Joseph Collyer the Younger

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Historical Context: 1748-1827

Joseph Collyer the Younger lived through a period of great social, political and artistic change. Click here to gain a brief picture of the philosophy and artistic developments of this age, and here to gain an insight into social and political developments of the period.

A Brief Family Profile

Joseph Collyer the Younger was born on Sunday 14 Sep 1748 in London(1), the third child and first son of Joseph Collyer the Elder and Mary (Mitchell) Collyer. Given the religious leanings of his parents it seems likely that his baptism took place in one of the many non-conformist chapels in London at that time, but we have not yet traced this event.

Joseph came into the world at what was undoubtedly a difficult time for his parents. His father had many creditors, and in 1747 was recorded as being a fugitive, seeking to avoid imprisonment in a debtors’ prison. In the event Joseph the Elder gave himself up in order to claim relief under an Insolvent Debtors’ Relief Act and although the court granted him relief in 1749, his use of his assets was severely curtailed, in order that his creditors could receive as much recompense as possible.

Although Joseph’s childhood was marked by financial difficulties, he must have received a very good education, which is not surprising when one considers the literary achievements of his parents. His mother – a very talented writer and translator – died when he was fifteen. He and his siblings then lived under the guardianship of his elder sister, Elizabeth until they attained the age of twenty one (2). The fact that Elizabeth took on the guardianship of her younger siblings makes me believe that she was over 21 when her mother died, and took over from her deceased mother in running her father’s household.

On Friday 6th November 1772 Joseph’s sister, Ann Collyer, married Charles Claringburn at St Andrew, Holborn, and Joseph signed the parish register as a witness to the event(3). In a sworn affidavit to the Court of Chancery dated 23 April 1773 (4) Joseph Collyer the Elder stated that his eldest son [Joseph] has then able to earn a livelihood, and was at that time maintaining his youngest sister – Catherine – who was at that time fifteen years old. Apparently Joseph the Elder was providing Catherine with clothing, whilst his eldest son was providing for her other needs.

On Saturday 16 December 1775 , at the age of 27, Joseph married Dulcybella Clayton at the church of St James Clerkenwell , London (5). Dulcybella was the youngest of seven children known to have been born to a certain George Clayton and his wife – Alice (nee Fowler). She was baptised on 22 May 1757 at Leyland , Lancashire (6), and had apparently been born and bred in Lancashire . We do not know when she had migrated to London, but note that her brother – John Clayton – was a celebrated Minister of the Independent church, and was active in the London area(7).

A transcription of the record of the marriage licence allegation(8) relating to the marriage of Joseph and Dulcybella can be seen by clicking here. Dulcybella was said to be a minor, of eighteen years and upwards, which I take to mean that she was 9 years younger than Joseph, and her father gave his permission for the marriage to take place. Given the fact that Joseph was a young artist, embarking on a successful high profile career, I believe that Dulcybella’s father must have been very pleased at the marriage. An interesting aspect of he marriage entry is that one of the two people who signed as witness to the event was the groom’s father – Joseph Collyer the Elder – who died eight weeks later.

Initially the couple lived at Clerkenwell. When their first child – Joseph Junior – was baptised on Wednesday 6 August 1777 the address recorded in the register(9) was Rosamund Street in the parish of St.James, Clerkenwell. Judging from the residential information included in the records of the baptisms of their next two children, Joseph and Dulcybella lived in Clerkenwell until at least March 1781. However, when their son John was baptised in 1783 the family was living at White Lion Row, Islington(10).

Joseph appears to have lived in the same area of London throughout his life. The annals of the Stationers’ Company record his addresses as follows:

Abt 1777 – Abt 1782 Rosamund Street , Clerkenwell
Abt 1783 – Abt 1788 White Lion Row, Islington
Abt 1789 – Abt 1792 Dorrington Street , Cold Bath Fields, London
Abt 1793 – Abt 1827 Constitution Row, Grays Inn Road , London (11)

As a matter of interest, it appears that the properties at White Lion Row and Dorrington Street remained in Joseph’s family after he no longer lived there.

