Musée No:737.196

Musée No:737.196

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Mexican Street Scene - Aquas Caliente

Artist: Daniel Thomas Egerton

Date:  ca. 1840

Now here is a story for you – one worthy of a whodunnit mystery crime writer. Let me set the scene with the standard information. Egerton (1797–1842) was one of the original members of the Society of British Artists. He was a British landscape painter, draughtsman, designer, printmaker. He married Georgiana in 1818, they had three children and made a good living producing lithographs of English street life. He was one of the first travelling painters to arrive in Mexico after independence, soon after the borders were opened to non-Hispanics. He was there from 1829-1836 and participated in archaeological expeditions. In 1840 back in London he published “Egerton's Views in Mexico”, a portfolio of lithographs.

Now for the intrigue… In 1841 he abandoned his wife and family and returned to Mexico with his printer’s daughter, Alice Edwards, she was 18, and pregnant.  They lived a quiet reclusive, even secretive, life in Tacuba (a village before it became Mexico City). On the 27th April 1842 Daniel and Alice were found murdered in the street. The official version is that it was a robbery gone wrong even though Egerton was carrying large amounts of money, and both he and Alice were wearing lots of jewellery, all of which was untouched. Eyewitness reports stated that four men with pistols had surrounded the couple, yet in fact they died of multiple stab wounds. British diplomatic pressure to solve the crime led to three men being arrested and tried for the crime. In spite of their alibis, which were never verified, they were found guilty of the murders and robbery.  Two were hanged, protesting their innocence, one simply walked out of prison and disappeared.

There was great speculation about the real reason behind the theftless murders. Daniel was suspected of fraudulent land dealing – he definitely didn’t earn enough from his painting and lithographs to adorn Alice in expensive jewellery. His brother lived in the Republic of Texas and made a more than comfortable living selling land that belonged to the Mexicans to whomever was naïve enough to buy it, was Daniel involved?  He had ties to a Masonic order was that the reason? or maybe it was an unknown jealous lover of Alice behind the killing? Another theory is spying …In the 1820s & 30s with the breakup of the Spanish Empire His Majesty’s government in London saw it as a great opportunity to exploit the, now available, rich resources. British “travellers” throughout the region, and especially those with a good eye and a good reason for doing nothing but wander the countryside, were often in fact “informal” employees of His Majesty. The mystery deepens …

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