Alfred Arthur (1816–c.1890) was baptized at All Saints church, Southampton on 24 August 1816, the son of Alexander and Rebecca Arthur (see link below). His early years were spent in Europe, effectively on the Grand Tour, studying at the National Schools of Art of Paris and Rome under such masters as Paul Delaroche and his father-in-law Horace Vernet and collecting objets d'art. He returned to Southampton c.1842 and immediately set up as a teacher of painting and drawing on the lines of “the continental system of drawing according to the new systems” (July 1842 advertisement) recently sanctioned both by the Royal Academy of Art in London and the Committee of the Privy Council on Education. It was based on drawing from models and allowed the simultaneous instruction of a large number of pupils who had no previous artistic experience: in effect the democratisation of art teaching. Alfred immediately and aggressively began to recruit pupils, with public lectures to large and enthusiastic audiences in the Polytechnic Institution and the Victoria Rooms. He opened classes in a variety of locations: his private academy at 9 Carlton Place; his private studios at the Masonic Lodge, Bugle Street; the Polytechnic Institution in Hanover Buildings; and a select class at his residence in the Polygon, where his mother ran a girls' boarding school. He also lectured on lineal drawing, laying down a clear and concise system of perspective. The initiative seems quickly to have evaporated. In May 1851 he became effectively bankrupt.

The last forty years of Alfred's life are a study in delusion and decline. He continued offering art classes, but these became a strange hybrid fusing two of his early experiences, giving “simultaneous instruction, private or in classes, in oil and water colour painting, and various kinds of drawing, architectural landscape, and figures, chalks, pastelles, &c, through the medium of the French and other languages, whereby their conversational acquirements with rapid progress in the Arts and Sciences are ensured” (December 1863 advertisement). His interest in art was now shared with an interest in civil engineering. He unsuccessfully memorialised Southampton Town Council in August 1852 for a plan, allegedly supported by many medical men, clergymen and gentlemen, to create open air, salt water baths enclosed in an embanked reservoir on the Western Shore. This was to be fed by a pipe inserted in the mid-channel of the river, thus avoiding the accumulations of mud and animalculae [microorganisms] close to the shore. The structure would also serve as a good clean hard for landing and in winter serve as a dock for repairing and housing small yachts and boats. A patent was granted to Alfred, describing himself as civil engineer, in 1860 for “Obtaining and applying motive power”. It is probably in an attempt to capitalize on this invention that Alfred placed a rather curt newspaper advertisement in June 1872: “The greatest and most useful invention of the age. Continuous hydraulic motion by sea, land, machinery. Wanted, a partner with small capital”. Four years later he was describing himself as “surveyor and architect”. Our final view of Alfred is in Southampton in November 1889, claiming to be a representative of a perpetual lighting company about to meet Alfred Giles (engineer to Southampton Dock Company) and others interested in the welfare of the town.

Alfred lived a peripatetic life. He continued his connection with his mother's school in the Polygon until her death - recorded, for example as holding art classes for ladies in December 1863 - but was not always living there: a lodger in Lower Lyon Street, Newtown in the 1851 census and at 13 Fourposts in 1863. Subsequently he is to be found at a succession of addresses east of the River Itchen: Old Netley in the early 1870s (at Maecenas Cottage, offering instruction in the arts, sciences and languages); Bursledon in 1876; Albert Road, Pear Tree Green in 1881; Woolston in 1882; Spring Road, Sholing and then Curdridge in 1883; Bishop's Waltham in 1885; Botley in 1886; and of no fixed abode in November 1889. The last twenty years of Alfred's life were punctuated by acts of violence or threats of violence against him, revealed in a series of cases before the county magistrates, almost all originated by the victim. In May 1876 he was threatened by his landlord after refusing to vacate his house when asked: Alfred told the court that he feared assassination. In January 1876 he was assaulted - while reading the Queen's Speech - by a drunken man in Itchen Bridge Road. In January 1882 a youth was summoned for threatening behaviour: his dismissal was greeted by applause in the court. In March 1863 lads threw clods of earth at him, forcing his move to another village. In July 1883 there was another charge of assault and beating. In November 1885 his furniture suffered wilful damage. In all but one case the charge was dismissed or dropped. The denouement came in two cases heard before Southampton Police Court. In February 1886 Alfred was charged with being of unsound mind having been found one Saturday wandering in the High Street. He was remanded pending removal to an asylum. In November 1889 he was before the same court to face a similar charge of wandering at large, being of unsound mind. It was here that he claimed to be in town to meet Mr Giles, adding evasively: “The Government had determined to spend £100,000,000 in improving the port, but he declined to give any further information about it then”. He also claimed - not without a scintilla of truth - to own two houses in Cumberland Place and to have acquired property to the value of £100,000. The 1871 census entry for Alfred says “Artist, Architect & Income from Houses”. Alfred was removed to the reserve room and examined by Drs Hope and Palk, who signed the necessary papers for his removal to an asylum. He was released into the care of a nephew, to be placed in a private asylum at the wish of his brother and sister. He was the third of the ten siblings to face such a tragedy.


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