Oliver Sarony – man of many parts

Olivier Sarony, Self Portrait.
Olivier Sarony, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

My last lurcher, over 16, who used to run like the wind delighting in her agility but only a memory sadly, because of her age we used to take very sedate walks with much deciphering of scents and smells, reading the dog newspaper. I was visiting Scarborough for a few days and one of our meanders there was in the quiet of the Dean Road/Manor Road cemetery, level and beautifully laid out it is full of wonderful old trees,many of veteran status.

As she slowly inspected the path edges I could not help but read the inscriptions although not all were legible. The whole area was purchased by the Town when the Mayor and Councillors were really interested and intent on making the Borough prosperous and well run. Unlike nowadays you say?

When St Mary’s Churchyard and other burial grounds in Scarborough became overcrowded the Council bought a piece of land known as Chapman’s Field. This purchase cost £3000, a large sum, and Dean Road Cemetery was created. It opened with the first interment on 28 July 1857. The Cemetery then expanded into an area in Manor Road in July 1872.

The very first burial in Dean Road Cemetery was of Francis Prince, publican of The Ship Inn, Falsgrave which still stands and is still clinging on as a public house. He died of smallpox, his headstone is a very unusual spired epitaph.

One of the hundreds of gravestones commemorates a man who fought in the American Civil War, one of someone who took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade.

There are marked graves of those killed in the Bombardment of Scarborough WW I, many many commemorate those lost at sea, “skipper lost with all hands” ……lost off Paraibo, lost overboard off Cornwall, washed overboard off South Africa.

The inscriptions give a snapshot of life and death over the last 200 years, some stones marking just how many infants died so young. There is one of a worthy commemorating his appointment as physician to the Queen, some of people who held noteworthy local appointments and dozens and dozens of war death commemoration stones, very young men killed in the First World War, Paschendale, Verdun. Heartbreaking for the families surely when you read for example…………”died of wounds Ypres,” plus of course so many who died in WW II.

One imposing monument sited in a prominent position particularly intrigued me sufficiently to look into the name shown – Oliver Sarony – this is what I found.

His father, Adolphus Sarony, of Italian extraction, was born in 1790 in Germany, Adolphus had been an officer in the Austrian army serving with the Black Brunswickers He died on 8th Mar 1841 in New York and was decorated with the Iron Cross after The Battle of Leipzig in October 1813.

After The Battle of Waterloo in 1815 he emigrated to Canada and married Oliver’s mother, Marie Louis Lehouillier, in Quebec in 1818. She was a French Canadian lady “of great artistic skill and taste”. Unfortunately she died in 1831 leaving Adolphus to raise 6 children (4 brothers and 2 sisters between the ages of 3 and Oliver 13).

In 1831 the family moved to New York where Adolphus died ten years later.This forced Oliver and his brother Napoleon, a year younger, to find work. Napoleon was apprenticed to a lithographer in New York and became a famous photographer himself. The slightly older Oliver started a business selling beaver skins for hats, and carrying contraband silk between Canada and New York.

He was obviously entrepreneurial which came to the fore when he settled in Scarborough.

On one occasion while in New York Napoleon took Oliver to watch a daguerreotypist at work. From that moment Oliver was hooked and used all his money to buy equipment and trained as a daguerreotypist, setting himself up in business working in Canada and America.

The Daguerreotype process, or daguerreotypy, was the first publicly announced photographic process, and for nearly twenty years, it was the one most commonly used. It was invented by Louis-Jaques-Mandé Daguerre and introduced in 1839.

By 1860, new processes, which were easily viewed images, had almost completely replaced it.

Oliver arrived in England in 1843. He set himself up as a daguerreotypist moving around the country and records show he visited Bradford, Chesterfield, Mansfield, Huddersfield, Hull, Lincolnshire, and Doncaster. In 1854 he was in Wiesbach, then in Cambridge followed by Norwich before finally settling in Scarborough in 1857.

When a mineral water spring was discovered around the 1700s Scarborough started its journey to becoming the Premier Spa town as it was believed the waters were beneficial to health, hence the phrase “taking the waters.”

By the mid 1800s Scarborough was the summer destination of choice for royalty, gentry, society and all those aspiring to be part of it. The street names of the South Cliff area which was the only area to be reflect this. The Prince of Wales Crescent, Grosvenor Crescent, Royal Avenue, Lord Londesbrough had a summer lodge (visited by the Prince of Wales who fell ill from possibly food poisoning) you get the idea.

There was a Spa room, Spa Ballroom, Sea Water Baths, the ideal was to see and be seen, promenading along the Esplanade, Spa and Gardens, it was all part of the social scene. There is a footbridge from the Esplanade across Valley Road to the town centre and the Grand Hotel. Then It had guardians at each end who policed entry, a charge was made to cross. The Sunday Parade was the high spot of the week when ordinary people, if dressed sufficiently smartly and able to pay, were allowed across to walk along the Esplanade, join in the parade and no doubt for the younger ones it was a chance to eye up the opposite sex.

