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]


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]


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.


[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.