Odds & Ends

A Newsletter of Eagles Byte Historical Research

August 1996 No. 10

On the Road with Cooper Henderson

The main stream of the painters' art has numerous branches. One of the most popular has always been the sporting print. Pictures of the hunt grace inns and pubs in Britain and the U. S.; probably elsewhere as well. The category also includes depictions of fishing, hunting, and sailing. And closely allied to the sporting print has been the 'Road' painting.

The names of those painters in oil and watercolorists of the genre are largely forgotten today; readily identified only by the antiquarian and the specialist. Among them, the name of Charles Cooper Henderson may be the best known.

I came across Charles Lane's Cooper Henderson and the Open Road in the sale bin of a just-opened media superstore. The book had been published in 1984 by London's J. A. Allen & Co. Ltd, specialists in books on the horse. In its 117 pages Lane surveys Henderson and other artists, as well as the genre and its social and technological background. It's well worth the few dollars I paid for it, especially when it was originally sold for £25. Who says there are no longer bargains to be found.

Henderson might have emerged from a Jane Austen novel, alighting from the steps of a stage with his materials under his arm, a product of the upper middle class, with sufficient income to carry out his artistic pursuits, but not enough wealth to make a bone-idle existence overwhelmingly tempting.

His mother's father was George Keate, a landscape artist whose work had been shown at the Royal Academy as an Honourary Exhibitor. Keate lived in Bloomsbury, corresponded with Voltaire, whom he had met, and was a renowned antiquarian and coin collector. Georgiana Kate, his only child, was born in 1770 and grew up to be an accomplished artist as well, an Honourary Exhibitor at the Society of Artists. She married John Henderson, a Bachelor of Civil Law, who had inherited a house in the fashionable Adelphi Terrace section of London nine years earlier. John and Georgiana soon tired of London and moved twice over the next few years. It was in Abbey House at Chertsey, Surrey, that Charles Cooper Henderson was born on June 17th, 1803, as Britain nervously awaited the arrival of a French armada from the Continent. It never sailed, and soon the Hendersons were back in London, occupying a Georgian home on Montague Street. It was here that Cooper (as he was known to the family) grew up.

John Henderson, a watercolorist himself, had become a patron to others working in the medium, and as Cooper and his elder brother John began to grow older, drawing master Samuel Prout was engaged to tutor them in the art. At the age of 14, Cooper matriculated at Winchester College. It was during these school years that he was introduced to the stage coaches that would become his subject. And Charles Lane introduces us to both artist and models.

Henderson was a product of the advances in travel technology as well as a portrayer of those advances. His unwitting benefactors were men such as engineers John Metcalf (a blind surveyor!), engineer Thomas Telford and Surveyor of Roads John Loudon McAdam (who gave his name to the basic non-concrete road surface still used today). These three helped create the hard, durable surfaces serving the mania for the acceleration of people and mail.

The first English stage coach company was formed in 1706, pioneering the method of traveling in "stages" - stopping at designated towns to rest horses, drivers and passengers. A trip from Edinburgh to London took ten days in 1734. Fifty years after that Bath businessman John Palmer began carrying the Royal Mail in especially designed "mail coaches", which also carried passengers. The new coaches were lighter and therefore faster; both product and facilitator of the Industrial Revolution. They bore such names as Red Rover, the Defiance, the Tally-Ho, the Regulator and the Telegraph.

The book's plates, of which not enough are in color, carry us back to Britain of the 19th Century. In "Loading the Diligence" the large French-style two-and-a-half coach vehicle awaits its departure time in a half-timbered, roofed-over courtyard; if Mr. Pickwick or Nicholas Nickleby stepped out of the Inn and boarded the vehicle we would not be greatly surprised. British winter storms of recent years have been unexpectedly severe and are prefigured in the painting "Stuck Fast" which depicts a coach in the countryside, going nowhere, with snow covering the hubs of its wheels and the legs of the horses, as a few flakes still linger in the darkened sky.

The names of many paintings are quite specific - "The Shrewsbury Wonder Meeting the Holyhead-London Royal Mail," "Exeter-London Royal Mail Passing William Downe's Exeter Waggon," "The Old Service. Mails at Hatchetts Hotel, Piccadilly, London." None of them are bland, generic, "hack" works. All glow with various forms of atmosphere, including a number of night scenes, the details are specific, and rewarding for any student of the period and locale.

