British photographic history

Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history

Online: British Museum collections available

The British Museum has revamped its website and made 1.9 million images of, and from, its collection - including photographs - available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. Commercial use requires permission and payment of a fee. Reasonably sized files may be downloaded directly from the website. 

Such initiatives are not without their pitfalls. An 1858 photograph described as a stereoscopic daguerreotype on paper (!) is clearly not and a second image is also described as a daguerreotype on paper. However these are minor issues compared with the overall availability of images.

A highlight (shown left) s described as a Calotype c.1868 presented by Rev. J Inglis of a Ni-Vanuatu man, Williamu, posing in front of a neutral studio backdrop, seated in a chair next to a table; he wears a suit and tie.  Elsewhere there is work by Roger Fenton, the London Stereoscopic Company and many others, alongside field photography by museum staff. In addition there some random photography books and periodicals including Geijutsu shashin 芸術写真: The Pictorial Photography Magazine for Photographers (Art Photography. A group of photographs from Jabez Hughes studio in Ryde, IoW.  

See more and explore here:

Images: © The Trustees of the British Museum

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Comment by Devorah Romanek on February 3, 2021 at 15:42

Dear Sara,

This is terrifically helpful, I very much appreciate the response. If and when I make any more progress on my current project, I will report back on that.

Best wishes,


Comment by sara stevenson on February 3, 2021 at 12:07

For Devorah's information

I have tracked down the notebook where I transcribed Annan's trade list. His address on the list is 202 Hope Street Glasgow, where, according to the G street directory he was from 1863-70. It has only two sides of entries of photographs for sale (Annan preferred to publish in books/albums) - landscape and architecture in four different sizes and stereo form, and cartes de visite at 1/- each, which are all portraits and predominantly clergymen, with a few artists and politicians. It includes Rev John Inglis of the Tanna Islands, Rev William Thomson of Calabar, Rev Tyo Soga of Caffraria, David Livingstone and Charles Livingstone, and concludes with 'Williamu, Chief Tanna Islands'.

The private collection which held this document is currently on loan to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, but I am not sure if it is currently accessible.

I hope this is helpful

Sara S

Comment by Michael Pritchard on November 30, 2020 at 17:49

Hi, Devorah... Nice when everything comes together. If you need help reaching Sara do let me know. 

Comment by Devorah Romanek on November 30, 2020 at 17:25

Hi both, I just joined this forum. I was the lead researcher on the documentation and digitization project at the British Museum that got the lion's share of ethnographic photographs from Oceania and North America online initially back in 2007, and did the initial, if brief, documentation on the photograph of Williamu. Currently I am undertaking further research on some of the photographs I documented on that project, including the Williamu portrait. Sara, I will pm you, but may I ask where you located Annan's 1865 trade list?

Comment by Michael Pritchard on May 13, 2020 at 13:47

Glad I was of help, Sara. I thought it was a very striking image which is why I thought I would show it. 

Comment by sara stevenson on May 13, 2020 at 13:43

I am delighted to see the photograph of Williamu - it's a portrait I have been looking for. He came to Scotland with Rev John Inglis and was photographed here by Thomas Annan. Annan's trade list of about 1865 includes portraits of both Williamu and Inglis. From the strength and appearance of the image, which compares favourably with Annan's portrait of David Livingstone (see National Galleries of Scotland website), I would think this is the missing Annan. A lovely addition to our knowledge of the man's work. 

With my good wishes to you all

Sara Stevenson

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