Papers of Henry William Beechey (1788/9-1862)

Scope and Content

This file of sketches and notes was purchased by the Gallery in 2003 alongside the Diary and Account Book of his father, Sir William Beechey [See WB1/1]. Both the Diary and Account Book and the present set of sketches were previously owned by descendants of Beechey. The Diary and Account Book was documented as being in the possession of Sydney Chancellor by William Roberts who wrote his study of Beechey in 1907 (in which the account book features). Roberts stated that this was by descent from the artist as Chancellor's wife was a granddaughter of the artist's son, Henry William Beechey. [See Roberts, Sir William Beechey, R.A. (London: Duckworth and Co., 1907), pp. 220-37]. The volume and sketches were offered to the Gallery for purchase in 1893 by Chancellor but declined by the then Director, Sir George Scharf.

The 15 sheets of sketches and notes are undated, but one sheet is signed 'H. W. Beechey'. The sketches include landscape scenes as well as sketches probably after old master paintings and painted portraits of unnamed sitters. Notes on the reverse of sketches are partial and relate to academic subjects including Joshua Reynolds, architecture and the history of art.

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry William Beechey was a painter and explorer. Born probably at 37 Hill Street, Berkeley Square, London, he was the eldest son of the portrait painter Sir William Beechey (1753-1839) and his first wife. Nothing is known of his education. In Aug 1815 he became secretary to Henry Salt, British consul-general in Egypt, who commented that he drew well and understood both French and Italian. In 1817 he was sent by Salt to oversee Giovanni Belzoni's excavations at Thebes and to make drawings of the monuments, including the interior of the newly discovered tomb of Seti I. He joined Belzoni and captains Charles Leonard Irby and James Mangles in digging out the buried temple of Abu Simbel, and some of his drawings illustrate this section of the captains' account of their travels. In 1818-1819 he accompanied Salt and William John Bankes to Abu Simbel and, with Bankes, made an unsuccessful attempt to reach Meroe in upper Nubia. Recalled to England by his father, he left Egypt in October 1819. During 1821-1822, having been appointed by Earl Bathurst for the Colonial Office, Beechey and his half-brother, Lieutenant Frederick William Beechey RN (1796-1856), surveyed the coastline of north Africa from Tripoli to Darnah. Henry's part was to examine and report on the antiquities of Cyrenaica, and he illustrated the chronicle of the expedition published by the brothers in 1828.

Beechey became a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1825. At the Royal Academy in 1829 he exhibited a seascape, and in 1838 a portrait of Mrs Worthington; another seascape was shown at the British Institution in 1838.

He wrote a painstaking and thoughtful memoir of Sir Joshua Reynolds, prefixed to the edition of the latter's 'Literary Works', published in 2 volumes, London, 1835, and afterwards reprinted in Bohn's 'Standard Library' edition, 2 volumes, London, 1852.

On 14 Nov 1824 Beechey married Maria Frost. His wife died, and on 23 Aug 1834 he married Harriet Eyres (1809/10-1864); there were children of both marriages. At the age of sixty-one and accompanied by Harriet, four of his children, and a daughter-in-law, he emigrated to New Zealand, arriving on 7 Feb 1851. He took up land and farmed it at Governors Bay, Lyttleton, near Christchurch, where he died of pulmonary congestion on 4 August 1862. He was buried in the cemetery at Lyttleton on 7 Aug.

Access Information

Available to view by appointment in the Heinz Archive and Library Public Study Room, to make an appointment contact Archive Reception . Although records are generally available for public consultation, some information in them, such as personal data or information supplied to the Gallery in confidence, may be restricted.

Other Finding Aids

The complete catalogue for this archive can be searched via the NPG Archive Catalogue .

Conditions Governing Use

Personal photography is permitted for research purposes only. Photocopying is not permitted.

Related Material

The NPG also holds papers of Sir William Beechey, these are catalogued under reference WB.

See also the papers of Sydney Chancellor [SC/1] for partial letter dated 1886 which contains brief mention of Henry William Beechey by one of his nieces.