Wal Paget (1863-1935) Experience in the Sudan as a Special Artist – or visual journalist – prepared Wal Paget for a career as a sought-after illustrator of adventure novels.
Wal Paget was the sixth of nine children of Robert Paget, the vestry clerk of the parish of St James and St John, Clerkenwell, and Martha Paget (née Clarke), who is described in censuses as a ‘music professor’. He was the younger brother of two other artists, Henry Marriott Paget (1856-1936) and Sidney E Paget (1860-1908), the latter famous as the first illustrator of Sherlock Holmes. They grew up together at 19 Lloyd Square. Like Henry and Sidney, Wal Paget trained at the Royal Academy Schools. While there, he began to exhibit at the Royal Academy (from 1884), rented space at Queen’s Road Studios, St John’s Wood (1886), and won a second prize for a ‘Design in Monochrome for a Figure Picture’ (1887). However, in the years 1884-85, he spent some time in the Sudan as a Special Artist for The Illustrated London News, covering the expedition to relieve General Gordon at Khartoum.
This experience helped to make him a sought-after illustrator, and he soon became particularly associated with the historical adventure novels of George Alfred Henty (as exemplified by the works included here). In 1889, Wal Paget married Sophia Grenfell, of a Cornish family living at 14 Lloyd Square. By 1891, they had moved to Hertfordshire, and were living in Croxley Green, near Watford. They would have three children, including Thomas Humphrey Paget (1893-1974), who would become a noted medal and coin designer and modeller. It is believed that, in 1891, either George Newnes, the publisher of The Strand Magazine, or Greenhough Smith, its editor, intended to commission Wal Paget to illustrate the first six of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories; however, he was away at the time, and the offer addressed to ‘Mr Paget’ was opened and answered by his brother, Sidney. It has also been suggested that Sidney then based his portrayal of Holmes on Wal. (Over two decades later, in December 1913, Wal would illustrate the first English publication of the Sherlock Holmes story, ‘The Dying Detective’, for The Strand Magazine.) Wal Paget’s most significant publications of the 1890s include editions of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1891) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1899), and contributions to A & C Black’s edition of the Waverley Novels of Walter Scott (1893-95). As a magazine illustrator, he renewed his association with The Illustrated London News in 1892 by illustrating the first appearance of Thomas Hardy’s The Well-Beloved (under its original title of The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved). Then, at the turn of the century, he worked for the newly founded magazine, The Sphere, by preparing publication ready illustrations of the Boer War, based on rough sketches sent from South Africa by Special Artists. Wal Paget would continue work as an illustrator well into the twentieth century, though he became less prolific, and his precise, detailed style less popular. By 1908, he and his family were living at Bentley, Stanhope Avenue, Finchley. He died in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, possibly at The Clock House, Fockbury, near Bromsgrove, on 29 January 1935.