John Moore Heath CMG
1922-2009
Soldier, Diplomat, Biblophile and Author

Born: 9 May 1922 and died in Bath 13 September 2009.
Son of: Philip George Heath MC (1895-1976) and Olga Heath (nee Sinclair, 1896-1986)
Brother of:
1. Prof Peter Heath. (1922-2002)
John married: Patricia Bibby (born 1928)
John and Patricia had issue:
1. Diana.
2. Philip.

John Moore Heath: An Overview

John's obituary from the Times reads as follows:

John Heath.  Ambassador to Chile who used all his skills of tact during the Falklands conflict

John Heath was one of a talented generation who entered the Foreign Service immediately after the Second World War and had to work against the background of gradual decline in British influence overseas.

In 1975 he became Consul-General in Chicago, a post similar in importance to many minor embassies.  But perhaps the most interesting period of his career was the last, when he was appointed Ambassador to Chile (1980-1982) and charged to rebuild links with that country despite the continued presence of General Augusto Pinochet as President.

In 1976 the previous ambassador had been recalled as a protest against the mistreatment of a British citizen, Dr Sheila Cassidy, by the Chilean secret Police.  When the time came to normalize relations, good judgment and a sure touch were essential.  Heath had both and was able to re-establish working contacts with many of the principle figures in Chile while remaining at a proper distance from Pinochet and the army.

This was particularly valuable when the South Atlantic crisis struck in 1982.  Chile, itself at odds with Argentina over territorial issues, was almost the only country in Latin America which did not support the Argentine's action in the Falklands.  It fell to Heath to deal with the sensitive and unexpected problems which arose after the invasion and the dispatch of the British task force to retake the islands.

John Moore Heath was educated at Shewsbury School and Merton College, Oxford.  He joined the Inns of Court Regiment in 1941.  By 1944 he was on the staff of the 11th Armoured Division in Western Europe and was mentioned in dispatches in 1945.

He entered the Foreign Office in 1950 and was sent abroad first to join the office of the Commissioner General for South-East Asia.  Subsequent postings took him to Jordan, Mexico, Afghanistan and West Germany during the next 25 years.

This was a fairly normal diplomatic career in the postwar years, but a different challenge came in 1966 when he was given charge of a key department of the Diplomatic Service Administration Office, which was created to weld three separate Foreign, Commonwealth and Trade Commissioner Services into a unified Diplomatic Service.  The successful merging of these independent, and to some extent antagonistic organizations required unusual skills.  Heath made an important contribution to the management of this change.

On retiring, he was a successful director-general of Canning House (the Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Council) until 1987, retaining his special interest in Mexico and Chile and forging new ones in other Latin American countries.  He was a keen bibliophile and spent much effort and time on his collection and finished a long-planned book of his own forebears, 'The Heath Family: Engravers, 1779-1878'.

He published several other books.  'The British Postal Agencies in Mexico, 1825-1879', appeared in 1969.  This was followed in 1997 by 'Mexican Maritime Mail from Colonial Times to the Twentieth Century' and, in 2004, with 'Mexico - The 1868 Issue'.

Heath is survived by his wife, Patricia, and their two children.

John Heath CMG, diplomat, was born on May 9, 1922.  He died on September 13, 2009, aged 87.

 

 

One of John's great pastimes was his interest in engravings dating to the late 1700s and early 1800s period.  In particular book illustrations engraved by John's great great great grandfather James Heath (1757-1834).  During his life John built up a large collection of engravings from this period and in 1993 he published three books Heath Family Engravers.  An article published the following year in the magazine 'Antiquarian Book Monthly' covered a lot of the background regarding how John built up his interests in this area and how this eventually lead to his books on the subject.  His article reads as follows:

Collecting Heath family prints and book illustrations
By John Heath
(Published January 1994 in the Antiquarian Book Monthly)

Soon after the war, when I was still an undergraduate, a friend at Oxford gave me a small but beautifully bound and gilded volume of 'Heath's Book of Beauty' for 1833, inscribing it with the somewhat ambiguous exhortation 'to add their number'.  With its price of 5/- still penciled on the flyleaf, it was charmingly illustrated with engravings of ladies in various moods and highly decorous poses, with stories to match each one.

