Thomas Milnes (c.1810-1888), was born in Tickhill, near Doncaster. His father was a cousin of Richard Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton), but he had "dissipated his means" and neglected his son's education. Nevertheless, the boy's "love of art was unconquerable, and every moment he could obtain was devoted to its study and practice" (Athenaeum, 640).

At some point, young Milnes made his way to London, where he worked for a marble mason, and from 1841 he attended the Royal Academy Schools, having been recommended by Edward Hodges Baily. From then on he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy (see "Thomas Milnes"). His career as a sculptor was established with dashing marble statues of Wellington at Traitor's Gate at the Tower of London (1848; now at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich), and Nelson (first shown 1852; now in Cathedral Close, Norwich). But a number of his exhibits were animals or animal groups, and his bust of the wealthy industrialist Titus Salt, with an angora goat and alpaca on the pedestal base (1856), suggests that this is where his chief talent lay.

Milnes had clearly made his name as an animal sculptor by 1858, when he was asked to model the lions for the base of Nelson's Column. Baily might have had a hand in the commission as well. However, the models of his huge individualised beasts found no favour — perhaps they were altogether too naturalistic — and to Milnes's dismay the commission was handed over instead to Sir Edwin Landseer. Luckily, Salt saw the lions in the studio and made sure that the work was carried through. They were then installed in Salt's model mill-town of Saltaire instead, where they couch in prominent positions outside two key buildings. There, they have achieved almost as much fame and perhaps excited more admiration than they would have done in London, without the indignity of being climbed over and sat upon.

Milnes had several London addresses in the sixties, all in the Euston area: "for many years he had a house and studio in Euston Square" (Athenaeum, 640). But he must have spent time in Yorkshire as well, where he was responsible for the architectural sculpture of Saltaire's main buildings. Sadly, he seems to have faded into obscurity after his retirement. — Jacqueline Banerjee




The Athenaeum, Part I, 19 May 1888, p. 640. Google Books. Web. 29 September 2011. (Note: this is a letter printed after Milnes's death; only snippets of it are available here).

Read, Benedict. Victorian Sculpture. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1982.

Speel, Bob. Thomas Milnes. Web. 29 September 2011.

"Statues, Memorials, &c." Building News and Engineering Journal, Vol. 17. 15 October 1869: 296. Google Books. Web. 29 September 2011.

"Thomas Milnes." Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland, 1851-1951. University of Glasgow site. Web. 29 September 2011.

Last modified 3 November 2015