The Dark Heart of Henry Backtin - Sheffield 1875

I first came across Henry Blacktin in connection with a case that involved trading in stolen files. Although Henry Blacktin was not a defendant in this case he, along with other manufacturers, came in for criticism from the magistrates over the methods they used to conduct business. This report is from the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 12th August 1873

Less than two years after this case, Henry appeared in court again, but this time it was personal. His wife Jessie Blacktin was suing him for maintenance. It should be noted that Jessie was Henry's second wife. His first wife had died Ellen died on 14th May 1873 at their home in Upper Hanover Street. The marriages index record Henry Blacktin marrying Jessie Stuart in Sheffield in Jul-Sep 1873. The 1871 census shows a Henry Blacktin, aged 34 and married to Ellen. Henry's profession is given as "Band Saw Maker Employs 2 men & 1 girl". Henry’s birthplace is given as Halifax, but he married his first wife, Ellen Bagshaw, in Sheffield in 1856. 

Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 17th May 1873

The first report appeared in the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 12th February 1875

The next report appeared five months later in The Bradford Observer dated Saturday 10th July 1875 and it reveals details of Henry's "extraordinary treatment" of Jessie

A fuller account appears in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 10 July 1875

Two weeks later the case is back in court. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 24th July 1875 carried this report

Judgment in the case was finally given in August but even then there was drama in the court. The judge recalled Jessie Blacktin to the witness and asked her on oath if she had committed adultery with any of the three men and had intimacy taken place. Jessie Blacktin denied the charges vigorously and now satisfied the judge began his summing up. This report is from The Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 7th August 1875.

Jessie Blacktin

Put simply the judge did not believe the allegations that Henry Blacktin made against his wife - they were "unworthy of belief". He made it quite clear that Jessie's evidence was  more consistent and that Henry's whole purpose was to "make a slave of her." He gave a full award to the plaintiffs with costs

In the 1881 census Henry is listed as Blactin living with Elzabeth Ratcliffe b 1835 Hucknall Notts and he listed as a widower. On the 1891 census he is living with Elizabeth and she is classed as a cousin and he is listed as married. 


1901 finds him listed as a visitor at the home of a Henry Rogers again as a widower .He dies Sheffield 1902

In 1901 Henry was with his nephew David Edward Blacktin and David's wife Gertrude and their family, who in turn were living with Gertrude's widowed father-in-law Henry Rodgers. Henry died the following year

As for Jessie the 1881 Census shows herstill living with her parents James and Mary at their house 121 Broomspring Lane. Jessie still has her married name and is employed as a dressmaker. In fact she is listed as married but what is more surprising is that she has a six year old son James S Blacktin. I can confirm that James Stuart Blacktin's surname appears in the G.R.O. births index (Ecclesall Bierlow, Jan-Mar 1975, Volume 9c Page 340).  


But that is the last UK census Jessie and her son James appear in. In 1886 they emigrated to the USA where in time James was to become "one of the greatest figures in the motion picture industry" This cutting is from the Telegraph and Independent dated 6th September 1939. (he altered his name many years earlier with Blacktin becoming Blackton)

There is a lot of material about James and his life both on-line and in print. This is from the Victorian Cinema and is written by Denis Gifford

American cartoonist, conjurer, filmmaker

J. Stuart Blackton was born in Sheffield on 5 January 1875; his parents emigrated to the USA when the boy was ten. A natural talent for drawing found him a place on the staff of the New York World, writing and drawing a regular illustrated feature on personalities in the news. At this time Blackton was making regular stage appearances as a cartoonist in the company of conjurer Albert Smith, and in the summer of 1896 they were performing at a New York World Sick Baby Fund benefit concert, which was filmed by the Edison company. Blackton was the hit of the concert and in August 1896 he was hired to make three 150-foot films in Edison's Black Maria studio: Humorous Cartoon, Political Cartoon (caricaturing William McKinley and President Grover Cleveland), and Sketching Mr Edison, which was also released as Edison Drawn by World Artist. The romantic story that he went to sketch Thomas Edison for the World and so impressed the Inventor that he was chosen for filming is untrue. The three films were first shown at Proctor's Pleasure Palace on 12 September 1896, and the film of Edison in particular brought Blackton fame and encouraged his entry into the film business.

Blackton returned to cartoon films with The Enchanted Drawing (1906), Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906), Lightning Sketches (1907) and The Magic Fountain Pen (1909). Each film featured himself on screen as the cartoonist, and used various animation styles from stop camera techniques to under-cranking. Apart from fathering the American animated cartoon, in 1897 Blackton co-founded (with Albert Smith) the major early film production company, Vitagraph , playing the lead in The Burglar on the Roof (1897) and devising the topical short Tearing Down the Spanish Flag (1898). He supervised the construction of the first enclosed glass studio in Flatbush, where he directed such famous titles as Raffles the Amateur Cracksman (1905). At Vitagraph, which after 1905 became the major American film production company, Blackton was in the van of serials, series and feature film production, and in the 1920s returned to Britain to produce and direct the first full colour feature film, The Glorious Adventure (1922), starring Lady Diana Manners. He died in a motor car accident in Hollywood in August 1941, having lost all of his money in the 1929 stock market crash.

And to think that it was the wicked and evil actions of his father towards his mother that set in motion a series of events that led to a spectacular career in the burgeoning motion picture industry


BLACKTIN, David Edward (Retired, age 61).
Died at The Hostel, West Bar; Buried on October 28, 1930 in Consecrated ground; Grave Number 4753, Section JJ of Crookes Cemetery, Sheffield.

BLACKTIN, Gertrude (of Broad Lane, born 1889-12-28).
Baptised January 28, 1890, by H Woffindin at St George, Brook Hill. Parents name(s) are Gertrude & David Edward (Saw Maker).

Blacktin, Henry (~, Mnfr.). Address: 141 Broad Lane, in 1871. Recorded in: Whites Shefffield & District Directory - 1871.


Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 12th August 1873

The Bradford Observer dated Saturday 10th July 1875 

Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 10 July 1875

Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 24th July 1875

Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 7th August 1875

Telegraph and Independent dated September 1939

UK Census

Victorian Cinema


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