Completed Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 19th C, Wales: Artists and Subjects 55 Is this the Reverend William Seaton (1781–1851)? Who painted him?

Topic: Subject or sitter

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.

Geoffrey Morris, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The title has been updated to ‘The Reverend William Seaton of Rochdale (1794–1852)’. It has not been possible to identify the artist.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing it for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Christopher Foley,

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.

Justin Grant-Duff,

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".

Jacinto Regalado,

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.

Jacinto Regalado,

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.

Betty Elzea,

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.

Barbara Bryant,

This discussion has not progressed in the past year and it is hard to see how it can. What exactly is the factual evidence to say this portrait shows Rev. William Seaton (never mind whether it is the elder or the younger). How and when did the picture get to Rochdale? This information is needed before the discussion goes any further.

One might locate various biographical facts about the Rev. William Seaton (and it is the elder who is more famous as a published writer, etc.) but without firm evidence on the picture itself (labels, marks of any kind, etc.), we are at something of a dead end. Another image of Seaton would help, but there do not seem to be any.

If anyone has any further thoughts, then the discussion can stay open for another short while before closure.

Geoffrey Morris,

I have a note that a photo of William Seaton (father or son?) is with I have e-mailed the website to ask whether I am right and if so what they can tell me about it. William junior, born in 1802, became Vicar of Pennington, a suburb of Leigh, in 1853, so I imagine the photo is of him, not his father. It may help identify the portrait at Rochdale.
Geoffrey Morris

Barbara Bryant,

Nothing more has come forward so this discussion can be closed for all the reasons cited above. It can of course be reopened if there is new material to add.

Jacob Simon,

Is this the Reverend William Seaton (1781–1851)? Who painted him?

I support Barbara Bryant's recommendation to close this discussion as unlikely to reach a reliable conclusion for the reasons set out in her post of 15 July 2020.

Although aware of this and several other Art Detective enquiries, collection staff are only now slowly returning from furlough and still working on a skeleton basis until, hopefully, the start of next month. The Art Gallery Coordinator was on maternity leave until May 2020, followed by the virus closure. She will be able to start to address the backlog when she returns to work in November. Art UK might be able to obtain the acquisition details for the record, even if the discussion closes because they have no further information on the sitter.

Osmund Bullock,

It looks like we're going to get a pause on this one anyway, but (as with the Reuben Hallam thread) I do have a couple of pertinent things to add. In this case they may at least help us decide if this is the father or the son.

Jacob Simon,

Osmund: the collection still needs to comment but I'm sure could be interested in the couple of pertinent things that you promised on 12 October last year. Or do we move on?

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, mea maxima culpa...oh, dear, why do I inflict this on myself? I am fairly certain this is the father, not the son; I will see what I've written already, and if there's enough to work up into something useful quickly will do it - I'll let you know when I've finished Hallam/Lindsey.

[Pieter, if you see this, I'm sorry about Douglas, Stuart and Thirlwall, not to mention Desseignet. And Mary Morton's alia. None are forgotten, but none are completed either. One day...]

Jacob Simon,

Is this the Reverend William Seaton (1781–1851)? Who painted him?

I repeat Barbara Bryant's recommendation to close this discussion as unlikely to reach a reliable conclusion for the reasons she set out in her post of 15 July 2020.

I think that we should close this discussion in a week's time, unless new evidence is forthcoming. Osmund: anything straightforward to add? The collection staff member apparently returned in November 2020 but has been unable to add information in all the circumstances.

Geoffrey Morris, email, 11/07/21
'The portrait of William Seaton is more likely to be in Rochdale because William junior was incumbent at Pennington. But it occurs to me that as the eldest son he may have owned a portrait of his father and namesake, my predecessor as Rector of Lampeter Velfrey. Do we know the provenance of the portrait?'

Jacob Simon,

Subject to any input from other group leaders and from the collection, I recommend that we should now close this discussion. Barbara Bryant, my predecessor as group leader, in her recommendation to close this discussion, recognised that it was unlikely to reach a reliable conclusion (her post, 15 July 2020).

Questions around the provenance have been asked before. As Marion put it (12 October 2020), "Art UK might be able to obtain the acquisition details for the record, even if the discussion closes because they have no further information on the sitter."

Thank you for all the comments.

