7Mary Ann Boulton RHS 1973 (532x640)

Mary Anne Robb née Boulton

Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society, 1973, Vol. 98 / RHS Lindley Collections

By kind permission of the Robb Family


Mary Anne Boulton was an early photographer and the third woman member of the Photographic Society, joining in 1853, its founding year.  She was from distinguished industrial heritage, grand daughter of Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), a pioneering manufacturer and leading figure of the 18th century enlightenment.

Matthew Boulton created The Soho Manufactory, harnessing development of the steam engine in partnership with James Watt.[1]

Matthew Boulton married Ann Robinson in 1760 (d.1783), and had a daughter Ann (1769-1829) followed by son Matthew Robinson Boulton (1770-1842).  Matthew Robinson Boulton married Mary Anne Wilkinson (1795-1829), the couple had seven children, but in 1829 Mary Anne died at the age of thirty four.

The Boulton’s youngest child, also called Mary Anne, was born on 23rd May 1829 and baptised on 10th June 1829, three days after her mother’s death.

Her maternal aunt Elizabeth Stockdale Wilkinson then took over the primary care of the children.[2] Mary Anne spent her childhood at Tew Park at Great Tew in Oxfordshire, an estate purchased by her father Matthew Robinson Boulton and later at Haseley Court, Tetsworth, Oxfordshire

Mary Anne’s  maternal aunt, Miss Wilkinson, also became known as a very early photographer.  Some records indicate her production of Daguerrotype photographs in the early 1840s. [3]  Mary Anne was immersed in photography from its earliest days, through the influence of her aunt.

On its founding, the Photographic Society enshrined into their constitution that ladies were welcome to become full members.  This was a rare concession in mid Victorian England with many professional or social societies still the exclusive preserve of men.  Mary Anne took up the opportunity of Photographic Society membership, was proposed and elected on 31st March 1853, joining Mrs Elizabeth Vignoles and Mrs Amelia Elizabeth Guppy. [4]

The following year saw the first Photographic Society exhibition and Mary Anne exhibited one collodion positive photograph entitled A Country House, Oxon. [5] Recent research has uncovered a collodion positive framed photograph of an ornamental garden assumed to be taken by Mary Anne Boulton. Noted on the reverse, “Garden in the Italian Style laid out by M.A.Robb (M.A.Boulton) at Haseley Court Tetsworth Oxon 1854”.


Mary Anne Boulton Haseley Court

Haseley Court, Tetsworth, Oxon, thought to be by Mary Anne Boulton c.1854


This remains her only recorded exhibit in two years of Photographic Society membership. It nevertheless reflected her love of garden landscape, a passion which was to dominate the latter part of her life.

Mary Anne Boulton lived at Haseley Court with her sister Katharine Muirhead and extended family until her marriage to Captain John Robb, RN, in 1856.  Their first son John Montagu Ceasar, was born in Portugal in 1857, their second Frederick Spencer Wilson, was born in London in October 1858.  But tragedy was to strike the young family. Captain Robb died in 1859 leaving Mary Anne a widow with two children at the age of thirty.[6]

Mary Anne continued to use photography to record her interest in horticulture and travelled extensively on the Continent in search of plants for the 150 acre garden at her home at Chiltley Place, Liphook, Hampshire.  She introduced Euphorbia Robbiae to British gardens in 1891, assuming the eponym Mrs Robb’s Bonnet in reference to her famous headgear.[7]

Liphook remained Mary Anne’s home until her death at the age of 83 on 5th February 1912.  Mary Anne Robb was buried in St Michael and All Angels Churchyard, Great Tew, West Oxfordshire.[8]  

She will be remembered by the characteristics of Euphorbia Robbiae, a  perennial evergreen.

My grateful thanks to Graham Harrison, Dr Michael Pritchard, Pete James and Sarah McDonald for their support and assistance.


[1] https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Matthew_Boulton accessed 11/02/2018

[2] Mason, Shena. The Hardware Man’s Daughter: Matthew Boulton and His ‘Dear Girl’. Stroud: Phillimore & Co, 2005

[3]Boulton, Matthew Piers Watt.  Remarks concerning certain pictures supposed to be photographs of early date. London: Bradbury & Evans, 1865, p.11-15

[4] Members of the Royal Photographic Society, 1853–1901

http://rpsmembers.dmu.ac.uk/rps_results.php?mid=35 accessed 11/02/2018

[5]  Photographs Exhibited in Britain 1839 – 1865, Records from Victorian Exhibition Catalogues

http://peib.dmu.ac.uk/itemphotographer.php?photogNo=47&orderby=coverage&photogName=Boulton%2C+%5BMiss%5D+Mary+Anne accessed 11/02/2018

[6] Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society, Mrs Robb and “Mrs Robb’s Bonnet” (Euphorbia robbiae)  July 1793 Vol XCVIII Part 7.

[7] ibid

[8] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/83558093/mary-anne-robb accessed 11/02/2018

Note:  The 1829 Baptismal record states Mary Ann Boulton but the Photographic Society records her name as Miss Mary Anne Boulton.  The reference to Anne continues with her married name of Robb in the 1861 census, probate in 1912 and her grave where she is referred to as Mary Anne Robb.


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