#52Ancestors Week 16: “Both defendants replied in the negative”

Recently, I was lucky enough to see some photos of family that I’d never seen before. One was taken by ‘Dowsing’ on Double Street in Framlingham.

A photographer seemed a good start when looking to write a post about ‘negatives’ for Week 16 of 52 Ancestors.

But when I went looking for this photographer’s negatives in the newspapers, I found something completely unexpected…but right up my street.

“In answer to the question, both defendants replied in the negative.”

But what was the question?

Who was the photographer ‘Dowsing’ in Framlingham?

Channing Fairhead Dowsing was recorded as a Tailor and Photographer in 1911. At that time, he lived with his parents, Channing (Tailor and Outfitter) and Sarah, along with several siblings on Double Street. 

Channing Jr (as we’ll call him for clarity throughout this post) was born in Fram in 1884. He can be found in local directories as a photographer for several years after 1911 and into the 1920s. You can find a portrait of the man himself (or perhaps a self-portrait) within the Framlingham Historical Archive. 

Although some sites state that he continued his business into the late 1920s, this seems unlikely (!); Channing Jr died in 1925 at Ipswich’s Sanitorium. (The discrepancy on other sites may be due to a lag in information in local directories being updated.)

He was only 40. 

Channing Jr left a wife, Grace, and a toddling son. In May 1925, “Mr and Mrs Dowsing and widow” placed a notice in the Framlingham Weekly News to thank “all friends for their sympathy and kind enquiries during a long and trying illness”.

In the same edition of the newspaper, an obituary ran. I’ve referenced the full article below, but here is the key part for our purposes:

“The deceased as a young man gave every promise of a useful career. When he left the College [Framlingham, one assumes] at 16 years of age, full of energy and growth, he entered the office of the County Surveyor at Ipswich, but unfortunately contracted pleurisy, which developed seriously, and he was an inmate for some time at East Suffolk Hospital. Eventually he apparently regained his strength, but he was never the same man again, and a series of periodical illnesses ended [in his death]. Between the times of these attacks he engaged in photography, of which he acquired a thorough knowledge and in which he had developed a successful business.”

Pleurisy can be generally described as inflammation of the chest and lung tissue, a symptom with many different causes. Going back to the early C20th, when Channing became ill, specific diagnoses were more difficult. Pleurisy could have been a symptom of something viral, like influenza, or bacterial, like tuberculosis, as well as a consequence of several other diseases.

Where do the non-photographic negatives come in?

Channing Jr and Channing Sr appeared in the newspaper together long before Framlingham had a Dowsing photography business on Double Street. In fact, Channing Jr was still only a year old.

We’re off on a segway here, so bear with me.

“Channing Dowsing and Rev. W. R. Mullett, both of Framlingham, were charged by Ellis Stafford Gleed, relieving officer, Framlingham, with neglecting to have their children vaccinated, named Channing and Ella, and Albert and Violet, respectively.

Defendants pleaded guilty, both stating that they did not believe vaccination was a preventative of small pox, but on the contrary transmitted many other diseases into the system.

The Chairman stated that they were bound to make them obey the law, which was made for the good of the community at large, but if they allowed defendants time to re-consider the matter would they consent to have their children vaccinated.

In answer to the question both defendants replied in the negative.

For the two eldest children both defendants were fined 10/- and costs 10/- each; and 10/- costs each for the two youngest, in default of distress 14 days’ imprisonment.”

On Saturday, 25 September 1886, when Channing Dowsing Sr stood in Framlingham Court House, the law of the land said that smallpox vaccination was compulsory. Channing Sr was by no means the only man to find himself in court for refusing to vaccinate his children. However, he is the first I have come across in Framlingham since I wrote my MSc dissertation on resistance to smallpox vaccination in Norwich, over the border in Norfolk. I wonder now how many more anti-vaccinators there were in Victorian Framlingham; something to investigate another day, especially as Channing Sr has so much in common with his city counterparts.

This case is another reminder that resistance to vaccination is not a new phenomenon. Whether or not Channing Jr was eventually vaccinated is unknown (to me, as I write this post, at least). Still, by the time Channing Jr’s last siblings were born, certificates of exemption were available to his parents as conscientious objectors.

In 1928, only a few years after Channing Jr died, Wickham Market had a smallpox outbreak that worried the residents of Framlingham; by then, it was claimed only 50% of children in the town were vaccinated. Thankfully, outbreaks became fewer and further between, partly as a consequence of vaccination. Channing Sr lived long enough to see the end of compulsory smallpox vaccination in England in 1948 and the last natural outbreak in the US in 1949. 

A Framlingham legacy

Almost all of Channing Fairhead Dowsing’s surviving photographs are now at least a century old. My family, for one, will treasure his images for many years to come. I suspect countless other local families hold similar mementoes; this post has made me appreciate the incredible legacy a Victorian-born photographer could leave a community!

What started as a foray into learning about a local photographer led to another story altogether: one that reflects the policies and politics of its time and that resonates through to 2022 as we continue to grapple with the best ways to protect public health while not infringing too far on personal liberties.

And that perhaps is why those of us who research in old records enjoy the trail so much. We rarely land where we expect, and what we find so often reverberates today.  


Framlingham Weekly News. 23 May 1925. Deaths (see also, Obituary, in neighbouring column). p. 2. Accessed: britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk 

Framlingham Weekly News. 2 October, 1886. Anti-Vaccinators. p. 4. Accessed: britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk 

Framlingham Weekly News. 10 March, 1928. Small-Pox Outbreak. p. 4. Accessed: britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk 

2 Responses

  1. Interesting article. My curiosity why has he got Fairhead in his name? Mothers maiden name? Interested as Nickels family have connections marriage with Fairheads from Tunstall and Orford.

    1. Thank you 🙂

      Yes, Fairhead was his mother’s maiden name (Sarah Elizabeth, born Alderton – just a stone’s throw from Orford and a little further from Tunstall).

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