It's been very hard to involve the collection, because the Gallery Coordinator was on maternity leave in addition to the usual problems caused by the pandemic. Another member of staff did say that the collection would look for us, so I've sent a reminder.

The collection staff member who deals with Art Detective enquiries has been working one day per week since returning from furlough. She will try to help with the requests for information.

Hello all and thank you for your research and patience. Yes, as you can imagine I didn't return to work in November due to the further restrictions placed on us all. Now back, it is most interesting to read your threads.
Regarding a date created, the information we have is noted as 1850-1900, which doesn’t match up with the dates for Rev William Seaton. Perhaps the son…
The picture measures at 61cmx53cm and the simple gilt frame is has is very worn and flaking.
I’m sorry that we have very little information on this picture not least the attribution, its object history and how it came to Rochdale. Prior to being in this collection received ill care and now sits within the social history part of our collection. I work with the art gallery collection so I shall enquire with another member of staff to see in more detail how it may have been acquired.
Best wishes,

Anna Bates Patel
Collections Coordinator, Art Gallery

Jacob Simon,

It is increasingly clear that this discusssion is not going to progress further in a meaningful way. So subject to any input from other group leaders and from the collection, I repeat my recommendation (12 July 2021) that we should close this discussion. Barbara Bryant, my predecessor as group leader, in her recommendation to close this discussion, recognised that it was unlikely to reach a reliable conclusion (her post, 15 July 2020).

Osmund Bullock,

In view of Marcie's latest discovery about a portrait of one of the William Seatons, could we pause closure for a few days while I digest its contents and try to fit it in with the extensive notes I have on both father and son? I have to say, though, that the Rochdale Times's extended obituary seems to contradict a lot of the information I've gleaned. Some of this may be to do with a confusion by them of father and son, but that doesn't explain all the discrepancies by a long chalk.

Jacob Simon,

Marcie's find that a portrait of Seaton was donated strengthens the identification as the Reverend William Seaton. So we have no reason for suggesting that the collection changes the title of the work.

However, we've not been able to identify the artist and I fear that it will not be possible to do so short of Osmund coming up trumps. Lets keep the discussion open another week.

Marcie Doran,

Here is some information about Reverend William Seaton (1795 – 1852), of Wintoun House, Drake Street, Rochdale, to save others from duplicating my search.

He was reportedly born in North Shields in 1795. His father, who was in the Royal Navy, died when William was "very young". His wife was Elizabeth Seaton (née Thompson)(about 1798 – 1890). Their daughters were Margaret Seaton (1827 – 1906) and Mary Ann Seaton (1828 – 1910).

His life is discussed at length in two sections of the 'The Methodist new connexion magazine and evangelical repository', Volume 56, 1853 (
- Pages 129 to 135 – the "Memoir of the late Rev. W. Seaton" by W.G. Tate of North Shields'.
- Page 680 – a report on the death of William Seaton.

Osmund Bullock,

Ah, that explains it. Your Rev. William Seaton is a completely different man to either of the Rev. Wm Seatons (father and son) that are in the discussion's introduction, and whom I have been researching! My William Seaton the elder (1781-1851) was - confusingly - also a non-conformist minister, also had a daughter called Mary-Ann born at much the right time (by his second wife), and was briefly quite prominent in the early 1820s when he published some religious works as minister of the Wandsworth Chapel. In 1826, though, when minister of the Union Chapel in Leamington, he rejected non-conformism and joined the Established Church, serving as a C of E minister in Wales for the rest of his life.

The original question was not really "Is this William Seaton?", but *which* William Seaton (of the two given in the intro) is it? The answer surely is neither of them, but their unconnected namesake in Rochdale. Indeed, it's a mystery why we (mostly me) were looking at men with a connection - in the elders's case, very tenuous - to Leigh (20 miles from Rochdale) in the first place...when there was a far stronger, in fact obvious candidate strongly connected to Rochdale itself (the Collection's home) waiting to be discovered. That'll teach me not to wear blinkers in future - a prime example of confirmation bias.

Well done, Marcie!

Geoffrey Morris,

Oh dear! If Marcie Doran is right, presumably neither the portrait nor the photograph (claimed to show him in Pennington, a suburb of Leigh, where my predecessor's eldest son and namesake was Perpetual Curate in 1854–62) is of William Seaton, Rector of Lampeter Velfrey (1830–51), or his son. Portrait and photo certainly seem to be of the same man.

