Death In Sepia

WARNING: A couple of the photos within the article are not suitable for children or anyone who may be sensitive to images of death.

One of the comments under Peculiar Children has a fascinating story attached, and I wanted more people to read it, so I’m posting it here, as well as a link to another site that is unusual, to put it mildly.

The first is from Quagga Rare Books and  Arts in South Africa. In their newsletter they relate the acquisition of glassed portraits of a man and the other of his wife, and individual portraits of 2 men in handcuffs. How they relate to the couple, is a compelling tale. They did an exhaustive search to uncover the story behind these photos, and the result is enthralling.

Sometimes used bookstores also sell ephemera, occasionally tintypes or photographs from the Victorian and Edwardian eras crop up, and rarely, post-mortem and memorial/mourning pictures are among them.

The Victorians had an obsession with death, or perhaps a different way of looking at it, a need to find solace in it, as so many people, especially children, would be taken from life swiftly and to a loved one, without reason. Many had photos taken of their loved ones post death, dressed in their finest clothes, staged in a grand manner, or held by a grieving parent. As distasteful as this may seem to us, we who are much less likely to be confronted with death in its raw reality, and shy away from it, to the Victorians it was a necessity.  Our mortality rare is much lower, people are carted off to hospitals to pass away in sterile environments, tasteful services for the dead are attended without the tragedy of watching a person decline, hearing a death rattle, keeping the body in the house for a mourning period, and digging the plot in the backyard to bury the loved one.

And, Victorians weren’t blessed with digital cameras. Having a studio photo taken was expensive and time consuming, many families didn’t have the means to record 10 children in sepia. But, if one of them died, the only way to have a permanent likeness was to have a photo taken post-mortem.

I find these photos to be fascinating snippets of history. Spooky, in many ways to be sure, but heart rending, sad, as well. So many children were taken from life by diseases we barely think about today, they are so easily cured. The photos remind us how fleeting life is, and keep alive those who passed from life to death so quickly.

The link for a site you can join to discover more about these types of photographs, and the place I found the two pictures is:




The Quagga Books murder story is:

Thanks to Quagga Books for their comment and link 







1 thought on “Death In Sepia”

  1. That photo in the middle looks oddly like Judy Garland… yeah, I get intrigued by those whenever they show up on fyeahvictorians tumblr.

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