Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Swain, Joseph

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SWAIN, JOSEPH (1820–1909), wood-engraver, born at Oxford on 29 Feb. 1820, was second son of Ebenezer Swain by his wife Harriet James. Joseph Swain, pastor of East Street baptist church, Walworth, was his grandfather. He was educated at private schools, first at Oxford, and afterwards in London, whither the family removed in 1829.

In 1834 he was apprenticed by his father (who was a printer of the firm of Wertheimer & Co.) to the wood-engraver Nathaniel Whittock, and was transferred in 1837 to Thomas Williams. In 1843 he was appointed manager of the engraving department of 'Punch,' but in the following year set up in business for himself, retaining the whole of the engraving for 'Punch' from 1844 until 1900. His name is best known from his wood-engravings of 'Punch' cartoons by Sir John Tenniel. Nearly all the illustrations in the 'Cornhill Magazine' were engraved by him, and he also worked largely for other periodicals such as 'Once a Week,' 'Good Words,' the 'Argosy,' and for the publications of the Religious Tract Society and the Baptist Missionary Society. He was one of the most prolific wood-engravers of the nineteenth century, engraving very largely after Fred Walker, J. E. Millais, Frederick Sandys, Richard Doyle, R. Ansdell, F. Barnard, and practically all famous illustrators from 1860 onwards. His own work is not always signed, and the signature 'Swain sc' must be taken to include the engraving of assistants working for the firm. In the latter part of the nineteenth century his wood-engravings were more generally printed from electrotypes, but those done for 'Punch' were invariably printed from the original wood-blocks. He died at Ealing on 25 Feb. 1909.

In 1843 he married Martha Cooper, and had issue three daughters and a son, Joseph Blomeley Swain, who carries on his printing and engraving establishment.

A series of articles on Fred Walker, C. H. Bennett, G. J. Pinwell, and F. Eltze, which he wrote for 'Good Words' (1888-9), were incorporated in ’Toilers in Art,' edited by H. C. Ewart (1891).

[The Times, 4 March 1909;. M. H. Spielmann. Hist. of Punch, 1895; Gleeson White, English Illustration: The Sixties, 1897; Thackeray, Harry Furniss Centenary edition, artist's preface to the Virginians, 1911; information supplied by Mr. J. B. Swain.]

A. M. H.