PARSONS, SIMEON HENRY, carpenter, cabinetmaker, upholsterer, and photographer; b. 9 March 1844 in Harbour Grace, Nfld, son of John Charles Parsons, a fisherman, and Mary Ann Bradbury; m. 29 March 1866 Isabella Robbins of Bonavista, Nfld, and they had four sons and three daughters; d. 1 March 1908 in St John’s.
Simeon Henry Parsons began his working life as a carpenter in Harbour Grace. By 1871 he was operating his own business as a cabinet-maker and upholsterer. Later that year he converted the top floor of his premises into a studio and began to carry on the business of photography on a full-time basis. He moved to St John’s in November 1872 and joined in partnership with photographer Sherburn T. McKenney at 206 Water Street. A local paper reported at this time that Parsons was waiting to receive patents on several developments in the photographic field.
In 1875 Parsons was in business on his own account. On 3 April that year his studio at 310 Water Street was extensively damaged by fire. By 20 April, however, he had arranged to carry on his business at another location. He requested his customers to contact him with an account of the amounts owed him, since his books had been destroyed. There is no record of the response to this appeal but later advertisements for the studio demanded cash for portraits when delivered.
The following year Parsons announced that he was travelling to New York, Boston, and Philadelphia to study further the art of photography. Arrangements had been made to keep his business open during his absence. He made valuable contacts while in the United States and over the years he received much praise from American publications. For example, the Philadelphia Photographer, in its issue of February 1887, stated that he was one of the foremost advocates of the art of photography and its use for illustrations in the print media. He exhibited his work in Europe and was recognized at the international exhibition in Barcelona in 1888 with a silver medal and a diploma of merit.
Like other photographers operating in St John’s and relying on portraiture as the basis of their business, Parsons spent each summer travelling from outport to outport, taking pictures of the residents. The day of 8 July 1892 found not a single photographer in the city. The great fire, which started that afternoon, destroyed a major portion of St John’s, and no photograph of the progress of the calamity exists. What does survive, however, is the images of the aftermath of the fire taken by Parsons, who hurried back to St John’s immediately after he learned of the disaster.
Over the years Parsons published several books of photographic views, and a large number of his pictures appeared in the Christmas magazine issues of local papers, such as the Evening Telegram. He was a prolific, straightforward photographer and many examples of his art survive.
In 1907 Parsons travelled to Montreal for treatment of stomach cancer. Nothing could be done to check the spread of the disease and on 1 March 1908 he passed away. The studio, now styled S. H. Parsons and Sons, continued in business under the direction of his four sons until 1933, when it ceased operation.
PANL, Cochrane Street (Methodist) Church (St John’s), RBMB; Harbour Grace, Nfld, Methodist Church, RBMB (mfm.). Evening Telegram (St John’s), 1879–1908. Harbor Grace Standard (Harbour Grace), 1866–71. Newfoundlander, 1872–84. Public Ledger, 1872–82. Directories, Nfld, 1864/65, 1871, 1894/97, 1898; St John’s, 1890, 1913.