Wynne, Thomas Joseph (1838–93), photographer and shopkeeper, was born probably in the United States, where it is believed he grew up. His mother was third daughter of Richard MacEvilly, postmaster at Ballyglass, Claremorris, Co. Mayo; the identity of his father is not known. In 1861 Wynne established a news agency and stationery shop in Castle St., Castlebar, Co. Mayo, moving (1864) to premises in Market St. (now Main St.), where the lines of merchandise were extended to include books, fine art prints, and sheet music. He also provided a newspaper delivery service, a lending library, and occasional day excursions by steamer from Westport, and set up as an auctioneer in 1886. Possibly familiar with American marketing techniques, he promoted his various enterprises by means of brochures, catalogues, and advertisements in local newspapers. Two surviving promotional photographs portray him as an imposing bearded figure outside his well-signposted shop.
In 1867 Wynne established a photographic studio in the shop in Market St. The quality of the surviving photographs suggests that he may have been professionally trained. In addition to studio portrait work, he took on commissions from individuals, organisations, and official bodies throughout Co. Mayo and north Galway. The surviving photographs feature notable personalities including Capt. Charles Boycott (qv), the 3rd earl of Lucan (qv), and Archbishop John MacHale (qv), and groups such as wedding parties, schools, gentry families, military, cricket teams, and annual dinners. Apart from commissions, Wynne photographed scenes of urban and rural life, featuring agricultural shows, sporting occasions, political meetings, evictions, poitín makers, and pilgrims at Knock and Croagh Patrick.
He sold the photographs as individual prints, plain or coloured, or mounted in albums, his brochures claiming that the albums were available in England, Scotland, America and Australia. The albums, entitled Wynne's souvenir scrap album of Mayo, Galway and the Western Highlands, consisted of topographical views and actuality photographs dating from the early 1870s onwards. Wynne employed colourists and assistant photographers for periods, and was also assisted by at least three of his children whom he trained in photography, but it appears that he took most of the photographs himself, travelling frequently throughout the region.
He married (4 August 1860) Ellen Semple in the catholic church in Castlebar; she died in 1862 giving birth to their only child, John William. On 2 November 1863 he married Margaret Fox, daughter of Patrick and Mary Fox of Cappavicar, Keelogues, Co. Mayo, with whom he had five sons and five daughters. Wynne died on 26 October 1893, and is buried in the old churchyard, Castlebar. His youngest son, Richard James, continued the shop and photographic studio in Castlebar. Other sons provided photographic services at Limerick, Tipperary, and Portarlington, and his daughter Mary had a studio in Loughrea, Co. Galway.
Substantial numbers of Wynne's photographs have survived. Mayo county library holds a collection presented by the Wynne family. It amounts to 3,000 prints, including a number from a later period by his children. The National Photographic Archive in Dublin holds a collection of 8,000 original glass-plate negatives, also presented by the family; the majority, however, are anonymous portraits from the period 1900–60.
The main significance of the photographs now lies in their historical content. They provide a unique record of life and social conditions in Co. Mayo and adjoining areas for the years 1867–93, being all the more valuable in that the region is not otherwise visually well-documented for the period. Moreover, they span a particularly eventful era in the history of Co. Mayo: the economic slump of the late 1870s, the Knock apparitions, the formation of the Land League, the Capt. Boycott affair, the evolution of peasant proprietorship, and the campaign for home rule. Wynne has provided an extensive primary resource for the study of the social, economic, and political history of the region, constituting a major heritage of national as well as local significance.