This article examines the advent of photography in the Scottish university town of St Andrews in the context of local ties to the British Empire. It seeks to foreground the colonialist networks of some of the town’s principal families and argues that these investments ensured the avid reception and circulation of the calotype process and its products along well-established diasporic routes. In the latter section, David Brewster’s essays on photography will be assessed for their foundational statements on the camera’s potential imperialist applications. Brewster’s writings demonstrate the conceptual frameworks of empire that underpinned the adoption of photography in St Andrews. This article argues against the implicit associations that attend “provincial” photographic archives as circumscribed by local histories, geographies, and civic concerns. By doing so, it questions the politics of provincialising historiographies that disregard the extensive colonial networks of rural and small-town communities in the assessment of their photographic activities and vast archival legacies.
In 2016 the East Sands of St Andrews became the site of a new public monument, financed as part of a student housing project, on the coastal path at the edge of town (fig. 1). The developers had commissioned the poet Jacob Polley, then teaching in the English department at the University of St Andrews, to create a work that would enhance the site’s “sense of place, history and character”.1 The resulting poem, “East Sands, Salt Prints”, took its inspiration, to quote the website statement, from “the pioneers of photography associated with St Andrews such as Sir David Brewster, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson. Instrumental in the early development of photography in the 1840s, they led St Andrews to become the world’s first town to be thoroughly documented by photography”.2 The poem and related memorial drew on a rich vein of local heritage and tourist initiatives that have inscribed the history of photography into the town’s identity—in this case, literally, into the built fabric and permanence of granite. For an attentive visitor or resident, St Andrews does not leave a knowledge of its photographic history to chance: recent festivals have promoted the contributions of its former residents, tourist plaques are numerous, and a local restaurant even takes its name from the site’s former occupant-photographer. The monument and poem, then, are consonant with a broader mobilisation of historical photography for civic identity, even as the housing development itself contributed to the ongoing transformation of the demography and economy of the university town.
The lines selected and adapted from the poem for the monument, engraved in large black print into three descending steps facing the sea, emphasise the natural materiality and topography of its coastal location:
to pry apart a sunbeam and find yellow like imperfect gilding, violet and purplish black lacquer of a lobster claw, bottle-green depths
and dandelion interiors, the frilly white of shoreline and seashell, and all light’s silverwork
laid bare in a solution of common salt on the common sand.3
These lines summon metaphorical associations between the materials of calotype photography and the coast itself. Sunbeams and salt constitute the photographic process and the beachside location, binding the local history of the medium to its environment. For a walker passing along the coastal path, the common salt referenced in the final phrase can be felt and tasted on the North Sea wind, the site inviting sensorial and material evocations of the coastline and its supposed permanence. Those aware of local history might even know that this coastal route was well trodden by the early calotypists of St Andrews. Distant views of the town from the east coast were a favourite subject that enabled the integration of the distinctive skyline of the cathedral ruins with the geological formations of the coastline (fig. 2). Town and coastline are merged into the salt and sepia tones of the calotype print and inscribed with the descriptive geographical location of its maker. The Adamson brothers John and Robert were brought up only five miles along this coast at Burnside near Boarhills.4 Whether intentional or not, the site of the monument was apposite to facilitate evocations between the natural aspects of the coastline and salt-paper photography. That poetry and public art take the calotype as their theme to invoke and fuse place and past together is consistent with a broader historiographical project that seems no less set in granite.
St Andrews has long been recognised for its prominence in the early history of photography.5 Numerous albums containing images of residents and sites attest to the town’s importance as a centre of photographic activity in Victorian Britain. Yet the account of a university town in which a circle of residents practised the new image-making techniques of photography has emphasised narratives of provincial isolation and local heritage. Two premises instead underpin this article: firstly, that St Andrews was a hotbed of both early photography and imperial involvement, and that these are embedded, interconnected histories; and, secondly, that previous accounts have neglected the visual codes of and connections to empire in the photography of St Andrews in order to establish an unproblematic narrative of local history and heritage. To characterise archival photographs and albums of Victorian Britain as “provincial” implicitly fixes these materials in an imagined local past and so evades the interrogation of rural communities’ historical engagement in the broader enterprises and circuits of global imperialism. In interrogating these associations in early photography, I have taken inspiration from Edward Said’s analyses of nineteenth-century novels set in rural locations, such as Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814) and George Eliot’s Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life (1871–72). In the former case, Said does not compare the residents of the novel’s titular country estate to their city counterparts but instead places the protagonists “at the centre of an arc of interests and concerns spanning the hemisphere, two major seas, and four continents”.6 Said emphasises these novels’ enshrinement of a colonialist worldview structured into their narratives and, by implication, their concomitant role in the nineteenth-century invention and imagining of British “provinciality”. I am concerned with the cultural politics of provincialised frameworks of thought in the assessment of historical photographs and archives today. Historians of British photography have largely outsourced postcolonial approaches to photographs of colonised subjects and territories, thereby avoiding the potential implications of such methodologies for photographs of Victorian Britain. In contrast, I argue that the idea of provincial photography, exemplified in the case of St Andrews, does not exist in opposition to the photography of overseas colonies. By challenging this division, this article contends that the historical realities of empire constituted and structured the photographic archives and albums of nineteenth-century St Andrews.7DOI
Family albums and scrapbooks of distant places and travels abroad are dispersed throughout the archives of the University of St Andrews, testifying to the global networks and prolonged involvement of local families in imperial pursuits. In an album compiled by the Maitland Dougall family between about 1852 and 1880, for example, studio portraits of family members and children are often arranged adjacent to photographs of distant lands and people, dissolving any distinctions between imperial travels and careers abroad and the local networks and domestic realms of family and rural society (fig. 3).8 How do such materials relate to their locality and their current institutional holders? What is the association between colonial photographs and those photographic materials that appear, at least in terms of their subject matter, to concern the families and sites of St Andrews? To approach these materials as interconnected histories is to question a dialectic of binding and unbinding to their location. Place seems to matter in the assessment of local family albums, whereas the colonial photographs in the archive are consigned to other—distant—realms, histories, and academic interests. This separation divorces local histories from the archival evidence of their enmeshment over generations in the global flows of people, capital, and materials. My emphasis here is on photographs that seem all too provincial and readily detached from issues of imperial concern. This article builds on recent work that has emphasised Scottish photographers’ associations to empire and global exchange, extending these themes deep into the fabric of Scottish rural and small-town society well beyond the major metropoles or the work of well-known travel photographers.9 Local affluent families made use of photography in association with other forms of knowledge exchange, particularly letter writing and diaries, in order to construct ideas not only of imperial obligation and commitment but also of the provincial and the familial.
The calotype’s arrival and success in St Andrews was preceded by the careers, attitudes, and, not least, wealth that the social and commercial networks of empire brought to the university town. However moribund its civic institutions and university became through the eighteenth century, their use as historical measures of town provinciality and idleness fails to recognise that wealth—economic, social, and imperial—resided primarily in the extensive networks of local and rural families. Local families’ connections to empire and early photography have not been entirely ignored—they are simply too extensive to be so—but they necessitate shifts of methodology and research to foreground their global frameworks historically. In the penultimate sentence of a book dedicated to the Brewster Album, a key volume of early calotypes collected and compiled by Juliet and David Brewster, Graham Smith concluded: “If the emergence of an organized study of the sciences is one strand connecting the individuals who contributed to the album, another is provided by the East India Company, which was frequently the element through which individual connections were made”.10 Smith rightly came to this conclusion through the course of his analysis of the album. To date, however, the implications of this realisation remain ancillary to studies of the photographic collections of St Andrews. My starting premise is to raise questions of empire and global networks as central frameworks of analysis for the broader photographic archives and albums of St Andrews. This necessitates attention to the colonial ties of photographic materials and a concurrent questioning of accounts that have provincialised and disaggregated these materials from such wider networks and histories.DOI
Beyond its immediate field of enquiry, this article advocates for an expanded debate both within and beyond photographic history of the concepts and politics of provinciality in the writing of Britain’s imperial past and neo-imperial legacies. The issues and arguments raised here are pertinent to other regional histories of photography in Britain, however inflected by specific conditions and circumstances. James R. Ryan, for example, has recently proposed with reference to the career of Robert Hunt in Cornwall and Devon: “Far from being isolated islands of activity, local sites of provincial photographic activity were closely connected to other places, regionally, nationally and internationally”.11 The same can be said with equal relevance for St Andrews and Fife. Indeed, Brewster and Hunt shared more than philosophical parallels, with each living and working in provincial coastal communities dependent on structures of correspondence and transportation, social and professional mobility, and local institutions and global networks.12DOI
In what follows, the first section charts the intertwined histories of empire and photography in St Andrews, primarily with reference to the calotype activities and connections to India and Ireland of the Brewster and the Playfair families in the 1840s. The imperial priorities and structures of these prominent families established the preconditions for their embrace of the calotype process and its integration into the town’s global networks of personal exchange. The second section examines David Brewster’s influential essays on photography, attending specifically to his formative advocacy of the potential imperialist applications of the calotype. These writings articulate theories and attitudes toward photography and empire that broadly aligned with the agendas and investments of local society and its desire to conscript new visual technologies in the pursuit of imperial advancement and expansion. By foregrounding these local entanglements of empire and photography, I seek to promote analysis of the role of rural and small-town photographic archives and histories in the cultural politics of British provinciality.
