IOW Photographers - Symonds


Photographer John Symonds
Active Period 1858 - 1866
Lifespan Born:  1825    West Cowes, IOW Died:  1871   Portsmouth, Hants
Studio Addresses Bath Road, Cowes
15 Union Street, Ryde
Associates George Frederick Symonds (son)
Harry John Symonds (son)
Trade History 1859 White's Directory IOW
John Symonds, photographer, 15 Union Street, Ryde

1865 Harrod & Co's Directory Hampshire & IOW (page 1153)
John Symonds, 15 Union Street, Ryde

Evidence Found
undated photo with a looped belt motif and studio address of Ryde and another with the same motif and studios at Ryde, Cowes and Ventnor
Examples of
Trade Cards,
Adverts, etc

An announcement about Symonds' bankruptcy from the IW Observer, 21 July 1866 
Family History

John Symonds was born on 25 September 1825 at West Cowes and baptised the same day at Sun Hill Congregational Church. He was the son of accountant John Symonds and his second wife Martha Florinda nee Ratsey (John snr stated to be a widower at his marriage to spinster Martha in 1819 at Northwood). Martha, born in 1797 at Cowes, was the daughter of George and Mary Ratsey, while John was a little older being born c1786.

John Symonds jnr married an Eliza Warren from Fareham in 1847 in London, and later that year their first son, George Frederick, was born at Cowes.

At the time of the 1851 census, John and Eliza were living at Bath Road, Northwood (West Cowes) with John being described as a 25 year old stationer & music seller. By then, the family had the addition of a daughter, Kate Eliza, who had been born in 1850 at Cowes. Also living with the family was a 15 year old servant, Ellen Knight from Fareham, presumably a friend or relative of Eliza. The couple's 3 year old son, George Frederick, was not at home at the time of the census, but was living with his married aunt Mary Gait and family at Hanham, Glocs along with his widowed grandmother Martha; John Symonds snr having died in 1850.

By the time of the 1861 census, the family had moved to 15 Union Street, Ryde, where John was now working as a photographer. Also living with the family was John's widowed mother Martha, engaged as a housekeeper. Martha died in 1870 at the age of 72 in the Bristol area, presumably spending her last days with her daughter Mary.

A second son, Harry John, had been born to John & Eliza in 1852 at Cowes, but at the time of the 1861 census he and his elder brother George Frederick were at a boarding school in Fareham.

John Symonds was made bankrupt in 1866, and an announcement in the IW Observer of 8 September 1866 stated that the photographer Richard James had purchased Symonds' 'large and valuable collection of negatives'. An advertisement by James in the IW Observer of 27 March 1869 announced he had bought the bankrupt stock exceeding 10,000 plates of portraits, views, etc, and was offering prints for sale.

Soon after being made bankrupt, Symonds left the Island and set up a studio at Portsmouth. The 1871 census records him as a photographer living at 39 High Street along with his wife and unmarried daughter Kate who was working as his assistant. Meanwhile, his sons were in lodgings nearby at 47 St Thomas's Street; 24 year old George working as a photographer and 19 year old Harry as a wholesale photographic printer.

Later in 1871, John tragically committed suicide whilst attending the South of England Music Hall in Portsmouth. Quite bizarrely, he had mixed a large quantity of potassium cyanide with a brandy he had bought from the bar, and the performance was temporarily suspended while his body was removed.

As recorded in the IW Times of 10 August 1871, the inquest returned the verdict 'that the deceased destroyed himself while labouring under temporary insanity'. It was learnt that Symonds had been suffering 'depression of spirits' due to financial difficulties.

Both George and Harry Symonds followed in their father's footsteps and became photographers; marrying and raising families in Portsmouth. John's daughter, Kate Eliza, married a William McKenzie Thomson and emigrated to Vancouver, Canada, raising another branch of the family there.

Further Notes Further information about John Symonds' photographic career and proceedings of the inquest can be found on Tim Backhouse's History in Portsmouth website.


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