Shad takes a peek at the Jefferies past

From a pin-point image on a pewter plate with a mix of toxic chemicals, to the invention of Polaroids and into the digital age, the photographic process has undergone a series of radical transformations and improvements.  In the early 1800’s, photography was a hobby accessible only to professionals or the very rich, but now it is open to the mass market with modern electronic media allowing both professionals and amateurs the chance to produce high quality images that can be stored and shared at the touch of a button.  Many of the photos John and I looked at over the weekend were taken on 35mm film cameras with a small single lens and no focussing adjustment.  But their beauty and simplicity helps to keep history alive as I discovered when John told me some tales of the people posing in the portraits.

Thomas J Jefferies (John’s great uncle) served in the Royal Navy and spent time aboard a training ship called the HMS Impregnable (launched in 1810).  It was a 98 gun 3-decker ship with a wooden hull and I imagine life for the crew was hard.  Food was generally boiled by the cook in a large copper pot and weevils were regularly found in the bread.  The food must have been of a questionable quality given that the only way of preserving meat was to keep it in salt and most other foodstuffs were supplied dried.  Having said that, Thomas J Jefferies probably faced many dangers from life at sea as well as disease and the perils of war, so mealtimes were probably considered one of the highlights of the day.

Photography must be in the blood as John’s great great grandfather William J Cornwill (1861 to 1943) was also a photographer.  He must have witnessed some exciting changes in photography because he would have been around when a man called George Eastman started a company called Kodak in the 1880’s.  Eastman created a flexible roll film that didn’t require the constant changing of solid plates and created a self-contained box camera that held 100 exposures of film.  The user would take pictures and send the whole camera to the factory for the film to be developed, giving rise to the first camera cheap enough for the average person to afford.  Strong opinions also run in the family apparently as William J Cornwill was an exponent of reinstating Middlesex as a county and he even appeared in the local Surrey Comet to state his views.  For those of you that would appreciate a quick history update at this point, the City of London in the 12th century was able to exert political control over Middlesex and began to expand its boundaries resulting in problems with the administration of local government.  Eventually Middlesex became absorbed into Greater London with small sections in other neighbouring counties.

William J Cornwill was married to Fanny Withers, an entertainer on stage, and had several children, as was the trend in those days.  Two of his sons, William F Cornwill and Douglas W Cornwill, served in the First World War and one son named Horace Courtland Jason Cornwill was reported missing in action on 7th October 1916.  He survived as a prisoner of war in Germany working in the coal mines before being ex-patriated on 15th February 1919.  All this information might have been lost if it weren’t for the fragile black and white pictures that John has kept safe all these years and the names and dates written on the back of many of them.  Traditional film-based photochemical methods of photography are now a part of its past and new technology does have many practical advantages.  But whatever methods you use to store your photos, whether it’s in an album or in a cloud, you should write about them or label them so your history is never forgotten and your memories can be kept alive.

These are taken from the many photo’s passed down to John from members of his family!

Shad does the Field Gun Run

Do you know how much a field gun weighs?  It’s around 1250 lbs, which works out to about 567kg or more than 100 Shad the Cats.  For those of you who are wondering, a field gun is a moveable piece of artillery that fires a heavy shell from a long barrel and is often used in the field to support front-line troops.  Once a year, the Royal Navy Field Gun Competition is held at HMS Collingwood’s open day in Fareham near Portsmouth (Hampshire) and John took me to see this spectacular event.  He carried me through the car park and people kept stopping to stroke me.  I tried to oblige with some head-dips, chin-lifts and friendly meows but when we heard the rhythmic sound of a military band suggesting the action was about to start, we had to press on.


The Field Gun Run features 22 crews from across the UK and Gibraltar competing for the coveted Brickwoods Trophy and is supported by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, as well as the British Army and Royal Air Force.  It’s a tribute to the Royal Navy’s involvement in the relief of Ladysmith in Southern Africa during the Boer War in 1900.  Guns from HMS Powerful were hauled to Ladysmith by the ship’s naval brigade to defend the town against attack.  Special carriages and mountings for these guns had been improvised by Captain Percy Scott of the cruiser HMS Terrible and dispatched in HMS Powerful in Durban.  Later, Commander Scott played a key role in conceiving the idea of Field Gun competitions, with the first taking place at the Royal Tournament of 1907.  Today, 22 teams compete in this spectacle of strength, discipline and teamwork.


The competition was fast and furious, with each 18-man team gritting their teeth and pouring with sweat as they demonstrated sheer determination to run, dismantle, reassemble and fire the gun in the shortest possible time.  It must have taken weeks of physical training to develop the stamina essential for this challenge and the super fit crews did themselves and their services proud, maintaining the spirit of the Royal Navy’s contribution to the liberation of Ladysmith.  The same could be said for the Tiger Motorcycle display team – a group of children aged 5 to 16 years who captured everyone’s imagination with their tricks, stunts and jumps.


Witnessing such energy and endurance made me feel highly motivated to set myself a personal challenge, but after much deliberation, the best I could come up with was chasing my peacock feather toy around the lounge for more than 3 minutes.  That does seem a little lame compared to the trials and achievements of all those represented at HMS Collingwood’s open day so I decided to put aside my new-found vivacity and concentrate instead on cleaning up my fur after being petted by the sticky mits of excited children earlier on.  My next challenge would be racing John to the door and climbing the food trolley to select that evening’s tasty treat!