Comings and Goings: St Andrews and the Mobile CalotypeDOI
The key figure responsible for the early arrival of the calotype process in St Andrews was the renowned natural philosopher and researcher of optics David Brewster (fig. 4).13 Brewster had come to the university town to take up the post of principal of the United College of St Salvator and St Leonard in 1838, bringing with him an international network of scientific correspondents including the inventor of photogenic drawing and the calotype process, William Henry Fox Talbot. However abrasive his personality could prove, Brewster’s ability to connect individuals and communities was instrumental in the early adoption of the calotype in St Andrews. Through their correspondence, Brewster managed to convince Talbot to share details of the calotype process with him and not to extend patent on his invention to Scotland, enabling the process to prosper in the small university town without the restrictions of knowledge or fees that curtailed its spread elsewhere in Britain.14
Brewster had also provided the means to encourage local discussion and experimentation with the formation, soon after his arrival, of the St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society.15 Drawing its exclusively male membership from university staff and residents, this society promoted the study of natural history and various other fields of intellectual and material enquiry. Brewster was quick to communicate and foster discussion of photographic methods and equipment at the society’s monthly meetings, encouraging a collective, sociable experimentation with the new processes in the town. Two inaugural members of the society, Major Hugh Lyon Playfair and the physician John Adamson, became adept and fervent local calotypists within these close-knit circles (figs. 5 and 6). Progress was frustrating and inconsistent over these first experimental years, driven in part by the rivalries and amities of neighbours and professional colleagues.
The records of the Literary and Philosophical Society have been crucial for photographic historians in the documentation of these local networks, but their archival pre-eminence can lead to the impression of an insular homosocial habitus of so-called gentlemen amateurs.16 Colonial associations, however, were evident from its foundation. The society included several former employees of the East India Company, testifying to the wider structures that connected local families to colonial careers and economies of wealth and knowledge formation.17 The list of honorary and corresponding members further extended the international reach of the society and attests to the abundant ties between the town and colonial settlements. In its first year, the society registered new members resident, among other locations, in Jamaica, Antigua, the Bermudas, the Cape of Good Hope, Canada, Ceylon, and British India.18 For a membership in St Andrews that was conscious of empire and dispersed families and friends, the calotype was of more than mere intellectual or amateur interest: the evident persistence and resources they expended on the process was driven by its potential as a visual technology of global networks and imperial application.DOI
By the summer of 1842, after much trial and error, St Andrews was the locus of a small circle of calotypists who were actively photographing the residents and the town. The rise of calotype photography in St Andrews, even before London or Edinburgh, has prompted frames of enquiry that often fixate on the apparent incongruity between the modernity of the process and its advent in the small university town. In an article published in 1983, Alison Morrison-Low asked, “Why then, did this sleepy backwater, a town whose population had declined since the Reformation, become a centre for early photography?”19 Since then, this trope of a “sleepy backwater” has been oft repeated in writings of the calotype era in St Andrews, framing and separating the town from other urban centres and geographies. For Larry Schaaf, for instance, Robert Adamson’s rise to photographic prominence in Edinburgh, as part of the renowned team of Hill and Adamson, can be partially explained as the result of his move “from the sleepy little backwater of St. Andrews to the stimulating and cosmopolitan city of Edinburgh”.20 For these photographic historians, Brewster’s arrival in St Andrews was a formative event and I am not disputing his significance in bringing the calotype to St Andrews. But Brewster arrived in a town whose residents fostered an imperial desire for new technologies, especially those that promised to address geographical dislocations across the British Empire. Accounts of provincial isolation and inactivity disregard the formative role of empire in the confluence of events that nurtured the calotype’s adoption in St Andrews. Quiet backwaters, it is implicitly assumed, do not participate in empire building, yet there is substantial evidence that the town’s tranquil state did not preclude its residents from the global imperial project.DOI
At the end of the nineteenth century, Wemyss Reid recognised this historical state of affairs in his introductory remarks to the posthumously published memoirs of Lyon Playfair, a nephew of Major Hugh Lyon Playfair named in his honour. “Seventy years ago it was probably the sleepiest little town in Great Britain”, Wemyss Reid states: “Yet even then, in its period of decay and desertion, St Andrews had certain claims upon the respect of the outer world. … [It] combined the advantages of Oxford and Leamington, and, as was not unnatural, it became, in consequence, a favourite place of residence for retired officers of the army and navy, and for a class not less important, retired East Indian officials. During the first half of the century, indeed, those whom the world at that time designated as ‘nabobs’ were a common feature in the life of St. Andrews”.21 Despite the town’s small population, Reid is definitive in his appraisal that a high proportion of local families and residents had colonial ties that had brought wealth and opportunity to St Andrews.22 This accounts for the comparatively high prevalence of former employees of the East India Company among the members of the Literary and Philosophical Society. It also indicates that the civic renovation of the town was in no small part due to the lucrative exploitation of empire and the infrastructural skills gained in its pursuit. That Lyon Playfair had been born in India, sent “home” to his uncle to be raised in St Andrews, only to return to India as a young man in keeping with the family tradition underlines the intergenerational flow of local families to and from colonies around the world.23DOI
Although Lyon Playfair’s tenure in India was short-lived, colonial ties and endeavours remained integral to family life irrespective of location. After the death of his father, George, on 26 November 1846, Lyon Playfair sat for a family photograph in St Andrews with his mother, Janet Ross, seated on the right in a white bonnet, and two other young women, probably his first wife, Margaret Eliza Playfair, née Oakes, seated before him, and his sister Agnes standing opposite (fig. 7).24 They gather around the central plinth and bust of George, their hands displayed to the camera and interlinked with one another and the sculpture in a careful orchestration of familial intimacy and unity. At once a memorial and an avowal of their bonds, the group portrait manifests the intricate associations of photography and empire in their collective identity. As we shall see, Janet would eventually send family photographs to at least one of her sons in India. In a related photograph probably taken at the same session, Lyon Playfair sits reading a letter beside his seemingly absent-minded wife (fig. 8). As the family manuscript and album collections attest, letter writing and photography were two principal means of exchange through which the family bound together its dispersed relations. Lyon Playfair would later play a pivotal bureaucratic role in the formation of government policies on the use and status of photography at international exhibitions in Victorian Britain.25 His influence on these official debates was surely informed by his upbringing in a family that had embraced photography and colonial opportunism with equal fervour.
While David Brewster was a relative newcomer to St Andrews, Hugh Lyon Playfair and John Adamson had both returned to St Andrews in the early to mid-1830s after prolonged periods abroad. General outlines of their careers are sufficient to signal their imperial experiences and debts. Hugh Lyon Playfair had spent more than a quarter century in the military suppression of India before his ultimate return to St Andrews in 1834.26 He was part of a family dynasty with diasporic connections to India over several generations; indeed, two of his three brothers, William Davidson and George, also spent most of their adult lives in India, as did several of their children.27 All three brothers retired to St Andrews and their portraits adorn the same page of a photograph album compiled by Alexander Govan, proprietor of the local chemist store and a crucial outlet for photographic requisites in St Andrews (fig. 9).28 In the upper right corner, George appears once again in the guise of the bust sculpture featured in the family portrait. Hugh Lyon Playfair’s central position on the page reflects his civic station as provost of St Andrews from 1842 until his death in 1861—a role in which he was primarily responsible for the modernisation of the town and its facilities.29 John Adamson also had colonial experience and pursued both municipal revitalisation and the calotype process. He had returned to St Andrews in 1835 after a period as a ship’s surgeon “in a voyage to the Chinese seas”, possibly also having spent time en route in India.30 Little is known about Adamson’s travels in Asia, but they are consistent with the local and global networks that encouraged and enabled young men to pursue colonial careers. To characterise St Andrews as a town of retirement for colonial officials neglects the fact that letters of introduction and career pathways abroad were readily available for the next generation of local youths.