Osmund Bullock says that my predecessor was Minister of the Union Chapel in Leamington, something I hadn't discovered (source please!), and in 1826 rejected Nonconformity, joining the Established Church.

In fact he entered Queens' College, Cambridge, in 1825 and was ordained in 1826; five months later he received a curacy in Salisbury (at £50 a year!), followed by another English curacy. His second wife, whom he'd married in 1820, was sister of Sir John Owen (previously John Lord), MP for the Pembroke Boroughs; another sister married the Rector of neighbouring Narberth. Maybe Owen was partly responsible for his presentation to Lampeter Velfrey.

Certainly Marcie's William Seaton seems to have a better claim to a portrait at Rochdale. Bother.

Geoffrey Morris

Osmund Bullock,

Geoffrey, the lives of the two Rev William Seatons, father and son, that you and I have been researching are in some places surprisingly difficult to separate; and although you'll have been working on this much longer than me, I actually think you may have conflated some of the details of the two men...but I'm still not absolutely sure about that, and more work is needed!

I had intended to post here the considerable amount I've found about them already; however, since it now seems highly likely that the sitter in the portrait under discussion is someone else altogether, that information is probably no longer relevant, and would I fear only confuse matters on the forum. But I will say immediately that even though the portrait may not be of the man you're interested in (the Rev Wm Seaton 1781-1851), the photograph is certainly of his son (the Rev WS 1802-1868).

As to the rest of the research, I'd hate it to go to waste, and I'm very happy to share everything with you - but it's probably best if we communicate direct. If you're agreeable, I'll write you an email with my contact details, and ask the office to forward it on to you.

Geoffrey Morris,

Osmund, I would be delighted to share your research, and vice versa. My e-mail address is
You seem confident that the photo is of the son. I think the portrait is of the same man (or at least someone with a strong family resemblance).
Looking forward to hearing from you. Meanwhile, my apologies to everyone for starting this discussion!

Osmund Bullock,

Nothing to apologize for, Geoffrey (and I'll be emailing you shortly). We may have been barking up what was probably the wrong tree for a while there, but that's at least as much my/our fault as yours. And besides, if you hadn't started the discussion in the first place, we would not now be heading towards what is a much more likely identity for the sitter. However, though the case for the Rev William Seaton of Rochdale (1795 – 1852) is pretty persuasive, it is still only circumstantial. What we need is some clue that connects the painting itself and/or its acquisition with the Molesworth Street Church in Rochdale, or one of its successor churches (see

There have been various reports of contact with the Collection over the last 18 months, and I appreciate they have had problems over and above the usual covid ones. But in August last year the Art Gallery Collections Coordinator reported that they had “very little information on ... its object history and how it came to Rochdale”, but that she would “enquire with another member of staff to see in more detail how it may have been acquired”. Since when, as usual, silence. Obviously the Collection *did* have some information about it at one stage (either that or it bears some sort of inscription – is there anything on the back?) – otherwise how would they know the sitter’s name?

Jacob Simon,

My sense is that we should ask David or Marion to contact the collection again for the information requested in the previous post. If an answer is not then forthcoming in a timely manner, I think we have to close the discussion on the basis that the sitter is the Rev William Seaton, probably the Rev William Seaton of Rochdale (1795 – 1852), and the artist unknown.

Or should we close the discussion now?

Osmund Bullock,

I agree with your first suggestion, Jacob; but perhaps we should set a specific time limit?

Geoffrey Morris,

If the Rev William Seaton (died 1852) was Minister at Molesworth St, Rochdale, how did he manage that if the church was founded in 1869? Am I missing something?

Osmund Bullock,

He wasn't, Geoffrey, but it was to that church that the portrait was set to be given in 1910. Look at the RH column of the article posted by Marcie a week ago (02/03/2022 17:00), which is the basis for the belief that our portrait is most likely to be of him: "Before the present church was built in Molesworth Street, the [Methodist New] Connexion's Rochdale Chapel was in Water Street ... Miss Seaton has left an oil painting of her father which, we understand, is to be presented to the Molesworth Street Church."

