Monday, March 30, 2020

Natal Photographers: Coney; subject Swires, Maud

Maud Alice Swires (1890 - 1969), my paternal grandmother, 
 as a child (aged about 4) taken by 
John W Coney in his Pietermaritzburg studio. Cabinet print.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Kisch Family

Family of Benjamin Kisch whose name can be seen on the dark card of this
cabinet print.  The photograph was taken at the Mercury Lane Studio circa 1880. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Baines as photographer

The artist, Thomas Baines, was also an accomplished photographer. Here he is seen during his Expedition to Victoria Falls, 1860-1864.  Baines entitled the sketch 'Photography under difficulties'.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Natal Photographers: Caney's Building, Durban

The Caney's Building, West Street, Durban; the name can be seen 
over the store window. Next door was the Tattersall Bar.

 This was the first 3 storey structure in Durban. The family lived on the third floor, which was rickety and which swayed when the wind blew strong off the Bay. 
The third floor was demolished as a result. 

The shape of the lady's skirt outside the shop window indicates a date during the 1860s, when the fan-shaped hoop was fashionable.

Acknowlegement: Graham Leslie MacCallum

Monday, March 23, 2020

Photographers: Napier

Mr A Napier wasn't one to hold back modestly in his self-advertising. All done 'in the most artistic style'. We are left wondering quite he means by 'Rembrandt, Enamelled and Fancy Style of Picture' but it is clear he was not averse to taking photographs in the open air; he mentions landscape and architectural also groups and animals. An additional incentive would be the 'Dressing Room adjoining Studio'. He goes on to assure customers that 'First Class work only Issued'. 

This advert is dated 1889. By 1880 Napier was operating a studio in Johannesburg, continuing until 1899. In 1908 there was 'Napier Studios' at 163 Longmarket, Pietermaritzburg but whether these were connected with A Napier of Johannesburg is not certain. It seems unlikely since the photographer in the Pietermaritzburg studio's name is given as J W Garner in the 1908 Almanac.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Natal Photographers: Murray, J H

Tradeplates used by J H Murray, one of Natal's longest practising photographers, working first with Kermode 1873 to 1874. Murray had a Pietermaritzburg studio from 1877 until the early 1900s. 

Bensusan says Murray 'was a familiar figure touring Natal in a horse-drawn trap, taking his dark-room with him and doing all his development on the spot'.

He sent over 50 photographs to the Colonial Exhibition in London in 1880.

Active during the Anglo-Boer War, Murray took a number of photographs of volunteer units.

      Young man photographed by J H Murray in Pietermaritzburg ca 1880s

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Natal Photographers: James, W E, Bell family

Tradeplate of W E James as seen on the reverse of a photograph
of the Bell family (see above), possibly taken outside
the lightkeeper's residence on the Bluff.
 This photo was one of few in an outside location at this date.

 James had a studio at Central West Street, Durban in 1875. The photo must have been taken after the death of Captain William Bell in 1869. Those in the picture include Douglas Bell (possibly the figure holding the telescope; on the back the name is given as Uncle Dog), an unknown man who might have been the Assistant Lightkeeper, 'Aunt Ellen' (Ellen Harriet Bell married Baxter) and 'Cousin Violet Bell' (Violet Amy Bell daughter of Sarah Scott Bell, later Pay).

The original photo was in black and white but was restored and coloured by artist Hartmut Jager.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Natal Photographers: Coney

Until photography became a more feasible way to earn a reasonable living, many Natal photographers resorted to diversifying into other fields at the same time as running their studios. Dickinson was in partnership with his brother as an ironmonger, for example, Benjamin Caney was a jeweller and watchmaker, and even a grocer when he first started out in Natal.

John W Coney's extra string to his bow was as Undertaker and Cab Proprietor but his studio was at 162 Chapel Street Maritzburg. The advertisement above appeared in the Natal Almanac of 1897.

Imperial Soldier, Duke of Wellington's Regiment,  
Anglo-Boer War taken by Coney

Monday, March 16, 2020

Natal Photographers: Larsen Brothers

Cabinet print by E Larsen, 410 West St, Durban
Emil and Gusta Larsen with daughter Dora. Gusta was
the daughter of Thomas and Ane Dahle of Lot 30 Marburg

Twin brothers Emil and Sigvart Larsen were photographers from circa 1890s in the Dundee, Vryheid and Volksrust Triangle. On 8 October 1900 the Larsen family's home was occupied by British forces serving in the Anglo-Boer War. Affidavits about this are preserved in the State Archives. During the occupation of the house the British removed and destroyed all of the Larsen photographic plates, a tragic loss of valuable material. A Military Officer took the Larsens' keys and their home was immediately occupied by Lieut Col Gawne, OC, and a Captain Shaw. Most of Gawne's force of 900 were garrisoned on Lancaster Hill outside the town.