Although Brewster restricted his occasional travels abroad to western Europe, the British Empire also framed his experience of the familial and the local.31 Two of his elder sons, James and David Edward, spent years stationed in India, returning to St Andrews on furlough for infrequent visits.32 Brewster and Hugh Lyon Playfair were long-time neighbours and shared both family connections in India and an enthusiasm for the calotype. The wealth, skills, and attitudes brought back from abroad were instrumental in the modernisation of St Andrews and provided the conditions for the reception of photography. But the pursuit of the calotype also served to train the next generation of potential recruits to the colonial cause. Among these circles, Brewster’s youngest son, Captain Henry Craigie Brewster, had returned on leave to St Andrews from his military station in Newry, in what is now Northern Ireland, to take up the calotype in the summer of 1842.33 Father and son found a means to share their summer in these calotype investigations, emphasising the patriarchal transfer of technical skills between generations.34DOI
Henry Brewster was neither the first nor the last visitor from Ireland to pursue the calotype in St Andrews. By 1841, William Holland Furlong had arrived from Dublin and taken a university position as an assistant to Arthur Connell, professor of chemistry.35 On 27 October 1841, David Brewster wrote to Talbot that
our Chemical Professor’s assistant is now at work and successful, so that without counting myself you have three ardent disciples. … Mr Furlong the gentleman [to whom] I allude executed an admirable portrait of a relative in Ireland which I have seen.36
Brewster, Playfair, and Adamson were hence joined by younger enthusiasts who would acquire and hone their skills under their guidance. Michael Pakenham Edgeworth was another occasional visitor from Ireland during these formative years. The half-brother of the distinguished novelist Maria Edgeworth, Pakenham Edgeworth had a long career with the Bengal Civil Service and had pursued photography in India from as early as December 1839.37 By April 1842, Pakenham Edgeworth had returned on leave to the family estate in Edgeworthstown, Ireland. Four years passed before his eventual return to India, during which time he made at least one visit to the Brewsters in St Andrews.DOI
The Brewster Album includes calotype portraits of and by Craigie Brewster, Furlong, and Pakenham Edgeworth, testifying to the pursuit and exchange of calotypes between local hosts and visitors to St Andrews. For example, an outdoor group calotype of David Brewster with Mary Playfair, Juliet Brewster, Pakenham Edgeworth, and the family biographer Margaret Maria Brewster, highlights the sitting as a social act that fostered ties with neighbours and guests (fig. 10). On his departure in November 1843, Pakenham Edgeworth gifted Brewster a cyanotype by Sir John Herschel in gratitude for his hospitality.38 Scholars have diligently documented these exchanges of correspondence and calotypes, but the main point extends beyond the particulars of individual dates and contacts. St Andrews was a site of ongoing exchange that extended overseas to Ireland and India and that embraced the calotype and integrated its social functions into these colonial networks from the outset. The local enthusiasm for the calotype was inseparable from its wider exchange and diffusion in correspondence with distant family and friends. These are not so much parallel as deeply interwoven mutual histories of imperial association. St Andrews calotypes represent local histories of rural and university life and signal the integration of the town itself with the expansive social and economic structures of empire that sustained and facilitated its pursuit of the calotype.
After his furlough training in the long summer days of St Andrews, Henry Brewster relocated to military barracks at Cork, taking his newly acquired calotype skills and equipment with him.39 Brewster’s son would photograph fellow officers and their barracks at Cork and Buttevant in County Cork—calotypes of military authority and presence, and some of the earliest photographs taken in Ireland. From early on, St Andrews exported the calotype through its younger generation, especially within military contexts, and thus established the model of the soldier as amateur photographer. Henry Brewster’s calotypes of fellow officers at Cork, such as of Captain Fenwick of the 76th Regiment, usually present the subject in a seated upright pose suggestive of a youthful masculine self-assuredness (fig. 11). By forwarding these calotypes to his parents in St Andrews, Henry Brewster intended to communicate pride in his regiment and his calotype skills. David Brewster, in turn, presented a selection of his son’s calotypes at a meeting of the Literary and Philosophical Society in St Andrews on 1 May 1843.40
The Brewster Album contains calotypes that were taken elsewhere and sent to the family in recognition of past assistance and as keepsakes in absence. The products of the skills acquired and exported began to be returned to the town, pasted into albums, and displayed at local meetings and in living rooms. Early calotypes traversed the public and the personal, the imperial front and the home front, the society meeting and the family album, fostering and determining social position and status at each juncture in their circulation. Such calotype migrations within colonial networks are not always self-evident in the albums today, their histories and subjects subsumed within rigid conceptions of town locality and provinciality. To contest the notion of these early albums as exclusive to the township, it is imperative to acknowledge the global networks of the residents engaged in their compilation and the mobilities of their content.DOI
Calotypes of local scenes and town views—those subjects, to recall the poem cited in the introduction, made of the salt of land and sea itself—began to be exported along the same postal and émigré routes to other parts of the British Isles and empire. As early as 9 November 1842, John Adamson sent a letter to Talbot with a leather-bound volume of eighteen small calotypes of subjects at or near St Andrews.41 Eleven of these calotypes depict local sites and historical buildings that were to become standard photographic subjects of the town.42 The so-called Tartan Album showcased the technical proficiency attained by John and Robert Adamson in the recipient’s process, with each calotype accompanied by handwritten descriptions. Yet, if its production and subject matter were local, the album sought to transfer that idea of locality to its distant recipient and bind him within its imagined community. That the volume opens with an oval portrait of Brewster, Talbot’s long-time correspondent, enmeshes its subsequent content within the context of a personal association.43 John Adamson’s handwritten caption to plate 12, “View from the top of Sir David Brewster’s garden wall”, even frames the town skyline of the ruins of the medieval cathedral and St Regulus’s tower within the context of upper-class friendship and its correlative potential for invitation and hospitality (fig. 12).44
For the social circles engaged in the practice, the worlding of the calotypes of St Andrews was inherent in their ideas of place and empire. In adopting the concept of worlding, I want to suggest that colonial visual culture not only rendered dispossessed lands into landscape but also involved the global export of Britain’s own domestic representations to imagine new cartographies of imperial identity.45 Put otherwise, the global distribution and collection of photographs of Britain was integral to the mechanics of empire. By April 1844, an album of calotypes of St Andrews had already found its way to the colonial settlement of Launceston in Tasmania. A column in a local newspaper invited residents to view the album at their premises: “Calotype—A gentleman has kindly favoured us with a book of calotype drawings executed in Scotland, which we will be happy to show to those who take an interest in photography. The pictures consist of portraits and several well known architectural beauties still remaining at St Andrew’s [sic]”.46 Although the identity of this donor is not recorded, the description of the album content concurs with the calotypes of local residents, architectural ruins, and town views that had been undertaken in the preceding years in St Andrews. Scottish migrants constituted a substantial component of the township of Launceston, accounting for the assumed familiarity of local readers with the album’s architectural subjects.47 What might calotypes of the architectural sites and ruins of St Andrews have meant for the settler-colonists of mid-1840s Launceston? Presumably, in their transfer these calotypes accrued diasporic values of nostalgia for place and past, and of cultural permanence and endurance consistent with the settler-colonial project.DOI
Whether forwarded to family or friends or packed in the luggage of an émigré, this column attests to the speed with which calotype albums left St Andrews almost as soon as they were produced, along well-established colonial trajectories. Calotype albums of local subjects may even have been prepared for the express purpose of being sent overseas. Seven years after the gift of an album to Talbot, John Adamson continued to forward calotypes of the town to its former residents abroad. On 19 September 1849, George Ranken Playfair wrote from Shahjahanpur, now in Uttar Pradesh, to his mother, Janet Ross, in St Andrews:
Tell Dr Adamson that I will be so much obliged for the book of Calotypes he is making up for me, and I hope he has taken all sort[s] of views of the old city and neighbourhood, your house, Uncle William’s, Bell Towers, Black Bull etc etc. How I would like to see them again & seeing the pictures w[oul]d so delight me.48
Like his younger brother Lyon Playfair, George Ranken had been born in India and raised in St Andrews in the 1830s. After military service in the First Opium War in China, he pursued a career as an army surgeon stationed at Agra and later joined the Amateur Photographic Association of London.49 He even accompanied Samuel Bourne on the latter’s third photographic expedition into the Himalayas in 1866—an expedition that has received significant attention for its associations between colonial photography and geographical knowledge.50DOI
George Ranken’s subsequent correspondence does not record his receipt of John Adamson’s much anticipated book of calotypes. Nonetheless, Janet Ross sent a selection within a few months in one of her regular boxes to her son in Shahjahanpur. On 6 February 1850, George Ranken wrote to acknowledge the items received from his “dearest mother” in St Andrews. After thanking her for sending some plaid garments, he continued over two pages to reminisce about his former home in response to the calotypes:
But of all the things you sent out none have given me such pure delight, or raised such pleasant memories, as the dear Calotypes which reached me a few days ago. Ah, my dear mother, how my heart warmed at seeing the West Port, & the Pends, the college church with our old residence in North Street (every stone almost could I recognise). Nothing I have seen or received since I left Scotland has given me such pleasure as these Calotypes. A thousand thanks for them, they were so true and I live over again in looking at them my schoolboy days—and only £1.10—why I would give ten times the sum. And you must really get me lots more of the dear old City, some particular views I would like, unless Dr Adamson has already put them in the book he is sending. I enclose a list of those you have already sent and those I w[oul]d particularly like if procurable for love or money. Calotype portraits are certainly not flattering, but the landscapes & buildings are excellent. Pray don’t forget this, I look & look & then think such delightful reminiscences. In the view of the College Quadrangle North St, I almost fancied I recognised Uncle Hugh in one of the figures and the figure leaning on the lamp post opposite Madras college put me in mind of John Burns.51
The sites enumerated in this letter had already become familiar subjects of the town’s photography, especially since the publication of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson’s A Series of Calotype Views of St Andrews in 1846.52 Janet Ross, however, sent a group of calotypes that she considered relevant to her son’s experience as a former boyhood resident of the town. Although these calotypes are not known today, similar examples are preserved in other volumes connected to the family. An album associated with George Ranken’s brother, the career diplomat and author Robert Lambert Playfair, includes familiar views of the Pends and West Port along with other historical monuments of St Andrews likely reminiscent of those sent by Janet Ross to her son in India (figs. 13 and 14).53 At first, such photographs may seem little different to other generic views of the town. However, George Ranken refers to the calotypes he had received in terms that associate their sites with the patriarchs and residences of the Playfair family. While summarily dismissing the portraits as “certainly not flattering”, his references to “Uncle William” and “Uncle Hugh”—respectively, the brothers William Davidson and Hugh Lyon Playfair—ascribe a habitation and custody of the town to the family. Regardless of his uncle’s actual presence in the calotypes, George Ranken recognises the sites and monuments of his childhood and the family’s identification with and effective custodianship of St Andrews.