In fact we don't even know that he was the minister of the predecessor chapel either: the Rochdale Times merely says that he came to Rochdale as *a* minister of the New Connexion in 1841, and was stationed there 1841-2. Seaton seems to have been essentially an itinerant minister who was sent by his church to places all over the Midlands and North of England, perhaps because they had temporary need of a minister, or no chapel of their own.

Geoffrey Morris,

I think the evidence is piling up that the portrait is not of my predecessor at Lampeter Velfrey or of his son William. Would I be right in thinking that the photograph is also of the Rochdale man?

I'm hoping that Osmund won't put a spanner in the works of my research on Rector Seaton here. He had a colourful career as a Nonconformist Minister before switching to the Church of England; or have I attributed to him facts about his Rochdale namesake?

Osmund Bullock,

I’d forgotten the detailed obituary and memoir in the New Connexion Magazine linked to by Marcie ( – Seaton was actually a circuit preacher, or “home missionary”, and the circuits apparently included ones in Ireland and Scotland as well as England. He himself wrote memoirs of five members for the magazine in 1837-8; he was then based in Longton, and all the subjects lived in the Stoke-on-Trent area. See

In the New Connexion’s central register (gathered from all their chapels), there are birth/baptism entries for twin sons of the Rev. Seaton and his wife Elizabeth née Thompson – William & Reuben were born in July 1833, though it’s unclear where. They may not have survived long: neither the 1910 newspaper piece nor the memoir mentions any sons, and the long gap before the elder’s christening suggests he was sickly. Their entries form part of a block registered by Seaton in May 1834, many of them involving christenings he performed, probably in the Black Country (King’s Swinford, Dudley, Old Swinford) and perhaps across to industrial Shropshire (Broseley). See attached 1.

Finally, the Rev Seaton was actually born on 28 Apr 1794 (not 1795), and christened at North Shields Presbyterian chapel three weeks later. Attached 2. He married Elizabeth Thompson at Newcastle-on-Tyne in Jun 1826, he being of “St David Glasgow” (which fits with the memoir’s statement that he also worked in Scotland). Attached 3.

Osmund Bullock,

No, Geoffrey, you're all right. As I said a few days ago (04/03/2022 05:06), "... though the portrait may not be of the man you're interested in (the Rev Wm Seaton 1781-1851), the photograph is certainly of his son (the Rev WS 1802-1868)". I don't find the likeness between the two men very persuasive. I'm sure that most, quite probably all of your research into the elder man is fine. At one stage I had doubts about which of them had entered Queen's, Cambridge, but I think I was wrong, as was Venn’s ‘Alumni Cantabrigienses’ (and thence various others that still are).

I will, as I promised, email you when I get a moment with the info I have about your William Seaton (the elder), but I think it's best we try and avoid discussing him and his son here from here on in, or it will only cause confusion.

Marcie Doran,

Sadly, the Seaton twins are not on the 1841 Census. I have attached three more Census records for the family: 1841 (William in Halifax, Elizabeth and the girls in Stourbridge, Worcestershire) and 1851 (Elizabeth and the girls in Rochdale).

Geoffrey Morris,

I think my last message has not gone through.

I'm now bowing out gracefully, now that it has been pretty well established that the portrait is not of my predecessor or of his eldest son and namesake (though the photograph is of the latter). I had hoped to be able to share a picture of the Rector with the school he founded here, but c'est la vie.

I look forward to hearing from Osmund and sharing what we both know about 'my' Seatons.

I'm interested that the Rochdale Seaton ministered in the Black Country. My great-grandfather settled there from Birmingham, but about three decades later.

Best wishes.


This morning I telephoned the collection and followed up with another email to ask if they could check the back of the painting in the next few days, before we close this later next week.

Marcie Doran,

I received Mary Ann Seaton’s will today and it does not mention any personal items. Her executrix and sole beneficiary was Mrs. Jane Collinge.

Thank you, Marcie. The Museums Curator at Touchstones will check the painting this week. Unfortunately, Art UK's previous contact has been absent for many months and emails were not forwarded.

Geoffrey Morris,

A pity no one looked at the back of the portrait earlier! At least we now know the answer beyond a peradventure.

Jacob Simon,

Well, well, a discussion with 49 posts, and only with post 48 today do we get an image of the label on the reverse, so confirming Marcie’s suggestion (02/03/2022). An image which would have short-circuited the discussion had it been available at the outset. C’est la vie!

