Attributed to Joseph Wright of Derby, ARA, 1734-1797
Portrait of Anthony Tissington F.R.S. (1703-1776), holding a Piece of Chalcopyrite in his hand , standing in a Mine Shaft
Portrait of Anthony Tissington

on the stretcher "Tissington"

oil on canvas
50 x 40 in. (127 x 102 cm.)


It is interesting to note that there is a very similar specimen  of Galena, with pyrite, chalcopyrite, malachite, and quartz in the Hull Museum collection,  Accession No:KINCM:1966.101.74 which was formelry in the collection of Anthony Tissington and William Constabe, the label on the specimen reads 'lead and copper... mixed as i hear not... before... Anthony Tissington Esq'. 


Anthony Tissington is shown in a mine shaft holding a large piece Chalcopyrite Ore and there is apparently a large vein of it behind his right shoulder. Copper was also exploited in Derbyshire and Staffordshire, the Ecton mine was historically very important. It is possible that the Tissingtons were shareholders in the company that leased Ecton up to 1760, when the Duke of Devonshire took the mine back and worked it on his own account. There were certainly large bits of chalcopyrite brought out of Ecton at that time. Accoding to the Mineral expert at the Natural History Museum the ore is almost certainly Chalcopyrite which is a brass-yellow mineral with a chemical composition of CuFeS2. It occurs in most sulfide mineral deposits throughout the world and has been the most important ore of copper for thousands of years. The surface of chalcopyrite loses its metallic luster and brass-yellow color upon weathering. It tarnishes to a dull, gray-green color, but in the presence of acids the tarnish can develop a red to blue to purple iridescence. The iridescent colors of weathered chalcopyrite attract attention. Some souvenir shops sell chalcopyrite that has been treated with acid as "peacock ore." But, "peacock ore" is a more appropriate name for the mineral bornite. The most obvious physical properties of chalcopyrite are its brassy yellow color, metallic luster, and high specific gravity. These give it a similar appearance to pyrite and gold. Distinguishing these minerals is easy. Gold is soft, has a yellow streak and has a much higher specific gravity. Chalcopyrite is brittle and has a greenish gray streak. Pyrite is hard enough that it cannot be scratched with a nail, but chalcopyrite is easily scratched with a nail. The name "fool's gold" is most often associated with pyrite because it is more common and more often confused with gold. Chalcopyrite is also confused with gold, so the name "fool's gold" is also applied and appropriate.

The only important use of chalcopyrite is as an ore of copper, but this single use should not be understated. Chalcopyrite has been the primary ore of copper since smelting began over five thousand years ago. Some chalcopyrite ores contain significant amounts of zinc substituting for iron. Others contain enough silver or gold that the precious metal content more than pays the costs of mining.

The family originated from Tissington in Derbyshire where they had an estate in the 12th Century. His grandfather was Anthony Tissington of Darley Dale 1638-1700 The family moved to Oaker Hill, Derbyshire, the family had interests in mining since then. Anthony and his younger brother George, were the sons of Anthony Tissington.  George was also an agent to several mining companies and he settled in Winster. He was highly regarded for his knowledge in minerals , he died in 1760. 

Anthony Tissington attended DerbySchool where he was tutored by the Rev Garmstow, teaching him Natural Philosophy and Science over and above mathematics and Grammer. He left school early to take on family  responsibilities with the family mining and  mineralogy. He claimed in a 1775 lead mining dispute that he was a working miner fro the age of 8 to 20.  Anthony excelled at sports including boxing, wrestling and football. At the age of 20-30  he was appointed Barmaster of Matlock Liberty where he displayed sound judgment and respect . In 1728 he married Sarah Wall, daughter of John Wall. Anthony and Sarah had 4 children 2 dying in infancy and the surviving children were called Mary and Anthony. Sarah Tissington died in 1744 aged 36. He later married Margaret Bunting (1720-1774)

According to Roger Flindall's soon to be published book on Matlock Mines , " The most influential of Derbyshire mine agents were of the Tissington family from the important mining area of Winster. In 1767, Erasmus Darwin, a prominent member of the Lunar Society, described Anthony and his brother, George Tissington, as ‘subterranean Genii’. Born at Darley Dale in 1705, Anthony Tissington was a neglected but important figure. He was born in Darley Dale in 1705 to a lead mining entrepreneur and was the fourth successive member of his family to bear his name. He was originally a land agent from Swanwick and his father was an ex Barnmaster from Matlock. The family was comfortably off and Tissington was refered to as "a Gentleman” Anthony Tissington was an erudite mine agent and owner who was barmaster of Matlock Liberty c.1730-35. He seems to have been a brother-in-law of a later Matlock barmaster, Anthony Wragg. Anthony Tissington left Matlock in about 1735, becoming wealthy from coal mining at Swanwick rather than any Derbyshire lead mining investments. He acted as an agent for the Ashburnham family in administering many of the lands they owned through out the country and organising the recruitment of lead mining teams to carry out work in the mines belonging to the Ear of Ashburnham in Sussex. He was also a Minerals agent for the Duke of Devonshire. In 1730 he married Sarah Wall of Cowley, daughter of another successful lead trader. By the 1750s he controlled mines in Scotland, Wales and various parts of England, not only extracting coal, but also ironstone and lead. 

In 1739 he was coalmaster resident at Swanwick near Alfreton. Anthony Tissington had a number of mineral agencies.   Anthony’s circle of friends included : Marquis of Granby, Mr Robert Fitzherbert of Tissington and his brother Alleyne fitzherbert 1st Baron St Helens, David Garrick, Percival Pott, Erasmus Darwin, Matthew Boulton and more importantly he spent much time with  Benjamin Franklin and John Whitehurst of Derby.  Tissington condutd many tours of the Peak District where he accompanied and acted as a tour guide of mines and caverns. There are accounts of him accompanying John Whitehurst and Erasmus Darwin  and Benjamin Franklin. He controlled a firm called Anthony Tissington and Company which ran mining operations for coppr, lead and coal in Scotland, Couty Durham, Swaledale in Yorkshire as we as Derbyshire. A deed of 14th July 1774 itemizes the income from these operations between  15 may 1756 and March 1773 as £29,400. It is likely that Whitehurst (Like his son in law John Tatlow) owned a percentage of this firm, as did Tissigton’s Derby Lawyer Richard Whitby and the Woods of Swanwick Hall. 

When elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1767, his candidature  was supported  by Benjamin Franklin  along with his brother George a mineral agent at Winster. he was described as ‘a gentleman of great merit and well acquainted with philosophy’. Anthony Tissington leased metal mining rights in the Lake District in 1757,and at Leadhills, Scotland. He also acquired interests from Thomas Chambers of Derby who had made a vast fortune out of the copper trade. It has been claimed that Anthony Tissington ‘was Britain’s richest mining entrepreneur in 1760’. Anthony Tissington’s activities at Matlock are unclear. His wrote several publications , pamphlets arguing the cause against duty on smitham, were wrongly attributed to his friend, Benjamin Franklin, the American statesman, who visited Matlock in 1771. He wrote several essays on geology, and one in particular titled, “ A Letter to a friend on the Mineral Customs of Derbyshire”, published in 1766. This work goes into great detail in to how mining and mineral affairs are conducted in Derbyshire.  He learnt several languages including French and German so that e could read  works on mineralogy in these languages. Six letters to Franklin appear in the volume 13-19 of the Papers of Benjamin Frankin (yale university press, new haven 1969-75).

The brothers, and Anthony’s son-in-law, John Tatlow of Codnor, controlled a firm called Anthony Tissington and Company which ran mining operations for a wide variety of both metals and minerals in Scotland, County Durham, Swaledale in Yorkshire and Cornwall as well as in Derbyshire. A deed of 14 July 1774 itemizes the income of one shareholder from these operations between 15 May 1756 and March 1773 as £29,400 which amounts to over £1,750 per annum, which was a very good return indeed in the mid-eighteenth century. The ‘cost book’ system, on which this sort of mining was financed, consisted of groups of twelve (or multiples thereof) putting money into an enterprise as required and sharing the profits if and when they arose. Whitehurst and Tatlow owned 1/48th of this firm, as did Tissington’s Derby lawyer, Richard Whitby, and his neighbours the Woods of Swanwick, for whom Pickford later built the present hall. The geographical range of the company’s operations may explain why, in 1784, the French geologist de Saint-Fond consulted Whitehurston the places he should visit on a tour into Scotland. We may legitimately see Tissington as the leader of a foray into the mines of Derbyshire when Erasmus Darwin wrote to Wedgwood on 2 July 1767: I have lately travel’d two days journey into the bowels of the earth, with three most able philosophers, and have seen the Goddess of Minerals naked, as she lay in her inmost bowers.18 The ‘three philosophers’ were likely to have been Whitehurst, Boulton and perhaps, James Watt. Even Burdett may have been involved for he was by this time extremely familiar with the topography of the Peak through his recently-completed map-making activities. The consequence of these journeyings must be that this bevy of philosophers entered the Miller Mine, which much later became incorporated into the well-known Treak Cliff Mine, the name of which is a Derbyshire dialect version of its earlier name of ‘Tree Cliff ’. Here Blue John was then mined, and they observed the simple ornaments made at Castleton by the unsophisticated craftsmen there, no doubt comparing their efforts to the refined products of Brown at Derby. This enthusiasm undoubtedly made its way, via Darwin and Whitehurst, to Boulton, probably reinforced by specimens of work, by which Boulton was considerably enthused. Why Tissington never became a full member of the Lunar Society, on these credentials, can only be guessed at; yet, in many respects he was treated as one, and was an important member of the group so closely associated with it. He had received a catalogue of ores found in New England by Franklin in 1763 and, as we have seen, although he lived in old Swanwick Hall, he had a residence in Derby’s Iron Gate (opposite Whitehurst until1764), into which he seems to have moved permanently in 1767 or certainly by 1770. He only had his house at Swanwick on a life tenancy, but by the latter year he had sub-let it to John Balguy of Alfreton. Trubshaw’s alterations may well have been to make the house suitable for permanent rather than occasional occupation.

