By Fred D. Taylor
A vessel carrying Georgia Gholson Walker and her family successfully navigated the dangerous Union blockade in the spring of 1863. A relieved Georgia, the wife of Confederate supply agent Maj. Norman S. Walker, recorded the safe arrival in her journal.
In what could have easily adorned a travel brochure, she described the island’s “perfect vision of beauty… I had never seen so lovely a spot; the little white cottages dotting the green hills in the distance; the beautiful white villages on the side of the water, with the magnificent hill rising at the back; the very ocean itself, more blue, & clear & beautiful than I had ever seen it, the sun shining in all the soft mellow magnificence of a May morning.”
Considering the time period, no photograph could have complimented such a vivid description. But for S.W. Gault, an artist and photographer who had worked in Bermuda since 1861, capturing such beauty seemed entirely possible through the lens of his camera. A master of stereoscope images, Gault found a welcome canvas in the area’s breathtaking scenes. Intent to share it with the public, he announced a plan to execute a series of landscape views throughout the Bermuda Isles.
Gault’s body of work remains significant as some of the earliest in Bermuda photographic history.
S.W. Gault’s story does not begin in Bermuda, but rather in Franklin, Tenn. Samuel Walter Gault was born in 1835, the second son of James McCormack Gault and his wife, Mary Jane Boehms. After losing his mother at the formative age of six, Gault’s stepmother raised him. Though little is known of his early childhood, it is apparent that his father, a brick mason, sought to teach his children a trade in order to secure their future. By 1850, then teenaged Gault was apprenticing as a saddler for a neighbor in their small community.
His life as a leather craftsman was short-lived. Longing to see life beyond Tennessee, and fascinated by the developing world of photography, Gault immersed himself into a new vocation. By the late 1850s, Gault had earned a distinguished reputation as an artist, able to provide individual pictures in any style. He became known for his landscape scenes, offering a variety of stereoscope pictures for sale. In 1859 and 1860, Gault travelled along the Florida coast as an itinerant photographer, advertising his services in Jacksonville, St. Augustine and numerous communities in between.
While political tensions increased in the United States in 1861, Gault continued his travels. He photographed scenes with a goal to produce the “perfect, life-like picture,” noted one newspaper, and learned from other camera operators whom he encountered. His adventures took him throughout the country, included several interludes in New York City, and even more exotic trips to the Bahamas and Havana, Cuba.
Gault landed in the Bermuda Isles in late 1861, avoiding the horrors of war—or so he thought. He arrived in time for the “Bermuda Exhibition,” an event promoting the island’s vibrant agricultural and scientific pursuits.
Here he met another noted photographer, Henry Quayle. Forming a partnership, they debuted under the name “Quayle & Gault,” and occupied a space within the drug store of American expatriate James B. Heyl in the capital of Hamilton. There, the two artists provided all aspects of photographs for the Bermuda citizenry, including portraits, ambrotypes, melainotypes and stereoscopes of local scenery. Though intended as a temporary business, the demand for photographs on the island was high due to a lack of any competition. In fact, Quayle & Gault were forced to move after a few months to a permanent location across the street, where they overlooked the highly traveled corner of Front and Queen Streets on the Hamilton harbor. With their expansion, they also announced the addition of cartes de visite to their portfolio.
Another factor contributed to Gault’s decision to remain in Bermuda—love. Taking in the Island’s other beauties, he caught the eye of 22-year-old, Bermuda-born Martha A. Richardson. Martha was the daughter of a Scottish-born tailor who had immigrated to Bermuda in the 1830s. The young couple immediately hit it off, and married after a brief courtship of a few months. At the same time, in the midst of a new business and newfound romance, the Civil War that Gault had previously avoided reached his island doorstep.
The war arrived when Bermuda welcomed Confederate Commissioners James M. Mason and John Slidell. The two envoys had been on a diplomatic mission to Great Britain when Union Capt. Charles Wilkes and his ship San Jacinto captured them in November 1861. Known as the Trent Affair for the British mail steamer on which they were captured, Mason and Slidell gained their releases.
The two dignitaries arrived in Bermuda in January of 1862 to great fanfare, much to the annoyance of U.S. Consul Charles M. Allen, who reported a Confederate flag surreptitiously raised at the consulate in the night. Consul Allen vented in a letter directed to Secretary of State William H. Seward that “The sympathy of the people of these Islands is almost entirely with them and their cause; and they are very bitter against the government of the United States.” Increasingly, Bermuda’s unique location and vibrant shipping industry became a haven for the Confederate Navy, blockade-runners and their crews, and a variety of agents representing Confederate commercial interests.
