The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Louisa and Madalene Pasley

Louisa and Madalene Pasley

A carte-de-visite portrait of the amateur entomologists and illustrators Louisa and Madalene Pasley.

The girls were the youngest of Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Sabine Pasley’s eleven children. Their father was the Admiral Superintendent of Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth. In 1859, aged 12 and 13 respectively, Louisa and Madalene began drawing an intricate and charming series of illustrations in which they portrayed themselves as middle-aged spinsters pursuing (and being pursued by) realistically rendered but unfeasibly large insects and giant bugs. Their drawing master Mr Mitchell also appears in some of the scenes. Educated at home, the girls studied insects in their garden and the drawings demonstrate a detailed knowledge of entomology. Both girls appear to have gone on to marry and have families, abandoning their artwork and their nature studies.

Pages from their beautifully and fancifully drawn notebooks were displayed at Mount Edgcumbe in 2009. According to one review of the exhibition, ‘their juvenalia remains of interest to scientists, historians and art-lovers, who regard it as both a marvel of outsider art and a fascinating historical record of a time when natural science had gripped the public imagination.' Their work was also described as ‘one of the most inventive, accurate and humorous amateur history albums ever made.'

Some of their drawings were published in 1980 as The Adventures of Madalene and Louisa: Pages from the album of L and M S Pasley, Victorian Entomologists. Copies of it are still readily available from many second-hand book dealers.

Photographed by the Blake Brothers of 99, Fore Street, Devonport.


Code: 123680
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© Paul Frecker 2018