John Beer learned the art of photography in America, and returned to England in the late 1850s. The settings for his portraits were relatively simple when compared to many of his contemporaries in Southampton.
Carte de visite 1860s
Carte de visite, damaged by exposure to damp
John Beer was born it Topsham, Devon, and lived in America for many years before returning to England in the late 1850s. He was included in the list of Photographers in White's Hampshire Directory in 1859, at 9 Oxford Street. In America he lived in Ohio and Tennessee, and his only daughter, born in the USA, was named Tennessee. John Beer, his wife, and daughter stayed briefly with Beer's family in Devon in 1861, and the census record of that year listed John Beer as a Photographic Artist. In the same year the Southampton trade directory listed John Beer at 8 Oxford St in the section for Photographic Artists. The street numbering at the time was subject to regular change, and type setting errors in the directories were not unusual. So John Beer was probably in the same studio in 1859 and 1861.
John Beer and family returned to England from America shortly before events of the Civil War came to Southampton. In October 1861 the Confederate cruiser CSS Nashville docked in Southampton for repairs, after breaking through the Union blockade of Charleston and escaping across the Atlantic: capturing and burning the Northern merchantman The Harvey Birch on the way, and taking the crew on board as prisoners. The Nashville was the first Confederate ship seen in English waters, and the event was reported in the newspapers at the time with much speculation as to the real reason the Nashville had made for Southampton. John Beer's studio was only yards from the Nashville while docked in Southampton, and no doubt he was there to witness the drama that followed.
The Tuscarora and the Nashville in Southampton.
Image courtesy of The American Civil War Round Table UK.
The USS Tuscarora was sent to hunt down and destroy or capture the CSS Nashville. The Tuscarora arrived just as repairs to the Nashville were completed, and a tense stand off followed. The tension between the sailors from the ships spilled out into the bars and streets of Southampton. According to English law the 2 ships were not allowed to leave at the same time,and a confrontation in Southampton Water was avoided when the slower Nashville was permitted to leave 24 hours before the Tuscarora.
In 1864, Confederate officers and sailors were in Southampton again, see entry for Samuel Wiseman.
In 1869 Beer's wife died and his daughter married. Beer remarried in 1876, and continued to live and work at 9 Oxford St until he retired in the late 1870s. The 1881 census listed John Beer, retired photographer, his wife and her younger sister, living in Portswood. Beer continued to take photographs in his retirement, and a record exists for the sale of his photograph of the ruins at Netley Abbey to Arthur Scanlan in 1889(see entry for Scanlan).
Carte de visite late 1870s
After a long retirement, John Beer and his wife Margaret died within months of each other in Southampton in 1903.