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Directory of Early Photographers in Cambridgeshire, Studio Notes, Monson v Eardley

(Based on a report in The Norfolk News, 5th November 1859)

Eardley Gideon Culling Eardley, a Cambridge student, was good at running up debts; but he was rather less good at paying them. The Trinity College undergraduate owed Edward Monson, photographic artist of 57 Regent Street, Cambridge, £23 16s. It was, perhaps, a trifling sum to a young man with a comfortable allowance and debts that were forty times his annual income. But it was a sum that mattered to Monson, and when his attempts to exact payment failed, he took the young man to court.

Monson was seeking to recover payment for three portraits, a map, and a visit to Haslingfield. The first of the portraits was of Dr J W Donaldson, an eminent classical scholar who was a tutor at Trinity; the second was of the Very Reverend Harvey Goodwin, until recently the Vicar of St Edward’s, Cambridge, and now the Dean of Ely; the third was of Eardley. The map, of Cambridge, was presumably the street plan drawn up and published by Monson himself. The trip to Haslingfield was to take a picture of the parish church for inclusion in a book that Eardly proposed to write about the churches of Cambridgeshire.

Eardley had reached the age of 21, and he had pretensions to being a scholar and a gentleman. In addition to being a budding author he was, he explained, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, a member of the Antiquarian Society of Denmark and a prospective member of the Society of St Luke at Rome. Despite all this, when called upon to take responsibility for his debts, he pleaded ‘infancy’.

But his father, Sir Culling Eardley, had no wish to bail out his son and heir yet again. Mr Naylor, Eardley’s lawyer, argued that, if Sir Culling were to ‘yield to all the extravagant claims on his son’, it would eat into the inheritance due to his other children, since the defendant’s bills for ‘such trifles’ amounted to around £16,000.

Sir Culling, a prominent evangelical and a fierce campaigner for religious freedom, then took the witness stand himself. His son, he explained, was allowed £400 a year, which ought, in his view, to be ‘abundantly sufficient for all his expenses’. The baronet had already paid out considerable sums in liquidation of the young man’s debts, and (being free to dispose of his own property entirely as he wished) he had frequently threatened to disinherit his son if he continued to indulge in such expensive habits. He had already ordered the sale of a great proportion of Eardley’s possessions, thereby recovering £124, and some of the ‘persons’ who had supplied the youth with ‘useless things’ had been persuaded to take them back.

Monson’s lawyer, Mr Cockerell, resented the implications of ‘extravagant claims’, ‘trifles’ and ‘useless things’. Photographic portraits such as those produced by his client were, he contended, 'reasonable necessities for a gentleman in Mr Eardley’s position’. Sir Culling’s religious scruples might reasonably have been offended if the defendant had ‘adorned the walls of his sitting room with pictures of ballet girls and so forth’; but it was inconceivable that he should object to ‘portraits of that high classical authority Dr Donaldson and the universally respected Dr Goodwin’.

The jury – no more inclined that Mr Cockerell, it seems, to class photographs as fripperies – found in favour of Monson for the full amount claimed.

[Dr Goodwin went on to be appointed Bishop of Carlisle. Dr Donaldson died two years later, quite possibly from overwork, with his definitive Greek dictionary uncompleted. Sir Culling, who was subsequently a founder of the Evangelical Alliance, died in 1863. Eardley inherited his father’s title and became 4th baronet. Five years later he was tried for bigamy, found guilty, and sentenced to 18 months with hard labour. The baronetcy became extinct on his death in 1875. A short while after winning his case, Edward Monson returned to Ipswich, where he had opened his first studio. But he later gave up professional photography altogether.]

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www.earlyphotostudios.uk is a non-commercial web site for local and family historians, listing photographers operating 1840-1916, in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Rutland and Suffolk. The original site was researched and written in 2011 by the late Robert Pols, photo historian and author, and this re-constructed site is dedicated to his memory.

This page was last modified: 02 September 2022, 16:20

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