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The following biographical information has been provided by John Major, a great-great-grandson of the artist.
Henry Archibald Major (1829-1902) - The Postman Artist
It was known within my family that H A Major had been a letter-carrier (postman) in the Lincoln Inns Fields area of London and that he was also an accomplished painter. Further inquiries have revealed that he was a considerable violinist, a writer of farces and dramas, had acted at the Strand Theatre for some 6 months in the middle 1850s and was a scene-painter at the Grecian Theatre during the managership of George Conquest. It is not surprising that with the inroads that these extra-mural interests made on his time, he applied for, and was granted, early retirement from the Post Office in 1875 on the grounds of 'mental and nervous depression'.
In 1868 John Diprose published Some account of the parish of Saint Clement Danes (Westminster) past and present, (Publisher: London, 1868). From this and other sources such as H A Major's plays, the collection of theatre posters at the British Library, the Newspaper Library at Colindale Avenue, London and the archives of the Post Office, the following summary has been compiled.
H. A. Major was born in 1829 in Bell Yard, Strand, opposite St. Mary's Church. At sixteen years of age, he worked as an errand boy, newsboy, ironmonger's boy and other occupations, ultimately with Mr. J. B. Chamberlain, picture dealer, of 203, High Holborn, and there painted his first works in water colours. In 1848 he left to join the London District Post Office as a letter carrier in Lincoln's Inn Fields, upon the recommendation of Thomas Noon Talfourd, Esq. He kept this position for 27 years when he retired in 1875 through ill-health. In 1853, Dr. Erasmus Wilson sent him, for eight months, to study in an evening school of fine arts in Newman Street, Oxford Street, London.
His versatility was shown by his performance as Doggrass in the pantomime of "Black-eyed Susan", by Francis Talfourd (Thomas Noon Talfourd's son) which ran for six months in 1855 at the Strand Theatre. Following this he wrote his first farce, A Cure for the Gout. Altogether he wrote more than 20 plays and farces. In one of them, A Jack of Both Sides, are listed his prizes for "paintings in Oil, of Fruit, Butterflies and other Insects; Fish, Birds, &c., &c., &c". These are:-
Agricultural Hall - First-class Prize and Extra, 1864.
Floral Hall, Covent Garden - First-class Prize and Special Mention, 1865.
Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society - First-class Silver Medal, 1865.
Guildhall, City of London - First-class Bronze Medal, 1866.
Agricultural Hall - First-class Silver Medal, and a Special Prize of £10, 1866.
Norwich - First-class Special Certificate, 1867. Medal 1871.
Agricultural Hall - International Workmen - Exhibited Seven Paintings, Silver Medal, 1870.
International Exhibition - 1871, 1872, 1873.
Also listed are various reviews from the local newspapers of the time. For example from The Graphic, January 16th 1875 is a review of his contribution to a stage production at the GrecianTheatre - "We understand that the remarkable Ballet Scene here, entitled 'The Insects' Haunt' was painted by Mr H. A. Major, known as 'The Postman Artist', who has also contributed the Scene called 'The Mammoth Dessert' to the last Pantomime at this House………."
However in a letter replying to a newspaper query in 1916 about what had become of the postman artist, his son, Mr Albert E. Major of Hammersmith, wrote, "The late Henry Archibald Major resided some years with me, his youngest son, till the time of his death, Oct. 29, 1902, aged seventy-three. For some years previous to his death he had been unable to paint or write through failing eyesight …. ".