To have your photograph taken in the Sarony studio was all the rage, he commissioned local architects John and David Petch to build him one which was on par with the grandest in Europe; the Scarborough Gazette called it ‘an establishment with every convenience for carrying out Photography to perfection.’ Designed to impress his clients, it included a gallery long enough to place the camera 40 feet from the sitter with a direct north light. Built in the Louis XV style. Sarony called the premises Gainsborough House, so successful was he that the square was renamed Sarony Square. The building had busts of poets etc affixed to the outer walls, it’s now demolished and the area is a car park but the busts, heads, still survive as they were put onto a nearby building, previously a hotel and now a block of flats.

The Sarony Studio business was a success, I have read that he was a very astute salesman and had a very persuasive and charming way with the ladies. He was also technically clever and invented and patented various technical innovations. A part of his business which he developed was the production of high quality photographs of paintings using the benefits of the new carbon process.

Another important source of revenue was the production of large portraits, photographic enlargements finished in oils by skilful painters. By 1871, his studio was said to be the largest photographic establishment in Europe. A clever salesman once a photograph had been taken he would chat to the sitter whilst behind the scenes his staff quickly processed the image, Sarony would then skilfully guide the customer through to another room saying there was something which might interest them, they would then be shown a much enlarged image projected on a screen and Sarony would suggest how much better it would be enlarged and then painted by his very skilled painters and the small amount they intended to pay became a commission for so many more £. His best craftsmen were said to be paid hundreds of pounds. Calling cards with a photographic image were also a great money spinner for him together with images of the many large paintings hung in his studio.

Sarony was also brave, in 11.11.1861 a monster storm hit Scarborough, the huge seas rose above the level of the West pier nearly sweeping away the salesmens offices. Many boats moored in Sandside were moved to the streets beyond to protect them.

Tragedy and loss of life had already occurred that night before Amelia was called out. A pilot named William Leadley had already escorted in “The Wave”. [His local knowledge was vital as Scarborough is a tricky port to enter. There are cross currents on the entrance to the harbour and boats can easily miss the turn. (This is so true, when you are going for the harbour mouth you have to really go for it, no place to lose your nerve especially in NW stormy weather).

At 12 Noon “The Coupland” attempted to gain entry to the harbour but failed. As it headed for the Spa promenade walls the Lifeboat was called out and overturned.

“The Lifeboat floated on the water like a cork, but never capsized. In returning from the spa walls after she had struck a second time, she lay partly on one side, a heavy sea washed several of the crew overboard, they not being lashed to the boat,and some of the oars were also lost. Nothing but the great excellence of the boat could have saved her from going to pieces, with the repeated dashings against the wall. Ropes were thrown from the spa promenade to the boat. The Lifeboat was pulled to some calmer water. But as the Lifeboatmen jumped into the surf they were dragged out to sea by the gigantic waves. John Isles, Mr Sarony and Mr Rutter recovered the body of Lord Beauclerc who had gone into the sea to help rescue. They were nearly lost in the process. Mr Sarony was carried by the waves out of sight of the spectators. He was thrown a lifebelt. Three hours passed before circulation to his body was fully restored. Two of the Lifeboats crew were lost – many were badly injured.”

“During all this excitement the poor fellows on board the riggings of the “Coupland” were not forgotten. The rocket apparatus was speedily put into practise, and it worked beautifully, a line was successfully thrown from the spa.” William Leadley the harbour pilot died probably on board the Harbinger another ship which went down that night (out of sight of the crowds). In the incident with ‘The Coupland’ Lord Charles Beauclerc and William Tindall and J Hiles died being dragged from the shore attempting to rescue those in the sea with lines. In total 24 lives were lost that day. Also, a Scottish vessel “The Gainsborough Packet” perished with all crew on board 4 miles south of Scarborough.

The RNLI awarded a memorial Silver medal to Lord Charles Beauclerc and Mr William Tindall. The RNLI also awarded silver medals to Mr Oliver Sarony and Mr Joseph Rutter for their efforts.

Mr Oliver Sarony in later years made as much as £10,000 in a year. He used some of his wealth to commission a painting called “The Shipwreck” by Paul Marny which was based upon the tragedy involving the “Coupland and the Amelia” but Sarony began to suffer from diabetes and grew increasing more debilitated. He collapsed in town one day and died at his home on 30 August 1879 and buried in Dean Road cemetery Scarborough.

Elizabeth his widow went on to marry Thomas Dawes 30 years her junior who had been married to Napoleon Sarony’s daughter Ida who had died leaving him with two very young daughters. Elizabeth died in 2003 aged 83, she and Oliver did not have any children.

Just one of the fascinating pieces of our social history the internet makes so much easier to discover.

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