On 18 March 1763 John Whitehurst wrote a letter from Derby to Benjamin Franklin, mainly concerning the former’s commendation of John Tunnicliffe of Kirk Langley (and thus a close neighbour of William Emes) a farmer friend emigrating to America. He also discussed John Harrison’s pioneering chronometer, sent the best wishes of Erasmus Darwin and Anthony Tissington as well as joining with his wife in sending their ‘most affectionate respects’. All of which serves to reinforce the previous assertion that Franklin’s relationships with all of these people were close and cordial, and that the ‘affectionate respects’ of Mrs Whitehurst could only have stemmed from having had the American with them at Derby for more than one relaxed visit. To all this, however, Whitehurst adds a postscript: With this I [send] you a short sketch of a General Theory of the Earth for your approbation.1 The document that follows is written on a four-page sheet, two-thirds in Whitehurst’s hand, the rest in another, but with corrections by Whitehurst. On the strength of Charles Hutton’s remark that Elizabeth Whitehurst’s

‘. . . talents and education . . . enabled her to be useful in correcting some parts
of his writings’ one might venture to suggest that the continuator was the
philosopher’s wife herself.

The ‘short sketch’ is, in essence, a synopsis of the argument which underlies his greatest published work An Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth which was first published in 1778 and ran to three editions.3 The first point to note is that some at least of the thinking behind his work had therefore been crystallized by early 1763, fifteen years before first publication, and confirms that throughout the years after leaving home Whitehurst had never given up his study of geology. Nor can there be any question but that he himself considered it his primary interest and achievement. It is worth remembering Joseph Wright’s well-known letter to his brother Richard from Italy in November 1774:
(Ch VI/1]. . . Remember me with respect to all my friends; when you see Whitehurst, tell him I wished for his company when on Mount Vesuvius, his thoughts would have center’d in the bowels of the Mountain, mine skimmed over the surface only; there was a very considerable eruption at the time, of which I am going to make a picture. ’Tis the most wonderful sight in Nature. This remark is given extraordinary force when considered in the light of the portrait Wright painted of Whitehurst sometime around 1783. In 1786 an engraving after it by J. Hall was published as the frontispiece to the second edition of the Inquiry and in a simpler format for Glover’s History and Gazetteer of Derbyshire in 1827 by Sears.5 Here we see the philosopher, aged about 70 at his desk working on the ‘Section of the Strata at Matlock High Tor’ which he did in fact draw and publish as figure 2 in the Appendix to the Inquiry; behind him is an open window giving on to a view of a landscape dominated by a smoking volcano (much resembling the entirely un-volcanic Matlock High Tor) in front of a sombre sky, slashed with the red of the setting sun. The twilight and gathering dusk behind the volcano may be taken as symbolic of the sitter’s accumulating years; the accoutrements among which he sits are however unequivocal: here is a man who expects to be remembered for his theory of the earth, not for making clocks.

Franklin’s full response to Whitehurst’s digest of his theory, back in 1763 is, unfortunately lost; only an acknowledgement of its receipt survives: Your new theory of the Earth is very sensible and in most particulars quite satisfactory. I cannot now give you my sentiments fully upon it, this ship is just sailing; but shall write to you at large from Boston, where I expect to be some time. Despite the qualification implicit in this, Franklin’s full response was presumably encouraging. The 15-year delay before publication was almost certainly due to Whitehurst’s work-load which was only alleviated after his appointment in 1775 as Stamper of the Money Weights, which ultimately allowed him to move permanently to London. He shared his theory of the earth with others, too, although his intentions when he began his research were: Not altogether with a view to investigate the formation of the earth, but in part to obtain such a competent knowledge of subterraneous geography, as might become subservient to the purposes of human life, by leading mankind to the discovery of many valuable substances which lie concealed in the lower regions of the earth.

This expectation was triumphantly met and led, inevitably, given the intellectual climate in Lunar Society circles, to publication. Anthony Tissington must also have been closely involved in its gestation, no doubt appreciating the revelation that what to him was toadstone was in fact fossilized lava and that the minerals that were to make his fortune were to be discovered in predicable layers, or strata; indeed, his long-standing friendship with Whitehurst could have had much influence on the latter’s attempt to reconcile his first-hand observations with his Mosaic belief in the Creator.

Further, there can be no doubt that he shared his theory with his fellow Lunaticks (certainly with Wedgwood) at one or more of their convivial monthly meetings; this, after all, was the very stuff upon which the group thrived. The subscribers’ list, indeed, is replete with the author’s friends (see Appendix II).

Confirmation seems to come in a letter written by Whitehurst to Matthew Boulton in 1769: Mr Ferber was pupil to Lineus, hence bottany is an object. I don’t see the utility of bottany, and therefore can’t say a word about the pursuit, tho’ cannot help wishing it did not interfere with the study of the fossil kingdom. I desired Mr Ferber would shew you the drawings [of] the sections of Derbyshire strata[;] his great modesty might prevent his so doing, as I observe he advances nothing of his own head—answers questions readily and properly when asked ... I must own he stands highly in my esteem and accordingly have render’d him every civility in my power.

The fact that Ferber was to show Boulton Whitehurst’s sections would seem to suggest that they were being handed around the Lunar Society members in their usual inimitable way, and if the sections were available, it would seem to follow that the treatise—or a digest of it—was too. Ferber, to whom Whitehurst refers—rather patronizingly to our modern eyes—was Johann Jacob Ferber (1743-90) a Swedish pupil of Carl Linnaeus (1707-78), whose tenth edition of Systema Naturae (1758) is the basis from which all plant and animal names stem.10 In 1769 the twenty-five-year-old Ferber was in the middle of a European tour undertaken to expand his intellectual horizons. Whitehurst’s strangely dismissive attitude towards ‘bottany’ is in fact a jokey reference to the lush summer vegetation which tended to hinder geological research on the ground. Ferber’s reason for visiting John Whitehurst was his keen interest in mineralogy. There cannot be any doubt that the conversations which took place during that visit, in the oak panelled dining room of the house in Queen Street, must have helped Whitehurst to refine the formulation of his theory, especially in respect of volcanology and mineralogy. From Whitehurst’s, he clearly went on to Soho via Erasmus Darwin’s at Lichfield, although the only matter of note to the latter was that Ferber was able to bring news of the doctor’s long-lost medical school friend Albert Reimarus.Wedgwood also had referred, fleetingly, two years before, to Whitehurst’s finishing his ‘World’.Ferber must have been influenced quite considerably by Whitehurst and his theoriesconcerning the stratification of rocks, for in 1776 and 1778 he published two works to some extent based on what he must have learned from his visit to Whitehurst and refined by subsequent research. Whitehurst also showed him how to make a gold-coloured brasslike metal called ‘tombac’ from calamine, iron and copper, which he seems to have used in the movements of his superior clocks. The visit had included a trip to Matlock, doubtless with Tissington or one of his sons and successors and quite possibly with Darwin, too.Whitehurst’s first edition of the Inquiry was by no means his last word on the subjecthowever; his second edition was to some extent re-written, and expressed his ideas more trenchantly, with the original edition’s most valuable part, the appendix, woven into the main text. New chapters were also included on fossils, specifically crinoids—so common in Derbyshire limestone (crinoidal limestone or ‘screw marble’ as it was known locally,was much favoured by Richard Brown for simpler domestic fireplaces)—describing forms then recently discovered, on the strata of North Wales and on the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland close to where, a few years later, he installed his hydraulic engine for a flax mill. At the time that Whitehurst was writing his first edition, however, he had not actually (as far as we know) visited the Causeway, having no doubt to rely on Nicholas Desmarest’s publication of his observations upon similar French basalts.