In its detailed inventory of each calotype, George Ranken’s letter retraces the town in the diasporic imagination on temporal and spatial coordinates. The calotypes before him evinced a return to a past and a place that evoked childhood remembrances of an unchanged hometown beyond modernity and that anchored provincial identities in the concurrent pursuit of empire. That the Playfairs conceived of themselves over generations as intrinsic to St Andrews and the British Raj highlights the entangled nature of these projects and their prompt recognition and deployment of the calotype at home and abroad towards its continued reiteration. Calotyping, writing, sending, and viewing were repeated and interdependent practices of personal pleasure and mutual exchange that bound the colonial recipient and the “dear old City”. George Ranken’s letters emphasise the continued importance of and nostalgia for St Andrews for its former residents and the role of its photography in the negotiation of diasporic colonial identities.DOI
Even without her related correspondence, Janet Ross was clearly pivotal to these exchanges and her broader significance for the colonial networks and town life of Victorian St Andrews has been woefully neglected. According to the memoirs of Lyon Playfair:
My mother had much more direct influence on my life than my father. Her abilities were of a high order, and she had cultivated them by extensive reading. She was a favourite among the professors of the university at St. Andrews, who frequently passed the evening at her house.54
Her studio photograph presents a distinguished senior woman in ornate embroidered garments seated on a high-back chair next to a side table (fig. 15). The quizzing glass attached to a chain—also apparent in the earlier family portrait—and the writing implement in her hand are particularly apposite items given her coordination over decades of the globally dispersed family and friends through correspondence and the exchange of material goods such as calotypes. The role of middle- and upper-class women in the compilation of family albums has long been recognised, but their commissions and use of the postal system to dispatch photographs to loved ones overseas constituted a substantial component of their photographic and imperial practice.55 Calotypes and letters constituted paper surrogates for family and friends that sustained ongoing social dialogues and practices over decades. On receipt of the calotypes, George Ranken returned two lists to his mother: the first of those town sites he had already received and the second a supplementary list of sites he desired to be calotyped. The list has regrettably been lost, but his bespoke order corresponds to an imagined complete portfolio that mapped onto his own childhood remembrance of St Andrews. The calotypes triggered entreaties and further obligations of the sender as much as memories for the recipient.
The familial and career ties that had brought wealth and opportunity to the university town were now circulating the calotype back along those same networks as a visual technology of potential colonial, military, and private application. That calotypes of St Andrews and its residents almost immediately began to be sent overseas highlights their historical dispersal from their locality. While Victorian travel photographers and their work abroad have been central to British photographic history, studies of the global export of photographs of Victorian Britain and their colonial politics and reception are rare, to say the least.56 The reasons for this neglect are doubtless complex but the mythic nostalgia for past rural and small-town communities somehow divorced from the global imperatives and material dispossessions of empire require that their historical photographs remain immobile and fixed in their locality.
David Brewster and the Imperialist PhotographDOI
So far, the various archival threads and sources discussed in this article may seem incidental occurrences no less serendipitous than the arrival of the calotype in St Andrews in the first place. If Brewster’s university appointment and his correspondence brought the calotype to the town, his lengthy essay “Photogenic Drawing, or Drawing by the Agency of Light”, anonymously published in the Edinburgh Review in January 1843, promoted imperialist aspirations for the calotype itself.57 Brewster had been working intermittently on the essay for several years, during which time his fellow neighbours and associates went from frustrated experimenters to systematic calotypists and album archivists of the town and its residents.DOI
Brewster’s essay, with its diverse themes of photography’s mechanised status, national rivalries, mortality and absence, and patent law, has been the focus of considerable recent attention, attracting analysis from several scholars.58 As one of the earliest sustained theoretical essays published on photography, its significance should not be underestimated. Yet, despite this broad critical attention, the essay has not attracted analysis in terms of its advocacy of the calotype’s imperial potential. In particular, I want to emphasise the codependence of local and imperial frameworks for its concerns and themes. On the one hand, the historical heft of the essay, its prescient foregrounding of key conceptual debates and theories of photography, has required its removal from the community within which it was conceived and written. On the other, the level of analysis the essay has received stands in stark contrast to the critical silence that has attended its sections of colonialist commentary. Few scholars have acknowledged an obvious point: Brewster wrote the essay in St Andrews during the same years that the local circle of calotype enthusiasts gained in technical confidence and proficiency.59 Brewster even refers in the essay to having samples of their calotypes with him at the time of writing: “we have now before us a collection of admirable photographs executed at St Andrew’s [sic], by Dr and Mr Robert Adamson, Major Playfair, and Captain Brewster. Several of these have all the force and beauty of the sketches of Rembrandt, and some of them have been pronounced by Mr Talbot himself to be among the best he has seen”.60 Brewster’s evident pride in the achievements of his fellow residents and youngest son localise the essay’s themes but this should not be mistaken for the rural provincialism of an isolated community. The potential applications and benefits for the town’s ongoing engagement with the global circuits of empire motivated and framed the local reception of the calotype and the expenditure of leisure time and resources in its pursuit.DOI
Brewster’s colonialist rhetoric is particularly evident in a long passage that delights in its catalogue of the potential applications for the calotype:
How limited is our present knowledge of the architectural ornaments of other nations—of the ruined grandeur of former ages—of the gigantic ranges of the Himalayas and the Andes—and of the enchanting scenery of lakes, and rivers, and valleys, and cataracts, and volcanoes, which occur throughout the world! Excepting by the labours of some travelling artists, we know them only through the sketches of hurried visitors, tricked up with false and ridiculous illustrations, which are equal mockeries of nature and of art. But when the photographer has prepared his truthful tablet, and “held his mirror up to nature”, she is taken captive in all her sublimity and beauty; and faithful images of her grandest, her loveliest, and her minutest features, are transferred to her most distant worshippers, and become objects of a new and pleasing idolatry. The hallowed remains which faith has consecrated in the land of Palestine, the scenes of our Saviour’s pilgrimage and miracles—the endeared spots where he drew his first and his latest breath—the hills and temples of the Holy City—the giant flanks of Horeb, and the awe-inspiring summits of Mount Sinai, will be displayed to the Christian’s eye in the deep lines of truth, and appeal to his heart with all the powerful associations of an immortal interest. With feelings more subdued, will the antiquary and the architect study the fragments of Egyptian, Grecian, and Roman grandeur—the pyramids, the temples, the obelisks of other ages. Every inscription, every stone, will exhibit to them its outline; the gray moss will lift its hoary frond, and the fading inscription unveil its mysterious hieroglyphics. The fields of ancient and modern warfare will unfold themselves to the soldier’s eye in faithful perspective and unerring outline.61
Much could be said about this passage, about its shifts between different emerging fields of knowledge production and its allusions to diverse geographies and terrains in rapid succession. First and foremost, the final sentence merits emphasis as the candid denouement of its broad programme of colonial uses for photography. Brewster’s pronouncement that the calotype would enable the “fields of ancient and modern warfare [to] unfold themselves to the soldier’s eye in faithful perspective and unerring outline” is an overt espousal of its military application to colonial conquest and rule. To reiterate, Brewster’s sons were then stationed abroad, and his neighbour, friend, and fellow calotypist Hugh Lyon Playfair had had a long military career in India. In short, Brewster was one of the first to advocate for the calotype’s military use in colonial settings if not in outright conflict. No wonder, in a revealing military turn of phrase, Brewster had boasted in a letter to Talbot that St Andrews was “the headquarters of the Calotype”.62DOI
If Brewster presents a frank blueprint for the camera’s use as an instrument of military rule, the preceding remarks are no less prescient in their broad mobilisation of the imperial potentialities of photography. This essay came at a germane point in the emergence of the British Orientalist illustrated book, with the release at this time of deluxe lithographic publications based on the travel sketches of David Roberts and David Wilkie.63 Brewster presumably alludes to these celebrated Scottish artists as the exceptions to otherwise unreliable representations of the Middle East “which are equally mockeries of nature and of art”. If such portfolios had highlighted the commercial opportunities for photography of the Middle East, this essay opposed the artistic credentials of the new medium. For Brewster, the camera’s significance resided in its production, in Steve Edwards’s phrase, of “self-generated documents” of “the brute facts of nature prior to any mediating representation”.64 The essay inaugurates a distinction between artistic representations and autogenic facsimiles, valorising the camera as a visual recorder of raw data. This conceptual distinction was a foundational conceit for British colonialist photography and, in particular, for the camera’s evangelical applications in the Middle East. The author’s strong religious convictions are directed toward an emergent notion of a biblical fidelity to place that would become central to Victorian photography of the Holy Land.65 Brewster’s call for a photography “displayed to the Christian’s eye in the deep lines of truth” aligned with the objectives of Scottish missionary investigations of Palestine, prefiguring and supporting the evangelical use of the camera as an instrument conscripted to an evidential project of religious cartography.66DOI
