British photographic history

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I am currently writing a book on the History of Astrophotography, called ‘Catchers of the Light’.

 

Although it is about astronomical photography, it will include chapters on early photographic pioneers like Frederick Scott Archer.

 

When I began researching the chapter on Frederick Scott Archer, I kept reading he was born about 1813 in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, the son of a butcher.

 

As a professional Astrophotographer, Family Historian and Genealogist this worried me greatly, as there seemed to be no documentary evidence to support this view.

 

So I began to look in detail at the genealogical records held at the Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies Office in Hertford, as well as those from the National Archives etc.

 

What I found in my initial investigation was very interesting.

 

1.       I could find no evidence of a butcher called Archer from Bishops Stortford;

2.       The 1851 census states that Frederick Scott Archer was born in Hertford about 1814 (HO 107/1511);

3.       His memorial inscription at Kensal Green Cemetery states his father was Thomas Archer of Hertford and that he had a sister Sarah and a brother James;

4.       However for Hertford itself, records relating to a Thomas Archer, a butcher are to be found in abundance and for his father Thomas Wright Archer also a butcher and his father James also a butcher!;

5.       I also found the baptism records for Frederick Scott Archer himself, his sister Sarah and brother James Archer at All Saints Church, Hertford as well as all their burials records in Kensal Green Cemetery;

6.       An Apprenticeship Indenture between George Archer and his father Thomas Archer, butcher of Hertford dated 1820

7.       A marriage between Thomas Archer of Hertford and Elizabeth Scott of Little Munden, at All Saints Church, Little Munden on 15 Dec 1802;  

8.       It seems that Thomas Archer’s business at first thrived being the tenant at Priory Farm (as was his father), but then in about 1819 it began to fail

9.       Then followed the sale of live and dead farming stock from Priory Farm, creditors meetings, and then bankruptcy and finally a trial at Hertford Assizes;

10.   Baptism of Frances Garrett Machin at St. Michael’s Church, Bishops Stortford, daughter of Nathaniel Smith Machin, an auctioneer of North Street, Bishops Stortford and King Street, Covent Garden; Her marriage to Archer in 1844 in Bexley, Kent;

11.   I also have found census records and other records relating to Frederick & Fanny’s children after their parents death;

12.   And Frederick Scott Archer’s Will, of those of his Grandfather and Great Grandfather.

13.   It also seems that George Archer, Scott Archer’s brother took part in and survived the infamous ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’!

 

It is seems very clear that Frederick Scott Archer was in all probability not born in Bishops Stortford, and may well have been born at Priory Farm, Hertford (see picture below); and that the only connection he had to the town of Bishops Stortford is that his wife and her family came from there.

 

His date of death in the 'biographies' of him state he died on 2nd May 1857, when in fact his death certicate shows it was in fact the 1st May 1857.

 

So if place of birth his wrong and his date of death is wrong, what else is incorrect?

 

It is then said he became apprentice to a bullion dealer/coin dealer/silversmith in the City of London when he was young, the only one that seeems to fit the description is Benjamin Massey of 116 Leadenhal Street, London - but where is any record to prove this?

 

He was then supposed to have enrolled a pupil at the Royal Academy Schools - but an initial search found nothing?

 

He then becamer a Sculptor exhibiting various pieces, e.g. Alfred the Great and the Book of Common Prayer at Westminster Hall 1844 etc, but do any of them survive?

 

His later life from 1851 until his death is well documented with many advertisements, letters, exhibitions, articles etc appearing in various journals - Notes & Queries, Journal of British Photographic Society etc.

 

For someone who made a significant contribution to the development of photography - very little is proveable by way of primary documentay evidence.

 

Any views or comments or additional information?