As so often with Whitehurst’s achievements, subsequent generations failed to remember how much they stood in his debt. Only among early nineteenth-century geologists did the aspects concerning Derbyshire stratigraphy live on and become built upon. The conduit for this aspect of Whitehurst’s legacy was White Watson FLS (1760-1835) the Bakewell spar turner, carver and natural historian. His grandfather, Samuel Watson of Heanor, had been a sculptor, mason and carver whose work at Chatsworth was long attributed to Grinling Gibbons, which says much for his abilities.14 His son Henry followed in his footsteps, moving to Bakewell, whereupon he purchased the black marble works at Ashford in 1742, where fossils were a common sight including some the workmen called ‘crocodile’s tails’.White, his nephew, succeeded him. Henry Watson certainly knew Whitehurst, for in anaccount of a meeting of a local society for the Encouragement of the Natural History of Derbyshire held at Sheffield on 27 September 1801, a member:... produced what was considered by Mr White Watson as an orthoceratites found at Castleton. Mr Watson thinks that what Mr Whitehurst has described as part of a crocodile found by Mr Watson’s Uncle in Derbyshire was something of the kind.

It was not Whitehurst who called it so of course, but uncle Henry’s workmen at the Black Marble Works.(Henry Watson thus had been close enough to Whitehurst to have consulted him over fossil finds. One of White Watson’s innovations was to make, using the actual rocks, cross-sections of the Derbyshire strata after the diagrams in the Inquiry, often as not framed, or adapted as the friezes of polished limestone fireplaces installed in gentlemen’s houses. This idea apparently came from Whitehurst, and Watson presented his first example, ‘Section of a Mountain in Derbyshire’ to the philosopher in 1785, as a token ‘of appreciation of his respect’.17 Thereafter he made them in increasing numbers, being swiftly imitated at Derby by Richard Brown, unless, as Dr Trevor Ford has suggested, Brown merely marketed tablets actually made by Watson, presumably to order. Nevertheless, this is not suggested by Watson’s Diary, where there is hardly a mention of Brown.18 In all, nearly one hundred of these were made by Watson alone, of which only a quarter by all makers are known to survive. Not only did Josiah Wedgwood buy fossils from Watson, no doubt on Whitehurst’s recommendation, but on 17 August 1790 Wedgwood called personally at Bath House, Bakewell, to see Watson, bringing with him Erasmus Darwin, F. N. C. Mundy and William Strutt, the latter an elève of Darwin’s who had certainly known Whitehurst well as a young man. The group were doubtless on one of their periodic geological expeditions to the Peak District. It was surely no coincidence that at precisely this time Watson was working on a chimneypiece for Lord Shelburne (by now 1st Marquess of Lansdowne) who had also just previously called on him.In 1793 Brown also took into partnership a former apprentice, John Mawe (1766-1829) son of a Derby baker who lived only a few doors from Whitehurst.20 The association was cemented less than a year later when Mawe married Brown’s daughter Sarah at St Paul’s, Covent Garden on 1 November 1794. Mawe published his first book in 1802 The Mineralogy of Derbyshire with a Description of the most interesting Mines and nine years later Watson published his A Delineation of the Strata of Derbyshire (Sheffield 1811). Subscribers to Watson’s magnum opus included the Duke of Devonshire, Erasmus Darwin’s connoisseur son Sir Francis Sacheverell Darwin, Charles Hurt of Wirksworth Hall, William Strutt FRS, Charles Sylvester and James Watt (two copies). In the introduction, Watson says that: Early in life [he] was indefatigably engaged for several years, in making an extensive collection of the Fossils of this County . . . The period to which he refers must have fallen within Whitehurst’s lifetime, and it was presumably the way in which Watson became acquainted with Whitehurst, Watson’s uncle no doubt having brought them together. Darwin and his friends were still making visits to the Peak District at this time, accompanied by Anthony Tissington’s mineral agent sons Anthony (1732-1815) and George. There can be little doubt that Richard Brown took part in these, or similar expeditions, for we find him retailing mineral specimens to Darwin in Derby at this period. Yet despite this, Watson’s book—a vastly amplified description of the cross-sections illustrated by Whitehurst—only mentions Whitehurst once, in a footnote. Interestingly, Watson’s friend John Farey also began publishing in the same year his important A General View of the Agriculture and Minerals of Derbyshire; in its geological sections it too owes a considerable debt to Whitehurst.

Watson also helped another eminent geologist, William Martin FLS (1767-1810) in work that can also be seen as building on Whitehurst’s geological achievements. Just over a year after Whitehurst’s death, the two advertised the publication of A Catalogue and Description of the Derbyshire Fossils Arranged according to the Order of the respective Strata in which they are found. With Accurate Representations of the different Species and Variety of Minerals, Spars, Petrifactions, &c. in three volumes, to be published by subscription. Martin later fell out with Watson, who thought he was hogging all the credit for their work (and said so), but went on to publish Figures and Descriptions of Petrifactions collected in Derbyshire with a Systematic List of the Minerals which have been found constituting the Substance of Extraneous Fossils in that County (Wigan 1793) on his own account. This was part one of his magnum opus, of which only five parts ever ultimately appeared. He classified and named numerous Derbyshire fossils, many now very well known, including a coral not named by him but subsequently (in 1851) called Lithostrotion Martini and the brachiopods he described were grouped in 1844 as the genus Martini. The supreme value of Whitehurst’s work was in propounding a reliable theory which would enable geologists to predict what rocks might lie beneath the younger ones nearer the surface. He wrote: The arrangement of the strata is such that they invariably follow each other as it were in alphabetical order, or as a series of numbers ... I do not mean to insinuate that they are alike in all the different regions of the earth ... but how much soever they differ, yet they follow in regular succession. He explained their formation in terms of Newtonian gravity, and the fossils embedded therein to a succession of creations, an idea much favoured as well by his friend Erasmus Darwin, although which of them first formulated it is by no means clear. It held sway until Darwin’s grandson Charles superseded it with his evolutionary theory. Whitehurst also adumbrated the law of superimposition of strata: younger layers laid down upon older ones. Whitehurst’s sections are, however, of significant importance as the first detailed published diagrams of the arrangement of strata in Britain and in all probability elsewhere too. Their weakness lies in the boulder-filled chasm depicted under the River Derwent, as he failed to comprehend the significance of the lack of congruence between the arrangement of strata in the banks either side. In other words he failed to identify the importance of faults in the dislocation of strata, a flaw which was corrected by John Farey in 1811, who with the benefit of later writings, depicted them and demonstrated their nature. Thus Whitehurst seems not to have really understood the reasons behind the arrangement of strata, nor essentially of those behind the lateral changes in them. Nevertheless he convincingly demonstrated how ‘violent convulsions . . . anterior to history or tradition’ had thrown the strata ‘from the lower regions of the Earth’ to the surface. He also showed how marine creatures and such animals as crocodiles—perhaps he had seen a fossilized Ichthyosaur—had come to be found embedded in stone, which forced him to the conclusion that The effects produced by subterraneous convulsions . . . are not primary productions of Nature, but of a very distant time from the creation of the world. This leads Whitehurst (inevitably in our modern eyes) to the realization that it was seemingly ‘against nature’ for the various creatures he had encountered as fossils to have existed contemporaneously with one another and, further, that coal must be a more recent creation in geological time than limestone. He concludes that all ‘were originally derived from vegetation’. Thus he realized that the nature of the range of observable phenomena had mutated over vast tracts of time, an idea which Erasmus Darwin quickly pounced upon, but which troubled Whitehurst the convinced Christian, shackled by the creation story in the Bible to the extent that he cited Aristotle’s by then rather passé idea of the Chain of Being to resolve the conundrum. Yet in essence his findings, if not his interpretation, lead us forward through Erasmus Darwin’s proto-evolutionist lines in Chapter 39 of his Zöonomia to his grandson Charles’s Theory of Evolution and thence to Herbert Spencer and modern debates on the true nature of evolution.

