Photogrammetry: St. George Gravestone

Note: if referencing this webpage, please credit Norma Owens, citing the webpage title 'Photogrammetry: St. George Gravestone' and including the webpage url and the date downloaded. 

The history of the St. George family is inextricably linked with that of Headford Lace, with the first lace school being established here c.1766 by Mary St. George and subsequent generations of the family being patrons of lacemakers in the town. At Headford Lace Project, we have known for some time that the St. George family grave is situated at the south side of St. John the Baptist church, commonly known as the White Church, on the Shrule Road. We also knew that Stepney St. George (1791-1847), who had managed the family estate at Headford during the Famine, was buried here along with his eldest son, Richard James St. George (1838-1889). We wanted to find out if any other members of the family were buried there, particularly any of the ladies, as women are often unrecorded in an historical context. However, the stone is so weathered that the inscription is illegible to the naked eye.



In July last, a group of us went to the cemetery to do a rubbing of the gravestone. We placed large sheets of paper against the stone, and then rubbed a crayon across the surface of the paper in the hope that the relief of the inscription on the stone would be revealed.  

190719 rubbings02

While a few letters and words were revealed, as luck would have it, they were invariably the words one might have guessed anyway, such as "In Loving Memory". 

190719 rubbings03

The problem we encountered was that the surface of the stone itself was so rough that the rubbing we produced was too textured to adequately reveal the text of the inscription. Local archaeologist, Marcus Byrne, suggested that we try a procedure called photogrammetry to reveal the text. 


Photogrammetry is the process of interpreting digital photographs to obtain spatial data about an object or environment. Specialised software can use photogrammetry to generate a 3-D computer model of an object, and this computer model can reveal details that are not visible to the naked eye.

We were fortunate that only a few weeks after we'd first heard of photogrammetry, we learned that Mountbellew Heritage & Tourism Network with the aid of The Heritage Council would be running a course on this subject. Headford Lace Project committee members Ger Henry Hassett and Norma Owens registered for the course, which was given by Gary Dempsey of Digital Heritage Age with Dr. Christy Cunniffe, community archaeologist at Galway County Council


The course took place over two weekends. In the first class, we were introduced to the process and learned the best methods for photographing various kinds of objects for photogrammetry. 



Using what we learned, we built our first computer-generated 3-D model.


As you can see, the result is already quite remarkable, but the details needed some work. I am glad that we had two weeks to grasp this, as the process is so mindblowing that I did not immediately comprehend it. 


Between classes, we used what we had learned in the first workshop to photograph the St. George gravestone. This involved taking hundreds of photos at a consistent distance from the surface of the stone, but moving around to capture it from various different angles. Each photo must overlap in a particular way in order that the software can interpret the images correctly.



The second workshop took us through the process of generating the 3-D computer model from the photographs. The software we used was Agisoft Metashape, one of several programmes on the market. 

After inputting all the photographs, we went through the various stages of aligning the hundreds of photos we took, building a dense point cloud, generating a mesh, and then adding texture to create a realistic-looking model of the object. This is what our computer model of the gravestone looked like once finished:



Once the model has been created, you can then view it in various different modes, each of which give the model a different appearance. Viewing a "shaded" interpretation of the object suddenly reveals details that are not even visible when standing in front of it in real life. This is what enabled us to finally see details of the inscription on the St. George headstone.


The north side of the stone (facing the church wall) reads:



The south side of the stone (facing away from the church) reads:

DIED 22 NOV 1843

*The last sentence is from an American version of the bible at the time; the more familiar English version of this verse is "The righteous shall be held in everlasting remembrance". Both Stepney and his father, Richard Mansergh St. George, had served in military campaigns in North America.

It is interesting to note that the date of death given for Frances differs from her death notice published in the newspaper, which was given as 20th November.Freemans Journal, 29 November 1843, p. 4. ‘Deaths’

Finally we were able to reveal that Stepney's wife Frances (Fanny) L'Estrange is buried in the family grave alongside her husband and son. Frances was originally from Co. Offaly. Marrying Stepney in 1833, she became his second wife.


Stepney had married his first wife, Anne Tyner of Bellview, Dublin, at Castleknock on the 2nd May 1816. Their usual residence was Lisdonagh House, but on 17th April 1824, the couple were staying at Stepney's father-in-law's house in Chapelizod. They were preparing to return to Lisdonagh after being absent from there for a period of 2-3 years. Anne proposed to Stepney that he leave two days ahead of her in order to prepare the house for her arrival. However, once Stepney had left, Anne "eloped" from the house at Chapelizod with George Stepney. George Stepney was a relative of both Anne Tyner and Stepney St. George and the two men had also served together in the military. George had been a regular visitor to the couple's house, and had never raised any suspicion. It was said that Stepney and Anne had always seemed like a happy couple. Anne was pursued by her father and a police officer, but was never discovered. Stepney's friend, Samuel Richard Guinness, prevailed upon him to divorce her. At first Stepney refused, reluctant to shame her in public, but he was subsequently convinced that he owed it to himself, his family, and his friends. A judgement was found at in the Court of King's Bench in Ireland in favour of Stepney St. George against George Stepney for trespass, assault, and "criminal conversation" with Anne St. George, his wife, and he was awarded £4,000 plus legal costs. On 17 April 1826, a legal case was heard to dissolve the marriage of Stepney and Anne, and to enable him to "marry again; and for other Purposes therein mentioned". At that time, Anne was living in Peel in the Isle of Man. She did not appear in court, and sent nobody to represent her. At the proceedings, it was revealed that on 3rd May 1825, Stepney's friend, Samuel Richard Guinness, was at the Crown Hotel in Liverpool. There he saw Anne and George. A Mrs. Margaret Hornby introduced them to Samuel as a Mr. and Mrs. Stockford, who had been lodging at her house in the Kensington & London Road area of Liverpool for four weeks from June 1824. They had been living there as man and wife, occupying the same bed. The counsel were informed "that in the opinion of the House, they had proved their case" and the divorce was granted. Great Britain House of Lords (1826) 'Journals of the House of Lords, Beginning Anno Septimo GEORGII Quarti, 1826. Vol. LVIII'. H.M. Stationery Office, London, p. 189. George and Ann married in 1826. Public Recrods Ireland (1900) 'Reports from Commissioners, Inspectors, and Others: Thirty-Seven Volumes, Vol. XLIV' Dublin, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, p. 1062.. Their little girl, Georgina Frances, was born in Ramsey on the Isle of Man on the 22nd December 1829 Isle of Man Parish Registers (1829) 'Ramsey Baptisms, A.D. 1829' Manx National Heritage. and, tragically, was buried just two months later on the 3rd February 1830.Isle of Man Parish Registers (1830) 'Burials Anno 1829-Anno 1830'. Manx National Heritage. George Stepney died seven years later in Maughold in the Isle of Man.National Archives of Ireland (1837). Diocesan & Prerogative Wills, 1595-1858.

Stepney St. George married for the second time in 1833 to Frances L'Estrange, and they would go on to have seven children together, O'Byrne, Robert (2017) . Bloomington, Indiana: Xlibris, p. 40. including their eldest son, Richard, who is buried with them. On 22nd November 1843, Fanny died of a fever after giving birth to twin sons, who survived.The Nenagh Guardian, 18 May 1842, p. 1. 'Absenteens'

3-D Computer Model

The interactive 3-D computer model of the St. George grave allows you to move it, rotate on three axes, and to zoom in and out. It really is remarkable technology, and we are very grateful for training we received that has enabled us to unlock another piece of our history. 

Click on the model to interact with it! We recommend clicking on the arrows at the bottom right of the viewer to see the model fullscreen.