SNEE, John Edward (1876-1917)

John Edward Snee was born in Gateshead, Northumberland in 1876, second child of Barbara and Edward Snee. [1]  By 1891 Snee was indentured at the Gateshead Stained Glass Company as an ‘apprentice designer’, where he worked for the firm for seven years before entering into partnership with Benjamin Mather Thompson, and setting up as ‘Thompson and Snee, Stained Glass Artists, Brilliant Cutters and Modern Embossers’.[2]

Little is known of the firm’s early work, with the exception of a chapel window Symbols of the Evangelists, believed to have been designed by Edward Burne-Jones for the Church of St Andrew, Sunderland.[3]  The partnership was dissolved in 1907 when Snee’s health deteriorated and he emigrated to Australia with his widowed mother and several younger siblings.[4]

Immediately on his arrival in Melbourne Snee was employed as stained-glass artist and head of the department at EL Yencken & Co. in Little Collins Street.  From this time onwards, the firm built a reputation among the churches, particularly with clients in the Methodist church.

In the medieval guild tradition, Snee did not sign his windows and his role in their design can only be attributed.  Among few extant examples of his artistic ability is a part of a full-sized cartoon for a window, which, despite damage and its fragile condition reveals the hand of a highly skilled designer.[5]

img_7131

Fig. 1: John E Snee, section of cartoon for a secular window, Summer?, n.d. Private Collection

Photographer: Bronwyn Hughes

The Classically-draped female figure, maybe representing Summer, balances a basket of grapes on one shoulder and holds ears of wheat in her other hand.[6]  Snee has lavished most attention on the head of the figure, and although less in focus, the drapery and arras are clearly delineated for interpretation by the glass-painters.

One month short of his 40th birthday, Snee resigned his ‘high salaried and permanent position’ at Yencken’s to enlist in the AIF.[7] The Melbourne Herald reported his reason for taking such a momentous step was the recovery of his health and strength after coming to Australia. ‘He thinks it only right that he should fight for the country which has done so much for him.’ [8]  Even in the army he continued to draw whenever opportunities arose and several sketchbooks were returned to his mother among his personal effects; unfortunately, they are now lost.[9]

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Fig. 2: John Edward Snee in 1916, Private Collection  Photographer: unknown

Just a year after he joined up, Snee  was killed in action on 3 May 1917 at the disastrous Battle of Bullecourt when his battalion achieved its objectives but was forced to retreat when supporting troops did not materialise.

The Australasian Decorator and Painter published an obituary that recognised the loss to the stained glass industry and fraternity. ‘His ability, combined with an exceptionally kind and unassuming disposition, made him many friends in the trade and with architects, by whom he was regarded as one of the cleverest designers that have so far come out to Australia.’[10]

Since posting the entry for John Snee I was contacted by Cheryl and Colin Muirhead from Newcastle on Tyne, UK who kindly supplied these images of the Snee family memorial stone in the peaceful rambling old Gateshead East Cemetery.  

Snee Inside Gateshead East Cemetery

Cheryl wrote:
Our interest in this stone is that we are currently photographing all the war graves (and memorial stones) in Gateshead East Cemetery for British War Graves.  We had no idea, until I did an internet search, that John Snee had been such a respected and talented stained glass artist nor that he had emigrated to Australia and served with the AIF.  I am delighted to have made this link and will pass this information on to BWG. 
 
Snee JE inscription
Weathering has caused the stone to be hard to read but Cheryl supplied the following transcription:
 
In loving memory of EDWARD, the beloved husband of BARBARA SNEE, died Oct 17th 1897.  Also, JOHN EDWARD, their son killed in action in France, May 3rd 1917.  Also MAY, their daughter died August 4th 1887.
 
 

[1] Information on 1891 Census, courtesy of Tony Benyon, UK and Snee’s grand-nephew Rodney Snee.  The Snee family grew over the years to six girls before the youngest, another son was born.  Argus, 16 April 1942, p. 2.

[2] London Gazette, 26 March 1907.

