John Counsell was born in Edmonton, Middlesex in 1818. He became an assistant to William Constable, Brighton's earliest photographer in 1841 and possibly early 1842.
His work in Brighton is referred to in his advert of 1 September 1842, placed in the Caledonian Mercury during Queen Victoria's visit to Edinburgh.
He became one of Edinburgh's earliest daguerreotype photographers in 1842. Several advertisements for the Counsell studio at 19 Princes Street appeared in the Caledonian Mercury newspaper in 1842 and early 1843. This studio was in the name of:
- Messrs Edwards March, April 1842
- Counsell July?, August 1842 to January 1843
In his later advertisements, John Counsell encouraged his clients to visit his studio before it closed. The studio appears to have remained open until around Jan 1843; the final adverts being placed that month and recommending daguerreotype portraits for Miniature Christmas Presents!
John Counsell was married while in Edinburgh. The entry in the Old Parish Registers for 1842 reads:
John Counsell Stephens had a photographic studio at
West End, Redruth, Cornwall in 1855, where he also sold engravings.
Between 1847 and 1876, John Counsell is reported as living and working in Cornwall. He called himself John Counsell Stephens, while working in Falmouth, Cornwall, and it was under this name that he appeared in the 1851 census at Falmouth, Cornwall
Name Change and Marriage
The reason for this name-change is not known. There also seems to be some doubt about the details of John's marriage. See below.
- David Simkin of Brighton, who has been researching the photographers of Sussex, told me in June 2002 that John Counsell married Sarah Herring (b1822) in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England in 1847.
- John Counsell of Devon, whose gg grandfather was the brother of the photographer John Counsell, told me in June 2002 that the photographer John Counsell remained married to Sarah (née Herring) all his life until he died in 1890 in Dunedin NZ..
Thank you to Liz Stephens whose husband was Michael Counsell Stephens, great great grandson of the photographer, John Counsell Stephens, for sending me more information about this change of name.
"The story we were told by Great Uncle Oswald Counsell Stephens was that John did something shady and changed his name to Stephens when he ' ran away'. When a few years had passed he then re claimed Counsell which the NZ family have carried on.
However my understanding at that time, and on further conversation with my Mother in Law, was that this referred to John Jefferson Counsell Stephens, her husband Alan's Grandfather who, they said, ran away from Falmouth when he was 12 yrs old, jumped on a ship and eventually ended up in NZ.
John (Jefferson) Counsell Stephens was described as working for a baker and doing something wrong which made him leave in a hurry. I now realise that it was Jefferson's father who changed his name. One might assume from this that his alleged first wife Rebecca Baker's family may have been the reason why John Counsell 'ran away' and changed his name!!
On recent investigation I have found that John Jefferson arrived two years after his father, in 1879 aged 17 yrs. The whole family were in Falmouth in 1871, after that I do not know what happened. I will keep investigating!"
LIz Stephens, New Zealand: July 5, 2007
Deirdre Long, an indirect descendant of John Counsell, wrote to me in October 2004. telling me that she was researching his family history. She wrote again in 2007 with the following message:
"I now know that
Sarah Herring, the second wife of John Counsell Stephens, was born in
Darlton, Nottinghamshire, and was christened on 17th March 1822. She was
the daughter of
George and Mary Herring. I have taken this information directly from the
1861 Census for Falmouth, Cornwall.
Also, I know that John's first wife, Rebecca, died in Union Workhouse, Edmonton, Middlesex on June 6th 1846, at the age of 34. She died of heart disease. Her death record is spelled incorrectly as Rebecca Counsill.
With reference to the entry by Liz Stephens, this seems to knock on the head the theory that in some way the family of Rebecca would have been chasing John Counsell Stephens, causing him to change his name.
However, there is something of a coincidence. John's brother's servant was a girl by the name of Mary Stephens (1851 Census for Peckham, Surrey). Mary came from Brighton, which is exactly where John headed for to join William Constable in his photographic studio. Whatever their relationship (and their was possibly none at all), John may simply have taken the extra name to enhance his professional credibility.
Deirdre Long: July 20, 2007
John Counsell spent 13 years in New Zealand, until his death in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1890. Some descendants still live in New Zealand, others in Australia. Some use the name Counsell, others use the name Counsell Stephens.
Thank you to the following who supplied the Brighton, Cornwall and New Zealand information on this page:
- John Counsell (gg grandson of the brother of photographer John Counsell) and his daughter
- Deirdre Long et. al. (I don't know who the 'et al' are)
- LIz Stephens (who was married to the gg grandson of John Counsell.
- Carol Stubbs for supplying details of John Counsell's marriage in Edinburgh, taken from the Old Parish Registers.