Donovan 1 Thomas Donovan - Brighton Photographer


Thomas Donovan - Brighton Photographer

Part 1 : 1871-1891

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Thomas Donovan's Origins in Bristol

Thomas Donovan was born on 6th September 1837 in the St Philip's district of the City of Bristol. [ Thomas Donovan was Christened at St. Philip and St Jacob's Church, Bristol on 1st October 1837 ]. Thomas was the second eldest son of Sarah and John Donovan, a Bristol house painter. John Donovan (born c1803, Bristol, Glos.) had married Sarah Wall ( born 1811, Bristol, Glos.) at St Michael's Church, Bristol on 30th July 1832. By 1851, John and Sarah Donovan had produced at least six children - John junior (born c1835, Bristol), Thomas Donovan (born 1837, Bristol), William (born 1838, Bristol), Henry (born 1841 Clerkenwell, London), Mary (born c1843, Clerkenwell, London) and Sarah Ann Donovan (born 1846, Bristol). At the time of the 1841 census, John Donovan and his family were living in London at 89 St John's Street, Clerkenwell. John Donovan is described on the census return as a "Painter" aged 37. After a few years in London, the Donovan family returned to Bristol. In the 1851 census return, John and Sarah Donovan, together with their six children, are shown living at Dalton Court in the St. Andrew's district of Bristol. John Donovan senior gave his occupation as "house painter" on the census return. Two of John Donovan's sons, John junior and Henry, also worked as house painters in adult life.

On 13th January 1862, Thomas Donovan married Victoria Gibbons (born 1842, St Jude's, Bristol) at St Andrew's Church in Clifton, near Bristol. The couple's first child, Thomas Henry Donovan, was born on 27th July 1862 at 16 Merchant's Parade,, Hotwells, Bristol, where Thomas Donovan senior had a stationery business. A second son, Charles Edward Donovan, was born at the family home in Hotwells, Bristol, on 7th January 1864.

Thomas Donovan had been working as a stationer and newsagent in the Hotwells district of Bristol since the early 1860s. In Webster & Co.'s Directory of Bristol, published in 1865, Thomas Donovan is listed as a "Stationer" at 16 Merchants Parade, Hotwells, Bristol. By 1868 had moved his business to Horfield, a suburb of Bristol. (Thomas Donovan is listed as a "Newspaper & Periodical Dealer" in Bristol's Horfield district in Slater's 1868 Commercial Directory of the County of Gloucester). On 24th July 1869, Thomas Donovan became the father of a baby daughter named Minnie Victoria Donovan. At this date, Thomas Donovan and his family were living at 33 Park Street, Bristol.

When the 1871 census was taken, Thomas Donovan and his family were living at 14 St Paul Street, Bristol. Thomas Donovan's occupation is recorded as "Shop Man, Fine Arts Depot". It appears that Thomas Donovan was now working in a shop that sold prints, paintings and other works of art. It is possible that whilst working in the "Fine Arts Depot" in Bristol, Thomas Donovan made the acquaintance of the French artist Albert Adolphe Boucher (1841-1875). In the late 1860s Monsieur Boucher was earning a living as a "Teacher of Drawing" and residing at 9 Park Street, Bristol. Albert Boucher was born in France in 1841, but he had settled in Bristol in the 1860s. Boucher had married Elizabeth Mary Dando ( born 1840, Wrington, Somerset ) at Clifton, near Bristol in 1867 and their son Adolphe was born in Clifton a couple of years later. Albert Boucher was a photographer, as well as an artist, and around 1870 he travelled to Brighton in Sussex to take over Lewis Dixey & Co.'s photographic studio at 23 Ship Street, Brighton. At this time, Thomas Donovan was still residing at 14 St Paul Street, Bristol, where his son Frank Herbert Donovan was born on 24th May 1871.

Not long after the birth of his son in May 1871, Thomas Donovan was invited to join Albert Boucher in Brighton to manage his photographic studio in Ship Street.

