Tom Wedgwood (1771-1805)

Thomas (Tom) Wedgwood was the third surviving son of Josiah and Sarah Wedgwood, and is featured on the Stubbs family portrait (Tom, aged 9, is seated on horseback, third from left).

As third son, Tom never directly ran the family business. However, he did inherit his father’s scientific abilities. He was educated mainly at home, where he was instilled with a love of art, but he did spend a few terms at Edinburgh University. His father, Josiah Wedgwood I had intended Tom to be –‘… the traveller & negociator [sic]’ for the Etruria firm, and he brought him into the partnership with his brothers Josiah II and John in 1790, a decade after the Stubbs portrait was painted (Josiah II and John are the two children on horseback closest to their parents on the portrait). Josiah had little interest in the business and resigned his partnership in 1793. Unfortunately, he suffered from chronic ill-health and died in Dorset twelve years later at the age of 34. He never married, and had no children.

Tom’s inventive ability is well recorded, and he conducted experiments which were published by Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) in the Journal of the Royal Institution in 1802 under the title An Account of a Method of Copying Paintings Upon Glass and of Making Profiles by the Agency of Light upon Nitrate of Silver, invented by T. Wedgwood Esq.

This article is now considered to be a reference to the earliest record of photography in England – but sadly, Tom was unable to discover any method of fixing the images he obtained. However, he fully understood and published the concept that the chemical action of light might be utilised for the purpose of copying images.

Tom counted amongst his friends the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and Thomas Campbell. Indeed, he arranged for Coleridge to have an annuity of £150 in 1798 so that he could devote himself to philosophy and poetry. Wordsworth described Tom as follows:

“His calm and dignified manner, united with his tall person and beautiful face, produced in me an impression of sublimity beyond what I had ever experienced from the appearance of any other human being.”


Tom Wedgwood (1771-1805), © This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired

Tom Wedgwood (1771-1805)
© This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired