British photographic history

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Alexander McGlashon (sometimes spelled McGlashan) was born in 1811 and established a successful career as a copperplate printer in Edinburgh; examples of his printed work from about 1840 onwards can be found in various museums. As a member of the Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland he clearly had interests beyond the merely mundane and it is not surprising that he became interested in the relatively new medium of photography; while retaining his printing business this seems to have become his main interest. It is difficult to be certain of the date that he first took to photography but two portraits of Thomas Smellie dated 1854 are held by the Eastman Museum; it is likely that he was also producing stereographs at this time.

In 1854 he took the momentous decision to travel to Melbourne in Australia to further his photographic career.  He ran M’Glashon’s photographic gallery from 7 Collins Street East, charging from 5 shillings for a portrait in glass. Several stereographs from this period are held in museums – there is a reasonable case for believing that he may have introduced the stereo process to Australia. Two fine prints of Collins Street in Melbourne have also survived.

He returned to Edinburgh in 1857 where he continued to be very active in photography. Stereographs were hugely popular and he produced many of these featuring views of Edinburgh and central Scotland; an advert he placed in an Edinburgh magazine in 1858 listed 172 stereos. While many of the stereos are well executed “tourist” shots he also in some views explored a more consciously artistic approach. From an embossed retailer's stamp on some of these stereos we know that they were also being sold in USA, suggesting that McGlashon was having considerable success in his photographic business. He lectured on the theory and practice of photography in the Edinburgh Institute. He was a council member of the Edinburgh Photographic Society whose meetings he on occasion chaired and indeed he also gave talks to them on photographic subjects. In addition he was involved in photographic projects with Octavius Hill including exhibiting at the London International exhibition in 1862.

He photographed many well known individuals, as was reported in the contemporary press, leading to the granting of a royal warrant in 1863 when, in November, in partnership with John Walker he photographed the Princes Alfred and William of Hesse, the first occasion on which a member of the royal family sat for an Edinburgh photographer. The two McGlashon portraits of the top selling Victorian novelist Mrs Gaskell are particularly well known being the only photographs of her.

McGlashon continued to be actively involved in photography into the 1870s. He died in Edinburgh in 1877. Fortunately many of his photographs have survived and we are now able to appreciate his importance in mid century Edinburgh photographic circles. 

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Comment by Alex. Sinclair on March 7, 2017 at 9:45

Hi Marcel. In the National Archives of Scotland there is a deed by Alexander McGlashon dated 18th November 1854 in which he states that "I am on the point of going abroad where I may happen to be detained for some considerable time". By this deed he appoints a factor to run his businesses while he is abroad.


A second deed was entered into in Edinburgh by Mary Ann McGlashon, his wife, on March 7th 1857 following the sudden death of the appointed factor. The deed states that "for the improvement of his health, and for other reasons, the said Alexander McGlashon went to Melbourne in Australia in the end of the year 1854 and has since resided and still resides there".

Shipping records show him travelling to Melbourne on the Eagle, arriving in April 1855, and returning from Melbourne in the Great Britain which sailed in May 1857.

Comment by Marcel Safier on March 6, 2017 at 20:58
Hi Alex, Andrew M'Glashon is someone I am interested in as I have been chronicling early Australian photographers. The earliest date I have him at 7 Collins St is 1855 from stereos in the State Library of NSW and the earliest ads I have found date from July 1856. Would you mind sharing the source for his travel to Australia in 1854? Elijah Hart was advertising in Sydney he would take stereo daguerreotypes in January 1853 so clearly pre-dated M'Glashon. Cheers! Marcel, Brisbane.

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