Archive Services tell us more about the fascinating collection of photojournalist Alexander Low who recently gifted the Archive his own collection of papers and photographs as well as material created by his ancestors. His Low family papers, as well as those of seven other families related to the Lows, comprise legal documents, financial papers and photographs. We’ve already glimpsed how letters across the collection can tell the story of each individual, so now we turn to their artworks. 

The oldest in the collection is a small, annotated water colour of a battle at Naples, given to James Chabot, signed and dated 1810, with a description of the battle. Chabot traded as a Merchant in Malta between 1804 -1815 then moved briefly to London before settling in Mexico where his daughter married into the Low family. 

Watercolour of Naples naval battle

The more usual kind of artwork can be found in Eliza Hally’s scrapbook album which apart from some printed views, also contains handwritten verses, and illustrations of flora and fauna mostly done while she was living in Madeira with her husband in the early 19th century.

Watercolour of a dove and flower
Watercolour c 1837

Many members across the families used sketches and watercolours to record episodes in their lives, particularly members of the Low family. Before his death in 1914, Gerald Low filled several sketch books. His talent stretched from scenic watercolour sketches to cartoons, recording scenes around his home and while on holiday. He was evidently drawing from an early age and his cartoon suggests Gerald had a sense of humour.


His mother, Annie, also had talent and the collection contains several sketchbooks and bundles of watercolours, most from before her marriage. Judging from the range of scenes, Annie seems to have travelled quite widely across the UK. Her artworks also refer to her family roots, including a sketch of Glenfarne Hall which was the residence of Sir Edward Harland, founder of Harland & Wolff, Annie’s uncle 

Seaview Kintyre, 1887

Her husband, AG Low, also used his pencil to record his roots. AG travelled extensively all of his life, both for business and pleasure, his sketchbooks recording scenes and details, landscapes, seascapes and buildings from across the UK, Europe, North Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas. AG had been born in Mexico where his father was a cotton manufacturer, and in 1928, aged 75, he returned and sketched the factory at La Hormiga, recording the genesis of the Low family fortune.  Sketch of factory

It’s perhaps not surprising that these sketchbooks had been kept by the family. Travelling with the relatively slow and bulky technologies of 19th century cameras would have been less attractive than carrying a sketchbook and pencil to record and then be able to reminisce about places visited. There’s also evident appreciation of the scenes the Low’s witnessed which they fortunately had the talent to capture. However, despite AG Low’s adherence to the sketchbook right up to his death, he did embrace the camera and was an enthusiastic amateur photographer, an interest developed into a career by his grandson, photo-journalist Alex Low The final blog post in this series will explore his photography. 

The full description of the collection is online Alex Low collection  

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