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William Makepeace Thackeray

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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William Makepeace Thackeray

by Unknown photographer
ninth plate daguerreotype in case with lock of hair, 1852-1853
11 1/8 in. x 6 1/8 in. (284 mm x 157 mm) overall
Purchased, 2015
Primary Collection
NPG P1996

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This is one of only three Daguerreotypes known of the novelist William Thackeray, and the only Daguerreotype of Thackeray that survives in England. This example was made during Thackeray’s lecture tour of the United States in late 1852 into 1853, during which he visited New York and Boston. While there, he lectured on English humorists and the following year published The English Humorists of the Eighteenth Century. He was disturbed by slavery but generally reported a positive impression of the United States. During this tour, he is known to have been photographed at Jeremiah Gurney’s Daguerrean Saloon at 349 Broadway in New York City, although given its size and composition, it is doubtful that Gurney produced this portrait. A variant pose appearing to be from the same sitting is held in the Graphic Arts Collection of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University Library. This variant pose was later engraved by H. Davidson and published in The Century Magazine (1911), where it was indicated to have belonged to a Miss Amy Weeks. The frame was made later, in the 1880s, when the Daguerreotype was removed from its original case and combined with a lock of hair. It was common in the nineteenth century for hair to be enclosed with photographic portraits, as a token of remembrance.

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Current affairs

The Peelites, a breakaway group who had supported Peel during the Corn Law reforms, join the Liberals. The Conservative Edward Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, becomes Prime Minister after Lord John Russell's Liberal administration collapses. The administration is short-lived and replaced by a new Liberal-Peelite coalition, under the leadership of former Tory George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen.

Art and science

Start of spiritualism craze in England.
London physician Peter Mark Roget first publishes his thesaurus.
American author Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes the hugely successful anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin
Scottish physicist William Thomson formulates the second law of thermodynamics, demonstrating that a rapidly expanding gas cools.


Independent Boer republics north of the Vaal and Orange rivers are recognised by Britain following the Sand River Convention. Later, the Bloemfontein Convention (1854) formally recognises the independence of Boer republics between the Vaal and Orange rivers, resulting in the Boer Republic of the Orange Free State.
Tension escalates in Crimea as France demands that Turkey end Russia's exclusive control of the Christian Holy Places in the Ottoman empire.

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