[ABOVE] Portrait of Thomas Donovan, the well known Brighton Photographer (c1892). Cabinet Portrait from the studio of Thomas Donovan, 1 St James' Street, Brighton. [PHOTO: Courtesy of Philippe Garner]

Thomas Donovan in Brighton

Thomas Donovan arrived in Brighton around 1872 and settled in the St Peter's district of the town. Early in 1873, Thomas Donovan's daughter, Florence Alice Donovan, was born at 11 Lewis Road, Brighton (birth registered in Brighton during the First Quarter of 1873). Another daughter, Agnes Mary Donovan, arrived the following year (birth registered in Brighton during the 2nd Quarter of 1874).

Manager to Albert Boucher, Artist & Photographer

From 1873 to 1875, Thomas Donovan was employed as a studio manager by Monsieur Albert Boucher, Artist and Photographer, of 23 Ship Street, Brighton. Around 1875, Monsieur Boucher announced that he considered the studio premises in Ship Street to be "insufficient for the wants and comforts of his sitters and the accommodation of his staff of Employees" and opened a new studio at 15 King's Road, Brighton. When Albert Boucher died in 1875, shortly after the second studio was opened, Thomas Donovan appears to have been kept on by his widow, Mrs Elizabeth Mary Boucher, to help manage Monsieur Boucher's photographic business. The Boucher studio at 23 Ship Street was closed down and when Mrs Boucher married Bernard De La Grave (1828-1893), another French-born photographer, in 1877, Donovan left Mrs Boucher's employment. The new studio at 15 King's Road, Brighton was operated by Bernard De La Grave, but he continued to trade under the name of "Monsieur A. Boucher". The Boucher photographic studio in King's Road eventually closed around 1885, ten years after the founder's death.

[ABOVE] Thomas Donovan's Trade Plate of 1878, which carried the words "Manager to the late A. Boucher."


[ABOVE] The reverse of a carte-de-visite by Monsieur Albert Boucher of 23 Ship Street, Brighton (c1874). Both Albert Boucher and Thomas Donovan were living in the Bristol area in the mid and late 1860s and may have known each other through their work. Albert Boucher was an artist and portrait painter and Thomas Donovan worked in a Fine Arts Depot in Bristol. A year or so after Albert Boucher had moved to Brighton to take over a photographic portrait studio at 23 Ship Street, Thomas Donovan came to Brighton to work for Boucher. Donovan was eventually employed as a studio manager by Monsieur Boucher.

Albert Boucher, Artist & Photographer (1841-1875)

Albert Adolphe Boucher had taken over Dixey & Co.'s photographic studio at 23 Ship Street, Brighton around 1870. The studio in Ship Street had previously been owned by Lewis Dixey (1814-1895), a Brighton optician. Thomas Donovan joined Monsieur Boucher at his Brighton studio around 1872 and worked as the Manager of the studio until about 1877. Albert Boucher died in 1875 at the age of 34. The business was continued by his widow Mrs Elizabeth Mary Boucher, with the assistance of Thomas Donovan. However, when, in 1877, Elizabeth Boucher married the photographer Bernard De La Grave (1828-1893), Thomas Donovan's services were no longer required.

[ABOVE] Albert Adolphe Boucher (1841-1875), a self portrait painted around 1870. Thomas Donovan was employed at Monsieur Boucher's photographic studio in Brighton until Boucher's death in 1875. Boucher's widow retained Donovan's managerial services until about 1877.

[PHOTO: Courtesy of the Brighton History Centre ]

[ABOVE] Monsieur Albert Boucher's studio (the building with the awning) at 23 Ship Street (c1872). Around 1875, a second Boucher studio was opened at 15 King's Road. The Ship Street studio was closed by 1877.

 [PHOTO: Courtesy of the Brighton History Centre ]


Thomas Donovan's Photographic Studio in Brighton

Thomas Donovan's Studio in St James' Street, Brighton

[ABOVE] The business premises of Thomas Donovan, Artist and Photographer, at 1c St James' Street, Brighton (c1897). Half-tone illustration from "Views and Reviews : Brighton & Hove". Donovan's original studio was a couple of doors away at No 3 St James's Street. Donovan moved the location of his studio to No 1 St James's Street in 1879 and remained there for over 40 years. Donovan's studio was situated to the left of  Lewis Hyman & Son's Hairdresser's shop at No 1 St James's Street.

