Joseph Rayner Stephens

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Joseph Rayner Stephens

by James Posselwhite, after Benjamin Garside
stipple and line engraving, 1839
15 3/4 in. x 11 1/2 in. (400 mm x 293 mm) paper size
Acquired, 1947
Reference Collection
NPG D21606

Sitterback to top

Artistsback to top

  • Benjamin Garside (active circa 1840). Artist or producer associated with 5 portraits.
  • James Posselwhite (1798-1884), Engraver. Artist or producer associated with 45 portraits.

This portraitback to top

None of Stephens' violent rhetoric is alluded to in this portrait; instead his sober appearance and gesture to the Bible create an air of benevolent respectability. Less than a month after 25,000 runs of this print were issued Stephens denounced Chartism in reaction to the Newport Rising. Chartists responded by publicly burning his portrait; an act of iconoclasm that reveals the symbolic value invested in the Northern Star prints.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1839back to top

Current affairs

The Bedchamber crisis strains relations between the government and the monarchy, after Queen Victoria refuses to dismiss her Whig-appointed ladies of the bedchamber at the request of the new, Conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. Peel resigns and Melbourne returns as Prime Minister.
The Grand National is first held at the Aintree race course, won by the horse Lottery, and the first Henley Royal Regatta, the rowing event, is held on the Thames.

Art and science

The French and British scientists Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot separately publicise their experiments with the new form of photography.
The prolific journalist Harriet Martineau publishes her three decker novel Deerbrook, the story of middle class country life.


The first Opium War with China is sparked after the British government refuses to try six British soldiers accused of killing a Chinese man protecting a temple from looters. Relations were strained as Britain had promoted the drug opium in China to boost trade. Winning the war, Britain secured vital trading rights.
African captives aboard the Spanish ship La Amistad revolt, resulting in a highly publicised court case.

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