As gruesome as it may seem today, during the Victorian era there was a widely accepted trend for taking photographs of the deceased. Some pictures even showed the dead as if they were still living, being washed and clothed in their Sunday best, arranged in a naturalistic pose with their parents or their siblings.

Such a concept may seem disturbing to our modern sensibilities, but for many poorer families this was the one occasion when they could justify the cost of employing a professional photographer; with that single post-mortem image being the only visible record of what had once been a cherished life.

The VV will post one image here: a poignant scene in which two living children stand beside the bed in which their sister's body lies. The living appear to be brave and resigned, and yet they also look quite blurred, almost 'ghostly' in their forms, which has come about as the result of not remaining completely still during the time it would have taken for the film to be exposed.

Ironically, their sister is completely focussed and clear to see because, unlike the living her corpse remained immobile.


  1. Cynthia Barlow Marrs14 November 2009 at 19:39

    Very moving, thank you for this. Sorry it took me so long to read it -- lots of catching up to do on the Virtual Victorian

  2. Thank you, Cynthia. It is a moving photograph - the pictures of other relatives on the walls - the doll behind the bed. To post it seemed almost like an invasion of privacy.

  3. I have a few such pictures of some my ancestors siblings. Yes, they are rather distressing to look at...

  4. That's quite something to own, Neo-Victorianist - must be particularly moving if the pictures are of your own relations.

  5. If I had no living memory of a loved child, I would certainly have taken the opportunity to have a professional photo of him/her before the burial. Memories fade, but a photo lasts forever.

    1. Absolutely, Hels. We have so many other memories today - snapshots, selfies, films. Very few records then.

  6. I can't deny I find this rather gruesome but I also now that the Victorians didn't view death as we do. For them, it was much more of a daily life kind of thing because they were exposed to it much more than we are today (for example, medicine that wasn't as advanced as it is today so people died of diseases that modern medicine can treat today, as well as many women and babies dying in the birthing process because of sanitation issues, poor health care, etc). So for the Victorians, death wasn't as sacred a thing as it is for us today, I think.

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