I chose one of the photos because it had a name on the back, but it wasn't until a few days later that I worked out what the name was and started to look into it. This is the photo:
J Kingston Barton, as he styled himself, seems to have had a very inquiring mind. His name pops up on late Victorian papers about 'puerperal sepsis in cattle' and 'congenital anaemia' and he is often to be found debating the issues of the day at the Royal College of Medicine. His particular claim to fame seems to have been a close study of the digestive habits of 'kelts' -- salmon or sea trout that are weak and emaciated after spawning.
The most interesting thing about JKB is his close friendship with GBS -- George Bernard Shaw.
|G Bernard Shaw in 1879|
In 1891 JKB married Georgina Graves, nee Marshall, a woman who had been widowed just a year earlier. She was Irish and he seems to have been back in Ireland for a time, or at least visiting regularly. They lived for many years at 14 Ashburn Place, Kensington. JKB outlived his wife by 17 years and died at the age of 86. His last home was in a very pleasant private road in Wimbledon. He seems to have left all his money to the Public Purse.
When I discovered that the photograph I had picked up more or less at random on an antique stall was of a man who had been a close friend of George Bernard Shaw I was pleased. What are the chances that a random person will have any claim to fame at all? But there's a further twist to the story...
Today I have been sorting out the old photographs I inherited from my Mum. These are not my family's photographs but a large stash of very old photos that I found in her outside shed when I had to clear her house. They were not kept in ideal conditions, far from it, but were a little damp and covered in gritty dirt. I think Mum must have bought them in a job lot at an auction and perhaps lost interest in them. There were so many of them and I just threw them into a drawer without sorting through them. It was because I've become so interested in old photos that it finally occurred to me that it was stupid to hanker after photos on the stall in Snooper's Paradise, which I can only visit very occasionally, when I had a whole drawer of old photos just waiting for me to look at them. So this weekend I did. There are so many and I have no idea who they belonged to or who they're of. They seem to come from a number of different families. So far I have just sorted them into postcards of places and photos of people and a few other subsets. The numbers are overwhelming and it makes me feel sad to think that I have no way of finding out who they're of (barely any have names attached to them). But I was just putting them away more neatly in boxes when I spotted one of a gentleman. No, it couldn't be... I think it is. It's James Kingston Barton again!
The fact that the photo was taken at an address just five minutes' walk from 14 Ashburn Place clinches it for me. And of course the similarity of his moustache, collar and tie, hair, sideburns. It's him! But what on earth is the probability of my already having (unknowingly) a photo of this chap who I discovered in Brighton? Infinitesimally small! I feel all a-flutter with the wonderful serendipity of it.
I mentioned above that James Kingston Barton went to Australia in 1876. Two new things have come to light since I first wrote this post. Firstly, on scrutinising the handwritten manifest of the SS Osyth on which James sailed to Australia, I see that he was not a passenger but rather the ship's surgeon. What an excellent way to see the world!
The other thing I've discovered is that on this trip JKB also went to New Zealand. I know this because, on going through my Mum's old photos, I found a second photo of him in the pile! This one is by the well-known Christchurch photographer Nelson K Cherrill, who in fact had only arrived in New Zealand himself in 1876, having emigrated from Tunbridge Wells (see this very interesting biography of him).