The fact is that Whitehurst certainly did realize the importance of fossils in the identification of particular strata, leaving it to the geologist William Smith in 1795 to publish the next logical step, the use of fossils as the key to correlating strata. After all, it was not as if Whitehurst had not studied the fossil record. Wedgwood said that his friend had ‘worked the Derbyshire lead mines on an extensive scale’ to locate them. What is more, he was always keen to accumulate fresh specimens. Wedgwood wrote to Thomas Bentley in 1767:

Mr Whitehurst and I have settled a sort of correspondence; he hath set his miners to work to put by various samples of earths sands clays and I am to furnish him with all the curious productions or facts I can from the cutting of the canal. Darwin too exhibited a close interest in the geological specimens that emerged from the digging of the canal. In September 1767 Whitehurst stayed a week with Wedgwood at Burslem and less than two years later a slip kiln that Whitehurst designed for him was built at Wedgwood’s new works. This work coincided with Wedgwood’s desperate questto find an alternative source of clays, following a threat to his use of the Cornish clays through a proposed extension of an exclusive patent granted to William Cockworthy of Plymouth. The letter reads as though Whitehurst was directly employing lead miners, and indeed Wedgwood also claimed that Whitehurst ‘worked the Derbyshire lead mines on an extensive scale’ but one suspects that this refers to the activities of his friend Tissington with whose enterprises he was associated. It may be, though, that Whitehurst was more practically involved with Tissington’s mining endeavours than emerges from the rather limited documentary evidence. His efforts with Wedgwood to evolve fresh clays from which pots could be thrown seem to have had results, albeit that Wedgwood clearly considered that his own contribution had been the more valuable, for after a week of the two of them making experiments at Burslem, Wedgwood wrote:

My tryals turn out admirably and will enable us to do such things as never were done before let Solomon or Whitehurst say what they may. In this connection Darwin, who was taking a close interest in the proceedings, also added: The blue Clay Mr Whitehurst sent me got out of the Lead-mines above the Toad-Stone is only calcarious Earth, that is a Marl, or Limestone in powder. I cannot meet with any Spar like that you sent Mr Whitehurst. Where did it come from? Wedgwood never did find a good substitute for Cornish clay for his wares, for even those around Chesterfield then used in the manufacture of salt glazed stonewares held no attractions for him.

Regarding the nature of fossils themselves, Whitehurst reveals himself as ambivalent in his first edition, but by the second he comes down in favour of the obvious: that fossils have an indisputably organic origin. In a way it is strange that it took Whitehurst so long to be forthright about this, considering Darwin’s certainties on the matter. The latter had been excited by fossils that Brindley had brought out of the Harecastle Tunnel while digging the Grand Trunk Canal in 1767, and had been further encouraged by his trips to Derbyshire with Tissington and, of course, his conversations with Whitehurst.

Appearing in newspapers, they antagonised Lord John Cavendish who described Tissington in 1772 as ‘a very able man in his way’, but not safe to trust, being ‘a good man in theory, but a dangerous one in practice’. His own grandson portrayed him as being ‘rather quarrelsome, involving himself too much in other people’s troubles’.In 1776, a local newspaper eulogised Anthony Tissington:

On the Death of Mr. Anthony Tissington.
Addressed to the ingenious Mr. Sk––––y, Nottingham.
HAT wouldst thou tell us with thy ominous croak,
Ha! – is he dead? is “TISSINGTON no more”!
“Then Heaven has lost its image here on Earth.
Not unlamented let him leave this life;
His well known worth demands the public sigh,
His fallen virtue claims the pitying tear
Pour then for him the gen’rous tide of woe.
What real greatness dignified his mind!
How noble was his soul, and free from blame!
His tenderness? speak it ye Orphan Crew
Ye widows tell how humane was his Heart.
Cease, cease, your plaintiff [sic] cries ye aged or poor
Alas, too well we know you’ve lost a friend –––
By succouring you he paid his Debt to Heaven.
Ah? weak and feeble, tottering is your frame
Ye mining tribe – adventious sons of men?
Oh! fallen, fallen, is its chief support.
Thousands of you must lose their bread, must starve,
Yes Heaven in him has bread from thousands ta’en,
Oh! my swoll’n heart – it bleeds even at the thought.
Your cloud tipt hills, inhospitable, wild,
Nor grain, nor herbage yields, – tho’ they contain
Treasures immense. – But who shall now direct
The miner – tell where lies the vein of oar.
Swayed by no sect, nor slave to servile creeds,
By bigotry devis’d; his liberal soul,
Was freed from every fear unworthy God.
From nature’s works he learn’d his love to man;
(Saw there his wisdom, power, and goodness join’d)
And thence deduc’d this ever glorious truth
“He serves God most who best serves human kind.
Parent of Heaven and Earth, thy works alone
To a man bewilder’d lost in thoughts deep maze,
Are a sufficient guide nor needs be more.
Could merit immortality bestow;
Could it oh! Death, elude thy fatal dart!
Erroneous once thy poisoned shaft had flown;
He never, oh! he never would have died.
Vainly th’ aspiring muse attempts to soar.
Her woe fraught bosom deadens every fire;
Her weight of sorrow’s weighs her down to Earth.
True says the gentle bard who sung thy Death
Great addition – in tuneful numbers sung
“Slow comes the verse that real woe inspires.
Ye sacred relicks of the much lov’d man
An “Orphan” grateful – this last tribute pay’s
And strew these laurels o’er your hallow’d Grave.
ALFRETON, July 9th 1776. CASTALIO.

He was a significant figure in Derbyshire mining as well as being a friend of early geologists such as John Whitehurst. Whitehurst’s codification of geological strata, as set out in his scientific chef d’oeuvre, An Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth (1778 & 1782) benefited from his collaboration with the mine owner, who gave him access to his mines and in return the Derby clockmaker was able to predict from the strata where his friend should sink shafts to guarantee finding the precious minerals. Tissington accompanied Whitehurst and Darwin on many geological expeditions. We find him, and later his sons, guiding Whitehurst and his friends around the caverns of Derbyshire three decades on. It is highly likely that Tissington as the leader of a foray into the mines of Derbyshire when Erasmus Darwin wrote to Wedgewood on 2nd Juy 1767 :  “I have lately travel’d two days journey into the bowels of the earth, with the three most able philosophers, and have seen Goddess of Minerals naked, as she lay in her inmost bowers.”   The three philosophers were likely to have been Whitehurst, Tissington and perhaps Burdett, by this time extremely familiar with the topography of the Peak through his recently-competed map making activities. The consequence of these journeyings must be that this bevy of “Philosophers” entered the Miler Mine, which later was incorporated into the Trak Cliff Mine. Here blue John was mined and they observed the simple ornaments made at Castleton by craftsmen, no doubt comparing their efforts to the refined products of Brown at Derby. This enthusiasm no doubt made its way via Darwin and Whitehurst to Boulton. Why Tissington never became a full member of the Lunar Society, on these credentials, can only be guessed at; in may respects he was trated as one , and was an important member of the group so closely associated with it.

Mining Knowledge was acquired from day to day experience and activity and contact with rocks by miners and mine owners, above and bellow the surface, so that Whitehurst was able to write in 1778 " Neither do I assume to myself the sole honour of the following observations , having principally obtained them from several experienced miners and particularly from George Tissington late of Winster".

Swanwick Hall itself passed into the hands of trustees of George Turner of Alfreton in 1736, one of which was the manager of Turner’s coal mines, Anthony Tissington (1703-1776). He subsequently became the tenant of the house, leasing it from the Turner heirs, the Thorotons of Flintham, Nottinghamshire.

In 1767 Tissington was elected FRS and acquired a town house in Derby. His brother George lived at Winster and his cousin, another George, was also involved in the family enterprise. In 1770 Tissington moved out and let the house to John Balguy, a portrait of whose wife, painted by Joseph Wright, has recently been acquired by the Holburne Museum at Bath. They moved out in 1791 when John, by then Recorder of Derby, moved to Duffield Park. At this stage, there seems to have been some difficulty in finding a tenant and the house lay empty. Meanwhile in 1771, another local mine-owning family, the Woods, acquired part of the former Turner estate and Hugh Wood (another client of Joseph Wright) commissioned Joseph Pickford of Derby to build him a neat compact villa which survives as the core of the former Grammar School.

Hugh’s son, the Revd John Wood, normally resident in a Pickford-designed vicarage in old Edensor village as chaplain to the Duke of Devonshire, decided to buy the empty Hall – the Woods’ house did not acquire this name until the 19th century – to expand his small park and in 1812 it was unceremoniously demolished. A strange coda to all this lies in the posterity of Tissington. His daughter Mary married John Tatlow of Codnor, farmer (another minor coal owner) and their descendant, Revd Dr W Tissington Tatlow, a Canadian, was from 1911 director of the non-conformist conference centre set up in Swanwick Hayes, a large stone house erected nearby in 1865-67 by Derby architects Stevens and Robinson for FitzHerbert Wright of the Butterley Company family and extended in 1893-96.

Anthony Tissington was a great champion of the rights of the miners and he championed their rights over the greed of the landowners, he was part of a committee of five mine-owners and lead merchants set up to defend the rights of hundreds of miners of Wirksworth. Tissington published a number of pamphlets in their defence and explaining that the Duke of Devonshires demands alarmed 1000's of the industrious poor. According to Andrew Gracianos foot notes in his book on Joseph Wright of Derby, he cites notes written on a book by Richard Spencer never published but in manuscript form at the British Library "laws and Customs of lead mines in several hundreds …… the county of Derby" in a letter from Benjamin Franklin 1766 as a favour to Anthony Tissington. "It was wrote by Dr Benjamin Franklin the celebrated patriot and champion of American liberty during one of his visits to Anthony Tissigton of Swanwick, "It was intended by Mr Tissington to rouse the interested passions of the common working miners to oppose a very just demand made on them by Mrs Rowles and the Duke of Devonshire."