It was of course a typical giftbook annual of that sentimental late Georgian and early Victorian period, and actually the first of a series which was to last until 1849.  But who was the Heath who had given his name to it, and was I perhaps one of his descendents?  I gave little more thought to it at the time, but took it on travels abroad for many years.  When I returned in the late 1960s for a spell in London, my curiosity returned.  I came across in my father's library, a copy of my grandfather's family history, privately printed in 1913, which gave me a clue of sorts.  Here, with a few scrappy details, some of them wrong, was an account of my great-great-great-grandfather, James Heath (1757-1834), 'Associate Engraver to the Royal Academy and Historical Engraver to the King'. . . 'the artist in the family' who 'by tradition has always been represented as something of a mystery.'  'His only son George', from whom I found I was directly descended, got a mention too, but as a minor judge, not an engraver.  There was a rather coy reference to 'an illegitimate family by a Mrs Philipson'; and it was here, tucked away in a chapter at the end of the book on the Heath connection with the well-known but now defunct printing firm of Perkins Bacon & Co (or Perkins, Fairman & Heath as it was at first called in 1820), that I finally came across Charles Heath (1785-1848), the promoter of my 'Book of Beauty', and many other such annuals, master engraver in his own right, and book illustrator extraordinary.

Though not an artist myself, as an instinctive collector in search of an original and worthwhile theme, I was duly hooked.  For, as I was soon to discover, here in the intalgio line engraving of three generations of a family in book illustration, was a microcosm of art history in England, spanning a period when many of the finest artists this country has ever produced, amongst them Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Benjamin West, and, not least, J.M.W. Turner, were all having their work engraved, and the so-called 'British School of Engravers' (of which James Heath was a leader) was becoming renowned across Europe as superior even to the French in technique.  And here, in a rapidly expanding and increasingly competitive profession of well-trained highly skilled craftsman was a family of engravers, who, especially as reflected through the voluminous diaries of Joseph Farington R.A., seemed to have been involved centre stage amongst the painters themselves.  For this was a time in which the almost total lack of art galleries or patrons in England meant that the only way in which an artist's work could be seen and appreciated by the public, even if only in black and white, was by having it finely engraved, well published, and reasonably priced.  Greater prosperity, and a better-educated and more literate rising middle class public in the early part of the 19th century was in turn producing a demand for art which could be afforded, and for many years found its main expression in the work of the engravers and mezzotinters, and in numbers of proof collectors of copperplate engravings.  Their output was astonishing.

Yet, as I was also to discover, here was a tragedy as well.  For a variety of reasons, mainly the steady introduction of new techniques which proved more cost-effective and less time-consuming, such as etching, lithography and photogravure, fine 'high-finished' line engraving for book illustration had the 1880s been virtually eclipsed.  The change in technique and fashion was complete, and the Heath family engravers, by this time represented by Charles' sons Frederick and Alfred, died in very modest circumstances and total obscurity.  Their skills, together with those of their many fellow-engravers (most of whom had emigrated by then), were dismissed as mechanical and archaic by their later critics, especially the school of Seymour Hayden, the leading etcher of his day, in the 'Art for Art's sake' period which prevailed up till 1914; and line engraving today survives only marginally in fields of security printing such as bank notes and postage stamps.

Against this background, and on a fairly modest budget, I began to collect illustrated books and prints in which one or other of the Heaths had been involved, though I had to exclude William Heath, known as 'Paul Pry', a clever caricaturist and etcher of military subjects, and Henry Heath, another caricaturist of the same period, as neither appeared to be related in any way to James Heath's family.  Little did I realise what I was taking on, as I discovered eventually that nearly 3000 engravings of one kind or another had emanated from the atelier bearing a Heath authorship inscription over 100 years, even though a fair degree of these no doubt were the work of several hands with the master's name ad captandum, but produced together with his pupils and assistants.  Most of these were intended for book illustration after artists such as Thomas Stothard R.A., Richard Westall R.A., J.M.W. Turner R.A., and Henry Corbould, some of them relatively minor painters who preferred this type of design to large canvases; while it was James Heath rather than Charles who found himself commissioned to engrave from the works of the best-known British masters of his day.

Many of these illustrated books proved very hard to find, and some of these prints have only been unearthed from main library catalogues in Britain and the U.S.A., as they never seem to appear even at auction.  This factor added considerable weight to my collecting zeal however, as I was always hoping to find the seemingly impossible, and occasionally even did, usually in most unexpected places.  Other books such as the first edition of Boswell's 'Life of Johnson' (1791) which has a frontispiece engraved by James after Sir Joshua Reynolds, the 1798 'Vancouver's Voyages' (which has many of James' landscape engravings) and Turners 'Picturesque Views in England and Wales' (1838) for which Charles was Turner's impresario, proved impossibly expensive.  But nevertheless, some 25 years of searching have been rewarding and exciting, not least because I soon realised that I was in a somewhat pioneering field into which no other collector appeared to have ventured on any scale (or perhaps had preferred not to venture).

