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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Ernest Prater

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

Ernest Prater was a both a respected war artist and a prolific illustrator of children’s books in a career that lasted for over 50 years.

He was born on 11 March 1864 and baptized exactly two years later at St. Mary’s Church, Islington. He was the sixth of nine children of Joseph Prater, a carpenter (born in Crantock, Cornwall, in 1821) and his wife Jane Harriet, née Larkins. Their other children were William (born in 1851), Francis (1853), Harry (1855), Jane (1857), Joseph (1861), Thomas (1866), Charles (1868), and John (1871). The family lived in Coleman Street, Islington, for many years, from around 1853 to the 1870s, with all the children baptized at the same church.

By the time of the 1891 census, the family had moved to 6 Woodville Road, Highbury, with William, Francis and Joseph working as wood engravers and carpenters, and Ernest working as a publisher’s clerk. However, in the late 1880s Ernest enrolled at the Highbury Institute and School of Art, and in the 1887 Electoral Register was recorded as renting a furnished bedroom at 6 Woodville Road from his father.

He was still at the Highbury Institute in 1890, when his career as an artist appears to have started. In that year, he provided illustrations for two books – Nobody’s Neighbours by L.T. Meade, and The Trespasser by Gilbert Parker, published by Collins and C. Arthur Pearson respectively. Three years later, he began contributing to The Idler, and, more importantly, The Graphic, for whom he worked until the end of the First World War. Other periodicals to which he contributed during the 1890s were The St. James’s Budget, Black and White, Hearth and Home, The Golden Penny, Chums, Black and White, The Ludgate, The Badminton Magazine, The Windsor Magazine, The Lady’s Realm, Pearson’s Magazine and Cassell’s Magazine. At the same time, he was illustrating a variety of children’s books, mainly adventure and family/domestic stories.

In the mid-1890s he began illustrating children’s book for several more publishers, in particular S.W. Partridge & Co., The Religious Tract Society and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

At the time of the 1891 census he was recorded at the family home at 67 Albion Road, Hornsey (although he was listed in that year¹s electoral register at 6 Woodville Road). This was his address when he exhibited his first painting at the Royal Academy, A Dash from a Scrimmage, in 1897. He then moved to the Memorial Hall Buildings, Farringdon Street, from where he exhibited three more paintings in 1898, 1899 and 1904. This was also his given address when, on 20 January 1898, at St. Sepulchre’s Church, Holborn, he married Florence Alice Norris. (Her background is unclear – her father’s details are not given on the marriage register, although as far as can be ascertained she was born in Edmonton, Middlesex, in 1876, her parents ostensibly being Henry Norris, a merchant, and his wife Emily. However, she may have been illegitimate.)

The following year, Clement Shorter, a former editor of The Illustrated London News and the founder of The Sketch, decided to launch The Sphere, an illustrated newspaper, in direct competition to The Graphic (founded in 1869). He appointed Prater (who had apparently served with the 3rd Middlesex Artillery, a volunteer force, for a while) as a war artist to cover the Boer War. He left for Capetown on 21 October 1899, and subsequently sent back sketches of the conflict which were the re-drawn for publication by artists such as Joseph Finnemore, Alfred Pearse and Sidney Paget, although occasionally the paper reproduced his original sketches. He also sent back photographs. He spent a month in the late summer of 1900 in hospital with enteric fever.

Pat Hodgson, in The War Illustrators (Osprey Publishing, 1977) observed that “It is difficult to determine his skill as an artist as all his Boer War sketches were redrawn, although The Sphere did say that his pictures were of ‘exceptional merit and would delight the eye of the most exigent master of an art class by their conscientious draughtsmanship.’”

After returning to England in November 1900 Prater continued working for The Sphere, illustrating sporting subjects, royalty, the military, major news stories etc., and he also began contributing to other periodicals, including The Art Journal, Sporting Pictures (launched by Cassell & Co. in 1902), The Wide World Magazine, The Illustrated London News, The Royal Magazine, Pall Mall Magazine, The Strand Magazine, The Red Magazine, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, The Boy’s Own Paper, The Captain, The Girl’s Own Paper, Sunday at Home, Outward Bound, The Yellow Magazine, The Scout, The Children’s Newspaper and The Sheffield Weekly Telegraph.

He also continued illustrating children’s books, specializing in boys’ adventure, historical, war and school stories. Amongst the authors whose books he illustrated were G. A. Henty, Tom Bevan, Frank H. Shaw, Harold Avery, Gunby Hadath, Percy F. Westerman and F. S. Brereton. He also contributed to various children’s annuals, such as The Children’s Treasury of Pictures and Stories, Everyland for Boys and Girls, Collins Boy Scouts Annual, The Boys’ Budget, The Big Budget for Boys, The Golden Budget for Boys and Blackie’s Boys’ Annual.