[3] https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1207113

[4] London Gazette, 26 March 1907.  The firm continued with Thompson and Joseph Rogerson as partners, but it maintained the Thompson and Snee name.

[5] The author appreciates the generosity of Rod Snee for details of John Edward Snee’s life and for permission to photograph the cartoon and other items in his possession.

[6] Grapes and wheat are symbols of the Eucharist, but rarely seen as such in the hands of a young maiden.

[7] Australasian Decorator and Painter, 1 June 1917, p. 235.  His position was filled by William Frater.  See separate entry.

[8] Herald, 4 April 1916, p. 8.

[9] The sketchbooks were on loan to Mornington Regional Gallery in the 1990s.  Personal communication with Rod Snee, 20 September 2012.

[10] Australasian Decorator and Painter, p. 235.

Email communication with Cheryl and Colin Muirhead with the editor, 14 May 2019.  Photographs from Gateshead East Cemetery courtesy of Colin Muirhead.

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8 thoughts on “SNEE, John Edward (1876-1917)

  1. Hi Bronwyn, I’m the daughter of Rod Snee (and the great-great niece of John). I’m currently doing quite a bit of research into our ancestry and family tree, and am interested in finding morning information on any of John’s window designs that still exist in Melbourne. Some notes from my late grandfather mention the catholic church in Camberwell (I think Our Lady of Victories?).
    I would love to know of any other information you have in this regard.
    thanks,
    Bronwyn Kilkenny

    1. Hi Bronwyn
      So pleased to meet you virtually! I am most grateful to your father who generously shared so much of John Snee’s story with me. Unfortunately I have been unable to find any windows that are attributable to your great-great uncle, although I am sure some are ‘out there’. I have not found any windows by EL Yencken & Co that date from Snee’s time as stained glass artist. Later, the firm made windows for all Christian denominations, including Catholic, but their biggest clientele was the Methodist church. Our Lady of Victories only opened in late 1918, replacing an earlier church. Windows were gradually installed, all from John Hardman & Co in England.
      I wish I could lead you directly to some of his work. We can only hope that through diligent research of parish records and local history sources, some cache will be found.
      Bronwyn

      1. Hi Bronwyn (Hughes), thank you so much for forwarding to us this exchange of comments. How very interesting and what a coincidence that John Snee’s great, great niece shares your first name! Just to say that if there is anything we do here to help with Bronwyn’s query, please feel free to let us know. We would be happy to help if we can, although it may need to wait for now until after lockdown has ended! Hope this finds you well. Keep safe, Cheryl and Colin.

        ________________________________

      2. Thanks Bronwyn,
        I much appreciate your reply, thanks for getting back to me! One thing I am wondering about us the Wesley Church in Lonsdale St, coincidentally I work for a company that is relocating to the new building next to it, and saw they are currently restoring it. I wonder if any of the windows there were done by Yencken and Co?
        Anyway, I’ll continue to do some research in my spare time and let you know if I find anything!
        Kind regards,
        Bronwyn

      3. Bronwyn
        Maybe you would like to continue this conversation via my email at GLAAS Inc.? There is a window by EL Yencken in the porch at Wesley Central Mission (Uniting Church) and I can undoubtedly suggest other sites around town.
        Thanks so much for your interest.
        bronwyn@glaasinc.com.au

  2. It was very interesting to find out more about John Edward Snee and to see a photo of the man. There is a small memorial stone to John, his father (died 1897) and a sister May (died 1897) in Gateshead East Cemetery. Happy to send you a photo of this stone if you like. Thanks. Cheryl

    1. Hello Cheryl
      Wonderful to find your comment regarding John Snee’s family graves.
      I would appreciate seeing the grave photo as it all adds to the little we really know about this talented man and his short life.
      Probably best to attach to an email to the Director of GLAAS Inc.
      director@glaasinc.com.au
      and it will be passed on to me. Thank you so much for your interest in the GLAAS Inc research website. Bronwyn

      1. Thanks Bronwyn, I’ll get onto that now. Best wishes, Cheryl

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