  [PHOTO: Courtesy of Brighton History Centre]


[ABOVE] A section of a late 19th century map of Brighton showing the location of Thomas Donovan's studio in St James' Street, Brighton.  Donovan's studio (marked with a red dot) was on the western edge of Kemp Town near the Royal Pavilion and the famous hotels that overlooked the Old Steine (labelled "Steyne" on this map). Donovan's photographic studio was also close to the famous Chain Pier, The Aquarium, the New Brighton Pier and other amusements on Brighton's seafront. In 1900, Donovan's studio was commissioned to take photographs of the exterior of Brighton Museum (near The Dome at the top left corner of this map).


Click on the link below to view some of the photographic portraits taken at Thomas Donovan's studio in St James's Street :

The Photographic Work of Thomas Donovan





[ABOVE] Trade Plate for Thomas Donovan & Co of 1 St. James's Street, Brighton (c1880)

By 1878, Thomas Donovan had opened his own photographic studio at No 3 St James's Street, on a parade of shops close to Brighton's Old Steine. The publicity on the reverse of his cartes-de visite gives the location of the studio as " 3 Doors from the Old Steine". Thomas Donovan appears to have joined forces with others, as the business was originally under the name of Thomas Donovan & Co. (perhaps Thomas Donovan had formed the company with former employees of Boucher's studio). The studio itself went under the title of the "St. James Art Portrait Studio, Brighton" and Donovan was keen to point out in his publicity that he had been the "Manager to the late A. Boucher". In October 1878, the firm of Thomas Donovan & Co. exhibited work at the 23rd Annual Exhibition of the Photographic Society of Great Britain in London.

Initially, Donovan shared his business premises at No.3 St. James's Street with William Holmyard, a manufacture of mantles or sleeveless cloaks. In his early advertisements, Donovan declared that his studio was on the Ground Floor, so, presumably, Holmyard made his mantles upstairs on the First Floor. In September 1878, in a number of newspaper advertisements, Donovan advised his customers of the "great and unqualified success of the new studio".

[ABOVE] An early advertisement for Donovan's Portrait Studio in St. James's Street, Brighton, which appeared in The Cliftonville & Hove Mercury on 13th September, 1878. Thomas Donovan's studio was on the ground floor of  No 3 St. James's Street, near the junction with the Old Steine.

After a year or so, Thomas Donovan moved the site of his studio to 1c St. James 's Street. St. James's Street was originally a fashionable thoroughfare leading to the splendid Kemp Town estate, which had been built to the east of Brighton's town centre between 1823 and 1855. Because of its particular location between the Kemp Town and the Old Steine, a short walk from the seafront, St James's Street had formerly hosted a parade of stylish and high-class shops patronised by the fashionable and wealthy visitors and inhabitants of Brighton. A visitor to St James's Street in 1826, struck by the luxury on display in the high-class shops, described the street as "the Bond Street of Brighton". By the time, Donovan had set up his studio in St James's Street in the late 1870s, the area was already in decline and no longer the most fashionable street in Brighton, but it was still a busy shopping area and its location near the Old Steine and the seafront made it well situated for seaside visitors and holidaymakers.

Even though his first studio in St James's Street was on the Ground Floor, Thomas Donovan claimed that its position commanded the "best and most rapid Light". Around 1886, Donovan set up a studio on the First Floor of 3 St. James's Street. According to advertisements placed in Pike's Blue Book of 1886-1887 and Daniel B. Friend's Brighton Almanac of 1887, this First Floor Studio captured the "Finest Light in Brighton". Donovan's reputation as a photographer grew. In 1889, Thomas Donovan was awarded the silver medal for "technical and artistic excellence".

