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Sensational Developments: Newsworthy Victorian Photographers

Collections - Posted 10-05-2021

Whilst working from home this last year, one of my tasks was to rebuild a basic spreadsheet of Welsh Photographers (1850 -1920) – names, addresses, dates. In all honesty this became a little tedious, so I started doing a little research. Every now and then I’d have a quick search on Google, which didn’t produce too many results. Then I started using online newspaper sources, searching specific names, as well as the simplest search term -“Photographer”.

Much of what I found were simply advertisements or notices of bankruptcy, quite a lot of bankruptcy actually! But of course, to be really newsworthy the stories had to have a sensational flavour and I found tragedy, assault, theft, accusations of indecent behaviour, drunkenness and fraud! I will visit some of these stories in future writings, but I thought I’d start with an interesting occurrence in the Police Court at Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire on 20th October 1897.

John Martin Powell of Milford Haven, photographer, artist and lay preacher, aged around 60, had been summoned to court by his wife of 32 years who wanted “..Separation and maintenance on the grounds of cruelty,”, something which Mr. Powell, of course, denied. His wife had been living with her daughter for some time and with the help of her sister, had brought the case to court.

The proceedings were progressing, albeit with some vocal outbursts from Powell, when suddenly, “… The court was startled by an hysterical scream from Mrs Powell, who was shrinking horrified away from where her husband was standing. Simultaneously there was a scuffle, and it was seen that Powell was pointing a revolver at his wife.”

Powell was still advancing towards his cowering wife when he was surrounded by half a dozen people, one of whom was his own son-in-law, and the revolver was ripped from his grip by Police Sergeant Brinn. “…It was a question for a moment whether the defendant would be preserved from violence..” as the crowd went into uproar with shouts of “Lynch Him!”, and people tried clambering towards the bench. Mrs. Powell had been ushered from the room and one of the Magistrates, Dr.Griffiths, stood on a chair and “…Appealed to the public to suppress their feelings, threatening to place under arrest anyone who incited a riot. He assured them the magistrates would do their duty by this man, and urged them not to say another word…”

Once calm had be restored, Powell, now handcuffed, stood before the Magistrates and was charged with the attempted murder of his wife and remanded in custody.

On 10th November Powell was brought to Carmarthen Assizes to be tried by Judge and Jury, and you’d think it was a fairly open and shut case. But, no, there was some question as to whether the trigger had actually been pulled. No one could say for certain that they saw Powell’s finger actually on the trigger. Some said they had heard a click, others heard nothing, but on examination the cartridge in the chamber of the gun had indentations as though the hammer had struck but not fired.

The jury retired for fifty minutes, and on their return announced that they had not reached an agreement. “Then why have you returned?” asked the Judge. “We wanted our dinner,” A juror said, to much laughter from the the crowd, “I don’t think we can agree, as we are eight to four”. “I have known eight to convert four. I’m afraid I cannot discharge you,” replied the Judge, then adding, to more laughter, “Not withstanding the fact that you want your dinner.” “I’m very sorry for that,” the Juror said, ”For I shall never be converted.”

To the sound of more laughter the jury was ordered to retire once more, and in quarter of an hour they returned.

“We find the prisoner not guilty of pulling the trigger, but of presenting the revolver for the purpose of intimidating his wife.”

The Judge had to concede that this amounted to a verdict of not guilty and before he discharged Powell he warned that any further cruelty to his wife would result in serious punishment. Ten days later a settlement between Powell and his wife was reached with maintenance of ten shillings a week to be paid. Powell continued in business until 1901.

Simon Evans
Curatorial Assistant, Photographs

Sources: South Wales Echo 21st October 1897.
South Wales Daily Post 10th November 1897
Cardiff Times 13th November 1897
South Wales Daily News 19th November 1897
Carmarthen Weekly Reporter 12th November 1897

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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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