In a Register of voters dated 1836 a certain Joseph Collyer, Stationer was listed, his address being stated as Dorrington Street (12). This entry would appear to refer to Joseph Junior, although we know from other records that he was living at Portsea, Hampshire at the time, and that he had previously lived at Holborn Hill, London (13). We also note that the Will of Joseph the Younger(14), which was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1828, bequeathed to Joseph Junior the leasehold property at White Lion Row, Islington. The Islington property was still in Joseph Junior’s possession in 1846(15)

In all, the union of Joseph and Dulcybella produced seven children:

Joseph Collyer (c1777 – 1846)
George Collyer (1779 – bef 1789)
Dulcybella Collyer (1781 – 1813)
John Collyer (1783 – 1840)
Robert Mitchell Collyer (1787 – 1859)
George Clayton Collyer (1789 – 1852)
Thomas Anthony Collyer (1790 – 1791)

Five of the children of Joseph and Dulcybella were baptised at Kingsweigh House Independent Chapel in the City of London (16), indicating that Joseph was of the Independent religion. Dulcybella’s brother – Rev John Clayton (mentioned above) – was Deacon at Kingsweigh House Independent Chapel in the city of London for 48 years from 1778(17), and baptised the Collyer children who were baptised in that chapel. A search of the Minute Books of that chapel, covering the relevant period, revealed no references to Joseph Collyer or his spouse, so I assume that they did not serve on any of the church’s committees.

On Saturday 12 June 1790 , at the age of 33, Dulcybella (Clayton) Collyer died(18). This was quite a young death, even allowing for the lower life expectancy of those days. The thought occurs to me that she may have died as a result of childbirth problems – a common occurrence in eighteenth century England . I do not know the precise date of Thomas Anthony Collyer’s birth, but his gravestone inscription leads me to believe he was born in April 1790. It seems quite possible that Dulcybella’s death about two months later was due to problems brought on by problems arising from his birth. Dulcybella was buried at Bunhill Fields(19), the large London burial ground that was the last resting place of many a non-conformist – including William Blake and Daniel Defoe.

St James Clerkenwell

St James Clerkenwell

Dulcybella’s death left Joseph with a young family to look after. His eldest child was just 13, and his youngest son was a mere two months old. I assume that he employed servants to help with bringing up his children, as there is no doubt that his busy working life (see below) would have left little time for domestic matters. Sadly, about eighteen months after becoming a widower, Joseph suffered the loss of his youngest son. Thomas Anthony Collyer died on 20 December 1791 , and was buried four days later – on Christmas Eve – in the same grave as his mother.

On Tuesday19 January 1796 Joseph married for the second time. His bride’s name was Mary Smith, aged 27 years(20), and they were married by licence at St James, Clerkenwell(21), the church shown in the photograph (see right). As far as we know Joseph and Mary had only one child – Mary Eden Collyer, who was born on 17 April 1798 (22). Sadly, the child died in June 1800, being buried with the other members of her family, at Bunhill Fields on 22 June 1800 (23).

Given Joseph’s status as an eminent artist, and Official Engraver to Queen Charlotte (see below), it seems reasonable to assume that his family enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle. Almost certainly the household would have included servants. It is likely that Joseph and his wife attended some grand social functions and were well connected socially.

Apart from his status as an artist, Joseph was also a prominent figure in the Stationers’ Company, serving on the Court of Assistants from 1809. He appears to have been a good servant of the Company, acting as an Under Warden in 1813-14, an Upper Warden in 1814-15, and Master in 1815-16(24).

Joseph Collyer the Younger was, apparently, an active member of The Bible Society. In a letter dated 28 January 1812 Joseph wrote to the famous artist, Benjamin West(25), referring to the possibility of him carrying out an engraving of one of West’s paintings, in order to raise funds for the Society.