We can now close the discussion with confidence, as always subject to the collection's agreement. On the basis that the sitter is the Rev William Seaton of Rochdale (1795 – 1852), and the artist unknown.

Osmund Bullock,

Actually not 1795, Jacob, but 1794 - see my post of 09/03/2022 21:57.

Thank you, Marion, and well done for extracting that from Rochdale.

Yes, Geoffrey, a pity indeed. Why was this clear and unequivocal information, easily to be found in the first and obvious place to look, not included in the original cataloguing? Why was it not given to you, either when you began your researches or when the collection OK'd the starting of your discussion in July 2019? And why was the label not noticed when (03/08/2021 11:57) the collection co-ordinator was finally able to respond, and managed, unbelievably, to give us new measurements and describe the frame's condition....while simultaneously telling us that they had "very little information on this picture"? How many hundreds of hours have been wasted quite unnecessarily in trying the find the sitter's correct identity?

Alas, I think I know the answer to most of those questions, but it is a depressing one - and Lord knows, we come up against similar issues all the time on AD (and did so long before Covid). Unfortunately it is not just depressing, it is wholly demotivating. I am happy to do the work and have done so for many years...but not when I am increasingly faced with responses from collections that make it clear they don't much care if we do it or not - accurate information about works in their possession is so far down their list of curatorial priorities it's practically invisible. And of course this is a trend that will only become more widespread - sometimes for financial reasons largely beyond their control, but also because of deliberate policy choices.

So this seems to me the right moment to bow out after nearly eight years. Thank you, AD, and especially in latter years, Marion and then David: it's always been interesting and often fun, and I've learned a huge amount. But I need to find something to do where more of the people we're doing it for give some sign that they're happy we're doing it...and preferably try a bit harder to help us!

Jacob Simon,

Very sorry to see you go, Osmund, and I hope that we can tempt you to stay. I raised some of these issues privately with Marion some time ago. The answer is that there may be a limit to what we can ask of a collection before launching a discussion. And in most cases, to be fair, the problem of non-disclosure of significant information, does not crop up in this manner. Things should improve a bit as Covid recedes.

One possibilty is to gradually reduce the number of current discussions so as to make it easier for ArtUK to manage. This would mean fewer new discussions for a time. It may be that fewer new discussions would allow ArtUK to spend more time in preparation. But that of course also depends on the collection.

Yes, there are problems. But I would suggest that they are more than offset in the successes we have achieved and in the sense of participation in our public collections. N’est-ce-pas?

Jacob Simon,

As Osmund discovered, Seaton was born in 1794. So my recommendation to close the discussion should read:

We can now close the discussion with confidence, as always subject to the collection's agreement. On the basis that the sitter is the Rev William Seaton of Rochdale (1794 – 1852), and the artist unknown.

Osmund, I am very sorry to read this and thank you profusely for your extraordinary contribution of years of research that unfailingly went above and beyond the question asked. As Jacob says, I hope we can tempt you to stay, or at least to return after a well-deserved break.

Lack of assistance from collections is not as widespread as it perhaps feels to you. This extreme example unfortunately proved a tipping point. In future, the situation will be improved by the fact that we are adding just one new discussion per week, only after establishing contact with the collection.

On a positive note, many discussions on Art Detective have benefited from the help and enthusiasm of the collections involved and many curators have posted their thanks and respect for the work so generously undertaken here. As a reminder...

‘I just want to express my wonder at your achievements here. Is it really true that you have a certain identity for all four of the portraits? Our file at the Gallery has a whole history of people attempting to do this (also photographs of a Gilbert Jackson painting and a Cornelius Johnson painting as comparators but neither quite settled on as an attribution). The fee suggested by the Lancaster Herald to identify the arms in 2002 proved the last insurmountable budgetary stumbling block.’ (Manchester Art Gallery)

'As Collections Manager of the gallery that owns this work, I wanted to take the opportunity to say how delighted I am to see so many thoughtful and interesting suggestions about it. Many thanks to all of you for taking the time to help us find out more and understand this work.' (Victoria Art Gallery)

'Thank you so much, all you wonderful people, for your interest, incredible research and eye-opening insights. We are hugely indebted to you. What a joy to have so much new information.' (Director, RWA)