Portrait of Mrs. Verschoyle from Heath’s Book of Beauty 1839 (Private Collection)

Engraved by William Henry Mote (1803–1871) after a painting by Alfred Edward Chalon (1780-1860)[1]

Catherine Verschoyle was an artist and photographer who used her privileged social status and photographic skill to aid less fortunate families affected by the Crimean War.  Catherine was one of the first women to join the Photographic Society in its inaugural year of 1853.

Catherine Curtis was the eldest daughter of Thomas Curtis, possibly born in Southampton as documented on her census enumerations. [2],[3] Catherine’s father was described as “Thomas Curtis Esq of Bath and of Mountown, in the County of Meath”.[4]

On 20th August 1824 Catherine married Dublin barrister Robert Verschoyle in the parish of Bathwick, Somerset.  The Verschoyles had settled in Ireland, descendants of the Dutch Verschuijl family.  Robert and Catherine’s forty two year marriage was shared between residences in Kilberry, Co. Kildare, Ireland and Eaton Square, London.[5]  Three sons and three daughters arrived between 1825 and 1842.

Their first son James Augustus died in 1839 at the age of fourteen, attending Eton College [6] But tragedy had already struck the Verschoyle family with the early death of their second son Henry Marcus in 1832 at the age of five. [7] Georgina Frances was born in Ireland, census documenting her birthplace as Dublin in 1829.[8] In January 1833 Henry William was born, Catherine circa 1838 and Augusta in November 1841.[9]

London newspapers regularly reported the attendance of Mrs Verschoyle supporting fundraising society gatherings.  In 1844 she joined William Henry Fox Talbot’s mother, Lady Elizabeth Fielding amongst other members of fashionable society at a grand ball “…for the relief of Distressed Polish Refugees.”[10] This theme continued with Catherine’s support for the Crimean Army Fund in 1854[11]

On 7th April 1853 Catherine Verschoyle was proposed and elected to the newly formed Photographic Society, becoming their fourth female member joining Elizabeth Vignoles, Amelia Elizabeth Guppy and Mary Ann Boulton.  Her photographic skills then formed part of another fundraising initiative; The Patriotic Fund, “for the relief of widows and orphans of British officers who fall in the war with Russia.”  Catherine displayed nine photographs including a copy of Edwin Landseer’s painting The Shepherd’s Highland Home. The Morning Post listed donations exceeding 800 works of art including contributions by the Royal family.  Photographs by Rejlander and Hugh Owen were presented by Miss E. M. Saunders, but Mrs Verschoyle remained the only photographer listed in an exclusively female collection of art donations. [12]


The Shepherd’s Highland Home by Edwin Landseer, photographed by Catherine Verschoyle

From collection of Dr Michael Pritchard

Catherine became the sole female photographer to exhibit her work at the 1857 Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, the largest display of artworks ever held in Great Britain.[13] Catherine exhibited an additional twenty photographs in Photographic Society exhibitions between 1854 and 1863.[14]


   Madresfield Court (1862) by Catherine Verschoyle

From Inventory of R.G. Watkins Books & Prints, Copyright Reserved

From collection of Dr Michael Pritchard

In 1851 Catherine’s son Henry William Verschoyle joined the Grenadier Guards, rising from Lieutenant to Captain during the Crimean War.  In a rare departure from landscape or photography of engravings, Catherine took the portrait of Captain Sir William Peel (1824-1858), one of the first recipients of the new Victoria Cross.[15]  The image grew in importance on Peel’s death at the age of thirty three in 1858 and appears to be his only known photographic portrait.  In an unusual move, Catherine’s photograph was made available for sale by Dominic Colnaghi, lithographed by James Henry Lynch [16]and also acquired for the Royal Collection.[17]

Captain Sir William Peel RCIN 659931

Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

Captain Sir William Peel, R.N. lithographed by J H Lynch

Photographed by Mrs Verschoyle

The Photographic Journal highlighted Catherine’s 1861 Photographic Society exhibits within a group of “excellent examples from amateurs”.  Complimentary critique continued in 1863 with the British Journal of Photography describing Catherine as part of “a group of landscape photographists of repute”.[18] Catherine was also reported to be continuing exhibition of her watercolour landscapes in addition to photographic works.[19]

Captain Henry William Verschoyle showed talent as an artist and photographer, elected to the Photographic Society in January 1861.  Catherine and Henry became the first mother and son simultaneously contributing to Photographic Society exhibitions in 1861 and 1863.  The camera had been turned onto Captain Verschoyle as part of the Crimean Photographs 1855-6 Tour, the subject of a portrait by Photographic Society founder Roger Fenton.  Though wounded in 1855, Henry William survived Crimea but died at the age of thirty seven as a result of heat apoplexy during a yachting event in August 1870, leaving his wife Clara, two sons and three daughters.

