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The Story Behind the Picture

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

A lady wears an elaborate Whitby Jet necklace, two brooches (one set with a painted plaque) and earrings. This photo was taken by John Waller at Pier Portrait Rooms, Whitby.

A photographic studio with a sinister tale to tell!

The business was originally owned by Mr. William Stonehouse and was the first to cater for the tourist trade as Whitby’s popularity as a holiday destination grew. The business was succeeded by John (his apprentice) after his death, however the chemicals used in the production of the photographs caused ill health to John and as the years progressed, his symptoms worsened until they became unbearable.

On New Year’s Day 1880, his worried assistant broke into his studio at the foot of Khyber Pass.

The Northern Echo reported: “He found the deceased laid on his back on the floor. All the vessels of his face were gorged with blood, and the pupils of his eyes were dilated. On the desk near the body was an empty tumbler, which smelled strongly of prussic acid.”

At 42 years old John Waller committed suicide by drinking “a solution of cyanide of potassium”.

The business was left to his Niece Isabel (who he also secretly and illegally married!) but within a year she was also dead, her death certificate reporting “Alcoholism 1 year.”

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