He had been an active sportsman, his entry in Who’s Who in Art in 1929 stating that his recreations included “vigorous sports.” This was reflected in many of his paintings and illustrations, which included portrayals of football, rugby, cricket, American football and lacrosse.

Shortly after his marriage he and his wife had moved to Hastings, lodging with John Barnes and his family at Cliffside Villa, George Street. In 1901 he commissioned designs for a house to be built on The Leas in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, although he did not move there until sometime after 1908, when he was recorded living at 28 Whitefriars Crescent, Westcliff. He was, however, recorded as living at “Newquay”, The Leas, Westcliff in the 1911 census.

In the meantime the Praters had had five children: Gladys Alma (born in Westcliff in 1899), Mary Lillian (born in Edmonton, Middlesex, in 1902), Maisie Winifred (born in Barnet, Middlesex, in 1904), Ruby Albina (born in Westcliff in 1907), and Raleigh Brandon (born in Westcliff in 1909). A sixth child, Betty, was born in 1914.

During the First World War Prater worked for The Graphic, producing black and white illustrations from sketches sent back to England by the paper’s war artists. At the same time, he continued working as an illustrator of children’s books.

He remained at Westcliff until 1923, when he moved to “Crantock”, Dollis Avenue, Church End, Finchley, where he and his wife remained for the rest of their lives. Florence died on 10 June 1949, and Ernest died a year later, on 12 June 1950. He left an estate valued at £8,041 (around £233,000 in today’s terms).

Of his brothers, William became an artist, moving to Cornwall where he specialized in seascapes and landscapes; Francis made a career as a joiner/carpenter; Harry made a career as a wood engraver; Joseph became an artist and engraver; Thomas became a carpet salesman; and Charles was working as a clerk in 1901, after which he seems to disappear from online genealogy records.


