The many faces of Archibald Bolam: False and misleading images in nineteenth-century English print media

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


In 1839 the actuary of the Newcastle Savings Bank, Archibald Bolam, stood trial for a brutal murder in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. A contemporary cause célèbre, the case was reported widely across England. Reports in newspapers, broadsides and journals were accompanied by images purporting to be of the accused man. However, it became apparent that not all these images were true likenesses, some being described as, ‘Foul libels on the countenance of Bolam.’

This paper explores these images, attempting to distinguish fact from fiction. It questions what might be meant by ‘authenticity’ in such a case, how the several images were created, who could have modified the images, and why. Addressing why the images caused concern, we suggest that they can be viewed as forms of visual mis- and dis-information. We question whether the images, either carelessly or deliberately published, were fakes, misattributions, artistic failings or journalistic malpractice.

We suggest that the issues raised by the publication of the false or misleading images of Bolam can reveal much about nineteenth-century attitudes towards images of the person, the criminal body, the responsibilities of the press, and how images were produced, spread and consumed in the early nineteenth century.
Period10 Jul 2024
Event titleThe Nineteenth Century Today: Interdisciplinary, International, Intertemporal Conference 2024
Event typeConference
LocationDurhamShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational