Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service
Is this the Reverend William Seaton (1781–1851) who was a Free Church minister in England before becoming Rector of Lampeter Velfrey, Pembrokeshire, in 1830? Or is this his eldest son and namesake, born in 1802, an apothecary and later ordained? A photograph of the latter in old age survives. I am keen to know because Seaton senior was a predecessor of mine as Rector, and founded the local primary school in 1845.
Art UK adds: New Zealander Denise Watson, another descendant of Reverend William Seaton (born London 1781, died Sunbury-on-Thames 1851), contacted us recently in the hope of finding out whether this might be a portrait of him. The Reverend Seaton had two wives, Ann Irons and secondly Mary Anne Lord, sister of Sir John Owen of Orielton.
The collection has previously been unable to confirm whether the sitter is Reverend William Seaton Senior or William Seaton Junior.
Can we clarify what is meant by "Free Church", please ? The Free Church of England was not established until the 1840's but continues in a small way until the present. If Smeaton was a Methodist, it would be worth looking through the Methodist Magazine, which published hundreds of portraits of "Preachers of the Gospel" over many years from its inception in 1744 to its closure in 1960. They seem to have been little studied. My own set (of the portraits only, in several volumes) are presently inaccessible in store, but this portrait looks like the sort of picture which was the prototype of the published engravings.
The Free Church or Wee Frees is usually the name given in 19th century to the United Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, now just called the Church of Scotland. At the end of that century the Presbyterian kirk merged with other nonconformist dissenting churches to form a united front distinguishing it from Episcopalian (Scotland) and Roman Catholic. In England the English Presbyterians centred on Norwich in 18th century became the Unitarians. One of the them was the famous Chamberlain family of Birmingham. But in the 1880s the Unitarians decided to merge with the Church of England (Anglican church). Largely because of political Unionism (of all three nations as United Kingdom ) the churches also became united in alignment at the same time as: 1. rise of Trade Unions in the Socialist movement, 2. United professional football clubs 3. unitarian beliefs of Christology which denounced the Trinitarian beliefs in favour of Christ as the Son of Man. One of the free churches was the Mormons or Latter Day Saints, who were a branch of the Presbyterians. One of the heretical free beliefs was doctrine of Original Sin which said that Adam and Eve were born sinners, and the Fall of Man meant mankind was free to sin, because they could only seek salvation through God's forgiveness and redemption, reform and renewal of the doctrine of justification by faith. In Scotland, the Scots paid the heriot or tax on land, but the Church went 'scot-free'. In 1890s the leading Scots lawyer, Liberal MP and Cabinet minister, Lord Haldane, a socialist, later Lord Chancellor for the first Labour Government, fought a court case as a barrister against the Wee Frees, who lost. The church was then obliged to pay tax into the future. This was really damaging to the church, who lost considerable revenues. The decline of Wee Frees was really the end of Methodism or nonconformity in Scotland which was at the time that Haldane published his book in 1893, "The Socialist Movement". The rise of atheism was hastened by the carnage of the First World War, and social revolution that followed. I recommend you buy a book on the "Wee Frees".
This appears to be a man at least in his fifties. If it were to be the son, that would put the date c. 1860, as opposed to c. 1830s for the father. I would favor the latter.
As for the painter, unless the picture itself has more to reveal than it has thus far, that may be very difficult to address, for this is obviously a provincial work and appears hardly distinctive.
Could this be by Edwin Greenwood (1808-74), to whom another portrait in the same collection is attributed?
A good clean might help matters?
It may be helpful to clarify that in the original topic wording William Seaton was described as a former 'Free Church minister in England', that is a Free Churchman or Nonconformist, as opposed to a member of the Free Church of England.