Books Illustrated by Ernest Prater
Nobody’s Neighbours by L.T. Meade, Collins, 1890
The Trespasser by Gilbert Parker, C. Arthur Pearson, 1890
Comrades Three: A Story of the Canadian Prairies by Argyll Saxby, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1892
Bush Luck: An Australian Story by W.H. Timperly, Religious Tract Society, 1892
Lettie Lawson’s Legacy and Other Stories by Emma Marshall, James Nisbet & Co., 1894
A Heart of Gold by Cecilia Selby Lowndes, S.P.C.K., 1894
The Heart of Man by Silas Hocking, F. Warne & Co., 1895
The Mystery of Hope Lodge by Henrietta S. Streatield, S.P.C.K., 1897
Seaton Court by Maud Carew, S.P.C.K., 1897
The Marie Corelli Birthday Book, Hutchinson & Co., 1897
Nelson and His Times by Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1898
Otterburn Chase by C.N. Carvalho, S.P.C.K., 1898
The Postwoman by Emily Pearson Finnemore, S.P.C.K., 1898
Rob and I, or “By Courage and Faith” by C.A. Mercer, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1898
Janie Fletcher by F.E. Reade, S.P.C.K., 1898
Prince Charlie of the Canongate by S. Horton, W.A. Hammond, 1898(?)
Jack Curzon by Archibald Clavering, George Routledge & Sons, 1899
The Stranding of the “White Rose”: A Story of Adventure by Charles Dudley Lampen, S.P.C.K., 1899
Vanity and Vexation by A.E.D., S.P.C.K., 1899
Mirango the Man-eater: A Tale of Central Africa by C. Dudley Lampen, S.P.C.K., 1899
The Children’s Plan, and What Came of It by Catherine Mary Macroley, S.P.C.K., 1899
The Heir of Hascombe Hall by Evelyn Everett Green, T. Nelson & Sons, 1899
The Lost Heir by G.A. Henty, James Bowden, 1900
The Young Nor’-Wester by J. Macdonald Oxley, Religious Tract Society, 1900
The Lost Continent by Cutliffe Hyne, Hutchinson & Co., 1900
Little Maid Marigold by Eleanora H. Stooke, Religious Tract Society, 1902
Max Victor’s Schooldays by S.S. Pugh, Religious Tract Society, 1903(?) (re-issue)
The Castle of the White Flag: A Tale of the Franco-German War by Evelyn Everett Green, T. Nelson & Sons, 1904
The Official History of the Russian-Japanese War by J. Martin Miller, Bible House (Chicago), 1904 (with other artists)
The Book of Football (in 12 parts), 1905
Our Silver Collection and Other Stories by Wm. J. Forster, Robert Culley, 1905
The Mysterious City by Bessie Marchant, S.P.C.K., 1905
The Confessions of Harry Lorrequer by Charles Lever, Collins, 1905(?) (re-issue)
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (trans. by W.H.G. Kingston), Ernest Nister 1905 (re-issue)
Prisoners: Fast Bound in Misery and Iron by Mary Cholmondeley, Hutchinson & Co., 1906
The Frozen Venus by Harry Longley Lander, Cassell & Co., 1907
The Quests of Paul Beck by M. McDonnell Bodkin, T. Fisher Unwin, 1908
Peggy Spry by H. Marshall Ward, Religious Tract Society, 1908
Heroes of Pioneering by Edgar Sanderson, Seeley & Co., 1908 (with other artists)
The Romance of Savage Life by G.F. Scott Elliot, Seeley & Co., 1908 (with other artists)
Blue of the Sea by L.T. Meade, James Nisbet & Co., 1909
Heroes of Modern Crusades by Edward Gilliat, Seeley & Co., 1909 (with other artists)
He, She and It by Kate Mellersh, Religious Tract Society, 1910
Loyal Hearts and True by Florence Willmot, Religious Tract Society, 1910 (re-issued as Concerning May, Marjorie and Others, date not known)
A Collegian in Khaki by William Johnston, Religious Tract Society, 1910
The Secret Men by Tom Bevan, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1910
Put Yourself in His Place by Charles Reade, Collins, 1910(?)
The Crew of the Dolphin by Hesba Stretton, Religious Tract Society, 1910(?) (re-issue)
The Champion of the School by Frank. H. Shaw, Cassell & Co., 1911
Not Cricket! A School Story by Harold Avery, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1911
Out With the Buccaneers, or The Treasure of the Snake by Tom Bevan, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1911 (re-issue)
The Castaways of Disappointment Island by H. Escott Inman, S.W Partridge & Co., 1911
Jack Safford: A Tale of the East Coast by William Webster, Religious Tract Society, 1911
Young Beck: A Chip off the Old Block by M. McDonnell Bodkin, T. Fisher Unwin, 1911
Rue Esterby: A Story of Failure and Victory by Amy Whipple, Religious Tract Society, 1911
The Call of Honour by Argyll Saxby, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1912
Head of the School by Harold Avery, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1912
Livingstone, The Pathfinder by Basil Mathews, Oxford University Press, 1912
A Fair Prisoner: A Story of the Great Year by Morice Gerard, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1912
Kitty and Kit by Florence S. Willmot, Religious Tract Society, 1912
Paying the Price: A Public School Story by Gunby Hadath, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1913
In the Grip of the Wild Wa by G.E. Mitton, A. & C. Black, 1913
The Scouts of Seal Island by Percy F. Westerman, A. & C. Black, 1913
King of Ranleigh: A School Story by F.S. Brereton, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1913
Smugglers’ Keep by Silas K. Hocking, F. Warne & Co., 1913
Jack Rollock’s Adventures, or Skeleton Reef by Hugh St. Leger, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1913
Greatheart of Papua by W.P. Nairne, Oxford University Press, 1913
The Child’s Livingstone by Mary Entwistle, Oxford University Press, 1913
The Salvage of a Sailor by Frank Thomas Bullen, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1913
