Go back to article: Coming home - Bally’s miniature phrenological specimens

Mr William Bally, Manchester man

We can only speculate on Bally’s reasons for settling in Manchester. Perhaps he was attracted to the business opportunities of this bustling industrial city. Manchester’s rapid population growth was attributable to economic opportunities, and in the 1830s immigrants to the city accounted for more than half of this growth (Kargon, 1977, p 2). Newly connected to Liverpool (and the world) by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and a city of wealthy industrialists vain enough to commission portraits, it was fertile ground for an artist and sculptor. Or perhaps Bally was optimistic about his chances of making his name as a phrenologist. The Manchester Phrenological Society had been founded in 1829, following those already established in Edinburgh, London, Wakefield and Liverpool. Perhaps the society was young enough to need enthusiastic members, especially those whose products had been recommended by the Phrenological Journal.

Bally had studios in areas likely to pick up trade – affluent King Street, and in proximity to the merchant Exchange (where phrenological lectures were also given) and Strangeways Prison (see for example anon., 1850a, 1852 and 1853). Between 1848 and 1852, he took absences from the city, informing his clients of his departure and return (see for example anon., 1850b and 1852). The Manchester Guardian suggested it was ‘his great attachment to English manners and habits, and to his Manchester friends, [that] soon brought him back’ (anon., 1858b). Now aged in his early fifties, Bally had deteriorating health. In December 1850 the Manchester Guardian reported that he had suffered his third paralytic stroke (anon., 1850c). Six months later, in an article entitled ‘The danger of modelling in wax’, The Times gave full details of his incapacity (anon., 1851a). The toxic substances in coloured wax had caused paralysis of his hands and arms, and extensive ulceration of his throat. ‘The white wax, for instance, contains white lead; the green, copper; the yellow, chrome yellow; the orange, chrome yellow and vermillion – strong poisons all,’ it reported. He had experienced ‘intense sufferings, for very many years past’, and at times been ‘completely paralysed’. He and his medical adviser concluded that the poisons had been absorbed through the pores of his hands and ‘the occasional application of his fingers to his lips while at work’. Despite his illness, Bally seems to have participated in the Great Exhibition of 1851, listed in the catalogue as ‘Inventor and Manufacturer’ (anon., 1851b, p 831). He took just one piece: ‘Busts in miniature, in illustration of phrenology’.

The year 1852 saw his full-time return to Manchester, ‘in better health’, resuming his phrenological instructions from premises near Strangeways Prison (anon., 1852). He moved back towards the Exchange in the following years, and in 1853 produced the bust of Salis Schwabe, as described above (anon., 1853). From December 1855, however, Bally began to practise from his home in Tamworth Street, Hulme (anon., 1855). This probably coincided with a further deterioration of his health, which left him confined to his bed by the end of the following year.

The strength of William Bally’s rank and reputation in Manchester is evidenced by the welfare fund that was established for his benefit. Beginning in 1850 and continuing until his death, leading men and women of Manchester contributed by subscription, raising hundreds of pounds (Willert, 1858; anon., 1858a). Anna Maria Matilda Bally, his wife, died in February 1856 (anon., 1856), and on 8 November 1858, William Bally died, and was buried at St Wilfrid’s Roman Catholic Chapel in Hulme (anon., 1858b). As requested, his coffin contained the death mask of his wife.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/140102/010