The Larsen brothers were expelled from Vryheid and later moved their photographic operation to Durban. They were at 410 West Street; earlier they had had a studio in Greyville, and Emil was in Winder Street, Durban, in 1904. They were gone by 1905.

For more on Larsens in South Africa go to

Acknowledgement to David Larsen.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Natal Photographers listed 1899: Lloyd

The Natal Almanac gives a list of photographers operating in Durban in 1899 - which means 1898 at least due to date of publication of Almanac. Ebenezer Edmund Caney is at 2  Winder Street but other Caneys are not shown - Benjamin William had died in 1895, others were working elsewhere. 

James Lloyd of 435 Smith Street had been running a successful studio since the late 1850s. The Natal Star of 8 December 1860 had advertised for sale a valuable camera, chemicals etc and 'a variety of photographs of Natal scenery, inhabitants and customs', all the property of James Lloyd. Presumably he was on the move. He was working in Durban again in 1871.

The 'Ross Type Miniatures' referred to above were traditional painted portraits by Sir William Charles Ross RA (3 June 1794 – 20 Jan 1860) an English portrait and portrait miniature painter of Scottish descent. With the introduction of the photographic art, the skill and time required to paint a portrait miniature fell away, and Lloyd was quick to capitalise on the new method.  However, it's doubtful whether the photographic miniatures could approach the artistic and beautiful examples painted by Ross.
Portrait miniature of Ross's sister Magdalena Dalton
c. 1835–40, Watercolour on ivory)
An exhibition of Lloyd's Anglo-Zulu War photographs was mounted at the centennial reappraisal conference held at the University of Natal, Durban, in 1979.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Natal Photographers: Murray and Kermode

At this date (1878-1893) J H Murray had a studio in the Market Square, Church Street, Pietermaritzburg. He moved further along Church St in 1893 and was at number 311 until 1898.

Originally, in the 70s, he was in partnership with William Kermode. Edward and Margaret Kermode, the parents of William, were Byrne Settlers on the Edward arriving in Natal in March 1850. At that time they had a son, Thomas E.  

In all likelihood the Natal photographer is the William Kermode shown in the 1881 Census for Douglas, Isle of Man, where his birthplace appears as Natal and his occupation as 'retired photographer'.

If William was the second son of Edward and Margaret and born in the colony about 1858 this would fit in well with the age of 30 at the time of the 1881 Census. The scenic beauties of the Isle of Man were then a magnet for photographers and artists.

By 1876 William Kermode is listed in Durban as photographer (no mention of Murray) at Smith and Gardiner Streets.That is his final entry.

Two ladies photographed by Kermode and Murray; 1870s.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Natal Photographers: Ferneyhough

It became fashionable for photographers to claim a patron. George Taylor Ferneyhough mentions his studio is 'Under Royal Patronage' and who would refute such a claim? His Studio was The Natal Stereo and Photographic Company, Church Street, Pietermaritzburg. This was during the eighties. Earlier he was at 12 Longmarket Street 1877-81. By the nineties he was at 85 Church Street.

Ferneyhough was interested in the theatre and had initially come to South Africa as the manager of a theatrical company. He said of himself: 'I can only call myself an amateur. Driven by commercial losses from affluence to earn a living I came out here and used my chemical knowledge, gained as a pastime ... in the calling I now pursue. ...I have worked myself step by step until I am considered the best out-door worker in the Colony.'

In the 1880s he obtained good shots of Finlay's Comet (first visible in Natal in September 1882) and the Transit of Venus. After the Zulu War of 1879 he took views of the valley where the Prince Imperial was killed and these were highly praised by Empress Eugenie.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Natal Photographers: the Seventies; Cabinet Prints

A new crop of photographers emerged in Natal during the 1870s, though a few old names remained, such as Caney and Kisch. 

Cartes de visites were still being produced in large numbers in this decade, but cabinet prints were gradually becoming popular. These were larger and were produced in large numbers. By the 1890s they were more commonly-found than cartes.

