Friday, 19 October 2018

The Trouble with Mary Pinnock

You know me, I can never leave anything alone.  I am always up for a challenge and possibly the worst thing anyone can say to me is 'you probably won't find anything out about so-and-so.' Never tell me there is nothing to find, it's like a red rag to a bull.  However, even I will admit that when it comes to history, women can be somewhat elusive, especially, and this really hacks me off, if they don't have anything to do with men.  In terms of trace-ability, the worst thing a woman in the past could do was be middle-class and unmarried because you will vanish.  With no trade records to find you or no children to treasure your memories, your footprint is a tad tiddy.  You're not fighting in wars, you are not joining the Masons (well, not without a lot of questions being asked, like why has that mysterious new member 'Gerald' got a magnificent bosom?) and being the respectable daughter or some middle-class chap, you are not really working or doing anything than occasionally cropping up at a flower show.  Sorry, anyway, all this rambling brings me to the subject of my recent research, Mary Pinnock...

Ophelia (Mary Pinnock) (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
Arguably, one of the most startling images created by photographer Julia Margaret Cameron has to be Ophelia from 1867, the model for which was the mysterious Mary Pinnock.  For years the model for this, and other images was misidentified as either Adeline Vaughan or Cyllena Wilson, despite not really looking like either one of them...

Adeline Vaughan, with daughter Augusta (1864) Julia Margaret Cameron

Rosalba (Cyllena Wilson) (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
In one of Cameron's many copyright entry forms, she recorded that the model for Ophelia was actually Mary Pinnock, so that settled that.  In the few volumes of Cameron's work that address the identities and lives of the models, no firm leads on Miss (or Mrs, but we'll come to that) Pinnock were given, apart from the fact that 'Pinnock' appeared in Cameron's household records as someone she paid as a merchant or labourer. So I got out my social history shovel and I started to dig...

Mary Pinnock (1864-5) Julia Margaret Cameron
Heavens, no wonder she was a tricky one, she looks just like Mary Ryan in this photo.  Anyway, I will tell you who I think Mary Pinnock was, but also why she might not be and we'll see where we go from there.  Searches in books such as Sylvia Wolf's indispensable Julia Margaret Cameron's Women and Nicky Bird's Tracing Echoes found no trace of a Pinnock family in Freshwater in the 1860s and in fact searching further afield you really aren't over-blessed with Pinnocks on the island as a whole. Therefore she must have come from outside the village at the very least, but this is not uncommon, taking the stories of Agnes Mangles and the Peacock sisters into account. I have found a Mary Pinnock, born 1844 in Newport on the Isle of Wight.  Her father, Robert, was a bit of a big-wig in the town, being not only a draper but also a town councillor.  He was also Mayor of Newport five times and had a very well connected civic career that spanned almost fifty years.  On his death in 1887, the Isle of Wight Country Press wrote that 'A great blank in the public life of Newport, and as greater void in the hearts of numberless personal friends have been caused by the death of Mr Robert Pinnock JP' and 2000 people attended his funeral from all over the island and the mainland.  Flipping heck.

 The Pinnock family of Sealand Cottage, Blackgang (posh house, not the caravan park that now bears its name) were well known locally.  The sons of the family seem to have gone into the drapery business which was shared with Robert's brother Henry.  Henry had been in business in the West Indies, and on his return started the business with Robert who had moved from Lewes in Sussex to the Wight.

Robert Pinnocks General Drapery, Newport (1889 advert)
 Mary had quite a privileged, but not entirely uneventful life.  It's hard to comprehend how frequently deaths occurred in the nineteenth century, and I am often rather shocked when part of a family just pop off all of a sudden, especially if they are wealthy. However, in 1861 Mary lost both her younger sister and mother within four weeks of each other. On the 11th October, Elizabeth, aged 40 died, followed by her 13 year old daughter Kate, on the 14th of November. The drapery business was then robbed in December of the same year, so 1861 was not the best year for the Pinnock family.  The reason I know these sad facts however is because the family were so well known and it makes that fame that makes Mary Pinnock, the third child and second daughter, Julia Margaret Cameron's Ophelia.  If no Pinnocks can be found in Freshwater then you have to find your Pinnocks somewhere...

Ophelia Study 2 (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
Another reason that I suspect Mary Pinnock of Newport is the model for the Cameron photographs is she actually mixed socially with another of Cameron's models, Agnes Mangles.  As you will remember from this post, Agnes' father was involved with a Steam Packet company and attended social events in Newport.  Also there, according to the newspapers, was Miss Pinnock, daughter of the Mayor and it isn't beyond reason that if Julia Margaret Cameron acquired Miss Mangles through social events then Miss Pinnock could have been found too.  Added to this, the Pinnock recorded in the Cameron accounts could well be the drapers in Newport who may have been able to get the fabrics that the Camerons were after, what with Mr Pinnocks foreign connections. Hurrah! Success!

Now let me come to the fly in my ointment...

The Passion Flower at the Gate (1865-70) Julia Margaret Cameron
Mary Pinnock of Newport remained a spinster until her death in 1908 but this image of Mary appears to show a ring on her left hand.  Damn. It is possible therefore that the model was Mrs Mary Pinnock, married to a yet unknown Mr Pinnock.  I have found suspects, such as Mary Moore who married George Pinnick (sic), a blacksmith from West Cowes or Mary Marsh who married William Pinnick in 1861, but none had the immediate standing, connections or locality to make them as likely as Mary from Newport.  It also depends on Julia Margaret Cameron misspelling 'Pinnock' in the records of her photographs and household accounts.  

At this point I call upon my good friend May Prinsep to help me out...

Pre-Raphaelite Study (October 1870) Julia Margaret Cameron
Here we have a lovely image of the delightful Miss Prinsep and what is that I spy on the ring finger of her left hand?  A full four years before her marriage to Andrew Hichens, Miss Prinsep was wearing a ring on her finger for no apparent reason.  Now, we could say that maybe the image is reversed on purpose (or by accident) and so both May and Mary Pinnock are the wrong way round, or maybe in dressing up for the picture they chose to wear rings.  Maybe Mrs Cameron wanted the woman in her image to be married, as if that carried meaning in the story she was portraying.  We may never know, but it does tell me that just because a woman in wearing a ring in a work of art, it doesn't mean the model was married, especially if the image is not intending to be a portrait.

Miss Mary Pinnock, daughter of the Mayor of Newport, and a rather quiet, good-works-in-the-parish sort of woman, lived a reasonably long life, outliving all but two of her siblings.  I would very much like to get hold of the Francis Pittis & Sons catalogue of the auction of Miss M A Pinnock's effects on 29th April 1908 to see if she had any of Cameron's images of her which would seal it.  However in the meantime we have to content ourselves with some beautiful pictures of an attractive young woman who sat in front of a camera in the late 1860s on the Isle of Wight...

Daphne (Mary Pinnock)  (1866-8) Julia Margaret Cameron


  1. She's so lovely and gave the world some of it's most beautiful photographs. I hope she got some love on the way.

  2. What lovely images. Isn't it curious how little record a person can leave after their death?


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