It was not as if these engravers' works were entirely unknown; the print and book dealers who specialised in the period had come across them quite frequently, and though there are not many of them, they were invariably helpful, if sometimes somewhat non plussed at my seeming persistence. Rare bookshops, especially in the remoter parts of the country, usually yielded up a little treasure of two, often in shocking condition which I had to repair, but at a price to suit my pocket.  Book fairs, which I seem to have haunted on and off for years, especially the P.B.F.A. and the June fairs in London, always produced pickings of a sort, sometimes from the smaller dealers who may not have realised what they had; over the years for instance I have managed to pick up in this no less than three copies of the 1821 edition of Campbell's 'Pleasures of Hope', whose engravings by Charles are generally accepted as constituting a world first in steel-engraved book illustration, at £10 or so each.  This seems to be an edition which has eluded other seekers entirely, and I felt suitably encouraged.

The London, and some provincial, book auctions to whose catalogues I subscribed, were also a fruitful source and I seldom went to them in person, commission bids were usually successful, rather to my surprise, as my bids did not seem high when set against the usual estimates; but then I was not bidding in a field which was at all fashionable.  I was particularly pleased not so long ago to pick up a slightly battered but restorable set of the 6-volume Heath's Shakespeare in a superb binding (it was the rival to the 9-volume Shakeseare published by the Boydells in 1802) and at a very reasonable price; and to find that it had been the property of Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, scourge of the French fleet and founder of the Chilean and Brazilian navies.  His family crest had been magnificently gilded and impressed on both front and back covers of each volume, and I could not believe my collector's luck.  Of course there have been occasions too when I realized later that I had paid too much for some illustrated book because I feared I would never see it again if I didn't secure it somehow.

On the other hand, with one or two honourable exceptions, I cannot say that I have had much in the way of results from the many want lists left scattered about with booksearches and book dealers, and it is perhaps the main print dealers in London who proved the most active and interested on my behalf - not that I had any special claim on anyone's attention in that rather tedious area of a bookdealer's daily life.

In forming a collection of this kind, the first part, which was an attempt to put together complete runs, in reasonable condition, of the many gift-books and annuals with which Charles Heath in particular was associated, was perhaps the easiest.  In the 70s the 'Annuals' still seemed to be something of a drug on the illustrated book market, and their quality went largely unrecognized.  Today the scene has changed, and though prices for them are still not in general high, there is evidently a collector's interest for many of them.  The 'Landscape Annual' in particular, in its set of 10 volumes in neat green morocco (for which I paid £40 some 15 years ago) now fetches in good condition up to £1000, with a steady demand from Continental buyers.  Heath's 'Picturesque Annual' (1832-1845) also fetches good prices nowadays, while those annuals of a purely literary of sentimental kind such as the 'Keepsake', 'Amulet' or 'Forget me Not', the 'Literary Souvenir' and 'Friendship's Offering', even in their elegant bindings, still tend to languish on dealer's shelves, even though not so easy to come by as they were some years ago.  Interestingly enough, the most elegant and immaculate copies which have come my way have almost all been found on the top shelves of bookshops in Paris, Brussels or even Cologne, whose owners would begin by saying 'Non, je n'ai rien'.

Collecting works illustrated by James Heath proved to be much more difficult, despite his enormous output.  But at the very beginning I had another extraordinary stroke of good fortune.  James' first main engraving commission, through which he established his high reputation as a line engraver, was to provide no less than 100 prints between 1780 and 1788 for the publisher Harrison & Co's 'Novelists Magazine', in 23 volumes, and from designs by Thomas Stothard R.A. (William Blake provided just 8 prints for the series; he was an exact contemporary of James' and at the time another young member of Stothard's 'school').  This was the first time any British publisher had had the idea of producing (in parts) a compendium of all the best-known novels of the day in one main edition, and proved a conspicuous success with the public, not least because as one contemporary critic recorded: 'The complete understanding these two artists Stothard and Heath had was so perfect as to give rise to the notion that the former could only be transferred to copper by the latter.

In 1974, in a bookshop in the now extinct Hypermarket complex in Knightsbridge, I picked up for a mere £2 a copy in original binding of Volume 18 of the 'Novelists Magazine', containing the 'Arabian Nights'.  A week later on my first visit to Richard Booth's newly-established book empire at Hay-on-Wye, I went to his antiquarian department which was then housed in the Castle.  To my amazement, there on the upper shelves was a complete run of the 'Novelist's Magazine', minus Volume 18, in much the same original binding as my copy.  'If only we could get the 'Arabian Nights' volume, we would be charging at least three times more for the set', said the manager.  I hastily took out my cheque book, and overloaded with books and dust, set off for home in the knowledge that at least one collector's dream had come true!

