Who Were They?

Lost and forgotten photos from the past

In 1885, Miss Farmar (Miss Tarmar?) sat for her portrait with Byrne & Co in Richmond. Virginia immediately comes to mind, but there are towns named Richmond in Virginia, Rhode Island, California, and Kentucky, and of course England. Was she an old maid? A woman would have been addressed as Miss as long as she was not married. If she was widowed she was referred to as Widow Smith or Mrs. Smith until she remarried. Unlike modern conventions, she would never again have been addressed as Miss.

She looks to be 60-70 years old in this photo, just a guess, but she has completely white hair and the look of years on her face. That puts her estimated date of birth around 1815-1825. She is wearing a photo brooch with a military gentleman on it. It’s difficult to ascertain anything more than that. Assuming her beau in the photo was in the military after photography became available, he was photographed after about 1860. Considering that this is probably another photograph from England, and of course Byrne & Co claim to be photographers to Her Majesty, I do wonder what sort of soldier he was, where was he stationed, did he die in action tragically leaving his lady Miss Farmar alone? She would have been possibly in her 40s by that point, but it’s possible. It’s one of the enduring mysteries that a photo album such as this leaves at our feet.

On 5-5-83 this photo was shown to Olivia. Since the photo was taken in 1885, we can easily assume the photo was reviewed by Olivia in 1983. My guess is they didn’t know who the heck was on the brooch and had no way of figuring it out either. It’s a fascinating mystery that leaves me wanting more.

6 thoughts on “An old maid?

  1. Bob Scotney says:

    This was the Richmond Borough of London. 19 Hill Street was previously 19 Clarence Terrace. Census details show Byrne & Co at this address in the late 1800s early 1900s. Check out http://www.richmond.gov.uk/home/leisure_and_culture/local_history_and_heritage/local_studies_collection/a_walk_down_hill_street/hill_street_interactive_map/number_19_hill_street.htm


    1. Mrs Marvel says:

      That is a fascinating map/history project!! Thank you for posting it.


  2. IntenseGuy says:

    I have a different take on the dates and scribbles on the card.

    I think the “penciled” writing is photographers. The negative/print number seems to be written with the same hand. The date might actually be the photograph’s show/proofed date.

    The other writing appears to be someone that labelled the photo and they just took a guess as to the year (missing by a couple).

    If this is the case, the person in the photo might be Olivia Farmer. My access to UK census information is limited. Or Olivia might be the photographer’s wife – and he was impressed by the brooch and wanted to show her.


    1. Mrs Marvel says:

      Except that they wouldn’t have waited two years from proof to print, I think. I think there are three hands there. Two in pencil, one in ink.


  3. This is a great photo, although it raises more questions than it answers. That is some brooch and I love her hat too. I think you are on the right track. Someone had Olivia look at it in 1983 because she was wondering about the brooch. :)


  4. Simon Smith says:

    What a beautiful photograph. And well done, your pondering of its provenance.
    I can add some information I think! The company was W.J.Byrne and company, based in Hill St Richmond, now a suburb of London. The photographer may have been William Joseph Byrne himself. His mother was Agnes Byrne, nee O’Farrell. She was born in Dublin, emigrated to Melbourne with her parents, married there, then migrated back to England. She is my great great great aunt. Shed was feisty!
    The family had a checkered history, but she was a kind of stalwart figure through many travails.

    in our family album we haver some beautiful photographs, that Im sure were taken by William Joseph.

    …and…. without knowing any of this, I became a cinematographer myself. So Im sure everything connects down the years.

    Simon Smith


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