Thomas Donovan's Family Business

Thomas Donovan did not live at his business premises in St James's Street. After their arrival in the seaside town, the Donovan family lived off Brighton's Eastern Road in Sutherland Road, a street at the back of Kemp Town Railway Station. In the 1881 census return, Thomas Donovan and his family are recorded at No 22 Sutherland Road, Brighton. Thomas Donovan is entered on the census return as a "Photographer", aged 44. Thomas's 39 year old wife, Victoria Donovan gives her occupation as "Assistant in a Photographer's Establishment". Thomas and Victoria Donovan's two eldest sons, eighteen year old Henry Donovan and Charles Donovan, aged 17, are both described as Photographer's Assistants.

It appears that from around 1881, Thomas Donovan's photography business had become a family concern, with Donovan receiving assistance from his wife and children, rather than working with business partners or employing other photographers. From around 1883, the studio simply went under the name of Thomas Donovan rather than "Thomas Donovan & Co."

At the time of the 1881 census, Thomas and Victoria Donovan had six children living at home - eighteen year old Thomas Henry - known as "Henry" or "Harry", Charles, aged 17, eleven year old Minnie, Frank, aged 9, eight year old Florence, and Agnes, who had just turned seven. Not long after the census was taken, Thomas Donovan's youngest daughter, seven year old Agnes Mary Donovan died [ death registered in Brighton during the June Quarter of 1881 ].

In 1885, Thomas Donovan's second eldest son, Charles Edward Donovan married a young dressmaker named Minnie Caroline Comber (born 1862, Brighton), the daughter of Edward and Susannah Comber. Minnie's father, Edward Comber was employed as a "Coach Trimmer" and her mother Susannah, like Minnie and two of her sisters, was a dressmaker. A year after their marriage, Charles and Minnie Donovan became the parents of a baby boy named Edward Charles Donovan [birth registered in Brighton during the September Quarter of 1886]. Sadly, the following year, Charles Donovan's wife Minnie died at the age of twenty-five.

By the time the 1891 census was taken, Charles Donovan and his four year old son Edward ("Teddie") were living with Thomas Donovan and his family at 5 Princes Crescent, Brighton. Thomas Donovan, the head of the household, is recorded in the census return as a "Photographer (Employer)", aged 53. No occupation is given for Thomas Donovan's forty-nine year old wife, Victoria. However, all four of Thomas and Victoria Donovan's children who were still living at home are shown as working in their father's photography business. Twenty-seven year old widower Charles Donovan is entered as a "Photographic Printer". Charles's younger brother, Frank H. Donovan, aged 20, is described as a "Photographic Retoucher". Twenty-one year old Minnie Donovan gives her occupation as "Photographic Artist (employed)" and the youngest daughter, Florence Donovan was employed by her father as a "Photographic Assistant". Thomas Donovan's eldest son, Thomas Henry Donovan, known to his immediate family as "Harry", had left the family home. Harry Donovan appears to have left Brighton, and may have even departed England. In 1892, Thomas Donovan was writing letters to his son Harry, describing what was going on in Brighton and how his photography business was progressing (1).


[ABOVE] A distinctive trade plate for Donovan & Co, produced while Thomas Donovan was occupying No 3 St. James's Street, Brighton, "3 doors from the Old Steine" (c1879). Donovan called his first studio the "St. James' Art Portrait Studio" and this design, incorporating the painter's palette and the photographer's camera, reinforced Donovan's image as an artist and photographer. In 1878, Thomas Donovan had shown his work at the 23rd Annual Exhibition of the Photographic Society of Great Britain.


(1) "A Seaside Album : Photographs and Memory" by Philippe Garner (Philip Wilson Publishers, 2003), page 65

Thomas Donovan's Family

Thomas Donovan and his Family (c1889)

[ABOVE] A group portrait of Brighton photographer Thomas Donovan and his family (c1889).         [PHOTO: Courtesy of David Cryer]
[FRONT ROW, Sitting, left to right] : Thomas Donovan (born 1837), Brighton photographer and head of the family firm of Thos. Donovan & Co.; Edward "Teddie" Donovan (born 1886) - Charles Donovan's son and Thomas Donovan's grandchild ; Mrs Victoria Donovan (born 1842) - Thomas Donovan's wife ; Florence Donovan (born 1873) - Thomas Donovan's youngest daughter and photographic assistant who later worked as a female vocalist.