Library of Congress R Fenton H W Verschoylehttpscdn.loc.govservicepnpcph3g000003g090003g091003g09179v.jpg

Captain Verschoyle, Grenadier Guards,

Fenton Crimean War Photographs, Library of Congress[20]

Catherine died on 14th June 1882 and was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London, reunited with her husband Robert after sixteen years as a widow.[21]


My grateful thanks to Dr Michael Pritchard for his valuable cooperation and assistance

Also David Greenfield for his continued support


[1] Another example of stipple engraving by William Henry Mote, after Alfred Edward Chalon was a portrait of Ada Lovelace published in 1839  https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw39467/Ada-Lovelace?LinkID=mp57818&role=art&rNo=18 accessed 19/07/2018

[2] Marriage report in Morning Post 31st August 1824. p.4 C.3

[3] No other records for a birth of Catherine Curtis in the Southampton area was found in the city archives.  In all census returns throughout Catherine Verschoyle’s life, her birthplace was listed as Southampton. 

[4] Marriage report in Morning Post 31st August 1824. p.4 C.3

[5] Virginia Mason, Gens Van Der Scuylen, 600 Years of the Verschuijl and Verschoyle Family (Whitehill: Verschoyle Mason Publications, 2001) Chapter 18, Descendants of James Verschoyle, Bishop of Killala

[6] Cheltenham baptisms record James Augustus Verschoyle, son of Robert and Catherine, baptised on 22nd September 1825.  Eton School Lists document the death of James Augustus Verschoyle in 1839.

[7] Henry Marcus Verschoyle was baptised at the British Chaplaincy, Rome, Italy on 25th January 1827 according to the records of Ancestry Select Births and Baptisms, 1806-1900.  Details of his grave can be found at:

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/170982215/henry-marcus-verschoyle accessed 03/07/2018

[8] 1851, 1881, 1891

[9] Catherine (jun) DOB based on census and marriage information.  Henry William 29th January 1833 and Augusta 2nd November 1841 from Westminster baptism records.

[10] The Times, Friday May 24th 1844 – “The Grand Polish or Full Dress Ball, in aid of the Literary Association of the Friends of Poland for the relief of Distressed Polish Refugees…” p.1

[11] The Times, Friday Dec 8th 1854 – “Crimean Army Fund”, p.4

[12] Morning Post, Monday March 26th 1855 – Mrs Verschoyle No.675-683

[13] Exhibit No.455, Copies of Engravings by Mrs Verschoyle http://peib.dmu.ac.uk/itemexhibition.php?exbtnid=1032&orderBy=exhibid&exhibitionTitle=1857%2C+Manchester%2C+Art+Treasures accessed 08/07/2018

[14] http://peib.dmu.ac.uk/itemphotographer.php?photogNo=416&orderby=coverage&photogName=Verschoyle%2C+Mrs.  Accessed 19/07/2018

[15] http://www.vconline.org.uk/sir-william-peel-vc/4587855669 accessed 10/07/2018

[16] The Daily Scotsman, Edinburgh, Saturday November 19, 1859 p.1 c.6 – “Paul and Dominic Colnaghi & Co., 13 and 14 Pall Mall East, Publishers to Her Majesty, beg to announce that they are now publishing a Portrait of Captain Sir William Peel, lithographed by Mr Lynch from a photograph by Mrs Verschoyle…”

[17] RCIN 659931 Published on 01/08/1859  https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/search#/1/collection/659931/sir-william-peel-r-n-captain  

[18] British Journal of Photography, January 15, 1863, The Ninth Annula Exhibition of the Photographic Society (London)

[19] Taylor, Roger & Schaaf, Larry, Impressed by Light, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007.) p.387

[20] https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/ftncnw/item/2001697683/  accessed 21/07/2018

[21] Deceased online burial register summary “Catterine Verschoyle” Kensal Green Cemetery (Kensington and Chelsea)


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