A detail from the Shrewsbury coach painting forms the dust-jacket art, concentrating on The Wonder itself. Black and gold, it sweeps across the foreground, pulled by an unmatched team of four, their feet all off the ground. (It would take photographic pioneer Eadweard Muybridge's experiments years later to win a bet by proving that one horse could have all four feet of the ground simultaneously.) The Royal Mail hurries by in the opposite direction in the background, pulled by a matched team. The scene is bleak and wintry. All the Wonder's gents wear top hats; they and the lone female passenger perch atop the open vehicle, scarves wrapped tightly around their necks. The words 'Shrewsbury' and 'London' can be read on the coach's door. A canvas cover on the roof conceals unknown goods; only part of the baggage. Woven baskets and hampers dangle from the higher edges, as well as a hatbox and other mysterious bundles. There's even a small, shaggy terrier slung just to the rear of the driver's seat, beside the red forward coach lamp, calmly checking out the passing sights.

The coach era finally ended, doomed by wheels that ran on tracks, rather than on highways and pavements. Thus the technology that had nurtured Henderson eventually abandoned him. The coaches vanished and Cooper Henderson, a widower, went into retirement, living comfortably enough, and dying in Shepperton on August 21, 1877.

In addition to the biography, chapters setting the scene, and the plates, Lane also devotes a chapter to the varieties of coaches - the Hackney (from the French haquenee, meaning a horse for hire, and giving us the U. S. term hack), the Mail Coach, the Travelling Chariot, the Post-Chaise, the Diligence, and the Malle Coach.

He also includes accounts of other 'Painters of the Road', such as John Cordrey, James Pollard and Charles B. Newhouse. French artists too were attracted to the subject.

There's a listing of the few places Henderson's work can be seen today. London's Tate Gallery has three, as does the Victoria and Albert Museum. The British Sporting Arts Trust owns two. There are four in Folkestone, two in Hull and two in Bath. In the United States, the Paul Mellon Foundation has a cornucopia - fifteen. South Africa has eight.

A search of Eagles Byte chronologies on the code "trn" (transportation) turns up the following events for the late 1870s:
Convict labor is put to work repairing Virginia's James River and Kanawha Canal.

Aug 21
English sporting print painter Charles Cooper Henderson dies in Shepperton at the
age of 74.

Aug 23
Outlaw John Wesley Hardin is captured on a train in Pensacola, Florida, by a
twenty-five man posse. One bystander is killed while climbing out a window, by
a deputy.

Texas - Big Sandy is founded when the Cotton Belt Railroad comes through. Jan 22
Edward Collins , founder of the Collins steamship line, dies in New York City.

Mar 18
Outlaw Sam Bass robs a Texas Central train at Hutchins. Newly-hired express agent Heck Thomas switches bundles of cut up newspapers for the currency, which he's hidden in the cold mail car stove. Thomas is promoted to chief express agent in Fort Worth.

Jun 28
Michigan's Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal opens; currently for small craft only.

Jul 2
The Deadwood-Cheyenne stage is held up by the Hat Creek Gang. One passenger
and one robber are shot.

New York City - Elevated railway tracks are built on Third and Sixth Avenues.

New York State - Hamilton College confers an honorary LL.D degree on canal builder
John B. Jervis.

Transportation - The railroad connects St. Paul, Minnesota, with Winnipeg, Manitoba,
and reaches Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Dec 28
Waterspouts wreck Scotland's Tay Bridge and the Edinburgh mail train.
75 passengers are lost.

Transportation - A steamboat company, The Hudson River Line, is incorporated by Van
Santvoord and Associates. ** California stage driver "Cockeyed Charlie" Darkey
dies. It is discovered he was a she.


You were asked to identify the port where the CSS Alabama was launched. The answer was Liverpool, England. Sort of. It's been pointed out that at the time of launch the ship was known as the Enrica or "290". It was rechristened shortly afterwards.

I'm looking for the name of the driving force (pun intended) behind the founding of the
Four-in-Hand Club in New York City in the 1860s (four-in-hand is driving four coach horses).

EB SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY (more detailed versions available)


Art Historian Peg Weiss (Kandinsky in Munich, 1896-1914) dies at her home in Syracuse, New York, at the age of 63.

English-born critic and historian Jessica Mitford (The American Way of Death; The Trial of Dr. Spock, William Sloan Coffin Jr., Michael Ferber, Mitchell Goodman and Marcus Raskin) dies at her home in Oakland, California, at the age of 78.

German-born theater director, historian and educator Walther R. Volback (Memoirs of Max Reinhardt's Theaters) dies in Amherst, Massachusetts at the age of 98.

I hope you've enjoyed this issue of Odds & Ends.
As promised - further details on an Eagles Byte gift timelines follow:

Looking for an unusual gift for the history lover on your list (or yourself)?
Give them an Eagles Byte chronology for the day they were born, married, started a business - an anniversary of any kind coming up.

I'll provide a ten to twelve page (12 pt.) timeline for what the world was doing that year.

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$7 for the basic data for the year, which you can then format and customize to suit yourself.

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Any questions - ask away, by e-mail



Copyright 1996 David Minor / Eagles Byte