Family Gems ׀ The Surgeon of Crowthorne
William Chester Minor seated in the grounds at Broadmoor, 1890s. (Minor Family Archives)
For a Picture Editor, it is truly exhilarating when you unearth a gem. My ‘gem’, or rather ‘gems’, were the watercolours painted by William Chester Minor, which are published for the first time in the Folio edition of Simon Winchester’s The Surgeon of Crowthorne.
I worked on this project for many months, and no matter who I asked, it seemed that the watercolours mentioned in the text had not survived. I had almost given up hope, when I received a lifeline shortly before my deadline.
At the start of the project, Simon Winchester had kindly put me in touch with Jack Minor, one of the few known living relatives of William Chester Minor. It was through Jack, a few months later, that I learnt of two further members of the family – Edward Minor Prince and Gregory S. Prince Jr, direct descendants of Edward Eastman Minor, William Chester Minor’s legal guardian. I contacted them immediately via email and kept my fingers crossed. To my delight, I received a call from Edward and, with his brother Gregory on speakerphone, we began to chat about the project. I could hardly contain my excitement when Gregory retold the following story:
My grandfather had owned several hundred of W. C. Minor’s watercolours, some sent as postcards, others that he inherited as Minor’s legal guardian. When my mother travelled to New Haven to sort out my grandfather’s possessions after his death, I had the good fortune, as a very young boy, of accompanying her. As she went through each room separating the contents into what would be shipped to our home in Maryland, what would be offered to other relatives, and what would be thrown out, I silently followed her, sifting through the ‘throw-out’ pile and moving items over to the ‘save’ pile to come home with me. Being a stamp collector at the time, I was particularly interested in items displaying stamps, and since many of the watercolours were on cards or in envelopes with stamps I simply moved all of them over to the ‘save’ pile. Years later, a large number of the paintings were destroyed in our flooded basement. I retained those that were not destroyed, but beyond liking them or finding those on the back of Civil War muster rolls of historical interest, I did not fully appreciate their provenance until Simon Winchester published his book.
Shown here are two examples of William Chester Minor’s watercolours. I extend my thanks to his family for all their help and especially to a small stamp-collecting boy.
Pensacola Lighthouse, near Fort Barrancas, Florida, 1866. The above watercolour was painted on the back of
an old Army muster roll shown below. (With kind permission of Edward Minor Prince and Gregory S. Prince Jr. families)
Sailing boat, possibly Pensacola Bay, Florida, c.1867. (With kind permission of Edward Minor Prince and Gregory S. Prince Jr. families
Read more about the new Folio edition of The Surgeon of Crowthorne here.