalty 001


Sign alphabet exhibition – Cartoon

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 29 July 2013

Our Monthly Church Messenger to the Deaf 1895

F.W.G. Gilby (1865-1949), the child of Deaf parents, learnt to sign as a boy.  He went into the church and naturally gravitated towards the Deaf community in London.  He became vicar at St.Saviour’s, the Deaf community’s church in Oxford St.  Our Monthly Church Messenger to the Deaf was his first attempt to run a successful magazine with a religious slant, followed later by Ephphatha.  His magazine could not compete with that of Ernest Abraham, The British Deaf Mute, of whom Gilby said “he was a born advertiser, eaten up with the modern spirit. And so his magazine beat mine to a frazzle.” 

[The British Deaf Times was the heir, through several name changes, of The Deaf and Dumb Times which had been started in 1889.  It ran to to 1954 when it joined with Deaf News to form  The British Deaf News.  ]

The illustration comes from –

The Deaf Quarterly News for July 1920.  The artist was Leslie Edwards (1885-1951), missioner to the deaf; honorary secretary-treasurer, British Deaf and Dumb Association 1935-51 &. lay minister for the Leicester Mission.

At the bottom left we see George Healey of Liverpool, & the big man on the right is the Rev. Vernon Jones (1883-1947) who was a chaplain to the R.A.D. in north London.

The Deaf Quarterly News was edited by Ernest Ayliffe (1873-1955 ), a missioner to & teacher of the deaf.

Football matchClick for a larger image.


Deaf artist, Rupert Arthur Dent, and Jane Besemeres

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 7 June 2013

Rupert Arthur Dent (1853-1910) was born in Wolverhampton in 1853, son of a Stafford solicitor, William Dent, and his wife Jane.  In 1861 the family included nine children who had a governess, Miss Jane Besemeres.  Rupert Dent was deaf from birth, and his obituary (British Deaf Times 1910 Vol.7 p.57-9) tells us that one of his father’s sister’s was also deaf and very artistic.  Rupert A Dent 001As early as eight years old he showed artistic talent, observing and drawing animals.  Perhaps the governess was just for the daughters or the younger children as we are told that Arthur was educated at the Old Trafford (Manchester) Institution under Alexander Patterson, then Wolverhampton School of Art.  Aged 23 he became a Royal Academy student and began exhibiting.  The Royal Academy was not appreciative of animal paintings but his artistic treatment and naturalism was recognised as having great merit.

Dent senior 001Dent dogs 1 001

Fond of history and interested in antiquities, Dent was also philanthropic, holding a Sunday afternoon class for Deaf people in Wolverhampton.  His forte was clearly his dog painting, but he also painted miniatures  – see below – and landscapes.

In February 2012 one of his paintings was sold for $4,750 in New York.

Jane Besemeres (1827-1905) was born on London.  She remained a family friend of the Dents after she left her post as governess (she was a visitor there according to the 1871 census return), and went on to be both a teacher, author and found the Staffordshire Mission to the Deaf (1886).  It may well be that working with Rupert Dent inspired her interest in Deaf education and mission work.  Our Monthly Friend for January 1906 suggests that it was teaching ‘a Deaf boy’ that taught her about “the nature of the Deaf and their peculiar needs”, and we might speculate that the boy was Rupert.  She started a small school for Deaf children, recruited the Deaf missioner Agar Russell (himself a fascinating character).  She founded a ‘Home for Deaf and dumb Girls’ in 1902 at 80 Compton Road.  The Dent family were represented at the funeral and donated £5 to a memorial fund.

Jane Besemeres 001

Treating Deafness: Hannah Thatcher, William Wright, and the Danger of ‘Thin Shoes’

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 15 February 2013

From the RNID Library picture collection, we have this charming image of a young girl.  The picture was presented to the Pierre Gorman of the RNID Library by Mrs Selwyn Oxley on May 2nd 1963. The inscription on the engraving below reads,

Miss Hannah Thatcher, Born Deaf and Dumb, who at the Age of Eleven was presented to the late Queen on acquiring the sense of Hearing and the faculty of Speech under the surgical treatment of Wm. Wright Esq. Her Majestys Surgeon Aurist, Dedicated by Permission to His Royal Highness the Duke of York by his very grateful and devoted humble Servant, Robert Webster. Published April 10 1820 by R. Webster 3 Queens Row, Printer

The name of the artist is faded away, and it looks as if the engraver was Robert [Webster].  Click on for a larger size image. You can read more about William Wright on the excellent website by our friend Jaipreet Virdi, From the Hands of Quacks.
hannah Tatcher 2 001The Ear Institute Library (our two collections are separate) has a copy of Wright’s 1829 book, On the Varieties of Deafness and Diseases of the Ear with Proposed Methods of Relieving Them.  The book was presented ‘with the author’s compliments’, we might speculate to Charles Hawkins, ‘House Surgeon’, who gave it to St. George’s Hospital Library in 1856.  The book went on the the Royal Ear Hospital before ending up with us.  It is fascinating to see the many lives of a book, and consider how such an ordinary object can pass through many hands, outliving the transient owners.

Wright covers various causes of Deafness, and supposed or actual cures for hearing maladies, such as damp clothes (cause) or urine of a variety of animals (supposed cure)  (here Wright appears to be a sensible materialist, explaining a possible ‘mechanical’ effect by reason of the liquid acting on wax).  Of ear tickling , we learn “in China, it is said that this forms a species of luxurious enjoyment amongst the great”. As for ‘Bethesda-Pool mineral water’, “see St. John, Chapter 5”, “recommended by a licenciate of the College of Physician, as a cure for deafness,”

in proof that the water was genuine, the angel of the Lord, he said, periodically troubled it in each individual bottle,-the same as we are told he used to trouble the pool. There were many persons who drank a considerable quantity of this water for a variety of complaints, until the shafts of ridicule spoiled the Doctor’s trade in the article, by correcting the aberration of his patient’s minds from the true standard of sanity.  (see Plain Advice for the Deaf, p.167)  After this, we must not be surprised if a portion of clay and water, said to be from Siloam’s pool, were to be sold by some empiric, to cure blindness! (see St. John, Chap. 9)  Or a pretended importation of casks of water from the River Jordan, to be made by some adventurer, and disposed at a high price, as a cure for leprosy! (see 2d Kings, Chap. 5)  This is not so very unlikely, after the above example; and one much on a par with it, namely, the Quack who a few years ago advertised wild elephants’ milk for sale, and gave a description of the manner in which his agents in Africa performed to operation of obtaining it.

Below we see Wright’s views on snuff.
Snuff 001


Wright also points to to the dangers of ‘thin shoes’ – “Ladies frequently cause serious derangement of their own health, as well as diminution of the sense of hearing, by want of caution as to this part of their dress: damp, or cold applied to the feet of persons of delicate constitution, or who from habits of life are accustomed to warm rooms, or the use of a carriage, is extremely injurious, and sometimes even fatal.”

Now didn’t your grandmother say exactly that?  You have been warned!