Under Wolfe’s Flag, or The Fight for the Canadas by Rowland Walker, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1913
With Bandit and Turk by Tom Bevan, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1913
Eric: A Golden Heart by Cecilia Selby Lowndes, S.P.C.K., 1913
The Children of the Crag by Amy Whipple, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1913
The Sea Scouts of the “Petrel” by Percy F. Westerman, A. & C. Black, 1914
Stories of Red Indian Adventure by H.W.G. Hyrst, Seeley, Service & Co., 1914
The Last of His Line: A Public School Story by Gunby Hadath, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1914
Never Say Die: A Public School Story by Gunby Hadath, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1914
A Book of Brave Women by Oliver Hope, Religious Tract Society, 1914
Building The Empire: A Story of the North-west Frontier by Percy F. Westerman, Jarrold & Sons, 1914
John Williams the Shipbuilder by Basil Mathews, Oxford University Press, 1915
Ernest Hepburn, or Revenge and Forgiveness by H.C. Adams, Religious Tract Society, 1915(?) (re-issue)
The Splendid Quest: Stories of the Knights on the Pilgrims’ Way by Basil Mathews, Jarrold & Sons, 1916 (re-issue)
Paul the Dauntless, the Course of a Great Adventure by Basil Mathews, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1916
The Secret Battleplane by Percy F. Westerman, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1916
Like Unto Leaven, or Master Desbrowe of Stonecliffe by William G. Leadbetter, W.A. Hammond, 1916
Mackay of the Great Lake by C.E. Padwick, Oxford University Press, 1917
Wheat and Chaff by Sam Horton, W.A. Hammond, 1917
A Year of Adventure by A.O. Charles, Religious Tract Society, 1917
Wilmshurst of the Frontier Force by Percy F. Westerman, S.W. Partridge & Vo., 1918
Roses and Thistles by Samuel Horton, W.A. Hammond, 1918
Palm-nut Valley by Kathleen M. Bell, Carey Press, 1919
The White Knights by W.E. Cule, Carey Press, 1919
Naida the Tenderfoot: A Story of Home and School by A.M. Irvine, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1919
Deville McKeene: The Exploits of the Mystery Airman by Rowland Walker, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1919
Billy the Kid by John W. Poe, E.A. Brininstool, 1919
The Gilroy Family by Constance M. Spender, S.P.C.K., 1919
The Argonauts of Faith: The Adventures of the Mayflower Pilgrims by Basil Mathews, Hodder & Stoughton, 1920
Uncle Michael’s Story: A Tale of the River Amazon by Gertrude Hollis, S.P.C.K., 1920
Peter Playne by Edward Seaman, Carey Press, 1920
The Talisman of Sundu by Kathleen M. Bell, Carey Press, 1921
Westcote Towers by M.C. Barnard, Sheldon Press, 1922
Heroes of the Chitral Siege by Alice F. Jackson, Sheldon Press, 1923
The Race of Heroes by Basil Joseph Mathews, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1924
The Haunted House at Huxtable by Ernest Scrivener, Carey Press, 1924
Wilfred Grenfell The Master Mariner: A Life of Adventure on Sea and Ice by Basil Mathews, S.W. Partridge, 1924
Missionary Heroines in India by E.C. Dawson, Seeley, Service & Co., 1924 (with other artists)
Schooldays at Highfield House by A.N. Malan, Religious Tract Society, 1924 (re-issue)   
Tales from Eastern Wonderlands by Oliver Brown, Carey Press, 1925
The Treasure of the Red Peak: A Tale of the Corderilla by Frederick Bough, Sheldon Press, 1925
What Happened to Eric by Ernest Scrivener, Carey Press, 1926
The Mystery Scout by Edward Le Breton Martin, Sheldon Press, 1927
By Copse, Moor and Jungle: A Tale of Devon and Central Africa by E.D. Sedding, S.P.C.K., 1927
A Chain of Gold by Mary Entwistle, Carey Press, 1927
Star Maiden: A Tale of Southern India by Eleanor Pegg, Sheldon Press, 1927
The Two Shipmates by W.H.G. Kingston, Sheldon Press, 1927 (re-issue)
Adventures of Marshall Vavasour, Midshipman by S. Whitchurch Sadler, Sheldon Press, 1928(?) (re-issue)
The Secret of the South Turret by Kathleen M. Bell, Carey Press, 1929
Owen Hartley, or Ups and Downs: A Tale of the Land and Sea by W./H.G. Kingston, Sheldon Press, 1929 (re-issue)
Ned Garth Made Prisoner in Africa: A Tale of the Slave Trade by W.H.G. Kingston, Sheldon Press, 1929 (re-issue)
The Council of Kandy by Muriel Clark, Carey Press, 1930
The Parliament Man: A Story of Greyhound Court and Other Places by W.E. Cule, Carey Press, 1931
The Watchers of Willowgreen by Kathleen M. Bell, Carey Press, 1931
The Everyland Story Book by Oliver Brown (ed.), Carey Press, 1931
With Drake to Cadiz: A Story of the Inquisition by Morice Gerard, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1933
The Messenger of the Black Prince by T.A.H. Mahwhinney, George Harrap & Co., 1934
King Arthur’s Island by Barbara Bingham Wilson, Carey Press, 1934
There Go the Ships by Basil Mathews, A. & C. Black, 1935
The Secret of the Silver Bottle by Caleb Hawker, Blackie & Son, 1936
Under Fire in Spain by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Co., 1937
Schoolboy Stories by various authors, Blackie 7 Son, 1939 (with other artists)
The Secret Six: A Tale for Boys by S.C. George, Blackie & Son, 1940
Blue Peter: A Romance of the Early Years of William Carey by J. Roland Evans, Oliphants Ltd., 1942
The Bells of Moulton by W.E. Cule, Carey Press, 1942
The Garden of Statues by J. Roland Evans, Kingsgate Press, 1944


  1. Very interesting, he also had a sixth child, a daughter Betty D born in Rochford, Essex, 1914.

  2. Thanks from both me and Robert for the additional info. It is very much appreciated.