One of the main problems in collecting the book illustrations of the Heath family engravers, especially those by James Heath, was to try to identify the books in which they had actually appeared.  Dealers could not help much, while the British Library, and indeed so far as I know other libraries in the United Kingdom don't, as a matter of practice, catalogue their holdings by engraver, but only by title, author and sometimes under subject.  After spending days at the British Library taking out books of the period stated in the catalogue to have engravings, without naming the engraver, I found I had discovered quite a few works by the contemporaries of James Heath, such as Grignion, A.Smith Collyer (James' master in his apprenticeship), Neagle, Fitler, Angus, Walker Birrell, Cromek, Sharp, and Blake, but not enough of James who was the most prolific of all.  With Charles Heath the experience was much the same; several works illustrated by engravers in the first few decades of the 19th century such as the Findon brothers, Edward and William, Raimbach, Greatbatch, Goodall and Miller and John Pye (Turner's favourite engravers), not to mention John Landseer, Le Keux, Willmore, Staines and many more, almost all of whose work is yet to be fully researched.

Eventually after working over the Boddington collection of engravings by Stothard at the Huntington Library at Pasadena, California, I realized that cataloguing practice in the U.S. was rather different.  Every one of the dozen or so principle rare book libraries in the U.S. to whom I subsequently wrote duly sent photostats of their catalogue entries of books illustrated by the Heath engravers, often apologising for their failure to have researched more thoughly for me; and this enabled me to find many of the books I had been previously unable to find in the British Library, and identify many of the books to which the many stray prints in the British Museum's Print Room belong.  Much information about the Heath engravers also emerged from U.S. libraries; the Pierpont Morgan Library for instance produced an interesting letter from Turner in Rome to Charles Heath shedding light on their relationship, while the Houghton Library at Harvard and the Philadelphia Free Library produced various receipts for the work done by James for his publishers which enabled me to piece together something of his business methods and earnings.

There must have been many other sources of material which I overlooked, but at least my collection was growing steadily, with catalogue being tailored to match.  Although I had never originally considered writing it up, I gradually realized that there were the makings of a worthwhile book on the Heath family engravers, made easier by having so much material to hand to consult; and with professional advice especially from Nicolas Barker and Professor G.E. Bentley jnr of the University of Toronto (on the layout of the catalogues) and experts such as Dr Basil Hunnisett and Dr Arthur Chick, not to mention my publisher's agent Simon Jenkins, who provided camera ready copy to the publisher, the job was done.

At an early stage of preparing monographs on each engraver, to accompany the annotated catalogue entries, I discovered how much in their day these distinguished and 'ingenious' engravers had been admired (and on occasions execrated) by their peers and critics, as recorded in so many diaries (such as Joseph Farington's and Sir Walter Scott's), memoirs, biographies of others, and the contemporary media, such as it was.  Three years of so of research, writing and detailed tabulation eventually enabled me to find, in Scolar Press, a ready publisher to testify in an elegant way to the almost incredible activity of these men, now so largely forgotten except by those more expert in the print and book illustration field than I.

The object, then, was to bring these artists back to life, not only by concentrating, so far as this was still possible, on them as seen through the eyes of their contemporaries in the fashion of the time, while trying to avoid any tendencies towards ancestor worship.

That they had been highly respected in their day was evident from many sources, not least the obituary notices which appeared in the press.  Of James Heath, in 1834 the 'Morning Post' recorded; 'During many years he confined himself to book illustrations, but it was impossible for an artist of such high capabilities should fail to strike out a more enlarged sphere for the display and exercise of his art and with equal success' (i.e. in engraving large prints).  Of Charles Heath, the 'Times' in November 1848 said; 'Talent is seldom hereditary but in this instance the rule is departed from, Mr Heath having not only equaled but exceeded the merit of his father, who was esteemed the best engraver of his day.  Mr Heath has also been engaged for nearly 40 years in introducing to the public the very best engravings which have appeared during that time'.  Charles would have been pleased with that.

Corrections and additions will no doubt be required in what proved to be somewhat of a pioneering effort, but at the end of much labour, much enjoyed, at least there was satisfaction in feeling that something of a gap was in the process of being filled, especially in the field of late 18th century and early 19th century book illustration.

On reflection, and as others have already commented, it seems a pity that this period of art history, in which British line-engravers and their fellow-artists such as the mezzotinters reached their zenith, has still been largely neglected.  There is a treasure trove here of fascinating material for the patient researcher, even though he may find, as I did, that a collection has first to be formed if possible, to ease the way into what can easily turn out to be obscure, difficult and sometimes dead-end paths.

Heath Engravers Vol 1
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Heath Engravers Vol 2
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Heath Engravers Vol 3
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Mexico the 1868 Issue
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Mexican Maritime Mail
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Copies of the above books are available from the family.  Please click on the images above more more details or contact JJ Heath-Caldwell jj@jjhc.info 

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