I believe that the Bible Society referred to in this letter was the British and Foreign Bible Society, now known as “Bible Society”. According to the Cambridge University Library website(26) the society “ was founded in 1804 with the aim of supplying Bibles and New Testaments – Scriptures – without note or comment, on a world-wide basis, in a language people could understand and at a price they could afford. To achieve this it was soon realised that a collection of standard texts would be essential for reference, and a library was established. In its first year there were some 67 languages into which at least one book of the Bible had been translated…”

I think that his membership of this society and his undertaking of high office in the Stationers’ Company reflect well on Joseph’s character. He seems to have been an earnest man, and that impression is borne out by the lengthy obituary that was published in the Gentlemen’s Magazine of February 1828, and included the following:

‘… Mr.Collyer was a man of great regularity of habits, and punctual in all his dealings, even to the last, as a few hours before he died, he sent for a person to adjust an account which might have been misunderstood after his death. He was, indeed, conscientious in all his dealings, and proved that this conduct had its solid foundation in uniform piety.'(27)

Joseph Collyer the Younger died at his home on Monday 24 December 1827, and was buried at 4 pm four days later, in the Collyer family grave at Bunhill Fields(28). A transcription of his Will can be viewed by clicking here. His widow – Mary Collyer – lived on until 12 March 1839, when she died of old age at 30 Wilmington Square , Clerkenwell(29). She, also, was buried in the family grave at Bunhill Fields, on 18 March 1839 (30).

Bunhill Fields

Bunhill Fields

The photograph to the right of this text shows some of the many graves at Bunhill Fields Cemetery. Nowadays it is maintained as a very pleasant oasis of calm amid the hustle and bustle of the City of London.

If you would like to see an abbreviated family tree for the family of Joseph and his first wife, Dulcybella Collyer, you can do so by clicking here.

If you would like to see an abbreviated family tree for the family of Joseph and his second wife, Mary Smith, you can do so by clicking here.

Joseph Collyer the Younger – His Artistic Career

Mrs Fitzherbert, Engraved by Joseph Collyer

Mrs Fitzherbert, Engraved by Joseph Collyer (Yngr) from a painting by J Russell RA

To judge from his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Joseph Collyer the Younger was recognised as having artistic talent at an early age. In his early teens he was a pupil of the engraver Anthony Walker, and when his master died in 1865, Joseph’s artistic education was continued by Anthony Walker’s brother – William Walker(31).

At the age of thirteen Joseph Collyer won a prize for drawing at the Society of Arts, and in 1771, at the age of 22, he entered the Royal Academy Schools for training as an engraver(32). Also in 1771 Joseph received the Freedom of the Stationers’ Company by patrimony(33).

Joseph enjoyed a very successful career as an engraver. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in London for the first time in 1770 and for the last time in 1822. In between these dates he produced a great many fine engravings. Many of his works were published as illustrations in books, but he was also very skilled in portraiture. In 1786 Collyer was elected a member of the Royal Academy in London (ARA), and in the same year he was appointed as the official portrait engraver to Queen Charlotte, Consort to King George III.

If you click here you can see a Chronology, which lists the works of Collyer that we are aware of. This is not a complete list; there were certainly many more works by Collyer that have not come to our attention.

From time to time Joseph’s engravings appear in lists of works of art which are up for sale – many of these lists are posted on internet websites. Apart from giving us an opportunity to buy these engravings, these website listings allow us to see images of Joseph’s works. I am not an art expert, but I have found these opportunities to see Joseph’s engravings of great interest, and through them I have developed an admiration for the fine quality of his work. He was undoubtedly an extremely talented artist.

The National Portrait Gallery, London , contains a number of works by Joseph Collyer the Younger, some of which can be seen online at

Joseph Collyer the Younger – Citizen and Stationer

I mentioned above, in the section dealing with his artistic career, that Joseph became free of the Stationers’ Company on 2 July 1771 . He went on to enjoy a fine career in the service of the company. The list of his senior appointments reads as follow(34):

1809 Appointed to the Court of Assistants
1813-14 Under Warden
1814-15 Upper Warden
1815-16 Master

From the Stationers’ Company records of Apprenticeships we learn that Joseph had the following apprentices in the period up to 1800(35):

Ref. 1936
WILLIAM ALLEN (Father = HUGH ALLEN of Charing Cross ).
Date: 5 Sep 1775, 7 Yrs, £50 fee paid.

