George Carter, ca. 1806 – 1870

by Brian Stevenson
last updated May, 2010

John Quekett wrote in his third edition of A Practical Treatise on the Use of the Microscope (1855):
For the advantage of those who are resident in the country, as well as for those who may be desirous of investigating any of the various branches of natural history, whether for amusement or otherwise, it has been deemed advisable to divide vegetable and animal structures into different classes. Mr. Topping, of No. 4, New Winchester Street, Pentonville Hill—Mr. Darker, of No. 9, Paradise Street, Lambeth— Mr. J. T. Norman, of No. 10, Fountain Place, City Road— Mr. J. W. Bond, of No. 1, Emma Street, Ann's Place, Hackney Road—and Mr. George Carter, of 20, Christopher Square, Sun Street, Finsbury— have obligingly furnished the author with lists of the most important specimens of the various classes which they are in the habit of supplying to their customers; from these as well as from one which has been derived from a variety of other sources, including the author's own experience, the following collection of the most interesting subjects for examination has been drawn up.”

That brief note comprises almost all that is known of George Carter’s microscopy supply business. We have not located any advertisements from Carter, nor additional published descriptions of his work. Census and baptism records indicate that he was in business as a microscopist by 1851, and continued in that line of work until at least 1862. If any readers know of examples of Carter’s work, that information will be greatly appreciated. Please email brian.stevenson@uky.edu

According to census records, George Carter was born in approximately 1806, in Shoreditch, Middlesex (now within London). He is first identifiable in records on the 1851 census of England as a 45 year old, married to Hannah Carter (age 36) and having a son, George (age 4 months). George senior was described as working as a “microscopist”, while Hannah was a “tailoress”. The Carters lived at 20 Christopher Square, Holywell, Shoreditch. They shared that address with four other households. Among these was Isabella O’Hara, a 27-year old widow from Cambridgeshire.

Hannah appears to have died during 1853. George Carter and Isabella O’Hara married shortly thereafter. A son, Charles, was born 7 April, 1855. Charles and the two subsequent children of George and Isabella were baptised 19 January, 1862 at St. Leonard’s Shoreditch. On the christening records, George’s occupation was listed as “microscoper”.

The 1861 census recorded George as being a “lapidary”. This might indicate that he mounted stones and other hard objects for microscopical observation. That census indicates that Carter simultaneously occupied two addresses. He, Isabella, their two children and the four children from Isabella’s previous marriage lived at 57 Long Alley, Holywell, Shoreditch. Two other households shared that address. George was also reported to occupy 20 Christopher Square, which was adjacent to Long Alley. Six other households/businesses also occupied that address. Most likely, the Christopher Square address served as Carter’s manufacturing and/or retailing site.

George Carter died in 1870. Isabella and three of their children moved to Bethnal Green, London, to live with daughter Rebecca and her husband, Thomas Mitchel.

Carter’s description of himself as being a microscopist in 1851 and 1862 indicates a long period of production, and presumably a sizeable output. It is curious that there are so few records of him as a microscopist. He may have advertised in magazines, books, etc. that have not been digitized and made widely available to historians. Alternatively, he may have dealt primarily with large microscopy businesses, such as the Smith/Beck consortia, Steward, West, Pillischer, or Carpenter & Westley.

There are no obvious reasons why Quekett chose to highlight Carter as a slide maker. Quekett’s second, 1852, edition also listed Topping, Darker, Norman and Bond, plus Cornelius Poulton. Poulton died in 1854, and Quekett apparently wanted to continue referencing 5 professional slide makers. The lists of microscopical specimens did not change significantly between the second and third editions, so it is unclear whether or not Carter contributed anything of substance to Quekett’s publication. Poulton bought an advertisement in Quekett’s 1852 edition, which was probably connected with Quekett recommending Poulton as a slide maker. However, the 1855 edition includes advertisements for microscope slides by Samuel Stevens and by Alexander Hett, neither of whom were recommended by Quekett. A possible link could be Quekett’s colleague at the Royal Microscopical Society, James S. Bowerbank. Bowerbank was an important figure in many aspects of science during the 1800s. He was born on Sun Street, where his family owned a distillery. His brother, Edward, continued to operate the distillery and live on Sun St. after James moved to Islington during the middle 1840s. It quite likely that Bowerbank knew of Carter and his microscopy work. Bowerbank may therefore have introduced Carter’s work to Quekett.

As noted above, any assistance in identifying the work of George Carter will be gratefully accepted.