Robert Forbes of the City Photographic Studio lived and worked in Pietermaritzburg in the 1870s, first at 14 Loop Street then later at 8 Greyling Street. By 1889 he was in Bethlehem. Note that the term Kafir had none of the opprobrium attached to it in more recent times and simply meant 'unbeliever'.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Natal Photographers: Ambrotypes: Archibald Downie

This superb ambrotype is of Archibald Downie b 1835 Scotland. By the time Natal photographers were starting to flourish, other more modern methods were being used to produce an image. So, if you find an ambrotype among your ancestors' memorabilia it is likely to have been made overseas. Not many are found in local collections. This ambrotype dates to about 1855 based on the costume details.

An ambrotype was a wet collodian negative made into a one-off positive, and had the quality of a daguerrotype but was cheaper to produce. The method coincided with rise of the commercial photographer and were made in large numbers though not many in South Africa.

A thin under-exposed glass negative was given a backing of black velvet or shellac. The result when seen from the unmasked side was to turn the clear glass areas black. Against this background the exposed parts of the negative reflected the light. Thus a positive effect was achieved. Though the finished ambrotype did tend to be sombre many show good contrast of light and shade.

In Britain they were originally called collodian positives but they were patented in the US under the name ambrotype. They had largely died out by about 1880. So far I have yet to find an example made in Natal.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Natal Photographers and their work: tintypes

This is a tintype of Mr Birch, studio unknown. Tintypes (ferrotypes) were introduced circa 1856 and quickly became popular, surviving as 'beach' and fairground photos till 1950. Cheap to produce the plate was a piece of metal. 36 exposures could be taken from one plate. It was a very portable method and itinerant photographers used the tintype as they moved around the mining areas such as Kimberley. As the tintype was the province of the travelling photographer it can show our ancestors away from the stolid formality of the studio as they appeared on an outing at the seaside or at the fair.

As with ambrotypes and daguerrotypes each was a unique picture though the quality was inferior to photographs produced by those methods.

A thin blackened sheet of iron was coated with a wet collodion emulsion. All chemical operations took place inside a specially designed camera. The camera would be multi-lensed. The plate was quickly processed, taken from the camera, cut up into individual tintypes and handed, still wet, to the customer. It cost only a few pence. Sometimes they were framed or mounted (in an equally thin metal frame) to bring them up to the size of a carte, for use in an album. The image was reversed. Many tintypes look a bit murky, black and dark grey being the predominant colours. Although at first they may be mistaken for ambrotypes, they are always much smaller, being snipped off the metal plate, and the contrasts are not as good. Still, they fulfilled a need and at a cheaper price were welcomed by customers.

These tintypes have been hand-coloured - very unusual.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Natal Photographers: Dickinson

Dickinson Brothers advertisement from Natal Almanac 1874

Born in Ilfracombe, Devon, Charles Hammond Dickinson arrived in Natal about 1852 and was taking photographs, probably as an amateur, in Durban in 1858, often of local celebrities. A photograph of early settler Henry Francis Fynn taken by Dickinson in Durban in 1858 is held at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository.

Marianne Churchill (Mrs Hugh Gillespie) writing in 1857 remarks that she had 'a very truthful likeness' taken by Mr Charles Dickinson, but that 'perhaps it makes me appear a little too large in every way'.

This photographer was a water-colourist, too. His painting of a Royal Durban Ranger done ca 1856 is preserved in the Campbell Collections, Durban. Dickinson was himself a member of the Rangers. Several other paintings by Dickinson are in the Natal Society Library's collection (now the Msunduzi Municipal Library).

Dickinson was also an ironmonger in partnership with his brother, Robert William Dickinson.

Henry Francis Fynn photographed by Charles Hammond Dickinson

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Natal Photographers continued: Burgess, Brock and Bowman

Brock's advert in Natal Almanac 1876; the ad tells us he was still
producing cartes-de-visite which could be hand-coloured and even made to 'Life Size'.

William Henry Burgess (mentioned in Russell's History) was one of the earliest photographers in Natal. The Burgess family came to Natal on the ship Rydal in 1856. By 1857 he was taking 'photographic likenesses' by the collodian, or wet-plate, process. His studio was at West Street, Durban.

Burgess, in line with other photographers at that date, had another string to his bow. He was a dispensing chemist. He was also a lay preacher and in 1858 moved to Verulam, Natal, where a number of Wesleyan immigrants had settled. He went to the diamond fields in 1871, returning to Natal in the late 1870s and practising as a chemist at Richmond. He left Natal again in the 1880s, dying in the eastern Transvaal in 1886.