Benjamin Franklin, the American patriot, diplomatist and inventor was one of the few of Whitehurst’s friends who was an older man, having been born in 1706. Once arrived in England to lobby the Government on behalf of the colony of Pennsylvania, he made it his business to familiarise himself as closely as he could with the British Isles and with all the like-minded people whose acquaintance he could make. Accordingly he visited Birmingham in 1758, where he encountered Boulton (thanks to a letter of introduction from a mutual friend), who seems to have introduced him rapidly both to Darwin and Whitehurst.7 A year later, en route to Scotland in August, he stayed in Derbyshire—Almost certainly with John Whitehurst in Derby, and perhaps also with the entrepreneur and mineral agent Anthony Tissington (by this time also part of Whitehurst’s circle of friends and acquaintances) at Swanwick Hall, where he was tenant. Indeed, it is notable that Franklin later nominated Tissington to the Royal Society on 19 June 1766.

It would seem certain that Whitehurst, his early friend Anthony Tissington, and Richard Brown were all privy to the decorative possibilities of Blue John at an early juncture. Whitehurst and his friends made frequent trips into the Peak District, often going into mines and caverns; Anthony Tissington was probably their guide and ‘fixer’. Tissington wrote extensively on mining and mining customs, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1767.

Both George Tissington and his Son Anthony were deputy barmasters in their area in Matlcok Derbyshire. George in 1738 and Anthony in 1772. The coveted and valuable farm of the Duchy of Lancaster's right to the lead mine duties, coupled as it was with the office of chief barmaster, endowed its owner with both a considerable income and authority over the running of the industry. It was always resold at a much higher price than that charged by the Duchy, which was £110 plus annual payments of £72 for the duties and £1-6-8d for the barmastership. At dinner in Wirksworth after meetings of the 17th-century Barmote Court, the landlord of the inn had three tables for those attending the Court. There was the "24 table", where the members of the 24-man jury sat, and where he charged 8d per head, "the barmasters' table", at 10d a head, and a table where "gentlemen's dinners" cost 1/- each. The gentlemen drank sack or claret with their dinner, the men were served with beer. The bill was paid by the king's farmer and chief barmaster. There were usually about a dozen gentlemen, some of whom were members of the jury, while others were there to present a case to the Court. Also among the gentlemen were the steward of the court, who was a lawyer and who conducted the sessions. When the chief barmaster for the Wapentake, always a man of wealth and rank, was a local gentleman such as Sir John Gell of Hopton[2] or his son John, the 2nd baronet, he often attended the Court himself. If the current chief barmaster was an absentee member of the gentry or nobility he relied on his deputy barmasters.

In addition to helping the barmasters to carry out their duties the 24 jurors brought practical experience to bear when the Barmote Court was adjudicating in disputes and trials. The main requirement of the jurymen was that they should be knowledgeable in mining matters and they included both working miners and, when it was thought necessary, local gentry. The deputy barmasters whom the chief barmaster appointed were experienced local men. Some of them were yeoman farmer/miners and others local gentlemen. The deputy barmasters actually ran the system. It was they who initiated much of the business of the Court. It was they, in administering the rules, who determined whether a miner should have a particular mine or whether another should lose one. Their duties required them to be able to read, write and keep account of granting and removing title to mines and of ore production and the duties levied on it. As ore was brought from a mine, it was measured by the dish and the barmaster collected each 13th dish, a royalty or duty known as lot. This was the barmaster's reckoning. A further duty of sixpence a load (9 dishes) was paid by the merchants who bought the ore from the miners. This second duty was called cope.

The barmaster or his deputy granted title in a mine, the usual name for which was grove or groove, on receipt of proof that it was viable. The proof was a standard container, a dish, filled with about 65 pounds (29 kilograms) of ore from the mine in question. Every dish was calibrated by the barmaster twice a year against a brass standard dish. The miner thus granted title to the mine was said to have freed it, either for old if a development in an existing mine, or for new in the case of a new discovery. He was given permission to work 2 meers of ground, known as founder meers, with no restriction on width or depth. A third meer was the king's, and other miners were each allowed to open a further meer, taker meers, along the vein. The miner marked each meer with his possessions or stows (a miniature version of the stows or windlass used to wind the ore from the shaft). A meer was 29 yards (27 m), in the Wirksworth Wapentake.

Since the course of a vein of lead was unpredictable, there were many disputes caused by one group of miners following a vein into another mine. There were occasions when possession was disputed by physical means. The deputy barmasters were responsible for settling disputes over ownership or of arresting or suspending operation of mines pending decisions of the Barmote Court. They could withdraw title whenever a mine was left unworked. They checked the mines regularly and used their knives to nick the stows at any neglected mine. After three nicks at weekly intervals title could be transferred to another miner. The mining rules required working shareholders in a mine to pull their weight. Any who did not were dispossessed, after a warning at the Barmote Court. Typical was this injunction from the court on 2 April 1630: "Wee saie that Thomas Taylor Henry Lowe and John Wooley shall come within tenn daies of warning given them by the Barrmaster and shall keepe Thomas Redforde companie at their groves in Home Rake or else to loose theire parte"

The deputy barmasters kept records of all changes of title and of the amounts of ore measured and the amounts of lot ore and cope collected at their regular reckonings at the mines. The lot and cope accounts involved quite complicated arithmetic. The information given included the period covered, the name of the miner or mine (occasionally both were given), the amount of ore mined, the number of dishes of lot ore received, the amount of ore sold to each buyer and the sum of money chargeable to each buyer for cope. Traditional methods were used at the reckonings; barmasters carried knives to worke uppon a sticke the nomber of dishes of oare as they were measured which is usuall to be done at a reckoning.Many of their records have survived.

Anthony Tissington, on the other hand, Whitehurst’s earliest geological collaborator, died twelve years before him—he was, after all, a decade older—but was succeeded by his sons Anthony (1732-1815) and George Buxton Tissington, contemporaries of Wright, Burdett and Brown, respectively a mineral agent and a mineralogist. Anthony (junior’s) son, Tatlow Tissington, in 1818 went on to marry Mawe’s daughter.92 Two years earlier, Anne Pitman, Richard Brown’s grand-daughter, had married Joseph Hall of Derby, son of that Elias Hall whom Faujas de Saint-Fond had found ‘less obliging’ than Brown, thus uniting all the mineral interests in the area.93 By 1811, George Buxton Tissington had moved to
Sussex, but still turned up as a subscriber to volume one of John Farey’s General View of the Agriculture and Minerals of Derbyshire in that year, as did Watson, William Strutt FRS, Richard Arkwright junior and Richard Brown and, in return, most of the same people subscribed to Watson’s Delineation in the same year.

A final person who received encouragement from both Darwin and Strutt was the Derby schoolmaster Matthew Spencer (1762-1827). Although Darwin made much of the town’s other liberal schoolmaster, Thomas Swanwick, he actually sent his second family to Mr Spencer’s. Here they joined such notable offspring as Anthony Tissington’s grandchildren, the Tatlows, William Mawkes’s son, one of William Emes’s sons, a son of John Stenson, Charles and Richard Haden, a son of Charles Hurt of Wirksworth (transferred from Derby School, then seriously in decline under Dr Bligh), two Duesburys, three Mawkes’s, the only daughter of Abraham Bennett (later Mrs Holliwell), Wright’s nephew George Wallis, John Davis—later the founder of a distinguished Derby scientific instrument manufacturing firm—two of his brothers, and John Whitehurst III, for whom his father paid an entrance fee of 2s 6d.142 Such was the quality of scientific education to be obtained under Spencer, that several other gentry families like the Mundys, Gladwins and Sitwells sent children there prior to their proceeding to public school.

With thanks to Maxwell Craven and Roger Flindall for their help with preparation of this note on Anthony Tissington

Artist biography

Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797), painter, was born at 28 Irongate, Derby, on 3 September 1734, the third of the five children of John Wright (1697–1767), attorney, and his wife, Hannah Brookes (1700–1764).

Born into a professional family solidly established in Derby, Wright was educated at Derby grammar school, teaching himself to draw by copying prints. In 1751, probably shortly after his seventeenth birthday, Wright began two years' training under Thomas Hudson, then the most highly reputed portraitist in London. A large group of studies for heads, hands, and costume details (110 sheets, Derby Art Gallery), evidently assembled by Wright from his own and other students' work, including drawings from Allan Ramsay's studio, throws valuable light on workshop training in this period.

