Skip to content

Portraits From Philip Mernick’s Collection

February 19, 2015
by the gentle author

In this selection from Philip Mernick‘s splendid collection of cartes de visite by nineteenth century East End photographers, amassed over the past twenty years, we publish portraits of men in which clothing and uniforms declare the wearer’s identity. All but two are anonymous portraits and we have speculated regarding their occupations, but we welcome further information from any readers who may have specialist knowledge.

Superintendent of a Mission c. 1880

Dock Foreman 1891-4

Merchant Navy Officer c. 1880

Policeman c. 1880

Sailor c.1880

Beadle in Ceremonial Dress c. 1900

Private in the Infantry c.1890

Indian Gentleman 1863-5

Naval Recruit c. 1900

Sailor Merchant Navy c.1870

Chorister c. 1890

Cricketer c. 1870

Merchant Navy Officer c. 1870

East European Gentleman c. 1910

Clergymen c. 1890

Telegram Boy c.1890

Member of a Temperance Fraternity c. 1884

Naval Recuit

Policeman c.1890

Merchant Navy c. 1870

Royal Navy  1887/8

This sailor’s first medal was given by the Royal Maritime Society for saving a life, his second medal is the Khedive Star Egyptian Medal and the other is the British Egyptian Medal. The ribbon on his cap tells us he served on HMS Champion, the last class of steam-assisted sailing warships. In the early eighteen-eighties, HMS Champion was in the China Sea but it returned to the London Dock for a refit in 1887 when this photograph was taken, before going off to the Pacific.

Photographs reproduced courtesy of Philip Mernick

You may also like to take a look at

Thomas Barnes, Photographer

Philip Mernick’s East London Shopfronts

Libby Hall’s Dogs of Old London

17 Responses leave one →
  1. February 19, 2015

    I think the ‘age of beards’ is upon us again. Here on the Pacific Northwest, there are beards a plenty. I was so amused the other day to see a construction worker signaling bicycle traffic, with a 3 foot beard! I thought it might be a menace to construction work, getting caught up in that great flowing mane.

    Anyhow, it was great to see a cordial bearded greeting like that… kind of unusual and quite a bit like those 100 year old photos of yore in your blog.

  2. February 19, 2015

    Wonderful photos, would be good to know more about those people. Valerie

  3. Paul Shaviv / New York permalink
    February 19, 2015

    The Hebrew note on the back of the portrait of the ‘Eastern European Gentleman’ reads:

    First line: R’ Shmuel Dovid
    Second line: b”r Yosef ( = Mr. Samuel David, son of Mr. Joseph) I can’t make sense of the next word …. it is either a dfficult to decipher and phonetically spelt family name or Yiddish that I can’t make out.
    Third line is equally indecipherable – it may be some sort of price code written in Hebrew/Yiddish letters????

  4. February 19, 2015

    Great! If only I’d know where to get such trousers that the Cricketer, the Indian Gentleman and the Sailor Merchant Navy have got!

    Love & Peace

  5. Ros permalink
    February 19, 2015

    Lovely collection. Might not the young scholar c.1890 in fact be a choirboy?

  6. Richard permalink
    February 19, 2015

    Is the Indian gentleman a Parsee or of Persian origin?

  7. jud permalink
    February 19, 2015

    I love the look for the ‘Naval Recruit c. 1900’. All the pictures are fascinating. Thanks for posting.

  8. February 19, 2015

    Is the charming little scholar a member of a choir school? He could be mistaken for a member of the choir of St John’s College, Cambridge, today (though not of King’s, where they wear top hats!).

  9. Pauline Taylor permalink
    February 19, 2015

    More great insights into how our ancestors dressed. The beadle at Bermondsey attended my great grandfather’s second wedding as a witness, I wonder if he turned up in an outfit like this one!!


  10. Gary Arber permalink
    February 19, 2015

    The number on the collar of the 1890 policeman showed H division, the police in East London today are still H division. This means that H division has existed for at least 124 years, I would like to know when it started.

  11. Peter Holford permalink
    February 19, 2015

    Fabulous collection and so many others will have been discarded over the years. They all share one thing in common – they are all anonymous, even when there is a name. Will digitisation and on-line storage change things for 20th century photos. My guess is that many will continue to be discarded and forgotten. Shame.

  12. Paul Shaviv / New York permalink
    February 20, 2015

    More on the’Eastern European Gentleman’: Havinvg puzzled over this for a day, I think that the second line word is in fact a name, and is a phonetic Yiddish spelling of the surname ‘Einbinder’. (As written, it looks like ‘Einbinda’.) Einbinder is a known Jewish surname in the UK , Canadian and USA Jewish communities. A quick Google search shows quite a few London residents with that surname on ‘’ Electoral Register lists for 1832 – 1965, although not being a subscriber I don’t have the individual details. Our Samuel David Einbinder doesn’t seem to appear, but if he wasn’t eligible to vote (he may not yet have been a UK citizen) he would not be on the Electoral register. The third line is still indecipherable …….

  13. Chris F permalink
    February 22, 2015

    Your photo of a young Freemason attracted my attention.. He isn’t actually wearing Masonic regalia but has on the sash of a fraternal society of which there were dozens during that period. The Arm & Hammer is typical of a number of organisations with links to mechanics but the emblem that looks like a phoenix could link him to the United Grand Order of the Totally Abstinent Sons of the Phoenix (Not Freemasons). I tried to find some links to the name on the sash ‘Duke’s Motto’ of which I can only find two. The first was to a former public house on Brick Lane,_Shoreditch,_E1_(3210966878).jpg
    (Many fraternal groups met in room within pubs and secondly to a hugely popular Victorian melodrama of the same name.

  14. February 22, 2015

    I absolutely adore these photographs and love the decorative backs advertising the studios.

    I am also privileged to have so many of these types of photos of my family from ages past.

    They all tell a story..

  15. February 22, 2015

    In reply to Gary Arber, the Metropolitan Police were organised into four districts, each of five divisions in 1869. District 1 comprised G – Finsbury, H – Whitechapel, K – Stepney, N – Islington and (unlettered) Thames Division. J – Bethnal Green was added in 1886 Information from National Archives, Domestic Records Information 52.

  16. jerseydevil permalink
    March 10, 2015

    Some of those naval recruits and sailors look very young don’t they? They must have had such hard lives. Also, I wonder if those cops may have had the misfortune to be responders to a Ripper crime scene or two.

  17. Ron Bunting permalink
    July 13, 2019

    jersey Devil, One of my Cousins was a very young Naval recruit, he Joined the Royal navy as a midshipman at 12 . He spent his entire career in the navy before retiring as Commander of the tanker Endevour in the RNZN.
    Naval recruits still start young today but I think it’s 17 these days.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS