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John Dillwyn Llewelyn, self-portrait, circa 1850

Born "John Dillwyn," (12 January 1810 – August 1882) was a botanist and pioneer photographer.

He was born in Swansea, Wales, the eldest son of Lewis Weston Dillwyn and Mary Dillwyn (formerly Adams, née Llewellyn). Upon coming of age he inherited his maternal grandfather, John Llewelyn's estates of Penllergare and Ynysygerwn, near Swansea, and assumed the additional surname of Llewelyn. Educated privately he met, through his father who was a Fellow of the Royal Society and the Linnean Society, and at one time a member of Parliament, many of the eminent men of his time. These included Sir David Brewster, Michael Faraday and Charles Wheatstone. Lewis Weston Dillwyn had been sent to Swansea by his father William, to take over the management of the Cambrian Pottery, Swansea.

John's non-photographic exploits included assisting Wheatstone with the first ever experiments in sub-marine telegraphy, off the Mumbles, South Wales, powering a boat with an electric motor and creating the first private orchid house to replicate the original conditions of the plants in the South American jungles, complete with heated waterfall.

In 1833 he married Emma Thomasina Talbot, daughter of Thomas Mansel Talbot and Lady Mary Lucy, née Fox Strangways. Thomas was related to William Davenport Talbot and Mary was the sister of Elisabeth Talbot, the parents of William Henry Fox Talbot. Henry Talbot, through his botanic interests was a friend of Lewis Weston Dillwyn and spent some of his teenage years at Penrice, the home of the Welsh Talbots, also visiting Penllergare.

In January 1839, following the announcements of photographic processes by both William Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, John himself began to experiment, with the encouragement of Henry Talbot. He tried all the processes available. His earliest daguerreotype is dated 1840. None of his early photogenic drawings seem to survive, but some thousand calotype and wet collodion negatives still exist together with albums in private and public collections and the branches of the family.

When the Royal Photographic Society was founded in 1853, John was one of those who attended the foundation meeting at the Society of Arts in London, and was, for some years, a founder Council member. He exhibited regularly in the early exhibitions of the Society as well as in Dundee, the Manchester Art Treasures exhibition and Paris in 1855. At this latter exhibition he was amongst those awarded a silver medal for his 'Motion' series.

In 1856 he announced his own oxymel process which allowed collodion negatives to be preserved over many days. This was hailed as a boon by the Illustrated London News of the period. He also took a number of stereo images using a camera he actually bought for his daughter Thereza's birthday in 1856.

His last images would appear to date from the end of the 1850s after which it is possible that his health prevented any further photographic activity. He never took his camera outside Britain, though the family frequently visited mainland Europe. The majority of his images were taken around his estate of Penllergare, near Swansea, and around the Welsh coast. There are also a number taken in Cornwall over several years, many in Bristol including some pioneer animal and bird images in Clifton Zoo, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and a few in Scotland. His circle of photographic friends included Philip Henry Delamotte, Robert Hunt, Hugh Welch Diamond and especially his distant relative Calvert Richard Jones. Another friend was Antoine Claudet with whom John was, in the 1840s, conducting experiments on the daguerreotype process, though what these were is unknown beyond diary references to their taking part. It is interesting that the leading London daguerreotypist should be assisted by the amateur John Dillwyn Llewelyn.

Though he never published any photographic books himself, he did contribute to The Sunbeam edited by his friend Philip Henry Delamotte and other books. His own publication, Picture of Welsh Scenery, due to be published by Cundall, seems never to have appeared.

John died in August 1882 at his London home, Atherton Grange, Emma having died the previous year, and both are buried at Penllergaer Church, originally built by John for his family and estate workers.

John's ancestors were both Welsh and American. His great great grandfather, William Dillwyn, had emigrated to North America in the 17th century and was granted land by William Penn. Descendants still live in the USA and the Parrish Art Gallery and Museum, on Long Island, was founded by a descendant.

John, through marriage, was related to Henry Talbot, and through his father's family to Richard Dykes Alexander, an Ipswich photographer yet to be researched. His sister Mary Dillwyn was an early woman pioneer. In a small notebook kept by John is a recipe for the calotype process sent to Mary by Robert Hunt in 184-, the final figure is missing. His daughter Thereza was also a prolific photographer and married Nevil Story Maskelyne. She and her father would go on joint photographic expeditions with John using his large format cameras and Thereza her birthday present stereo camera. An album of photographs by Mary and Thereza sold for £41,000 in 2007. Llewelyn's son, John Talbot Dillwyn Llewellyn born in 1836, would later become a Conservative Member of Parliament for Swansea and Secretary of the Welsh Rugby Union. Others in the family, including his brother Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn MP for Swansea, also took photographs, some of which survive.

References

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