Portrait of Walter Hancock

Charles Hancock

Portrait of Walter Hancock by Charles Hancock, oil on canvas. Walter Hancock is pictured half length, wearing a black suit and cravat. He sits at a desk with papers and books in front of a dark background. He rests his right elbow on the desk, holding a pair of dividers in his hand. The painting is in a broad, rectangular, plain gilt frame. A metal plaque on the frame immediately below the painting reads 'WALTER HANCOCK'.

Walter Hancock (1799-1852) was the son of James Hancock, a cabinetmaker, and Betty Hancock (nee Coleman). He was a member of the Hancock family of Marlborough, England. The Hancocks were a significant British family in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, known for their contributions to science, art, and industry.

Walter Hancock is best known for designing, building and running the first commercial steam carriage in London. He developed a ‘lung-powered’ steam engine using rubberised cloth balloons, and found this engine could be used to power a carriage. The first commercial steam carriage after this design was the Infant, a passenger service that ran between Stratford and the City of London, which was introduced in 1831. In 1838, he published ‘Narrative of Twelve Years Experiments, 1824-36, Demonstrative of the Practicality and Advantage of Employing Steam Carriages on Common Roads’, containing accounts of the development of this novel steam engine and its application to road locomotives.

This portrait was painted by Charles Hancock (1800-1877), Walter Hancock’s brother. Charles was a painter and inventor who had 25 paintings displayed at the Royal Academy. Walter and Charles established the West Ham Gutta Percha Company together in 1850. This company produced a wide variety of products made from the naturally-derived latex material gutta percha, ranging from household items such as candlesticks and bed pans to more industrial items such as valves and tubing.

This object is part of a collection relating to the Hancock family, acquired in 2018 from a descendant and family historian of the Hancocks. The collection comprises portraits covering 4 generations of the Hancock family (including 7 painted by Charles Hancock), personal and business archives, and a series of related objects. Walter Hancock’s brother Thomas is the centre of the story – inventor of the patent masticator and founder of the British rubber industry. The Hancock company ran until the 1930s, led by Thomas’s nephew and assistant, James Lyne Hancock, and then a great nephew John Hancock Nunn.


Object Number:
gold plated (gilded), paint and wood (unidentified)