 

Regards,

 

Dr. Stefan Hughes

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John Werge in "Evolution of Photography" quotes a letter in his possession from Mrs Archer stating that her husband was apprenticed to a bullion dealer in the City but does not give any further details.
Hello Stefan, I was very impressed to read of your research into FSA firstly on Sean McKenna's website and now here. For the benefit of other readers I would like to point to them to your excellent article which gives a good account of what you have discovered about FSA at http://www.artdeciel.com/Exposure/2010/06/09/default.aspx. The IGI lists extracted records for the baptisms of FSA and his siblings James and Janet all taking place on 21 April 1822, some years after their births but the birth date given for FSA is August 1822, obviously an error and after his date of baptism. I've looked at Frances Machin's family. Her brother Nathaniel was a confectioner with a substantial business. His spinster sister Charlotte is listed with him in some censuses but also with her neice Janet Archer in the 1881 census. Perhaps Nathaniel or Charlotte were able to care for the Archer children after their parent's deaths? Noticing Frances Machin's mother was Mary Debenham, sister of Robert Debenham the business partner of Nathaniel Machin senior in the auction firm Debenham and Machin I have checked with Michael Debenham, and there is no obvious connect with the Debenham family of photographers. I hope you get some more input through exposure of your research on this list and I will follow this all with interest. Cheers! Marcel, Brisbane, Australia
Hello Marcel, Thank you for your input on FSA and your kind words. I have been encouraged by the reaction to my short article on FSA, so much so that I have decided to add to my workload by beginning to write a full biography on FSA. This is a huge task given that so very little is known about him and much of which is vague and unsupported. I have given it the provisional title of 'To the Sons of the Sun' - after the Punch Obituary of June 13th 1857.

However I have discovered one very interesting thing relating to the subjects of the photographs he submitted for exhibition during the years 1852 to 1857. He submitted as far as I can discover 123 photographic exhibits during these six years at various exhibitions, e.g London Society of Arts (1852), Glasgow British Association (1855), Norwich Photographic Society (1856) etc. The subjects were varied ranging from Cathedrals, to Abbeys, to Views of the Thames, to a Waterfall in the Vale of Neath, Glamorgan etc.

I asked myself, why did he choose these subjects, was it random or something more logical. Then it occurred to me that they looked remarkably like the sort of scenes someone like J. M. W. Turner or his friend Thomas Girtin would choose to paint. Also FSA was almost certain to be familiar with their work, and may even have known them having attend the RA Schools and exhibited at the RA.

I was right over 90% of the subjects FSA chose had been drawn or painted by Turner and especially during his youth from 1789 to 1800, including the Waterfall in Wales, Chepstow Castle, Jervaulx Abbey, Rochester Cathedral, the Cambridge Colleges, and even the Walnut Tree at St. Donats! Furthermore he only went to photograph a particular location when a suitable railway line had been completed with a station near to his subject.

I now have to determine how close a match to Turner's pictures FSA's photographs were, i.e. did he copy the same angle and perspective. I suspect he did as one of his subjects is listed as Surbiton on Thames (Natural Clouds) - just the sort of view J.M. W. Turner would have chosen!

So if anyone else can throw some light on this most illusive of early photographers, I would be most grateful.

I have now compiled a detailed family tree for FSA and his wife's family Machin.

Regards, Stefan, Paphos, Cyprus.
Stefan

This discovery about the subjects of FSA's photos is pretty amazing and just goes to show how much more we need to delve into his life and work. I would be happy to help with your projected biography (that just has to become a nicely illustrated book of course!). I reckon George Eastman House would be interested if no one else and Mark Ostermann (who works there) along with his partner France Skully have a considerable interest in FSA being a working wet plate photographers. They were recently in London and visited FSA's grave with Sean McKenna.

As you know upon his death many people including a large number of notable photographers contributed to a fund for FSA's family that his widow only got part of before she died. It seems his death was not quite as ignored as some histories give the impression even if FSA may not have been in a strong financial position when it happened.

There is a Constance Archer listed aged 24 an assistant school mistress in Northfleet, Kent in the 1871 census. I wonder if she could be FSA's daughter? It does not however appear at this stage that FSA would have any living descendants but it would be nice to find them if he does. Have you managed to track any family members on the Archer of Machin side that might be able to assist?

For future exchanges and so I can send you images more freely you might like to take this discussion over to regular email.

Cheers!