Wright returned to Derby in 1753, and during the next few years painted small Hudsonesque portraits in and around that town. Rarely self-confident, and at this stage well aware that he needed further instruction, he re-entered Hudson's studio in 1756 for a further fifteen months, forming a lasting friendship with his fellow pupil John Hamilton Mortimer.

Wright was content to make Derby his principal base throughout his career. While most of his contemporaries believed that reputations could be made only in the metropolis, Wright chose chiefly to live and work among his family and friends. His career demonstrates that he did not lose by this. As a portrait painter he received abundant commissions from midland sitters, and his understanding of the society that bred them gave his portraits an individuality lacking in much fashionable metropolitan portraiture. The midlands in Wright's day were alert to scientific enquiry. Wright's name is often linked with the Lunar Society of Birmingham, that small group of scientists, philosophers, and industrialists who from about 1764–5 met monthly (on the Monday nearest to the full moon) to discuss the practical application of scientific knowledge. Wright did not belong to it, for as Nicolson notes he was ‘not in the remotest sense a professional philosopher or man of science’ (Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby, 1.131); but in Derby he was well placed, especially through his ‘Lunatick’ friends John Whitehurst and Dr Erasmus Darwin, to ‘draw from the mainstream of this transforming current of ideas’ (Egerton, 15).

From 1765 Wright exhibited in London, annually at the Society of Artists, 1765–76, then less regularly from 1778 to 1794 at the Royal Academy. Wright also exhibited in 1778 and 1783 at the Free Society of Artists, and in 1784 and 1787 at the Society for Promoting the Arts in Liverpool. The label Wright of Derby was first bestowed on him by the Gazetteer's exhibition reviewer of 1768 (quoted more fully below). In an age when it would have been improper to use artists' Christian names, it was necessary to differentiate between the work of two ‘Mr Wrights’—Joseph Wright, who began exhibiting in 1765, and Richard Wright, of Liverpool, an exhibitor since 1762. Bestowed for convenience, the label Wright of Derby has stuck to this day. There is no reason to suppose that Wright himself resented it; but with time it carried unjustified connotations of provincialism which tended to diminish his reputation.

1760–1773: early portraiture and first decade of exhibited works

Wright's début as an independent artist is in a sense marked by the commencement c.1760 of the account book (MSS, NPG archives) in which he recorded most of the commissions received throughout his career. Known to be incomplete, imprecisely dated, and somewhat randomly arranged, Wright's account book nevertheless provides valuable documentation of his work and his patrons, as well as including some illuminating memoranda. Portraiture was to be the mainstay of Wright's career; but he developed an unusually wide range of subjects, many drawn from literature and imagination, eventually finding his greatest pleasure in landscape painting.

Wright's commissions during the early 1760s were mostly for small portraits of sitters in Derby and east midland towns (Newark, Lincoln, Boston, Retford, and Doncaster). A robust example from c.1760 is William Brooke, several times mayor of Doncaster, bulking large in brown velvet and painted on a confident scale (127 × 101.6 cm; Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery). While owing something to Hudson prototypes, this already shows that power of candid observation which is characteristic of almost all Wright's portraiture; he rarely flatters. Some of his most sympathetic portraits of the early 1760s are of children (for example, of the Wilmot and Rastall children, in different private collections), depicted with almost solemn directness; older girls in pearls and Hudsonesque finery tend to look plain under his gaze. Wright's most conspicuous early success was with six sharply individual portraits of young men in the uniform of the Markeaton hunt; these were displayed in Derby town hall c.1762–3 (they are now in various collections in England and the USA). In painting these portraits—six variations on a theme—Wright learnt to concentrate on what chiefly interested him, which was the play of light and shade over faces, garments, and still-life objects.

Candlelight pictures

Wright first exhibited in London in 1765, at the Society of Artists. During the next decade over half the thirty-five or so works he showed there were ‘candlelights’, in which the source of light—a candle, sometimes a lamp, later fire from a forge—was usually concealed but could be observed to throw powerful shadows over faces, stuffs, and objects, altering perceptions of colour itself as objects receded from light. Many of Wright's smaller candlelight pictures combine dramatic effects with fairly prosaic subject matter, as in Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight (Kenwood House, London), or in pictures of girls reading letters or boys blowing bladders.

In four candlelights of the 1760s Wright devised more original and elevated subjects. Three Persons Viewing the ‘Gladiator’ by Candlelight (the first work he exhibited, in 1765; priv. coll.) depicts three men, including Wright himself seen in profile, studying a small version of the Borghese Gladiator. Absorption in study also infuses the reverentially solemn Academy by Lamplight, in which boys learn to draw from the antique (exhibited 1769; Yale U. CBA). Two large candlelights above all made Wright's name in the 1760s. These were A philosopher giving that lecture on the orrery, in which a lamp is put in the place of the sun (exh. 1766; Derby Art Gallery) and An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (exh. 1768; National Gallery, London). When An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump was exhibited in 1768, the Gazetteer's reviewer singled out Wright's handling of candlelight as evidence that ‘Mr. Wright, of Derby, is a very great and uncommon genius in a peculiar way’ (23 May 1768).

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump has become the best-known of all Wright's works, largely because of the compelling image of the lecturer who holds the power of life or death over a white bird in the receiver of his air pump. The Orrery, which is concerned with remoter laws governing the movements of the heavens, is no less fine (and includes a portrait of Wright's friend the cartographer Peter Perez Burdett, taking notes). In both pictures Wright depicts people of his own times, of both sexes and various ages, listening and watching intently as scientific knowledge (of a kind not in itself new in the 1760s, but new to ordinary people) is imparted to them. Detailed observation of apparatus—the elliptical brass curves of the orrery, the pistons which can exhaust air from the haunted glass receiver of the air pump—is combined with the sympathetic portrayal of a wide range of audience reactions: children in awe, or fear; some grown-ups eager to learn, but not all likely to comprehend; some blasé; others evidently preferring conversation to instruction. Candlelight heightens the tension and solemnity in each scene. Both subjects were engraved in mezzotint, The Orrery by William Pether in 1768 and The Air Pump by Valentine Green in 1769, which helped to spread Wright's fame.

What inspired Wright's candlelights? The greatest candlelight pictures had been painted over a century earlier, by masters of the Utrecht school such as Honthorst and Terbrugghen; but few examples had reached England by the 1760s, and Wright did not go abroad until 1773. He may have seen Godfried Schalcken's Boy Blowing on a Firebrand (then at Althorp, now NG Scot.) or, more likely, William Shipley's copy of it (then in London, now Museum and Art Gallery, Maidstone). Some of Wright's English contemporaries, notably Henry Robert Morland, painted candlelights of ‘fancy’ subjects, and George Romney portrayed his brother in Boy with a Candle in 1761 (Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal). Nicolson showed that Wright borrowed ideas for his candlelights from the two series of mezzotint Heads by Thomas Frye, published in 1760 and 1761–2 (Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby, 1.42–4); but these were in monochrome. Frye's mezzotints influenced the very beautiful chiaroscuro effects that Wright achieved in drawing with black and white chalk on paper, as in Study of a Young Girl with Feathers in her Hair (priv. coll.) or Study of a Boy Reading (Sothebys, 30 November 2000). But Wright's greatest candlelight paintings are primarily the products of his own imagination, based on observation of people of his own time.

Liverpool: portraits and industrial subjects

Wright spent almost three years (from late 1768 to the autumn of 1771) in Liverpool, probably with the encouragement of P. P. Burdett, who (having himself moved from Derby to Liverpool) became in 1769 first president of the newly founded Liverpool Society of Arts. Wright's portraits of these years include two remarkable double portraits of friends, each revealing Wright's ability candidly to assess compatibility in married couples. Peter Perez Burdett and his First Wife, Hannah (1765; Narodni Gallery, Prague) portrays an ill-matched pair: Burdett restlessly perched, his telescope alluding to his profession as cartographer, while his wife looms large but vacuously beside him in her finery. Mr and Mrs Thomas Coltman (exh. 1771?; National Gallery, London) are by contrast in harmony with each other and with the countryside in which they move.

In Liverpool Wright's attention was divided. To increase income, he worked hard at portraiture, emerging as a realistic portraitist of members of Liverpool's prosperous middle class, exemplified in such portraits as Fleetwood Hesketh (1769; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), ‘Mrs’ Sarah Clayton, a businesswoman in her own right (Fitchburg Art Museum, Massachusetts), Thomas Staniforth, a slave trader (1769; Tate collection), and the hard-headed Mrs John Ashton (1769; FM Cam.). Such portraits have an uningratiating realism far removed from the ‘polite’ portraiture of his contemporaries.