Precisely because he was such an early Natal photographer, there is no advertisement in the Natal Almanac which began to be published later than the year Burgess left for Verulam (1858), though further research may reveal other sources and tell us more about this interesting colonist.

James Saumarez Brock was almost contemporaneous with Burgess, as Brock was in Durban from 1859. In 1862 he took over J N Wheeler's studio in Pietermaritzburg and here he was in partnership with William Bowman, 1863 - 1864. The partnership was dissolved in 1864.  In the late 1860s to early 1870s, Brock lived in the Byrne valley taking individual portraits, family groups and views. Things weren't going too well and Brock entered insolvency proceedings in 1865 - 1867. Emerging from this unfortunate phase, he advertised a Photographic Studio at 24 Longmarket Street, Pietermaritzburg next to the Crown Hotel. Brock took over Bowman's studio at 10 Longmarket Street in 1872 and by 1875 Brock was at 24 Loop Street, Pietermaritzburg.

William Bowman continued his studio, without Brock, as the Natal Photographic Company at 23 Church Street, Pietermaritzburg and Smith Street, Durban from 1865. He was advertising his New Cerrotype Process from 1866 - 1872 and was living at 8 Berg Street, Pietermaritzburg.

Whether the New Cerrotype Process was correctly named in this advert for Bowman and Co is uncertain. It may be an error for Ferrotype, more popularly called a Tintype, in which the plate was a sheet of metal. These were favoured by travelling photographers e.g. at the diamond diggings.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Development of Natal Photography: Burgess, Pulleyn, Brock, Fry and James Lloyd

In his History of Old Durban G Russell gives the following information:

Slightly later than the developments in Europe, Natal photographers were becoming more numerous and trying new processes. Mentioned above is the wet collodian process introduced by Frederick Scott Archer in March 1851. This used glass negatives to produce paper prints. Glass made a better negative because it did not give the grainy effect resulting from fibrous paper. But the process was time-consuming and cumbersome. Nevertheless, it became very popular and to this method we owe the pictorial records of the Crimean War and the American Civil War.

Russell makes the point that the collodian pictures faded into 'ghost shadows', perhaps more so in Natal's sub-tropical climate. Not many examples remain in collections. Most of the photographers named by Russell moved on to other methods.

Brock had a studio in Pietermaritzburg by 1873. It's amusing that he offers 'Portraits taken daily, at all Hours' and we imagine Mr Brock being so enthusiastic that he was prepared to be up from sunrise to sundown to fulfill his customers' wish for photographic immortality. Burgess had moved up the north coast to Verulam, presumably drawing his clientele from the immigrants who had settled there.

Fry's advert in the Almanac of 1867 shows that his main business was in cartes de visites. A dozen copies at 17/6 seems a very reasonable rate, though each additional figure was 4 shillings extra.

Development of photography in Natal

Photography was in its infancy in Natal during the 1850s and remained an experimental art for some years. Outdoor photographs were a late development and it is the carte de visite showing the subject posed in the photographer’s studio which most family historians will find among their collections of memorabilia.

The corners of the cartes can give an immediate indication of date: square corners were typical of the 1860s and early 1870s, but from about 1875 rounded corners were in vogue.  So when taking a digital copy of a carte de visite it’s advisable not to crop off those vital corners. In fact try not to crop any part of an early photograph as clues may occur on the lower section of the print such as the name of the studio, or the photographer's name and location.

The First Photograph, or more specifically, the earliest known surviving photograph made in a camera, was taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827. His method was quickly developed by other photographers.

At the time of Niépce's discoveries and those of his contemporaries, Natal was a small obscure trading settlement and it wasn't until the emigration era of the 1850s that the art of photography made an impact on the growing Colony. 

The Natal Almanac was published from about 1863 but individual directories giving names of people didn’t commence until 1871. However, there is an advertisement in the 1863 Almanac stating: Brock and Bowman Photographers At Mr J N Wheeler’s New Portrait Gallery, Pietermaritzburg.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Caney, William Laws in Durban

Reverse of the photo below showing trade-plate,
offering any portraits enlarged to life-size and in oil or water colors [sic]
to order.

Photograph by William Laws Caney during his Durban studio phase; taken
mid-1880s. It's an appealing informal portrait: the little boy in everyday clothes rather than Sunday best and appropriately barefoot among the photographers' farm props (including animal skin). But the crochet collar and intricate quasi-military design of the jacket-front show the quality of the garments. The child's hair has been left in natural curls and waves.