Seeing Walmsley

Seeing Walmsley

It’s always interesting to see what somebody looks like, when their words or other material productions have been encountered at close quarters. The painting shown here is of Joshua Walmsley and it is in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. This is the J Walmsley who signed Wilhelmo’s pass on 22 June 1864 and who had earlier written to Theophilus Shepstone on 11 January 1857. It was come across when looking for information about the Walmsleys and is on a website primarily concerned with his father, Sir Joshua Walmsley senior. For a man who spent his life either in the army or else in an obscure border post in Natal, it may seem a rather odd thing. The man in the painting looks in his 30s or early 40s; he is also formally dressed with a cloak and hand resting on a plinth. He would not look out of place in painter’s studio in London or Liverpool. But he most certainly would have looked out of place if appearing like this when doing his job in the Tugela river area. What were the circumstances in which it was painted and where was it done? No information on this appears on the website in question, but a further search showed that the painting was done in 1848 and is now in storage in the V & A. The painter was William Daniels, and Walmsley is depicted, its description says, holding a paintbrush and the plinth has on it a bust of Homer. Entitled ‘Captain Walmsley’, it was done when he was still in the army and predates Natal. In many ways Walmsley is an obscure and only in passing letter-writing presence in WWW research. However, his appearance in signing this and writing that and going about the business of living his life in Natal raises many issues about the character and ontology of the trace and the extent to which the past can be understood without encompassing ‘the lives of the obscure’.

Last updated: 5 March 2020, 7 March 2020


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