Portraiture did not distract Wright from continuing to invent subjects deploying candlelight and other (sometimes multiple) sources of light. Notes headed ‘Night Pieces’ (in his account book, c.1770) record ideas for the picture that took shape as A Blacksmith's Shop. In this, a white-hot iron bar on the blacksmith's anvil provides the principal source ‘from whence the light must proceed’. Candlelight illuminates minor details, while outside a full moon (a recurring motif in Wright's work) contributes distantly dramatic light. The Blacksmith's Shop, exhibited in 1771 (Yale U. CBA), was purchased by Lord Melbourne while it was still on Wright's easel; an admirer commissioned a closely similar version (Derby Art Gallery). A different Blacksmith's Shop, Viewed from without, also exhibited in 1771 but untraced since 1810, is now known only from William Pether's mezzotint engraving, entitled A Farrier's Shop, published in 1771. Two ‘night pieces’ of iron forges followed. The Blacksmiths' Shops had depicted centuries-old methods of work; but Wright's iron forges, though installed in old buildings, depict the new technology of tilt hammers driven by water power. An Iron Forge, exhibited in 1772, was purchased by Lord Palmerston (Tate collection). An Iron Forge Viewed from without, exhibited in 1773, was purchased by agents for the collection of Catherine the Great, empress of Russia (it remains in the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg).

The fact that there were eager purchasers for Wright's Blacksmiths' Shops and Iron Forges indicates a likely demand for further industrial subjects; but Wright at this stage showed no inclination to supply it. Instead he turned to literature, almost perversely selecting subjects with scope for exotic or archaic dress. Some of his more recondite subject pictures of the late 1760s and early 1770s failed to sell in his lifetime; these included A Philosopher by Lamp Light (exh. 1769; Derby Art Gallery); The alchymist, in search of the philosopher's stone, discovers phosphorus, and prays for the successful conclusion of his operation, as was the custom of the ancient chymical astrologers (a Gothic work of imagination; exh. 1771; Derby Art Gallery); and The Old Man and Death (from Aesop's Fables; exh. 1774; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut). Throughout his career Wright showed no inclination to paint pictures for their potential popularity, instead painting pictures of his own choice. These included such diverse subjects as The Earthstopper on the Banks of the Derwent (exh. 1773; Derby Art Gallery), in which a hunt servant is depicted by night with his lantern, stopping up foxes' earths before the morning's hunt; and Miravan Breaking Open the Tomb of his Ancestors (exh. 1772; Derby Art Gallery), based on Gilbert Cooper's narrative of a Persian tale of sacrilege in search of gold.

In a self-portrait of perhaps c.1772–3 (priv. coll.), Wright portrays himself in turban and ‘Persian’ dress similar to those he had used for Miravan. In the Rembrandtesque tradition, it is unmistakably the portrait of an artist, dedicated (at an age approaching forty) to his art, and confronting the spectator as he might confront a sitter, with a porte-crayon in his hand. The most confident of all his self-portraits, it may have been painted in anticipation of his only journey abroad, to Italy.

On 28 July 1773 Wright married Ann (or Hannah) Swift (1749–1790); the daughter of a leadminer, she was later described by Wright's niece Hannah as ‘a person in an inferior situation of life’ (MS memoir of Wright, c.1850, Local Studies Library, Derby). On 1 November 1773, with his wife, his pupil Richard Hurlestone (fl. 1763–1780), and the painter John Downman, Wright embarked for Italy, on his only journey abroad.

In his fortieth year, Wright was older than most artists who went to Italy to study (‘He has come late to this school,’ Father Thorpe observed in a letter of 3 September 1774 to Lord Arundell; Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby, 1.9); but he threw himself wholeheartedly into drawing antique sculpture and the ruins of Rome, reporting to his sister Nancy that his attention was ‘continually engaged with the amazing and stupendous remains of antiquity’ (letter of 22 May 1774; Bemrose, 32–3). Greatly admiring Michelangelo, he drew constantly in the Sistine Chapel. Many of Wright's Roman drawings are in the Derby Art Gallery collection (see Fraser). Two sketchbooks used in Rome are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and another is in the British Museum; together they include subjects ranging from the antique to studies of living figures in the Roman streets, landscape, and skies.

In Italy, Wright found two subjects which for him were open-air candlelights on a very grand scale: The Eruption of Vesuvius and the annual Fireworks Display or Girandola in Rome. ‘The one [is] the greatest effect of Nature the other of Art that I suppose can be,’ he wrote to his brother Richard (letter of 15 January 1776, Derby Public Library). Wright watched the Girandola from viewpoints close enough to make many drawings. On a visit to Naples in October–November 1774 he could not witness a full eruption of Vesuvius (the last had occurred in 1766–7), but he observed outpourings of red-hot lava and copious smoke. For more sensational effects, he derived ideas from the principal painter of Vesuvius, his near-contemporary Pierre-Jacques Volaire (1729–c.1802). Wright was to paint Vesuvius and the Girandola repeatedly, often as pendants, and with varying effects. The grandest and most sombre of his Vesuvius–Girandola pendants, painted 1778–9, were purchased for Catherine the Great of Russia (the Vesuvius is in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; the Girandola is in the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg). Wright's extravagantly lurid Vesuvius in Eruption, with a View over the Islands in the Bay of Naples (c.1776–80; Tate collection) may first have been in the collection of that other Vesuvius enthusiast the bishop of Derry (and, from 1779, fourth earl of Bristol).

In the Gulf of Salerno, Wright found a new subject in two deeply fissured sea-washed caverns or ‘grottoes’. First he made meticulously detailed finished drawings of them (Georgian House, Edinburgh). Later they prompted him to invent mysterious subjects, such as A Grotto by the Sea-Side in the Kingdom of Naples, with Banditti; a Sunset (exh. 1778; Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Massachusetts) and A Grotto in the Gulf of Salernum, with the Figure of Julia, Banished from Rome (exh. 1780; priv. coll.), eventually adapting one of the grottoes for Prospero's cell in a scene from The Tempest for John Boydell's Shakspeare Gallery (exh. 1789; untraced, engraved by Robert Thew, 1800).

Apart from his visit to Naples, almost all Wright's time in Italy was spent in and around Rome, where his daughter, Anna Romana, was born in August 1774. Free from the demands of portraiture, Wright found a new interest in landscape. John Downman, who travelled to (and probably from) Italy with the Wrights, proved a stimulating sketching companion. The beauty of the Roman Campagna took Wright almost by surprise. In a letter of 22 May 1774 to his sister Nancy (Derby Public Library) he wrote: ‘The natural scenes are beautiful and uncommon, with an atmosphere so pure and clear, that objects twenty miles distant seem not half the way’. A large collection of Wright's landscape drawings from 1773–5 is in the collection of Derby Art Gallery. Fire at a Villa Seen by Moonlight, a small work in oil on paper (Agnew Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University, Kingston, Canada), is probably one of the few Roman views that he painted on the spot. Most of Wright's Italian landscapes were painted ten or fifteen years later, some from sketches but mostly from recollection.

Wright left Rome on 10 June 1775, making a fairly speedy journey northwards, with only a fortnight in Florence and one week in Venice (‘When one has seen Rome, other places suffer by comparison,’ he noted in his journal; Bemrose, 39). After nearly two years abroad, he was back in Derby by 26 September 1775.

On 4 November 1775 Wright moved to Bath, hoping for the success that Gainsborough had enjoyed there; but by 15 January 1776 he reported that he had ‘not had one Portrait bespoke’ (letter to his sister Nancy; Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby, 1.13). The lack of commissions enabled him to complete the first of his Vesuvius and Girandola paintings, sent in from Bath to the Society of Artists in 1776. When Bath society eventually yielded a commission, it proved exasperating: the duchess of Cumberland's ‘order of a full length dwindled to a head only’, confirming Wright's opinion that ‘the great people are so fantastical and whimmy, they create a world of trouble’ (MS letter to Richard Wright, 9 Feb 1776, priv. coll.). The arrival of John Milnes of Wakefield, cotton manufacturer, was welcome. Wright had begun his portrait in Derby, and now completed it in Bath (Musée du Louvre). Milnes became one of Wright's greatest patrons. Otherwise, working in Bath had proved vexatious and unprofitable. By June 1777 Wright was back in Derby.

Portraits and literary subjects

Many of Wright's portraits of the 1780s and early 1790s seem to reflect his pleasure at being back among congenial sitters. His portrait of John Whitehurst FRS, horologer, geologist, and formerly Wright's near-neighbour in Derby (c.1782–3; priv. coll.), reflects both the sitter's keen intellect and Wright's reverence for him. About 1792–3 he painted the most striking of several portraits of Dr Erasmus Darwin, wielding a quill (priv. coll.). Erasmus Darwin had moved in 1783 from Lichfield to Derby, adding (to greater distinctions) the role of being Wright's physician. The candour and sympathy of Wright's conversation pieces of sitters whom he knew and liked are revealed in Revd D'Ewes Coke, his Wife Hannah and Daniel Parker Coke (c.1781–2; Derby Art Gallery) and in Revd Thomas Gisborne and his Wife Mary, sitting under a green umbrella (1786; Yale U. CBA). Wright's portrait of Sir Brooke Boothby, seventh baronet, a minor poet (1781; Tate collection), belongs to a more meditative world. Immaculately dressed, Boothby reclines full-length in a darkening glade, one hand on a volume lettered ‘Rousseau’, an allusion to the manuscript of the Dialogues entrusted to him by Rousseau himself (in 1776), and published by Boothby at his own expense the year before he sat to Wright.

