Parham Hall, Suffolk circa 1858

Mary Emma Lynn

Courtesy of George Eastman Museum


Mary Emma Lynn was a significant Mid-Victorian photographer featuring in a compilation of images entitled The Photographic Album for the Year 1855. She was the only woman of forty four contributors to the collection of photographs created by some of the most acclaimed photographers of the 1850s.[1]

Mary is thought to be the daughter of Captain Thomas Lynn (1774-1847)[2] a naval officer in the East India Company, teacher of navigation and author of astronomical navigational guides[3], and Susan Lynn (1778-1834)[4]. Mary and her two older brothers James (1804-1878) and Edward (1808-1840)[5]were baptised on the same day, 22nd April 1813 in Wickham Market, Suffolk.

James Lynn was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Corps of Royal Engineers, listing Mary as his next of kin.[6]In the early 1850s The Department of Science and Art had pioneered photographic instruction of the Sappers, beginning with photographic arrangements at the Great Exhibition.[7] James Lynn, however, retired in November 1850 so it is unlikely that Mary learned her photographic skills from her brother.

1841 census records indicate that Mary cared for her father in Dover following her mother’s death in 1834. Captain Thomas Lynn died in Dover aged 73 in 1847.[8] Mary then moved to Portland Terrace in the Marylebone area of London, appearing in the 1851 census as a “Fundholder” and head of a household including her fifteen year old niece Susannah (daughter of brother Edward Lynn).

Between the 1851 and 1861 census, photography advanced exponentially, introducing the wet collodion process at the start of this highly significant decade. Mary moved back to Wickham Market, sharing her home with retired brother James. She learned the wet collodion photographic process, acquired equipment and captured two views of nearby Suffolk locations. Although Mary is not recorded as a member of the Photographic Society of London, one of her salted paper prints was featured in The Photographic Album for the Year 1855.

The Album was introduced as “Being contributions from the members of the Photographic Club” and “Printed for the Members of the Photographic Club”. [9][10]Each entry is accompanied, on the preceding page, by detailed information about the method and equipment used to produce the image, plus a poem chosen by each photographer. Mary chose eight lines from The Homes of England by Felicia Dorothea Hemans (née Browne) to accompany her photograph of a lane scene in the village of Petistree*, one mile from her home in Wickham Market.[11]The salted paper print Lane Scene at Petistree, Suffolk was described by Mary –

“Taken on Collodion, September 19, 1855, alternate clouds and sunshine;

Exposure two minutes; developed with Pyrogallic Acid.

Lens by A. Ross; focal length twelve inches; diameter two and a half inches;

Diaphragm seven-sixteenths of an inch.”

The album page can be viewed online courtesy of The J Paul Getty Museum HERE

Mary’s photograph and text was the only female contribution, in addition to forty three distinguished photographers, most of whom were members of the Photographic Society of London, formed only two years earlier.[12]Her photographic status remains a mystery, perhaps invited by a Photographic Club member to contribute to this prestigious publication.


10990301 J P Getty Mary Emma Lynn 84.XA.871.6.6

Mary Emma Lynn 
Lane Scene at Petistree, Suffolk, September 19, 1855, Salted paper print from a glass negative
15.4 × 20 cm (6 1/16 × 7 7/8 in.), 84.XA.871.6.6

Courtesy of The J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles Open Content Program


Mary’s niece, also named Mary Emma Lynn, later Allen, (1837-1934) spent some time living in Wickham Market with aunt Mary and uncle James, documented in the 1861 census enumeration. It is unlikely, despite her identical name, that she was the photographer of Mary’s two extant images.[13]

The 1861 census also documents Mary’s neighbour, Mrs Howlett, mother of professional photographer Robert Howlett. Mrs Howlett was living at the same location in 1855, the year of Mary’s Petistree photograph.[14] It is justifiable speculation that Howlett may have taught Mary her photographic skills and invited her Photographic Club Album entry. Two photographs showing views of All Saints Church, Wickham Market, taken by Robert Howlett in July 1855 are evidence of a visit seven weeks prior to Mary’s Petistree photograph. [15]

A further photograph (Fig.1) taken at nearby Parham Hall was taken by Mary circa 1858, this time presented as an albumen silver print. Mary’s commitment to location photography would have involved a knowledge of the collodion process, relevant camera equipment and a portable dark tent to develop her negative within a few minutes of exposure. This indicates more photography yet to be discovered.

There is no record of her  joining the Photographic Society or exhibiting her photographic skills.[16]

Mary never married and, following the death of her brother James Lynn in 1878, she spent her later years living in the artist haven of Aldeburgh, Suffolk where she died at the age of ninety one in 1903.[17]


My gratitude to Ian Howlett and Michael Pritchard for their continued assistance and George Eastman Museum and J Paul Getty Museum for their generous support.

Also Reverend Leslie Siu and kind residents of Pettistree.


Mary’s work can be seen online:





Mary’s Lane Scene at Petistree, Suffolk can be viewed within The Photographic Album for the Year 1855 at the British Library, London and J P Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

*Petistree is now known as Pettistree


Recommended Reading:

Seiberling, Grace, and Carolyn Bloore. Amateurs, photography, and the mid-Victorian imagination. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1986. p.135

Taylor, Roger. Impressed by light : British photographs from paper negatives, 1840-1860 / Roger Taylor ; biographical dictionary by Larry J. Schaaf in collaboration with Roger Taylor. New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Washington : National Gallery of Art ; New Haven ; London : Yale University Press, 2007.


