Early Norfolk Photographs
1840 - 1860
Susannah Smith Daguerreotypist
Mrs. Susannah Smith (1810 - ?)
Astrologer, artist and Daguerreotypist

Susannah Smith and her husband George, a cordwainer [soft leather shoemaker], sometime lived with her father, Richard Gooch, who described himself an astronomer, whitesmith [tinsmith] and optical instrument maker, at Southwell Cottage, Cherry Street, Lakenham, Norwich. Although the 1851 Census lists her as a housekeeper and portrait painter, she is listed in local directories1 variously as an artist, astrologer, Daguerreotypist and photographer.  In the early 1850s she placed neatly designed advertisements in the local press offering her services as a portrait artist in oils, a Daguerreotypist and a maker of Sun Pictures [photographer].

Living with her father clearly had its benefits, one being that he was a camera maker. Mrs. Barwell in her ‘Companion to the Norwich Polytechnic Exhibition 1840’, devotes half a page to the self-taught artisan. ‘A camera obscura has just been added to the amusements of this Exhibition, made by Mr. Gooch, of Norwich, whose history affords an evidence of self-education. He was the son of a husbandman, and all the instruction he obtained, was received at his mother’s knee, being little more than his prayers and the letters of the alphabet. At nine years of age he went into household service; he then served in a country blacksmith’s shop, and subsequently learned the business of a whitesmith, at Lowestoft. He taught himself to read; and getting a man to set him a few copies, he learned to write without other aid. At this time he was drawn for the militia, and not being able to pay for a substitute he served for many years: and on receiving his discharge, settled in Norwich as a whitesmith. The science of optics attracted his attention, and he pursued it as a matter of recreation and amusement. Having possessed himself of the principles by means of books, he proceeded to practice, and constructed a very fine reflecting telescope and several astronomical machines; one amongst others which exhibits the whole planetary system, will be placed in this Exhibition as soon as the Committee can find it a situation. There are other persons in Norwich, who, self-instructed, have evinced practical ability in the sciences of astronomy and optics. Mr. Mason, a neighbour of Mr. Gooch, has also devoted time and talent to these sciences. The details of his history are not before me, but it is gratifying to find the artisans and operatives of our city engaged in these elevating pursuits.’

By the early 1850s Susannah had acquired photographic skills and her advertisements as a Daguerreotypist appeared in the local press in the mid-1850s. She artfully illustrates her 1855 advertisement with a putto as artist having palette, brushes and mahl stick. Having attracted us with “Correct Likenesses taken by the Daguerreotype Process” she thanks her patrons one and all and states her terms from 7/6 to 2gn [guineas]. Her final draw says  “Mrs. Smith does therefore hope by offering these beautiful delineations of the human face divine, so very faithful to nature, (The DAGUERREOTYPE or SUN PICTURE), at such reduced and low charges, she may meet with that encouragement which will enable her to carry out the art to satisfaction.”
The skills required to make daguerreotypes were technically very demanding and it seems likely that her father was at hand when needed. No authenticated examples of her images have yet been seen by the author. 

In 1852 and 1853 the exhibitions2 of the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Promotion of Fine Arts included a few photographs and Mrs. Smith entered daguerreotypes in both shows. It’s curious that she didn’t exhibit in the major Norwich exhibition of 1856.

Sources and Notes

  1. White’s Directory, 1854 and Melville’s Directory, 1856. 
  2. Exhibitions
  3. 1840
    Norwich Mechanics Institution, otherwise the Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge exhibition held at the Bazaar, St. Andrews, Broad Street, Norwich.

    102                  Camera obscura                               Mr. R. Gooch [Susannah’s father]

    Third Exhibition of the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts at the Artists' Room, Exchange Street, Norwich.

    165                  Daguerreotypes                               Mrs. Smith

    Fourth Exhibition of the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts held at the Gallery of the Government School of Design, St Andrew's, Broad Street.

    151                  Daguerreotype                                Mrs. Smith
    152                  Case of Ditto                                    Mrs. Smith
    153                  Daguerreotype                                Mrs. Smith

Bernard & Pauline Heathcote, in their widely researched publication, A Faithful Likeness: The First Photographic Portrait Studios in the British Isles 1841-1855 lists Susannah Smith as one of 22 female proprietors of such studios during this entire period.

Susannah Smith advertisements

Josiah Roope with a camera
Josiah Roope with a camera
Portrait of Josiah Roope