In the 1780s Wright drew on a wide variety of literary sources for subjects of a tender and affecting kind. Sterne had already inspired his Captive and Maria, and Dr Beattie his Edwin. Wright found an equally affecting subject in The Lady from Milton's ‘Comus’ (exh. 1785; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). A contemporary source (J. Adair, The History of the American Indians, 1775) inspired The Widow of an Indian Chief Watching the Arms of her Deceased Husband (exh. 1785; Derby Art Gallery). From Homer's Odyssey (in Pope's translation) he took the subject of Penelope Unravelling her Web, by Lamp-Light (exh. 1785; J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu). Wright discussed many of his subjects with the poet William Hayley, especially The Corinthian Maid (exh. 1785; National Gallery of Art, Washington); painted for Josiah Wedgwood, this included a glowing potter's furnace in the background. Wright's painting The Dead Soldier (prostrate beside his mourning wife and infant child; from the Revd John Langhorne, The Country Justice, 1774) reduced Hayley and many others to tears. Wright repeated the subject several times (a good example, signed and dated 1789, Nicolson, no. 240, is in the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco).

In 1783 Wright quarrelled with the Royal Academy. Having exhibited there annually from 1778 to 1782 he was elected an associate in 1781; but when his name came up for election as a Royal Academician in February 1783, some failure in communication (still puzzling) resulted in his being passed over in favour of the far less able Edmund Garvey. Wright took umbrage. Offered full membership when a vacancy occurred the following year, he declined, and requested that his name be removed from the list of associates. Almost immediately he began planning a gesture of defiance—a one-man exhibition, staged in 1785 at Mr Robins the auctioneer's rooms in Covent Garden.

Wright's selection of twenty-five pictures for this indicates the range of subjects for which he wished to be known. He included only three portraits; by contrast, he showed nine literary subjects of an affecting kind, including The Lady from Milton's ‘Comus’The Indian Widow, and Penelope Unravelling her Web (all noted above), Julia in a Cavern by Moonlight (priv. coll.), and two Hero and Leander subjects, now untraced. A Distant View of Vesuvius, two views of Dovedale (Morning and Evening), and A Wood Scene, Moonlight (not all now identifiable) represented other aspects of his work. The most sensational exhibit was the large View of Gibraltar During the Destruction of the Spanish Floating Batteries, 13 September 1782, bought by his patron John Milnes (but long untraced). The exhibition was highly praised by reviewers, the General Evening Post for 12–14 April 1785 declaring that ‘it is universally acknowledged by artists and amateurs to be the noblest spectacle of the kind ever shewn in this kingdom’. Wright waited until 1788 before exhibiting further work at the Royal Academy. He did not seek membership again.

From the mid-1780s Wright found increasing pleasure in landscape painting, beginning with recollections of classic Italian scenes such as Lake Nemi and Lake Albano, each painted many times and infused with Wright's reverence for Claude and Richard Wilson. But from about 1790 he began to see landscape through his own eyes. An Italian Landscape dated 1790 (National Gallery of Art, Washington) is painted in an entirely individual manner, with patterns of flat colour thinly painted in mauves, greens, russets, and greys. Wright found Derbyshire landscapes as paintable as those of Italy, and demonstrated as much with ‘companion’ views of San Cosimato and Dovedale (Trustees of the Kedleston Estate Trust, Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire; versions exist). Wright's sheer skill with paint contributes drama to Landscape with Figures and a Tilted Cart: Matlock High Tor in the Distance (c.1790; Southampton City Art Gallery), in which Matlock high tor is seen to be almost incandescent in a glow of light. Some scenes are lit by moonlight, others by dramatic effects of fire; but most need no such added sensation. Landscapes of his last years, such as Landscape with a Rainbow, 1794, and Rydal Water, 1795 (both Derby Art Gallery), reveal powers of enrapt observation, free from conventions of the picturesque. Similar qualities, allied to an almost elegiac feeling imparted by still water, sunset, and receding hills, are evident in Ullswater (Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere), probably painted in 1795 after two tours of the Lakes (1793 and 1794).

‘I know not how it is, tho' I am ingaged in portraits … I find myself continually stealing off, and getting to Landscapes’, Wright wrote to his patron John Leigh Philips (MS letter, 31 Dec 1792, Derby Public Library). But portraiture was his chief source of income, and he could not escape it. From about 1789 new sitters in the shape of midland industrialists were eager to sit to him—and for portraits generally on a much larger scale than those commissioned by the Derbyshire middle classes. About 1780 Wright had painted Francis Hurt (priv. coll.), owner of lead mines, with a lump of iron ore beside him, and on a conventional 127 × 101.6 cm (50 × 40 in.) scale. Wright's portrait of Richard Arkwright, painted some ten years later, c.1789–90, was on a very large scale (241.3 × 152.4 cm; 95¼ × 60 in.; priv. coll., on loan to Derby Art Gallery); it included Arkwright's attribute, a set of spinning rollers (not certainly his invention, though they made his fortune). Wright's portrait of Samuel Oldknow (c.1790–92; Leeds City Art Galleries), the biggest manufacturer of fine muslins in the country (resting his arm on a bolt of fine muslin), was on a similarly large scale.

About 1782–3 Wright had painted a view, Arkwright's Cotton Mills by Night (priv. coll.), with little points of candlelight showing from every window of the many-storeyed buildings. The view was neither commissioned nor purchased by Arkwright. Wright's own reaction to this eruption of the factory system into the Derbyshire countryside is not easy to conjecture. F. D. Klingender considered that Wright's picture, showing the mills emerging from a bank of clouds, was ‘a romantic view’ (Art and the Industrial Revolution, rev. edn, 1968, 61). All one can safely say is that Wright's is not an urgent view. Arkwright's mills (built at Cromford, 1771 and 1776) had been operational for many years before Wright painted them. Possibly the painting chiefly reflects Wright's continuing interest in ‘night pieces’. Living in the midlands, he may have become resigned to such aspects of ‘progress’ as the factory system. A companion View of Cromford Bridge and a small picture, Arkwright's Cotton Mills by Day, are untraced, but from an old photograph of the latter (repr. Nicolson, Joseph Wright of Derby, fig. 331) it appears to be a fairly prosaic picture.

By 1786 Joseph and Ann Wright had five children (one had died in infancy). His niece Hannah recalled that he was indulgent to his children: ‘there was not any part of the house in which they might not play, and they could even whip tops in the room where the pictures were arranged all round, and upon the floor’ (MS memoir, c.1850, Derby Local Studies Library). This suggests that Wright (like Turner, at a later date) may have kept a room with pictures ‘arranged all round’ for visitors and prospective purchasers to inspect. More widely, Wright's reputation was sustained at home and abroad by the increasing number of engravings of his work; in all, forty-five of his works were engraved (they are catalogued and discussed by Clayton, in Egerton).

Wright painted many self-portraits from c.1758 to 1793 (some now lost, including the self-portrait shown in his one-man exhibition of 1785, purchased by Josiah Wedgwood). Among them are a smouldering Self Portrait in a Black Feathered Hatc.1767–70 (charcoal, heightened with white; Derby Museum and Art Gallery); a recently rediscovered self-portrait in a broad-brimmed hat (c.1780–82; Yale U. CBA); and a self-portrait of c.1785 (NPG) in which the gaze seems troubled. Wright seems rarely to have been in robust health, and appears to have suffered from about 1767 from recurring periods of depression, in which he found it impossible to work. He found some consolation through his love of music. He played the flute, having been taught by ‘Tacet’ (Bemrose, 9), presumably Joseph Tacet, and took part in weekly musical evenings in Derby. When, on his visit to the Lakes in 1794, he wanted to describe ‘the most stupendous scenes I ever beheld’, it was music that inspired a comparison: ‘They are to the eye what Handels Choruses are to the ear’ (letter to Richard Wright, 23 Aug 1794; priv. coll.).

Ann Wright died on 17 August 1790. Wright had been treated by Dr Erasmus Darwin for some years for asthma, and latterly for dropsy. He died at his home, 26 Queen Street, Derby, on 29 August 1797, and was buried in St Alkmund's Church, Derby. The most comprehensive collection of his works is in Derby Art Gallery. His work is also well represented in the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, and the Tate collection.

Judy Egerton  DNB