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The two albums originally belonged to Sir Thomas Aiskew Larcom (1801-1879), the permanent Under Secretary for Ireland from 1853 to 1869, which includes the period covered by the albums. Harriet Fyffe Richardson (b.1872), author of Pioneer Quakers (1940), provided the albums to Stanford University at an unknown date; the Library acquired them in 1953.
The 1857 volume measures about about 9 x 7 inches, and contains 64 uncaptioned oval portraits about 4 x 3 inches, mounted one per page; the photographs appear to be lightly albumenized prints, seemingly from wax paper negatives. A later hand has added identifications of some sitters in pencil on the album leaves; these identifications have been transcribed into the titles-corrections and further identifications will be welcome. The 1866 volume is slightly larger than 10 x 8 inches, and contains rectangular albumen prints, also about 4 x 3 inches, mounted four to a page with individual captions. Laid inside the second volume is a letter from the photographer (whose signature is illegible) to Larcom: "You asked me some months ago to get you the photographs of the convicted and untried political prisoners who have been confined in Mountjoy. // I now send you a most unique 'Book of Beauty' . . . The camera is bad, but I am about to get a better, a really good one."
Identified as felons and Fenian political prisoners, the subjects of the photographs in these two albums include some of the leaders of the Fenian Brotherhood and its Irish wing, the Irish Republican Brotherhood. One of these, the early activist Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa (1831-1915), recounted sitting for his portrait:
After being shaven I was led to have my picture taken. The photographer had a large black-painted pasteboard prepared, with my name across it in white, and, pinning it across my breast, he sat me in position. I remained sitting and looking according to instructions until he had done, and he never had the manners to tell-what artists never fail to tell me-that I made an exceedingly good picture. [O'Donovan Rossa's prison life: six years in six English prisons (1874) p.73]
Larcom admired and studied Irish culture which he discovered while participating in the great survey of Ireland. According to the Dictionary of National Biography (1922), the president of the Royal Irish Academy credited Larcom with preserving "folklore which the famine [in 1848] swept away with the aged sennachies, who were its sole depository." When Larcom's close associate, the noted Irish scholar and linguist John Donovan (1809-1861), died, Larcom became guardian of his three sons, John, Edmund and William, who all participated in varying degrees in the movement for Irish independence.
Carey, Tim. Mountjoy: The Story of a Prison. (2000).
Jordan, Thomas E. An Imaginative Empiricist--Thomas Aiskew Larcom (1801-1879), and Victorian Ireland. (2002)
Ó Broin, León. Revolutionary Underground: The Story of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, 1858-1924. (1976)