The implications of this passage, however, extend well beyond matters of faith. Brewster sets forth nothing short of an imperialist agenda for photography as a technology for the study of foreign peoples and their lands, histories, and monuments. To be sure, Brewster echoes earlier commentators who had advocated the expeditionary applications of photography. The proposal that the camera render “every inscription, every stone” of “mysterious hieroglyphics” recalls Dominique François Arago’s suggestion for the labour-saving potential use of the daguerreotype in the documentation of hieroglyphics. In his introduction of the daguerreotype before the Chambre des députés on 3 July 1839, Arago had called for the French government to send forth missions to Egypt equipped with daguerreotype sets for this purpose.67 Brewster cites Arago’s speech at length in his essay, albeit without reference to the section on hieroglyphics, but he is nonetheless indebted to his French colleague and long-time friend for the proposal.68 In turn, Talbot eventually contributed three illustrations to a pamphlet entitled The Talbotype Applied to Hieroglyphics.69 Between Arago and Talbot, Brewster advocates the camera as the latest technological means of Orientalist knowledge production in the study of ancient scripts.DOI
A few pages later, Brewster mentions a publication that corresponds in many respects with his clarion call for an imperialist agenda for photography in Britain. The essayist refers with admiration to the Parisian optician Noël-Marie-Paymal Lerebours’s publication of a portfolio of large-format graphic prints based on daguerreotypes “of the most beautiful scenery and antiquities of the world”.70 Issued in periodic livraisons, or fascicles, from the summer of 1840, Excursions daguerriennes: vues et monuments les plus remarquables du globe would eventually consist of 111 graphic prints, each accompanied by a lengthy description of its subject.71 Brewster cites the first series of the publication and singles out for commentary the “remarkable views from the East” taken by “MM. Horace Vernet and Goupil”, a view of St Helena by “M. Las Cases”, and the “Spanish scenery and the beauties of the Alhambra” by “M. Jomard”.72 Respectively, these passages refer to the Orientalist artist Horace Vernet and the daguerreotypists Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet, Emmanuel Lascases, and Edmond Jomard.73DOI
Brewster’s enthusiasm for Excursions daguerriennes coincided with the acquisition of this illustrated book by the University of St Andrews.74 The library placed an order for this publication with the London booksellers Smith, Elder and Co. on 6 May 1841, at which time only seven livraisons of the first series had been released.75 Brewster’s library record charts his repeated engagement with the publication over the next eighteen months as the livraisons gradually entered the collection.76 Excursions daguerriennes was the first book illustrated after photographs acquired by the university library, coinciding with local efforts to photograph the town and its vicinity. The volume contains such impressive prints as a view of Beirut, with its graphic play of shadowed and sunlit interconnecting walls in the foreground and the open hills and sky behind (fig. 16). Cropped at the lower edge of the print, laundry hangs from a line suspended between walls as testament to the everyday lives of the city’s residents. Brewster’s declared admiration for the work of Goupil-Fesquet, reproduced in graphic form in this instance by Frédéric Martens, may have been prompted not only by imperialist frameworks but also by its perceived relevance for issues then faced by the town calotypists of St Andrews. Notwithstanding the differences in climate, photographic process, and means of reproduction, Excursions daguerriennes offered pertinent lessons for astute viewers on the amalgamation of town view and natural terrain, the pictorial framing, graphic interplay, and scale of historical ruins, and the incidental presence of everyday signs of local habitation.
Four years later in 1847, Brewster again cited Excursions daguerriennes in another lengthy article on photography published in the North British Review.77 On this occasion, Brewster referred to the final complete edition, indicating that he had kept track of its expansion in scope and content in the intervening years since his earlier article.78 Brewster’s references to this portfolio in his two key essays on photography suggest its importance as a template for the photographically illustrated travel volume and for local architectural and scenic portfolios. By invoking Arago and Lerebours, Brewster espoused the advances in French colonialist uses of photography and foregrounded the belatedness of such thinking in 1840s Britain. This criticism was made explicit in his conclusion to the Edinburgh Review article: “No enterprizing artists started for our colonies to portray their scenery, or repaired to our insular rocks and glens to delineate their beauty and their grandeur”.79 By calling on official support for photographers to embark with kit and chemicals for the good of nation and empire, Brewster can be considered the main instigator and theorist of an imperialist photography yet to emerge in Victorian Britain.DOI
Brewster’s two essays demonstrate the centrality of photography’s imperial potential to his thinking in 1840s St Andrews. To be clear, I am proposing that this corresponds to the broader global concerns of the university town and its residents’ embrace of the calotype as intrinsic to these imperial agendas. Brewster’s ideas were not those of a reclusive savant formulated in an isolated backwater but represented the desire of the small community in which he worked and lived to employ and deploy photography in the networks that bound the local and the global. If these essays outlined the rudiments of an imperialist photography, they were written in a town in which such issues were already entangled in the practices and migrations of the calotype and its residents.
Photography and empire are inextricably bound together in the history of St Andrews and were intertwined with the lives and mobilities of its most prominent families. The local adoption of photography accorded with the wider discourses of imperial knowledge formation that the university town pursued in Victorian Britain. This article has sought to document some of these collective networks and their extensive connections to empire. I have also argued that the neglect of these associations is itself symptomatic of the imperial and “post-”imperial cultural politics of British provinciality. The strength of these historiographical headwinds is manifest in the lack of attention these networks have received in the histories of photography of St Andrews. As a result, St Andrews has been conceived either as the imagined historical limitations of its practitioners (John Adamson, Hugh Lyon Playfair, and Janet Ross) or an irrelevance to their influential careers and pursuits (David Brewster and Lyon Playfair). Either way, the provincialising narrative of St Andrews evident in the writing of its photographic history has worked to dissociate the town—its rural communities, its photographic histories, and not least its university and collections—from these wider networks and programmes of the British Empire.DOI
As a case study, St Andrews reveals the ways in which photography and photographic history have aided the invention of Victorian provinciality—in the myth of communities, of those sleepy backwaters, that were supposedly beyond the commercial and social circuits of global trade and empire. The desire to provincialise rural and small-town photographic archives, practices, and innovations is not just implicated in the historical denial of empire; it is one of its most enduring and necessary preconditions. Such archives bear witness to the myriad of personal associations, materials, and knowledges that bound empire and province together in the everyday lives and migratory practices of Victorian Britain.
I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers and the editors of British Art Studies for their constructive suggestions and assistance in the preparation of this article. Special thanks to Natalie Adamson for her insightful feedback on an earlier draft and to Jacob Polley for permission to cite his poem. I am indebted to Rachel Nordstrom and the Special Collections team at the University of St Andrews, as well as to the institutions that have granted permission to reproduce photographs in their possession. Many thanks also to the Edinburgh Centre for Global History at the University of Edinburgh, the Cross Cultural Circa Nineteenth Century Research Centre at the University of St Andrews, and the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum for invitations to present this research, and to the observations of audience members and colleagues. This research was supported by a grant from the Scottish Funding Council.
About the author
Luke Gartlan is senior lecturer in the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews. He is the author of A Career of Japan: Baron Raimund von Stillfried and Early Yokohama Photography (Brill, 2016), which received the Josef Kreiner Hosei University Award for International Japanese Studies, and has coedited two volumes: Portraiture and Early Studio Photography in China and Japan, with Roberta Wue (Routledge, 2017), and Photography’s Orientalism: New Essays on Colonial Representation, with Ali Behdad (Getty Research Institute, 2013). He also served for six years as editor-in-chief of the quarterly journal History of Photography (2013–2018). This article is part of his current project on the colonial connections, networks, and careers of the early practitioners and advocates of photography in Victorian St Andrews and its adjacent regions. It is based on close readings of the photograph albums and archives of prominent local families such as the Brewsters and the Playfairs.
