William Henry Bartlett was a leading writer and illustrator of picturesque travel books during the early Victorian era, and ‘was perhaps rivalled only by Edward Lear in the range and frequency of his travels’ (Briony Llewellyn, 1996, page 292). William Henry Bartlett was born at Bartholomew Place, Kentish Town, Middlesex, the second child and elder son of William and Ann Bartlett. He was educated – unhappily – at a local boarding school, between the ages of seven and twelve. In 1823, at the age of fourteen, he began a seven-year apprenticeship with the antiquary, John Britton, who sent him across Britain in order to make topographical drawings.
The results were included in such publications as Cathedral Antiquities of England (1821-36) and Picturesque Antiquities of English Cities (1830). During the same period, he also painted copies of works by such artists as Cotman, Girtin and Turner.
On 6 July 1831, Bartlett married Susanna Moon, the niece of Francis Moon, a publisher and printseller. They honeymooned in Holland and Germany, and then settled at Bartholomew Place.
Together they would have three sons and two daughters (and may have adopted a servant, Sarah, as a third daughter).
During the early 1830s, Bartlett began to exhibit his own watercolours at leading London institutions, including the Royal Academy and the New Society of Painters in Water Colours. The Continental tours that he soon began to undertake helped him to expand his range of subjects, and made him all the more eligible to contribute to the increasingly popular genre of the travel book. His usual approach was to make pencil sketches on tour, which he would then develop into monochrome watercolours on his return. If Thomas Wright’s The History and Topography of the County of Essex (1836) called for him to depict a vernacular terrain, subsequent commissions enabled him to visit and respond to a great range of foreign destinations. These included Dr William Beattie’s Switzerland Illustrated (which was published in 1836, and established his career), John Carne’s Syria, the Holy Land, Asia Minor &c (1836-38), Julia Pardoe’s The Beauties of the Bosphorus (1838-40), and Nathanial Parker Willis’s American Scenery (1840) and Canadian Scenery (1842).
During the 1840s, Bartlett developed his own projects, beginning with Walks about the City and Environs of Jerusalem (1844), the first of three books on the Holy Land. From 1849 to 1852, he also edited and contributed numerous reviews to Sharpe’s London Journal. Then, in the 1850s, he made several voyages in the western Mediterranean, his last travel book being Pictures from Sicily, published in the same year as his history of early colonial America, The Pilgrim Fathers (both 1853). His four visits to North America also led him to produce the first of a three-volume The History of the United States of America (completed by Charles Mackay and B B Woodward, and published posthumously in 1856).
Bartlett died suddenly on 13 September 1854, on board the French steamer, Egyptus, just off the coast of Malta, and was buried at sea. He was returning from a trip to sketch the seven churches of Asia Minor (in what was then the Ottoman Empire).
The contents of his studio were auctioned by Southgate and Barrett, of 22 Fleet Street, London, on 29 January 1855. In the same year, his friend and fellow traveller, Dr Beattie, published his Brief Memoir of the Late William Henry Bartlett.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the British Museum and the V&A; the Victoria Art Gallery (Bath); and The Huntington Library (San Marino, CA) and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY).
Further reading R E Graves (rev Anne Pimlott Baker), ‘Bartlett, William Henry (1809-1854), H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 4, page 185; Briony Llewellyn, ‘Bartlett, William Henry (b London, 26 March 1809; d at sea, off Malta, 13 Sept 1854)’, Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, vol 3, page 292; Alexander Ross, William Henry Bartlett: artist, author, traveller, University of Toronto Press, 1973 (which reprints William Beattie’s Brief Memoir of the Late William Henry Bartlett, 1855)