[1] British Library Shelfmark: C.43.i.7. acquired 5 Oct 1859. This copy includes images by Oscar Gustav Rejlander, Philip Henry Delamotte, Joseph Cundall and Thomas Lukis Mansell. https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/photographyinbooks/record.asp?RecordID=3074

J P Getty Object Number: 84.XA.871.6  does not include images by Oscar Gustav Rejlander, Philip Henry Delamotte, Joseph Cundall and Thomas Lukis Mansell in the list of contributors. http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/60452/john-stewart-francis-bedford-william-c-plunket-et-al-the-photographic-album-for-the-year-1855-being-contributions-from-the-members-of-the-photographic-club-english-1855/  Both accessed 29/02/2020

[2] Thomas Lynn DNB https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/17270 Accessed 15/02/2020

[3] Lynn, Thomas. 1822. Star tables, number II, for the year 1823, for more readily ascertaining the latitude and longitude at sea during the night … by Thomas Lynn. London: Printed for the author.

Lynn, Thomas. 1825. Nautical and astronomical tables. London: Kingsbury, Parbury & Allen.

[4] www.ancestry.co.uk accessed 15/02/2020  Susan Lynn, Burial 24/09/1834 Living at Trinity Square, London.

[5] Cheshire, England, Select Bishop’s Transcripts, 1576-1933 Date of burial recorded as 27 Sep 1840 www.ancestry.co.uk accessed 16/02/2020

[6] The National Archives; Kew, Surrey, England; Class Number: WO 25; Class Title: Including campaigns, marriages, births of children, names and address of next of kin, etc. (with Index); Piece Number: 3913.  Accessed 15/02/2020 from www.ancestry.co.uk

[7] Physick, John Frederick. Photography and the South Kensington Museum. London: H.M.S.O. 1975. p.3

[8] Gentleman’s Magazine, June 1847, Obituary p.676

[9] Photographic Society Club: rules of the club and photographs of members. Photograph album, 1856 http://search.wellcomelibrary.org/iii/encore/record/C__Rb1182419__Sphotographic%20club__P0%2C8__Orightresult__X2;jsessionid=0F9994156E02DCE3AE49942E9239CB31?lang=eng&suite=cobalt  Accessed 19/02/2020

[10] Printed by Charles Whittingham

[11] Hemans, and Browne. 1839. The works of Mrs. Hemans: with a memoir of her life. Edinburgh: W. Blackwood. Vol 5, p.228-229

[12] The other contributors listed in J P Getty Museum 84.XA.871.6 were: John Stewart (British, 1800 – 1887), Francis Bedford (English, 1815/1816 – 1894), William C. Plunket (Irish, active 1850s), Henry Pollock (British, 1826 – 1889), George Stokes (British, born 1805), Henry Taylor (British, 1800 – 1886), Count de Montizon (Spanish, 1822 – 1887), Thomas G. Mackinlay (British, 1809 – 1865), Henry White (British, 1819 – 1903), John Percy (British, 1817 – 1889), Alfred Rosling (British, 1802 – 1880s), Robert Howlett (British, 1831 – 1858), William Lake Price (British, 1810 – 1896), Robert Petley (British, 1812 – 1869), Roger Fenton (English, 1819 – 1869), Fallon Horne (British, [1814] died 1858),Robert Wilfred Skeffington Lutwidge (British, 1802 – 1873), B.B. Turner (British, 1815 – 1894), Arthur Julius Pollock (British, 1835 – 1890), Sir John Joscelyn Coghill (Irish, 1826 – 1905), Thomas Henry Hennah (British, 1826 – 1876), William John Thoms (British, 1803 – 1885), G.B. Gething (British, active 1850s), Hugh Welch Diamond (British, 1809 – 1886), Alfred Batson (British, active 1850s), John Dillwyn Llewelyn (British, 1810 – 1887), John Anthony (British, born France, 1832 – 1901), George Shadbolt (British, 1830 – 1901), Joseph James de Forrester (British, 1809 – 1862), Reverend John Richardson Major (English, 1821 – 1871), Charles Conway, Jr. (British, active 1850), James Peter Knight (British, 1826 – 1897), Lord Otho Fitzgerald (British, 1827 – 1882), Francis Edmond Currey (British, 1814 – 1896), W. Graham Vivian (British, born Wales, 1827 – 1912), Arthur Schomberg Kerr (British, 1820 – 1856), William Henry Nicholl (British, 1819 – 1874), Frederick Anthony Stansfield Marshall (British, 1817 – 1874), Jean-Jacques Heilmann (French, 1822 – 1859)  Information from J P Getty Museum http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/60452/john-stewart-francis-bedford-william-c-plunket-et-al-the-photographic-album-for-the-year-1855-being-contributions-from-the-members-of-the-photographic-club-english-1855/  Accessed 19/02/2020

[13] Wickham Market 1861 census: Middle Street – James Lynn 56, Mary Emma Lynn (sister) 48, Mary Emma Lynn (niece) 23

[14] http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/digital/collection/p16445coll4/id/177653  Accessed 19/02/2020

[15] George Eastman Museum ref:1981.1648.0006 https://collections.eastman.org/objects/28608/man-standing-in-church-doorway?ctx=fb23fdd4-f9a7-4d05-a187-f8ddce59092c&idx=3 and ref: 1981.1648.0004 https://collections.eastman.org/objects/170013/graveyard-next-to-church?ctx=fb23fdd4-f9a7-4d05-a187-f8ddce59092c&idx=4 Confirmed as All Saints Church, Wickham Market in private correspondence.

[16] Mary Emma Lynn was featured in the 2015 exhibition Qui a peur des femmes photographes? 1839-1919 hosted by Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris.

[17] Death registration Jul/Aug/Sept 1903 listed as aged 91. Probate indicates date of death as 3rd August 1903.



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