Rebecca Dean, “Alumno Poetry Commissions—Part 1”, 30 April 2020. http://alumnogroup.com/alumno-poetry-commissions-part-1/.1
Dean, “Alumno Poetry Commissions”, http://alumnogroup.com/alumno-poetry-commissions-part-1/.2
Jacob Polley, “East Sands, Salt Prints”, 2015. The complete poem is engraved into the horizontal faces of the granite steps.3
A. D. Morrison-Low and David Bruce, Photography and the Doctor: John Adamson of St Andrews (Edinburgh: National Museums Scotland, 2018), 10.4
The literature is extensive. See A. D. Morrison-Low, “Dr John and Robert Adamson: An Early Partnership in Scottish Photography”, Photographic Collector 4, no. 2 (1983): 199–214; Graham Smith, Disciples of Light: Photographs in the Brewster Album (Malibu, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1990); A. D. Morrison-Low, “Dr John Adamson and Thomas Rodger: Amateur and Professional Photography in Nineteenth-Century St Andrews”, in Photography 1900: The Edinburgh Symposium, ed. Julie Lawson, Ray McKenzie, and A. D. Morrison-Low (Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland, ), 19–37; A. D. Morrison-Low, ed., “Photography at St Andrews”, special issue, History of Photography 25, no. 2 (Summer 2001); A. D. Morrison-Low and Sara Stevenson, Scottish Photography: The First Thirty Years (Edinburgh: National Museums Scotland, 2015), 45–47; and Morrison-Low and Bruce, Photography and the Doctor, 2018.5
Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Vintage, 1994), 101.6
Throughout this article “empire” constitutes a geopolitical and historical reality of occupation and dispossession that constantly sought to impose, stabilise, and expand asymmetrical relations of domination and subjugation as intrinsic to coloniser and colonised. Empire was not confined to either the colonial territories or the governmental and commercial institutions that enabled and administered it but was integral to an imagined sense of individual and collective identity in Britain and abroad that also excluded through bureaucratic processes, selective rights, and everyday practices and codes of mutual identification and recognition. The Victorian family photograph album was a crucial means by which such practices, codes, identifications, and exclusions—and the project of its ongoing curation and articulation—extended the obligations and mythologies of empire into the institution of the home and the formation of subject identities.7
The Maitland Dougall Photographic Collection consists of almost thirty albums, twelve cased images, loose mounted prints and diaries. University of St Andrews, Libraries and Museums, Maitland Dougall Photographic Collection, circa 1842–1950, https://collections.st-andrews.ac.uk/collection/maitland-dougall-photographic-collection/443945; and Édouard de Saint-Ours, “Un empire de papier: l’album 86 de la collection Maitland Dougall”, Encyclopédie d’histoire numérique de l’Europe, 21 May 2021, https://ehne.fr/fr/node/21572.8
Anthony W. Lee, The Global Flows of Early Scottish Photography: Encounters in Scotland, Canada, and China (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019), esp. 11–92; and Sarah Parsons, “Women in Fur: Empire, Power, and Play in a Victorian Photography Album”, British Art Studies 18 (November 2020), https://doi.org/10.17658/issn.2058-5462/issue-18/aparsons.9
Smith, Disciples of Light, 84.10
James R. Ryan, “Placing Early Photography: The Work of Robert Hunt in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Britain”, History of Photography 41, no. 4 (November 2017): 359.11
Ryan, “Placing Early Photography”, 352n46. On the parallels between Brewster and Hunt, see Steve Edwards, The Making of English Photography: Allegories (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 64–66; and Steve Edwards, “Hunt, Robert (1807–1887)”, in Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, ed. John Hannavy (New York: Routledge, 2008), 1: 731–32.12
A. D. Morrison-Low, “Sir David Brewster and Photography”, Review of Scottish Culture 4 (1988): 63–73. For Brewster’s wider significance, see A. D. Morrison-Low and J. R. R. Christie, eds., “Martyr of Science”: Sir David Brewster, 1781–1868 (Edinburgh: Royal Scottish Museum, 1984).13
David Brewster, St Leonards, St Andrews, to Henry William Fox Talbot, 4 February 1841, National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, 1937-4870, doc. no. 4190, in The Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot, https://foxtalbot.dmu.ac.uk/letters/transcriptDocnum.php?docnum=4190. Talbot patented his invention in England and Wales and pursued those whom he perceived to have infringed the patent through the courts. See Jordan Bear, Disillusioned: Victorian Photography and the Discerning Subject (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015), 124–25.14
Minutes of the St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society, 16 April 1838, Special Collections, Archives, University of St Andrews, UY8525/1, https://collections.st-andrews.ac.uk/item/minutes-of-the-st-andrews-literary-and-philosophical-society/2073037.15
The society’s minutes do not record women’s attendance at regular meetings until the early 1880s. At the monthly meeting of 18 December 1880, the minutes acknowledged the presence of “some ladies”. Visiting women at the meeting of 29 January 1881 included “Mrs Shairp, Mrs Lang, Mrs Dundas and Miss M. Lamond”. By the meeting of 9 April 1881, the minutes referred to “several ladies” in attendance and, at the meeting of 27 February 1885, the society publicly advertised “that permission for Ladies & Gentlemen to attend the meetings can be obtained on application to the Secretaries or to any member of the Society”. Minutes of the St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society, 18 December 1880, fol. 158; 29 January 1881, fol. 159; 9 April 1881, fol. 162; and 27 February 1885, fol. 192, Special Collections, Archives, University of St Andrews Special Collections, UY8525/2, https://collections.st-andrews.ac.uk/item/minutes-of-the-st-andrews-literary-and-philosophical-society/2033372.16
Of the forty-nine inaugural ordinary members, at least six are known to have been former employees of the East India Company: Walter Glass, George Govan, James Lumsdaine of Lathallan, and the brothers George, Hugh Lyon, and William Davidson Playfair. Minutes, 16 April 1838, UY8525/1, fols. 3–5. See also University of St Andrews, Libraries and Museums, “List of Ordinary Members of the St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society”, 1838–1910, https://collections.st-andrews.ac.uk/group/list-of-ordinary-members-of-the-st-andrews-literary-and-philosophical-society/2073743.17
Minutes, 16 April 1838, UY8525/1, fols. 6–8, 186. For a complete list of honorary and corresponding members, see University of St Andrews, Libraries and Museums, “List of Honorary Members of the St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society”, 1838–90, https://collections.st-andrews.ac.uk/group/list-of-honorary-members-of-the-st-andrews-literary-and-philosophical-society/2073761.18
Morrison-Low, “Dr John and Robert Adamson”, 201. This sentence was republished verbatim in a revised and expanded version of this article: A. D. Morrison-Low, “Brewster, Talbot and the Adamsons: The Arrival of Photography in St Andrews”, in “Photography at St Andrews”, ed. A. D. Morrison-Low, special issue, History of Photography 25, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 132.19
Larry J. Schaaf, Sun Pictures Catalogue 11 (New York: Hans P. Krauss, 2002), 8. For further references to the “sleepy medieval backwater” of 1830s St Andrews, see Morrison-Low, “Dr John Adamson and Thomas Rodger”, 19; and Morrison-Low and Bruce, Photography and the Doctor, 21.20
Wemyss Reid, Memoirs and Correspondence of Lyon Playfair, First Lord Playfair of St. Andrews (London: Cassell, 1899), 1–2.21
In 1841, the official census recorded the population of St Andrews as 6,571. For statistics on the nineteenth-century population of St Andrews, see Morrison-Low and Bruce, Photography and the Doctor, 1.22
Reid, Memoirs and Correspondence, 16–42.23
On George Playfair’s death, see Agnes Playfair, St Andrews, to her brother Robert Lambert Playfair [Madras], 27 November 1846, msdep14/5/11, Special Collections, Archives, University of St Andrews; and Charles Rogers, Four Perthshire Families: Roger, Playfair, Constable, and Haldane (Edinburgh: Privately printed, 1887), 67. Lyon Playfair and Margaret Eliza Oakes were married on 28 July 1846, and Janet Ross and Agnes Playfair lived together in St Andrews at 79 North Street, currently the School of Art History. Janet Ross was also known as Jessie Playfair, Mrs George Playfair, Janet Ross Playfair, and variations thereof. I refer throughout this article to Janet Ross due to these complexities, which have obscured her historical significance within an already labyrinthine set of family names and relations.24
See Edwards, The Making of English Photography, 172–76, 196–99.25