Ref. 1937
JOSEPH BAKER (Father = EDWARD BAKER of New St, Fetter Lane).
Date: 6 Jun 1780, Freed: 3 Jul 1787, 7 Yrs, £40 fee paid.

Ref. 1938
JOHN PRESTON BELL (Father =JOHN BELL of Royal Exchange, Bookseller). Date: 6 Feb 1798, Freed: 9 Aug 1814 7 Yrs, £40 fee paid.

Ref. 1939
CHARLES FOSTER BURDER (Father = WILLIAM BURDER (Dec)of Colebrook Row, Islington, Tripe Man).
Date: 4 Dec 1792, 7 Yrs.

Ref. 1941
JOSEPH COLLYER (Father = JOSEPH COLLYER of Dorrington St, Cold Bath Fields, Engraver).
Date: 2 Aug 1791, 7 years.
Note: Bound to his father. Turned over to JOHN SMITH 4 Aug 1795, and freed by him 4 Dec 1798 .

Ref. 1943
Date: 5 Jun 1792, Freed 2 Jul 1799, 7 yrs.
Note: Turned over to his father, Michael Compigne, 05Mar1793, and freed by him.

Ref. 1944
FRANCIS ENGLEHART (Father = THOMAS ENGLEHART, of Surrey , Sculptor). Date: 7 Dec 1790, 7 yrs.
£52 Fee paid (£8 of which was paid by the Treasurer of Christ’s Hospital).

Ref. 1945
JAMES HEATH (Father = GEORGE HEATH, of Butcher Row, Newgate St. , Bookbinder).
Date: 1 Oct 1771, Freed: 6 Jul 1779, 7 Yrs, £21 fee paid.

Ref. 1946
SAMUEL LIVERMORE (Father = EZRA LIVERMORE , of Islington, Watchmaker). Date: 6 Oct 1788, Freed 5 Jun 1798, 7 yrs, £50 fee paid.
Note: Turned over to his father, EZRA LIVERMORE, on 7 Apr 1789, & to JOHN LAKE 5 Jun 1798, when he was freed.

Ref. 1947
HENRY MOSES (Father = THOMAS MOSES, of Greenwich ).
Date: 2 May 1797, Freed 3 Feb 1807, 7 yrs, £84 fee paid.
Note: £21 per annum fee for his board for the first two years.

Ref. 1948
JOHN RUSSELL (Father = JOHN RUSSELL of Mortimer St .).
Date: 7 Dec 1784, 7 years, £63 Fee paid.

Ref. 1949
THOMAS SIMPSON (Father = THOMAS SIMPSON of St. Paul ‘s Church Yard, Drawing Master).
Date: 4 Aug 1795, 7 yrs.

Ref. 1950
Date: 5 May 1795, 7 yrs, £105 Fee paid.

Ref. 1951
CHARLES STUART (Father = CHARLES STUART of Tower St, Winemerchant). Date: 1 Dec 1795, 7 yrs.

Ref. 1952
JOHN WALKER (Father = JOSEPH WALKER of Islington, Watchmaker).
Date: 7 Dec 1784, 7 yrs, £5 Fee paid by the Treasurer of Christ’s Hospital.

Among the assets of Joseph Collyer the Younger when he died was £400 worth of shares in the Stationers’ Company – a considerable sum of money in 1827(36). He died a prosperous man who, as I have shown above, was highly regarded by his contemporaries. There is much research still to be done into the life of this most interesting man, and I hope that I shall be able to add further to the information on these pages in the future. If you are interested in Joseph Collyer, his family, or the Collyer clan in general I hope that you will contact me by clicking here.


I would like to acknowledge the invaluable help given to me in my research over a period of years by the following people:

  • Helen Mitchell, of Muxton, Shropshire, UK

  • Dulcy Collyer Thomas Bryan, of Charlottesville, Va, USA

  • Alice Latter of McLean, Virginia, USA

G M Culshaw December 2006
Updated December 2007

You can see references for the material displayed on this page by clicking here.

  • This page was last updated on Saturday July 2nd, 2011.