Below are two photographs (each 6.3 x 10.3 cm on very stiff card nearly 1 mm thick) that were placed next to each other in the album of my great grandfather Thomas Anslow Hitchcox. The album was given to Thomas by his mother (my 2nd great grandmother) whose maiden name was Emma Symons Treloar Billin on 5 Feb 1890 (his 22nd birthday).

enter image description here

On each of the two photographs has been written, in the hand of my grandfather Robert George Hitchcox, the word "WILLS". The photographs are near the back of the album in an area where a number of photos have an "X" written on them, meaning that my grandfather did not know who they were, and a number of others have no markings. In the front of the album there tend to be labelled photographs of Thomas and his siblings and his wife but one of his mother is also near the back.

On 7 Feb 1894, at Angaston, South Australia, Thomas married Mary Ellen Nettell whose parents Matthew Nettell and Grace Martin Wills arrived at Port Adelaide, South Australia on 23 Dec 1865 (see Did uncle of Grace Martin Wills (or perhaps of Matthew Nettell) own the Gosforth?).

I suspect that these photos are of Grace's parents George Wills (1806-1873) and Frances "Fanny" Angove (1815-1899). That would make them Thomas' wife's grandparents.

During his life George was recorded as having the occupations of Miner (1841 Census), Rail Labourer (1851 Census), Miner's Labourer (1861 Census) and Carrier (1865 Marriage Certificate of his daughter Grace; 1871 Census).

Both George and Frances appear to have lived their entire lives at Illogan, Cornwall, England which is about 18 miles from Penzance where the photos appear to have been taken. They appear to have been 9 years apart in age, and I think that fits with the photos.

I suspect that these may have been photographs taken shortly before Grace and Matthew left for Australia, perhaps around the time they married on 23 Sep 1865, but the reverses of the photos look a lot like this one by the same photographer from 1853.

enter image description here

Unfortunately, I have not yet found a site suitable to use for dating photographs by Robert. H. Preston although it looks like efforts have commenced here.

Can anyone suggest whether the ages, dress, photo date/location, etc of these two people can be used to support/refute my theory that they belong to George Wills (1806-1873) and Frances "Fanny" Angove (1815-1899)?


1 Answer 1


The clothing is appropriate for the mid-1860s to 1870s. The woman may not have been up on the latest fashions, the dress is still quite simple and not as ornate as the fashion became in the 1870s. There is not a whole lot in the man's attire to help with a date but the impressive beard is rather Dickens-esque.

These are cabinet cards, which were introduced in the mid-1860s but did not reach their peak popularity until the 1880s. The thicker card stock is a general feature of later cabinet cards, so suggests perhaps the later 1870s or 1880s. The square corners suggest pre-1875, and the thin red borders would likely place it after the mid-1860s. By the mid 1870s rounded corners and thicker borders became more common. The rotating squares border pattern on the back was introduced by printer Marion in the early 1870s, which suggests that the photo was not printed before that date. They are also portraits just showing the upper body, which places it more likely 1870 or later – full body portraits were more common in the 1860s.

The text on the back is interesting. The Prince of Wales (then Prince Edward) was married in 1863 so it could definitely not have been from before that date. I also note that in July 1865 the Prince and Princess of Wales made a well publicised visit to Penzance – there were numerous reports in the newspapers at that time. I was unable to determine exactly when the photographer Robert H. Preston started using the title as "Photographer to the Prince and Princess of Wales", but on this basis I suspect that the photo was probably taken after their 1865 visit to Penzance. He probably used this title on his photos for several years. The text and design of the backing is still quite simple; by the 1880s cabinet card backs generally became more ornate.

In summary I would date the photos in the 1870s. If it is Fanny and George Wills they would be about age 55 and 65 respectively in 1870. This might be possible, but I would have said the subjects were considerably younger than that. It's difficult to say from a sepia photo but they don't seem to be sporting many grey hairs yet.

  • Harry -- you've piqued my interest. There must be a list of people who have received royal warrants. Would TNA have information from that period, I wonder?
    – Jan Murphy
    Jul 31, 2016 at 1:44
  • Sorry @Jan – I think I was wrong on my first estimate, and had some major corrections to make
    – Harry V.
    Jul 31, 2016 at 1:47
  • No problem! Newspaper advertisements and trade directories might also yield clues about when the photographer was in business. genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/3934/1006
    – Jan Murphy
    Jul 31, 2016 at 1:56
  • @Jan Robert H. Preston was in business in Penzance from the early 1860s to 1900s, so in this case I don't think there's a whole lot that can help with the date. But a good thought
    – Harry V.
    Jul 31, 2016 at 2:20
  • @Jan It does appear he was in a partnership as Preston and Poole until 1865, so that does help although there's no suggestion it was taken before then
    – Harry V.
    Jul 31, 2016 at 2:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.