Marcel (msafier@ozemail.com.au)
Brisbane, Australia
Stefan,
Frederick Scott Archer’s father, Thomas, was an older brother of my wife’s 2g grandfather, John Archer. John Archer became a miller at Ware, Hertfordshire and immigrated to Tasmania in 1831.
Frederick Scott Archer was born 30 August 1814 and was baptised at the same time as his siblings, James and Sarah on 21 April 1822.
I have recently done some research on the Archer family and have discovered information which may be of use to you. There are some gaps which you may be able to collaborate with me on. I suggest as there probably will be an exchange in documents, it would be more appropriate if we communicate by email directly.
My email address is prachar@bigpond. com.au
Regards
Peter Charnock
Stefan,
Frederick Scott Archer’s father, Thomas, was an older brother of my wife’s 2g grandfather, John Archer. John Archer became a miller at Ware, Hertfordshire and immigrated to Tasmania in 1831.
Frederick Scott Archer was born 30 August 1814 and was baptised at the same time as his siblings, James and Sarah on 21 April 1822.
I have recently done some research on the Archer family and have discovered information which may be of use to you. There are some gaps which you may be able to collaborate with me on. I suggest as there probably will be an exchange in documents, it would be more appropriate if we communicate by email directly.
My email address is prachar@bigpond. net.au
Regards
Peter Charnock
Interesting thread. I too have been researching FSA for a biography, (for the last two years), and have found similar data to Stefan. However, Peter, I wonder where you have got Archer's birth date from? I have narrowed it down to a month and it's quite different than yours.

Regards,

John.

Peter Charnock said:
Stefan,
Frederick Scott Archer’s father, Thomas, was an older brother of my wife’s 2g grandfather, John Archer. John Archer became a miller at Ware, Hertfordshire and immigrated to Tasmania in 1831. Frederick Scott Archer was born 30 August 1814 and was baptised at the same time as his siblings, James and Sarah on 21 April 1822. I have recently done some research on the Archer family and have discovered information which may be of use to you. There are some gaps which you may be able to collaborate with me on. I suggest as there probably will be an exchange in documents, it would be more appropriate if we communicate by email directly.
My email address is prachar@bigpond. net.au
Regards
Peter Charnock


John Brewer said:
Interesting thread. I too have been researching FSA for a biography, (for the last two years), and have found similar data to Stefan. However, Peter, I wonder where you have got Archer's birth date from? I have narrowed it down to a month and it's quite different than yours.

Regards,

John.

Peter Charnock said:
Stefan,
Frederick Scott Archer’s father, Thomas, was an older brother of my wife’s 2g grandfather, John Archer. John Archer became a miller at Ware, Hertfordshire and immigrated to Tasmania in 1831. Frederick Scott Archer was born 30 August 1814 and was baptised at the same time as his siblings, James and Sarah on 21 April 1822. I have recently done some research on the Archer family and have discovered information which may be of use to you. There are some gaps which you may be able to collaborate with me on. I suggest as there probably will be an exchange in documents, it would be more appropriate if we communicate by email directly.
My email address is prachar@bigpond. net.au
Regards
Peter Charnock
John

FSA's birth datecomes from All Saints and St John Hertford records

Regards Peter Charnock
Hello Stefan

Going back to your original statement, that you are writing a book about the History of Astrophotography, I wonder if you have come across the work of Henry Harrison (1811-66) of Ashford in Kent? I don't know anything about this photographic topic, being a portrait specialist, but I was recently contacted by one of Harrison's descendants, a Michael Hill, who has written a privately-published book about his ancestor, who was a keen early photographer, amongst other things (don't ask...) Much of the book is irrelevant to photography, but it includes reproductions of some interesting photographs (calotypes?) dating from the 1850s, including a photograph of the crescent moon and stars, dated March 1850.

If you are interested in pursuing this, let me know and I can give you Michael Hill's postal address so that you can contact him directly for more information. I'm afraid I don't have his email address.

Regards
Jayne Shrimpton

I wrote an article in Dutch in the Photohistorisch Tijdschrift under the title "Astronomen en zakkenrollers" ("astronomers and pickpockets"). That article was triggered by a French stereoscopic photograph that showed someone looking through a telescope while being robbed.  I spoke about this subject to our far related cousin prof Cees Zwaan, astrophysicist at Utrecht University. He gave me some hints and I really got interested in the origins of stellar photography.

I found out that in Leiden University in about 1860 a professor Kaiser wrote his thesis about the practical use of photography for the subject of astronomy.

Cees Zwaan also told me about the early work of professor Draper in America. During my research I also discovered the work of Sir John Herschel and his brother in law John Stewart.  If you are interested, I can give you some more details.

 

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