For accounts of Hugh Lyon Playfair’s career in India, see [Hugh Lyon Playfair], Memoirs of Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair, Lieutenant-Colonel Bengal Artillery, Provost of St Andrews, and Honorary Custodier of Crown Property in the City (St Andrews: M. Fletcher, 1861), iii–ix; and David Louden, Biographical Sketch of the Late Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair, Provost of St Andrews (St Andrews: All the Booksellers, 1874), 3–13.26
For family histories and biographies of the Playfairs, see A. G. Playfair, The Playfair Book, or, Notes on the Scottish Family of Playfair (Tunbridge Wells: C. Baldwin, Grosvenor Printing Works, 1932); and Hugh Playfair, The Playfair Family, rev. ed. (Blackford, Somerset: H. Playfair, 1999).27
On Govan and his album, see Smith, Disciples of Light, 83.28
By the summer of 1849, the town’s three main thoroughfares—North Street, Market Street, and South Street—had been modernised under Hugh Lyon Playfair’s stewardship. Louden, Biographical Sketch, 52–53.29
Anon., “Obituary. Dr John Adamson”, Edinburgh Medical Journal 16, no. 3 (September 1870): 286. On Adamson’s travels abroad, see Bruce F. Pert, “John Adamson and Early Photography at St Andrews”, unpublished MPhil thesis (University of St Andrews, 1994), 28–30.30
Brewster visited continental Europe intermittently throughout his life, including in 1814, 1850, 1855, and 1856–57. On Brewster’s love of travel, see [Margaret Maria] Gordon, The Home Life of Sir David Brewster, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Edmonston & Douglas, 1870), 305; and for travels abroad see 84–95, 201–3, 265–68, 269–87.31
James married Catherine Maitland on 18 February 1845, during a two-year furlough in St Andrews from the Bengal Civil Service. David Edward married Lydia Juliet Blunt in India on 6 October 1849, and returned with his family on furlough to St Andrews in 1855. Gordon, Home Life, 193, 268. In 1849 James was joint magistrate and deputy collector of Paneeput (Panipat) and David Edward was Captain of the 62nd Native Infantry stationed at Benares (Varanasi). Anon., Scott and Co.’s Bengal Directory, and Register, with Almanac and Appendix for 1849 (Calcutta: Scott and Co., ), 139, 432.32
Graham Smith, “A Group of Early Scottish Calotypes”, Princeton University Library Chronicle 46, no. 1 (Autumn 1984): 81–94; and Graham Smith, “Captain Brewster, Calotypist”, in Photography: Discovery and Invention (Malibu, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1990), 71–82.33
According to Brewster’s daughter and biographer, Margaret Maria: “His son Henry, when at home on leave, practised it [photography] under his superintendence, and it was one of his father’s means of relaxation from heavier work, to take positives from the negatives of his son and others”. Gordon, Home Life, 166.34
Graham Smith, “W. Holland Furlong, St Andrews and the Origins of Photography in Scotland”, History of Photography 13, no. 2 (April–June 1989): 139.35
Brewster to Talbot, 27 October 1841, doc. no. 4349, Correspondence, https://foxtalbot.dmu.ac.uk/letters/transcriptDocnum.php?docnum=4349.36
Michael G. Jacob, “Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (1812–81), Pioneer Irish Photographer”, History of Photography 24, no. 2 (Summer 2000): 169–74.37
“Mr. M. P. Edgeworth shewed me, and indeed has left me with one of Sir John Herschels [sic] Cyanotypes made by Sir John”. Brewster to Talbot, 18 November 1843, doc. no. 4897, Correspondence, https://foxtalbot.dmu.ac.uk/letters/transcriptDocnum.php?docnum=4897.38
Smith, “Captain Brewster, Calotypist”, 73–79; and Smith, Disciples of Light, 61–68.39
Minutes, 1 May 1843, UY8525/1, fol. 80v, cited in Smith, “Captain Brewster, Calotypist”, 72.40
John Adamson, St Andrews, to Talbot, 9 November 1842, doc. no. 4645, Correspondence, https://foxtalbot.dmu.ac.uk/letters/transcriptDocnum.php?docnum=4645.41
For a facsimile and discussion, see Ralph L. Harley Jr and Joanna L. Harley, “The ‘Tartan Album’ by John and Robert Adamson”, History of Photography 12, no. 4 (October–December 1988): 295–316.42
Brewster’s portrait is fixed on the verso front cover of the album. For a reproduction see Harley and Harley, “The ‘Tartan Album’”, 308, plate 1. This portrait is a tightly cropped oval duplicate print of the photograph reproduced as figure 4 here.43
Figure 12 is a duplicate print of the photograph in the Tartan Album. A reproduction from the Tartan Album, currently held by the British Library, was not available at the time of publication due to permission restrictions and conservation concerns. For a poor-quality reproduction of the Tartan Album print, see Harley and Harley, “The ‘Tartan Album’”, 313, plate 12.44
Deborah Cherry adopted the concept of worlding from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, specifically from an interview with Elizabeth Grosz in 1984. Deborah Cherry, “Earth into World, Land into Landscape: The ‘Worlding’ of Algeria in Nineteenth-Century British Feminism”, in Orientalism’s Interlocutors: Painting, Architecture, Photography, ed. Jill Beaulieu and Mary Roberts (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 106–8.45
Launceston Examiner, 13 April 1844, 236, cited in Gael Newton, Shades of Light: Photography and Australia, 1839–1988 (Canberra: Australian National Gallery, 1988), 9.46
On Scottish emigration to colonial Tasmania, see Benjamin Wilkie, The Scots in Australia, 1788–1938 (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer, 2017), 24–25.47
George Ranken Playfair, Shajehanpore [Shahjahanpur], to Janet Ross, St Andrews, 19 September 1849, msdep14/7/5, Special Collections, Archives, University of St Andrews.48
For the military campaign in China, see George Ranken Playfair, aboard the Madagascar, to George Playfair, Meerut, Bengal, 27 December 1840, 2–7 March 1841 and 10 April 1841, msdep14/7/2, Special Collections, Archives, University of St Andrews. “G. R. Playfair” is listed among the members and subscribers elected to the Amateur Photographic Association at a meeting held on 7 November 1862. A. S. Melhuish, “Amateur Photographic Association”, Photographic Journal 8, no. 127 (15 November 1862): 166. See also Morrison-Low and Stevenson, Scottish Photography, 192.49
S[amuel] Bourne, “A Photographic Journey through the Higher Himalayas”, British Journal of Photography 16, no. 499 (26 November 1869): 570. On the expedition, see James R. Ryan, Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 54–61. George Ranken was well acquainted with Bourne’s photographs of the Himalayas before accompanying him on this expedition. After his own Himalayan journey from Simla toward the village of Chini in November and December 1863, George Ranken received a portfolio of Bourne’s photographs, writing to his brother Robert Lambert: “I have just had presented to me about 26 magnificent photographs 12 × 10 of the principal scenes on the route I followed, they are by a Mr Bourne, a professional and surpass anything I ever saw before for exquisite beauty of detail”. George R. Playfair, Agra, to Robert Lambert Playfair, 22 February 1864, msdep14/6/2, fols. 363–64, Special Collections, Archives, University of St Andrews.50
George Ranken Playfair, Shahjahanpur, to Janet Ross, St Andrews, 6 February 1850, msdep14/7/6, Special Collections, Archives, University of St Andrews. John Burns was a teacher at Madras College in St Andrews and was elected an ordinary member of the Literary and Philosophical Society in 1841. Minutes, 16 April 1838, UY8525/1, fol. 4.51
See Graham Smith, “‘Calotype Views of St. Andrews’ by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson”, History of Photography 7, no. 3 (July–September 1983): 207–36; and Graham Smith, “Imagination and the Genius of Antiquity at St Andrews”, Studies in Photography, 2002–3: 75–82.52
The University of St Andrews photograph collection includes several albums that either derive from or were donated by descendants of the Playfair family. Although most are best thought of as family compilations, the sequence and geographical range of subjects of Album 53A closely relate to the early career of Robert Lambert Playfair. For his papers see msdep14/6, Special Collections, University of St Andrews.53
Reid, Memoirs and Correspondence, 22.54
In the St Andrews context, Graham Smith has drawn attention to a letter that indicates that Juliet Brewster, née Macpherson, was primarily responsible for the compilation now known as the Brewster Album. David Brewster stated in correspondence with Talbot: “I am anxious to have a few more of your works, as I have distributed them very liberally, and my wife is making up a book of specimens”. David Brewster, St Leonards, St Andrews, to Talbot, 22 October 1842, quoted in Smith, Disciples of Light, 13. On women as album compilers, see Patrizia Di Bello, Women’s Albums and Photography in Victorian England: Ladies, Mothers and Flirts (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), esp. 55–76.55
British photographs purchased by the public institutions of colonial Australia provide one example of this vast topic. See Christine Downer, “Portfolios for the Curious: Photographic Collecting by the Melbourne Public Library 1859–1870”, in Ann Galbally and Alison Inglis, The First Collections: The Public Library and the National Gallery of Victoria in the 1850s and the 1860s (Parkville: University of Melbourne Museum of Art, 1992), 73–79. Regarding British paintings in colonial Australia see Matthew C. Potter, British Art for Australia, 1860–1953: The Acquisition of Artworks from the United Kingdom by Australian National Galleries (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019).56
