Biography: Inglis Synnott

Figure 1.--This 1848 painting show Robert Henry Inglis and Henretta Louisa Synnott. Inglis was 11 years old and wears a dress and strap shoes/slipprs like his little sister. Note that he, unlike his sister, wears pantalettes. Interestingly, perhaps characteristic of a boy, one of his strap shoes is not done up--rather strange for a formal painting.

Some interesting information on Inglis Synnot is included in a a biography of English writer E.M. Forster's great aunt, Marianne Thornton. It is entitled A Domestic Biography 1797-1887. His great aunt lived from reign of George III through the latter years of Queen Victoria's reign. A painting of Inglis and his sister provide an interesting view as to how wealthy children were dressed in the early Victorian era.


The family connections are a little complicated. We had thought that the children shown here were the daughter and son of Capt. Walter Synnott. Their mother was Marianne Thornton's sister Laura (figure 1). Marianne Thorton was related to E.M. Forster noted for A Passage to India and Howard's End, books which persue issues concerning class differences. The boy here is Robert Henry Inglis. His younger sister Henretta Louis was born in 1841. There was a third child. A reader writes, "The piece on the Synnott children could use some looking into. Laura Thornton, Marianne's sister, married Charles Forster (parents of E.M. Forster). I can find no record of Capt. Walter marrying Laura. Sir Walter Synnott m. Ann Elizabeth (nee Martin) and had Richard Walter who married Henrietta Thornton who had Robert Henry Inglis and Henrietta Louisa who, I believe, are the subjects of the portrait by George Richmond. It is interesting to note that Robert Henry apparently was known by his third name, Inglis." Dennis Martin Stapeton


Inglis was born in 1837. We have little information about his childhood. Given the fact that two portraits were done of the children and the fact that they were very well dressed, suggests that Inglis grew up in very compfortable surroundings and had an upper-class childhood. The posing of the portrait suggests that there was a close, affectionate relationship between brother and sister.


The charming image here shows the Synnott children in 1848. The engraving shown here was done by the famous engraver and painter, George Richmond (1809-1896). Verification of this can be found in the E.M. Forster archives which are kept at King's College Cambridge, readers may want to consult the catalog. We were unsure if Richmond was both the painer and engraver, but apparently he was. An Australian reader tells us that thereis another portrait of an earlier generation of Synnot children, the three children of Capt. Walter Synnot. It was done by Joseph Wright of Derby (1781), the original of which is in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. HBC does not have an image of that portrait.


The painting provides a good illustration of upperclass English childrens wear during the 1840s. Inglis was 11 when painted and wears a dress just like his little sister. Inglis has short hair, his dress is above the knees. He wears pantelettes trimmed with lace and ribbon, and white anklets and strap shoes. In contrast his sister has long curled hair parted in the middle with hair bows, long stocking and strap shoes without pantelettes. Except for the short hair, there isn't much about Inglis' outfit that suggests modern boys' clothing. It is interesting to note in the painting that 11-year old Inglis wears pantalettes, but his younger sister does not. I believe the rational here is that it was more acceptable for younger children to have bare legs. It was apparently deemed proper for Inglis, the older child, to modestly cover his bare legs below the knee--even though he was a boy.

Genelogical Research

A Synnott genealogist provides some background on the family. Sir Walter Synnott (1742-1821) married Jane Seton. They had three children, Marcus, Walter and Maria. These are the three which appear in the Joseph Wright painting which was done in 1781, (36 years before Inglis was born). As an aside, the painting appears in the excellent film "Gosford Park". The son Walter became a Captain in the army and emigrated to Australia. An Australian reader reports, "I do not have any details of his family or descendents but my fellow genealogist is descended from Capt. Walter. Sir Walter (Senior) married a second time after Jane died and his wife was Anne Martin, sister of my wife's ancestor." Sir Walter and Anne had three children, the youngest of whom was Richard Walter Synott (1812-41) . Richard married Henrietta Thornton in 1836, daughter of Henry Thornton the influential banker and grand daughter of Henry Thornton, member of the Clapham Sect and devoted friend of William Wilberforce, the British anti-slavery crusader. Richard and Henrietta Synnot had two children, Henry Robert Inglis Synnot and Henrietta Synnot. Our Australian reader asks, "I am wondering if these are the two in Richmond's painting rather than children of Capt. Walter who would have been 64 when Inglis was born in 1837." There is much else to unravel including E.M. Forster's exact relationship with Marianne, the interesting acquisition of the given names "Henry Robert Inglis" which is identical with the entire name "Robert Harry Inglis" who was an English Member of Parliament and part of the same social set. (You will see reference to pictures of Robert Inglis on the King's College Cambridge website.) What is fascinating, is that Inglis is the dedicatee of a book written by Anne Martin sister's Selina.


There was little information about Inglis' education in the book, but I don't think he attended boarding school. I think he was home schooled. England's famed "Public" schools had existed for centuries and many new ones were being created. In the 1840s, however, it was not a required rite of passage to attend them as became the case by the end of the century. The schools were still very rough places with no set age of matriculation. As a result, aristocratic and affluent families in the early and mid 19th century would commonly educate their children at home. Boys sent off to these boarding schools would be dressed in more boyish clothes. Boys educated at home, however, would be dressed as their mother saw fit. As with Inglis, this could mean dresses and pinafores or smocks well past the age that most boys had been breeched. I know that both the children had governesses when they were young and they both probably had tutors. The family valued education and all the family members were copious letter writers.

Adult Life

Very little information is available on the adult Inglis. In 1859 he went to Canada with the intention of buying some land and staying perminatily. He wrote Marianne a long letter describing his adventures visiting Niagara Falls. He stayed in Canada until at least 1865 because many of his letters to Marianne discuss the progress of the American Civil War. However, he eventually returned to England and married Mary Weston. I believe he settled down to an uneventful life. He apparently became a photographer. He died at a relatively n early age in 1873.


Stapeton, Dennis Martin. R-mail, August 23, 2005.


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Created: August 31, 1998
Last updated: 1:37 AM 8/24/2005