[BACK ROW, Standing] : Charles Donovan (born 1864) - Thomas Donovan's second son and a professional photographer ; Minnie Donovan (born 1869) - Thomas Donovan's eldest daughter and a photographic artist ; Frank Donovan (born 1871) - Thomas Donovan's youngest son and an assistant in his father's studio.

By the time the 1891 census was taken, all but one of Thomas Donovan's grown-up children were assisting him in his St James's Street studio. (Thomas "Harry" Donovan, Thomas Donovan's eldest son, had emigrated to the United States around 1889). Charles Donovan, by this date, a twenty-seven year old widower, was employed as a "Photographic Printer". Frank Herbert Donovan (born 1871, Bristol) retouched the photographs that were produced at his father's studio. Twenty-one year old Minnie Victoria Donovan (born 1869, Bristol) is described as a "Photographic Artist" in the 1891 census, while her younger sister Florence Alice Donovan (born 1873, Brighton) is entered on the return as a "Photographic Assistant".

By the time the next census took place ten years later, Charles Donovan had remarried and was living away from the Donovan family home with his wife and four children. At this date (31st March 1901), Charles Donovan was still being employed as a photographer by his father, but within a year he had opened his own photographic studio at 11 George Street, Brighton. Thomas Donovan's youngest son, Frank Herbert Donovan, who was now in his late twenties, had progressed to the status of photographer and had become a partner in the family firm. [ In 1902, the studio at 1c St James's Street, Brighton, was known as T. Donovan & Son ].

[ABOVE] A portrait of  Harry Donovan (1862-1930), the eldest son of Brighton photographer Thomas Donovan. 

 [PHOTO: Courtesy of David Cryer]

Thomas "Harry" Donovan (1862-1930)

Thomas Henry Donovan (generally known as "Harry" Donovan) was born in Bristol on 27th July 1862. Thomas "Harry" Donovan was the eldest child of the Brighton photographer Thomas Donovan.

Thomas 'Harry' Donovan emigrated to the United States around 1889. After arriving in New York, Harry Donovan established a photographic studio in the Brooklyn district of the city. Harry Donovan later worked as a photographer in Jamestown, a town situated in the far west of New York State, not far from Lake Erie. Eventually, Harry Donovan settled in Allentown, Pennsylvania where he worked as a professional photographer. Harry Donovan died in Allentown on 30th December 1930.


Cartes-de-visite by Thomas Donovan

[ABOVE] The back of a carte-de-visite produced  by Thomas Donovan & Co. at the St James' Art Portrait Studio, Brighton, around 1878.

[ABOVE] Portrait of a Young Man, a carte-de-visite photographed by Thomas Donovan & Co. at the St James' Art Portrait Studio, Brighton, around 1878.

[ABOVE] The back of a carte-de-visite produced  by Thomas Donovan at his studio at 1 St. James's Street, Brighton, around 1882.

[ABOVE] Portrait of a Young Girl, a carte-de-visite photographed by Donovan & Co. of 1 St James's Street, Brighton, around 1880.

Cabinet Portrait by Thomas Donovan

[ABOVE] Portrait of a Woman reading a Letter, a cabinet portrait, dated 1882, photographed by Donovan & Co. at the St James' Art Portrait Studio, 1 St James's Street, Brighton.

Click on the link below to view examples of the photographic work of Thomas Donovan

The Photographic Work of Thomas Donovan

Click here to go to Thomas Donovan - Brighton Photographer : Part 2 - 1892-1921



Thanks to Jean Donovan of Havant, Hampshire, for supplying details of Thomas Donovan's early life in Bristol. Thanks also to Philippe Garner, author of "A Seaside Album : Photographs and Memory", a history of photography in Brighton, which includes a section on Thomas Donovan. Philippe Garner also kindly gave permission for me to use the portrait of Thomas Donovan from his own private collection of Brighton photographs. A special thank you to David Cryer, the great, great grandson of Thomas Donovan, for supplying information on Thomas Donovan and his family and providing family photographs to be used on these web pages.

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