[David Brewster], “Photogenic Drawing, or Drawing by the Agency of Light”, Edinburgh Review 76, no. 154 (January 1843): 309–44.57
Among others, see Edwards, The Making of English Photography, 52–58; Di Bello, Women’s Albums, 65–66; François Brunet, “Nationalities and Universalism in the Early Historiography of Photography (1843–1857)”, History of Photography 35, no. 2 (May 2011): 99–101; and Vered Maimon, Singular Images, Failed Copies: William Henry Fox Talbot and the Early Photograph (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), 36–37.58
As early as 5 October 1840, Brewster referred in a letter to Talbot to a request he had received to write “a short Article in the next No. of the Edinr Review on Photogenic Drawing and the Daguerreotype”. In a letter of 8 November 1840, he noted that the journal editor had agreed to its postponement. Work on the article had recommenced by 10 July 1842, and continued over the following months, for submission by 8 November 1842. Brewster to Talbot, 5 October 1840, doc. no. 4141; 8 November 1840, doc. no. 4165; 10 July 1842, doc. no. 4541; 15 August 1842, doc. no. 4573; 22 October 1842, doc. no. 4628; and 2 November 1842, doc. no. 4638, Correspondence.59
[Brewster], “Photogenic Drawing”, 327–28. On Rembrandt as a pictorial benchmark for early calotypes, see Lindsay Smith, “Sun-Struck: Elizabeth Rigby (Eastlake) and the Sun’s ‘Earnest Gaze’ in Calotypes by Hill and Adamson”, in Photography and the Arts: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Practices and Debates, ed. Juliet Hacking and Joanne Lukitsch (London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020), 103–6.60
[Brewster], “Photogenic Drawing”, 329. Nine years later in 1852, Brewster reprinted verbatim this lengthy passage in his anonymous essay “Binocular Vision and the Stereoscope”. In doing so, he extended its relevance to the “more powerful influence” of stereoscopic photography. That he reprinted this passage in full and without amendment underlines its foundational significance to his thinking. [David Brewster], “Binocular Vision and the Stereoscope”, North British Review 17, no. 33 (May 1852): 190–91.61
Brewster to Talbot, 20 August 1842, doc. no. 4583, Correspondence, https://foxtalbot.dmu.ac.uk/letters/transcriptDocnum.php?docnum=4583. Brewster had earlier described St Andrews to Talbot as “the headquarters (always excepting Lacock Abbey) of the Talbotype”. Brewster to Talbot, 27 October 1841, doc. no. 4349, Correspondence, https://foxtalbot.dmu.ac.uk/letters/transcriptDocnum.php?docnum=4349. “Talbotype” was an alternative neologism for “calotype”. By the late summer of 1842, Brewster apparently felt no further need for the parenthetical qualification.62
David Wilkie, Sir David Wilkie’s Sketches in Turkey, Syria and Egypt: 1840 and 1841, Drawn on Stone by Joseph Nash (London: Graves and Warmsley, 1843); and David Roberts, The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt, and Nubia, 3 vols. (London: F. G. Moon, [1842–49]). University of St Andrews, Special Collections, rfxND497.W6T9 and rffNE1701.R7H7.63
Edwards, The Making of English Photography, 62.64
Yeshayahu Nir, The Bible and the Image: The History of Photography in the Holy Land, 1839–1899 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985).65
Brewster’s association with the first book published in Britain to include prints after daguerreotypes is relevant here. The Brewsters were close friends of the Reverend Alexander Keith, a former minister of the Church of Scotland at the village parish of St Cyrus, located halfway between St Andrews and Aberdeen. Keith first took part in a mission to Palestine with three other ministers in 1839, and later claimed he had taken calotype paper with him but had failed to produce results. In 1844 Keith again visited Palestine, on this occasion with his son George Skene Keith. During the visit George Skene took at least thirty daguerreotypes, eighteen of which featured as engravings in his father’s bestseller, the 36th edition of Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion Derived from the Literal Fulfilment of Prophecy (Edinburgh: William Whyte, 1848). See Sheona Beaumont, “Photographic and Prophetic Truth: Daguerreotypes, the Holy Land, and the Bible According to Reverend Alexander Keith”, History of Photography 42, no. 4 (November 2018): 338–55; and Nir, The Bible and the Image, 34–39. Beaumont plausibly argues that Keith may have received the calotype paper prior to his first trip through his friendship with James Brewster, brother of David. On the connections between Alexander Keith and the Brewsters, see Beaumont, “Photographic and Prophetic Truth”, 339n4. David Brewster also referred to the receipt of “fourteen … beautiful engravings” based on George Skene Keith’s daguerreotypes in advance of the book’s publication, including of “Mount Zion, Tyre, Petra, Hebron, Askelon, Gerash, Cesaraea, Ashdod, and other interesting places”. [David Brewster], “Photography”, North British Review 7, no. 14 (August 1847): 503.66
Dominique François Arago, Rapport de M. Arago sur le daguerréotype (Paris: Bachelier, 1839), 28–32. For a translation, see Alan Trachtenberg, ed., Classic Essays on Photography (New Haven, CT: Leete’s Island Books, 1980), 17. On the significance of Arago’s proposal, see Ali Behdad, “The Orientalist Photograph”, in Photography’s Orientalism: New Essays on Colonial Representation, ed. Ali Behdad and Luke Gartlan (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2013), 13–14.67
On the friendship between Brewster and Arago, see Gordon, Home Life, 84, 202–6.68
The Talbotype Applied to Hieroglyphics, trans. Samuel Birch (London, 1846).69
[Brewster], “Photogenic Drawing”, 332.70
On Excursions daguerriennes, see Steffen Siegel, “Uniqueness Multiplied: The Daguerreotype and the Visual Economy of the Graphic Arts”, in Photography and Other Media in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Nicoletta Leonardi and Simone Natale (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2018), 116–30; and Geoffrey Batchen, Apparitions: Photography and Dissemination (Sydney: Power Publications, 2018), 42–50.71
[Brewster], “Photogenic Drawing”, 332.72
On Vernet and Goupil-Fesquet’s travels and work, see Michèle Hannoosh, “Horace Vernet’s ‘Orient’: Photography and the Eastern Mediterranean in 1839, Part I: A Daguerrean Excursion”, Burlington Magazine 158, no. 1357 (April 2016): 264–71, and Michèle Hannoosh, “Horace Vernet’s ‘Orient’: Photography and the Eastern Mediterranean in 1839, Part II: The Daguerreotypes and Their Texts”, Burlington Magazine 158, no. 1359 (June 2016): 430–39.73
[Nöel-Marie-Paymal Lerebours], Excursions daguerriennes: vues et monuments les plus remarquables du globe (Paris: Rittner et Goupil, 1842). Rare Books, Photo NE2600.L4, University of St Andrews Library.74
Acquisition Records: Order Book 1841–1861, 6 May 1841. Muniments of the University of St Andrews, Special Collections, UYLY311/1.75
On 2 September 1841, Brewster borrowed the then available fascicles of Excursions daguerriennes from the university library for the first time. On 8 November 1842, he borrowed the first ten livraisons, presumably to complete last minute revisions on his photography essay before its submission to the Edinburgh Review. On 14 January 1843, he borrowed livraisons 11 to 15, indicating that the library had received the complete first series by this time. Still entranced with the publication, Brewster again borrowed livraisons 1, 2, 4, and 10 from the library on 1 February 1843. Soon afterwards, the library had the fifteen livraisons of the first series bound together into its current embossed leather volume. On 24 October 1842, Brewster also borrowed two other works in preparation for the photography essay: L. J. M. Daguerre, History and Practice of Photogenic Drawing, or The True Principles of the Daguerreotype, trans. J. S. Memes (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1839); and Robert Hunt, A Popular Treatise on the Art of Photography, including Daguerréotype (Glasgow: Richard Griffin, 1841). Both these texts are also held in Special Collections, University of St Andrews. See Professors’ Receipt Book 1836–1849, Muniments of the University of St Andrews, Special Collections, UYLY206/10: Sir D. Brewster, 2 September 1841, 756; 24 October 1842, 762; 8 November 1842, 762; 14 January 1843, 792; and 1 February 1843, 792.76
[Brewster], “Photography”, 502.77
In 1843, Brewster referred in a footnote to Excursions daguerriennes, collection de 50 planches, représentant les vues et les monuments les plus remarquable du globe. Four years later, he cited the updated title Excursions daguerriennes. Collection de 114 planches, représentant les vues et les monuments les plus remarquables du globe, 2 vols. [Brewster], “Photogenic Drawing”, 332; and [Brewster], “Photography”, 465, 502.78
[Brewster], “Photogenic Drawing”, 344.79
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