Friday, 1 May 2015

Beyond the frame

A few months ago, I typed a name into an internet search engine and stumbled across a painting. The name was Dr John Grenfell Moyle, who I had just discovered was my great-great-great-grandfather, whilst I was investigating my family history and its links with Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. An idle curiosity into my family's beginnings soon developed into an obsession, a desire to discover every detail of their story.

Dr John Grenfell Moyle was a distinctive character, and his life holds a lot of fascination for me and I still have many questions. Born in Penzance, Cornwall, he followed his father into the medical business, becoming a surgeon/doctor and a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons. In 1849 he left Penzance, traveling west along the southern coast of Cornwall and over the 20plus miles from Lands End, to the archipelago that is the Isles of Scilly. Here Dr Moyle tended the sick and injured of the islands for over 40 years, marrying and having a large family. He returned to the Mainland in 1890, as a retired widow, aged approximately 73 and lived out his final days with his eldest daughter, and granddaughter, Emma and Margaretta who were both unmarried schoolmistresses in Reigate, Surrey.
Between tending the sick, and tending his family, Dr Moyle had another passion; painting. It would appear that he sketched from a young age, and as an adult became a prolific oil painter, capturing the dramatic granite coast of the Isles of Scilly and views of Penzance, as well as some historic moments for the region.

But what has become of these paintings, and the artist's story, since Dr Moyle was laid to rest in a cemetery in Reigate, more than a century ago? Some are hung in the Isles of Scilly Museum, others are in the archives of galleries, whilst an unknown number have dispersed into private hands. This time last year, my direct family and I did not even know the name Dr JG Moyle and any knowledge of his work as an artist and the existence of the paintings was at risk of being lost to the family entirely.
I have decided to change this, and record the story of this ordinary, yet remarkable man, his family and his work. To this end I have created http://moyleheritage.my-free.website/, a website collating a catalogue of all his known paintings and celebrating his memory, through which I would like to welcome contributions from members of the public, museums or galleries who may have information to help in my quest.

For months I have had a name, and knowledge of some oil paintings in ornate frames, and a gradual understanding of who was who, where they lived and what they did with their lives. This morning however, I was delighted to receive an envelope through the post from the National Archives. I had requested a copy of a document held by the archives which refers to a photo taken by Alexander Gendall Gibson, a notable Cornish photographer of the late 1800's. At long last, I can put a face to the name which has become so familiar.

Dr John Grenfell Moyle, 1890, by A.G.Gibson of Mounts Bay Studio Penzance.
Held by the National Archives, UK

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