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John Dillwyn Llewelyn

John Dillwyn Llewelyn was a botanist and photographer active in the 19th century. He was born in Wales at The Willows, Swansea on 12 January 1810, the son of Lewis Weston Dillwyn (born 1778, died 1855), the naturalist, and his wife, Mary Adams (born 1776, died 1865). He was educated privately by tutors, and then at Oriel College, Oxford, from the age of 17.

On 18 June 1833 he married Emma Thomasina Talbot (born 1808, died 1881), a cousin of the pioneering photographer William Henry Fox Talbot. Llewelyn's own experiments with photography began in February 1839 at his house, Penlle'r-gaer, near Swansea.

Daguerreotype photographs of orchids grown at Penlle'r-gaer taken by Llewelyn were sent to William Hooker, the director of Kew Gardens, in January 1842. This was one of the first times, if not the first time, that the photographic process was used for the identification of botanical specimens.

In 1846 the first issue of the Horticultural Society's Journal featured an illustrative article on the steam heated Orchid House which Llewelyn had built at Penlle'r-gaer in 1835. For several years specimens of his orchids were used to illustrate Samuel Curtis's Botanical Magazine.

In addition to the Orchid House Llewelyn also created two lakes at Penlle'r-gaer. On one of these, in 1848, he demonstrated the first electric motor boat in Britain. It was made from a model built by his friend Benjamin Hill of Clydach. He also constructed a waterfall on the site and in 1852 an equatorial observatory.

In the 1840s Llewelyn worked with fellow photographer Antoine Claudet on experiments in photography. Llewelyn was elected to the first council of the newly formed Photographic Society of London (now the Royal Photographic Society) in 1852 and was nominated its first country vice-president on 21 December 1854. He regularly exhibited his works at their shows.

At the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855, four of his photographs won him a silver medal of honour. One of the works, Clouds over St Catherines, Tenby, 1854, included a cloud taken in the same exposure. This was perhaps the first time this had been accomplished. In addition to exhibtions, many of his works appeared published in periodicals, such as Sunbeam, and in albums.

Ever the experimenter, in addition to the daguerreotype, Llewelyn was also aware of the calotype process and in 1856 he announced his own oxymel process whereby, through a mixture of honey and vinegar, the period between the preparation, use and development of the collodion plates was greatly extended.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1836, a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1837, and an FRAS in 1852. He was also a council member of the Amateur Photographic Association in the 1870s.

In addition to botany and photography, Llewelyn was also involved in politics and philanthropy. From 1834 to 1835 he was the high sheriff of Glamorgan. In 1836 he was deputy lieutenant. In 1843, he participated in helping Captain Napier and the police quell a local Rebecca Riot at the Pontardulais toll gate. As a magistrate, he also sat on the bench at the trial in Cardiff which had resulted from the Rebecca riots in south Wales.

From 1871 to 1879 Llewelyn and his wife lived at 39 Cornwall Gardens, London. In 1878, at a cost of £20,000, he donated 42 acres of land, known as Knapp Llwyd, to create Parc Llewelyn for the people of Swansea. For years he was also a member of the Swansea school board, however, he publicly criticised them for wasting ratepayer's money in 1877.

In 1879 Llewelyn and Emma moved to Atherton Grange, Somerset Road, Wimbledon, Surrey. Emma died at Atherton Grange in 1881. Llewelyn died 16 months later on 24 August 1882. Both were buried in Penlle'r-gaer church in Glamorgan and survived by their many children: Thereza (born 1834, died 1926), John Talbot (born 1836, died 1927) Emma Charlotte (born 1837, died 1928), Elinor (born 1844, died 1887) and Lucy (born 1846, died 1920).


Archives Network Wales, 'Dillwyn-Llewelyn Collection', <> [accessed 18 December 2007]

City and County of Swansea, Swansea Heritage.Net, <> [accessed 18 December 2007]

George Eastman House, Still Photograph Archive, 'John Dillwyn Llewelyn Series', <> [accessed 18 December 2007]

Harvard University Library, 'Llewelyn, John Dillwyn, 1810-1882. Landscapes, Still Life, and Views of Penllergare, Wales, and Dorset: Guide', <> [accessed 18 December 2007]

Morris, Richard Leslie, John Dillwyn Llewelyn, 1810-1882: the First Photographer in Wales (Cardiff: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1980).

- Llewelyn, John Dillwyn (1810–1882)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) <> [accessed 18 December 2007]

-‘The orchid house at Penllergare’, Gower, 44 (1993), pp. 134–49.

The Penllegare Trust <> [accessed 18 December 2007]

National Archives, National Register of Archives, <> [accessed 18 December 2007]

Skinner, Robert. 'John Dillwyn Llewelyn's People's Park'. Gower, 57 (2006), pp. 59-68.

Associated Places