With the surge in war-driven activity, demand for photographs reached an all-time high. But not all was promising for Quayle & Gault. In October 1863, the partnership dissolved, and Quayle left the island. Bermuda was not to be without a photographer, however. The Royal Gazette newspaper announced a new establishment, the “Bermudian Gallery,” in the same location under the exclusive direction of Gault. Among his latest offerings to the public included carte de visite albums, cartes de visite of the British Royal Family, and most of the Southern Generals.
Gault became the go-to photographer for Southerners living on the Island, as well as those passing through Bermuda during the war. Contributing to his success may have been his Southern-birth, artistic skill, or a combination of the two.
Among his Confederate subjects were navy Capt. John Newland Maffitt, officers of the cruiser Florida and the famed ship in Bermuda Harbor; navy Capt. Arthur Sinclair III and Georgiana G. Walker, known as the Confederate “First Lady” of Bermuda. A number of blockade-runners were captured on glass negatives, including Capt. Michael P. Usina and his renowned dog, Tinker, and John Wilkinson, author of Narrative of a Blockade Runner. Gault was also responsible for numerous images of British subjects, members of the Royal Navy, and scenic island views.
Business remained strong for Gault throughout the war years. In 1863, he recruited a photographer from New York City, young John Frederick Kraft, Jr., to help. Gault also relied on his wife Martha, who served as an assistant photographer. Gault added a skylight to his operations in 1864, and expanded business hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Having consistent help also allowed Gault to travel back and forth to New York City several times each year to purchase supplies.
In March 1865, as the Civil War drew to its conclusion, Gault died of tuberculosis at age 37. He left behind his wife, Martha, and a 20-month old son. According to Gault’s obituary, they were left to “lament the early departure of a kind husband and father.” The obituary referenced his birthplace as “Franklin, Tennessee, C.S.A.”
After the untimely death of her husband, Martha maintained the Bermudian Gallery for another 10 months until she sold the business to photographer Joseph F. Darrell. While Darrell only remained there for a few years, a photographic gallery existed under a variety of proprietors at the original Gault location for many years thereafter. Today, the site of the gallery is occupied as a storefront by Gosling Brothers Limited, a spirits producer and distributor.
Gault’s photographic legacy lived on through his son, William Milton Gault. A toddler at the time of his father’s death, William grew up sharing time between his native Bermuda and the U.S., where much of his extended family remained. In his early twenties, he relocated to Franklin, Tenn., married, and opened his own photography business, the Gem Photography Gallery. By 1885, he moved the gallery to Nashville and continued as a photographer until his unexpected death in 1890 at age 27.
Though his time on the island was brief, Gault’s body of work remains significant as some of the earliest in Bermuda photographic history. From his landscape views to individual gallery images, Gault demonstrated a high quality of artistry remarkable for the times. Gault’s casual, artistic poses of his subjects flies in contrast to the rigidity common to the 1860s and later. More significantly though, for the study of the American Civil War, this Tennessee rebel in the Bermuda Isles has left us with a unique snapshot of our own history.
The Author extends a special debt of gratitude and thanks to the assistance provided by the Bermuda Historical Society; the Bermuda Archives; Jane Downing, Registrar, of the National Museum of Bermuda; and Nicholas Lusher of the Lusher Gallery, Bermuda and New York.
Resources and References: Bermuda Historical Society; Bermuda National Gallery; Bermuda National Trust; Boykin, Sea Devil of the Confederacy; Confederate Memorial Literary Society (CMLS) Image Collection, Virginia Museum of History & Culture; Deichmann, Rogues & Runners, Bermuda and the American Civil War; Driver, Confederate Sailors, Marines and Signalmen from Virginia and Maryland; 1850, 1860 U.S. Census; Manifest of Passengers, District of New York, 1861-1865, National Archives; Dr. Chris E. Fonvielle Jr., Wilmington, NC; Gilder Lehrman Institute, New York, N.Y.; Henderson, ed., The Private Journal of Georgiana Gholson Walker 1862-1865; Greg Mast, Roxboro, N.C.; National Museum of Bermuda; Owlsey, The C.S.S. Florida: Her Building and Operations; Charles V. Peery Estate, Charleston, S.C.; The Royal Gazette (Hamilton, Bermuda), Bermuda National Library Digital Collection; Shingleton, High Seas Confederate, The Life and Times of John Newland Maffitt; Stevenson, Celebrating the First One Hundred Years of Photography in Bermuda, 1839-1939; St. Augustine Examiner (St. Augustine, FL, 1859 & 1860), Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Digital Collections; U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command; Wiche, ed. Dispatches from Bermuda, The Civil War Letters of Charles Maxwell Allen, United States Consul at Bermuda, 1861-1888; Daily True Delta (New Orleans, La., Aug. 16, 1863.
Fred D. Taylor is a proud son of the Old Dominion, an attorney, collector of military ephemera, and a life-long student of history. Fred can be reached for questions or comments about his article via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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