Skip to content

Portraits From Philip Mernick’s Collection

March 13, 2021
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 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

8 Responses leave one →
  1. March 13, 2021

    I love the old photos a glimpse of the past, the stale air of the studios room, the plaster props, curtain, chair and the unsmiling faces …

  2. Jude permalink
    March 13, 2021

    Love old photos! Was particularly pleased to see the 1880 policeman as I had an ancestor who was one at that time. Checking out his uniform, more modern than I imagined.
    Thank you

  3. Peter Holford permalink
    March 13, 2021

    It’s sad that so many cannot be named – a recurring problem with old photos. However I would imagine that names can be found for the policeman. My father was in the Met Police from 1936 to 1961 and I got his full service history from their archive. The website of the ‘Friends of the Metropolitan Police Heritage Charity’ ( says that there is a database of 60,000 officers dating back to 1829. The officer’s number is central to their identity and will be on the database.

    Another fascinating picture collection. And some of those sailors look as though they should be at school!

  4. Ann V permalink
    March 13, 2021

    I too was pleased to see the photos as one of my Great Grandfathers was in the Metropolitan Police between 1883 and 1887. Thank you. Please keep these lovely old images coming.

  5. March 13, 2021

    ……….and not only the portraits — but also the BACK of the cards!? An absolute festival of
    decorative typography and atmospheric “cuts”. A wonderful array.

    Someone please tell me the entire life story of the Naval Recruit. (1910) I need to know.
    The direct confident look, the capable young hands, the fringe of bangs across his
    forehead. I suspect he turned into quite a fine fellow. (or maybe I have always been smitten by Navy men? Why, yes, that’s true. I married one.)

    Thank you, GA, for always shining a light. Stay safe, all.

  6. paul loften permalink
    March 13, 2021

    A uniformed society. Everyone had to obey the rules except the member of the Temperance society who was obviously holding a pint of bitter behind his back. Only joking, where would we be if it was not for the Victorians ?

  7. Marie-Anne permalink
    March 15, 2021

    Wonderful photos!

    I suspect that the writing on the back of the photo of the East European man is Hebrew. It would be good to know what it is in English!

  8. Paul Shaw Shaviv permalink
    March 18, 2021

    Marie-Anne – it is cursive Hebrew/Yiddish script, and is a name: R’Shmuel Yosef b”r (=son of mr.) David. The rest is (to me at least!) unintelligible !

Leave a Reply

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

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS