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Severn, Henry Augustus, 1833–1883
Memo written at sea under difficulties.
1878, September.
Physical Description:
1 v. (16 leaves, versos blank) : ill. ; 25 cm.
Rare Books and Manuscripts
DT671.S2 S48 1878+
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
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Copyright Status:
Copyright Not Evaluated
Archives & Manuscripts
Henry Augustus Severn was an Australian mineral assayer, professional photographer, printmaker and painter. Born in Italy to the British painter Joseph Severn, he was the brother of Joseph, Arthur, Mary and Walter Severn, all successful painters in England. Severn arrived in Australia on 14 March, 1854, to take a position as clerk at the Sydney Mint. A year later he married Francis Allan, who would bear him six children, all born in Australia. From 1866 he exhibited his photographs or stereoscopic views in Australia and New Zealand.
Side fastened with brass pins.
Manuscript account, in a single hand, of a visit to the Island of Saint Helena and to the tomb of Napoleon undertaken by Henry Augustus Severn and his family on 29 August, 1878. Severn is travelling with his wife, two sons, and two daughters, on the "Woodlark", captained by George Largie. The purpose of the sea journey is unknown, but it appears the family is on a return trip to Australia or New Zealand. The account is signed at the end, "H.A. Severn, September 1878," so it appears it was written some days later, probably at sea (in view of the title). The narrative is illustrated with 10 sketches, also in pen and ink and integrated with the text, recording Severn's day at Saint Helena. Severn notes the some of the illustrations are drawn after photographs (presumably his own), so he may have developed his photos while still at sea. The first four illustrations are views of the island and its cliffs from the vantage point of the ship. The next three show views of Jamestown from various elevations above. The final three sketches show Longwood house (Napoleon's final home) and Napoleon's tomb.
Severn considers the opportunity to visit Saint Helena most fortuitous, "as my photographic apparatus was at once brought into requisition, and thus I was enabled to add several views of the greatest historical interest, to the very large collection I already possessed representing nearly every part of Australia." Severn brings his entire family with him ashore at Jamestown. From there, his "photographic box and camera legs were consigned to the tender care of two native youths ... the retaining fee was duly fixed at 3d." The two youths also act as guides, taking Severn and his family up the steep hills of Saint Helena to the site of Napoleon's exile. They have but six hours to spare on shore, leaving no time to explore Jamestown itself, where Severn is surprised at the number of merchants and shops. Of the hike to Napoleon's tomb, Severn makes frequent notes of the vegetation, the views, the general difficulty of the climb, and the historical significance of various locations. He appears rather celebrity struck as he approaches the tomb: "somewhat to the left of the cottage residence were to be seen a clump of dark cypress trees, willows, &c. all in a cluster, and all emblematical of solitude ... they were the only living remains, the veritable emblems of him, who fought so well, who was a prisoner here, and who himself selected this shaded nook for his last resting place. In a moment we stood gazing down at the 'Tomb'!". After a thorough description of the tomb itself, the narrative ends.
Subject Terms:
Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, 1769-1821 -- Captivity.
Ocean travel -- 19th century.
Photographers -- Australia.
Saint Helena -- Description and travel.
Severn, Henry Augustus, 1833-1883.
Travel photography -- 19th century.
Aerial views -- Saint Helena -- Jamestown.
Travel sketches -- Saint Helena.
Ink drawings.

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