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Recovering the Past: James Watt Jr

James Watt Junior.: Supplier of Steam Engines to sugar plantations in Jamaica during the 19th century, from Soho Foundry, Birmingham.

Cyanotype of James Watt Junior by Tracey Thorne Intended for Jamaica

Recovering the Past James Watt Junior


Arches Platine paper 5 x 5 inches

Tracey Thorne, 2023

Notes: James Watt Junior (1769-1848) was the wealthy heir of James Watt (1736-1819) and became a partner of the firm of Boulton & Watt, Soho, Birmingham. He played an instrumental role in advancing the company's trade with sugar plantations in the Americas and the Caribbean from 1800.

The artist has traced over 55 orders of steam engines to Jamaica during the period 1808 to 1852 using archive records from the Boulton & Watt Collection. During this time, the wealthy James Watt Junior moved to Aston Hall, the Jacobean mansion where he lived between 1818-1848.

The cyanotype is a photomontage that brings together layers of history as a deliberate act to recover the Caribbean history found in the Boulton & Watt Collection and to link this portrait to sites of enslavement in Jamaica. Watt Jr. is connected to these sites through the company sales and profited from wealth generated by British enslavement.

The image of Watt Jr. is taken from a fob watch on display at Aston Hall, made circa 1830 by Edward Massey. It speaks to the silence of the current display and memorialisation of the man, highlighting the erasure of this history in the site's curation of James Watt Junior in Birmingham.

The cyanotype is currently on display in the artist's exhibition Intended for Jamaica at the Library of Birmingham, open until 14 December 2024.


© Tracey Thorne
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