British photographic history

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Photographic vans, Samuel Oglesby in Australia, and Oliver Sarony

I have long been fascinated by this concept ever since I first saw an engraving in the Illustrated London News, 10 November1855, of the van that Roger Fenton took to the Crimea, with Marcus Sparling in the driver’s seat. It seemed so implausibly compact given the multitude of tasks it was said to perform ‘fitted up for living, cooking, sleeping, and darkroom work’.

Copies of the actual photo exist in various national collections and can now be found e.g. on Wikimedia, as used here.

I’ve never really studied other itinerant photographers who used them until now, however, I am currently researching Oliver Sarony and Samuel Oglesby.

The van Sarony rolled into Wisbech with in 1854 was in stark contrast to Fenton’s, being described as  a “monster carriage (measuring 32 feet in length and weighing seven tons,) with its elegant suite of rooms beautifully fitted up and admirable [sic] adapted for photographic purposes.” Another report that year talks of his van literally cracking the flagstones in the market place in Cambridge.

Consequently I would be grateful if other members could point me in the direction of any accessible background reading on such travelling vans in England, or on Oliver Sarony himself.

I have read that Sarony had links with other photographers and artists, e.g. Heathcote’s ‘Faithful Likeness’ mentions John Baume and the colourist Alfred Lancaster. However, I’ve not read of any links between Sarony and Oglesby, but there seem to be some from 1856 when they were both in Norwich.

Oglesby having moved on Bury St. Edmonds, possibly aiming to capitalise on Sarony’s reputation, said that he used the same artists as Sarony, and offered for sale at least one of Sarony’s photographs, of a General Windham. Subsequently whilst in Boston in 1857, by then Oglesby, like Sarony, had changed over to collodion paper prints, for a time he offered them at half price to people who had previously had daguerreotypes taken by Sarony and wished to exchange them. Sarony settled in Scarborough in 1857, whilst Oglesby continued his travels. They both also used the same design on their CDV mounts in the 1860s (which may, or may not, be significant, as that was not uncommon).

The output of itinerant photographers usually ranks them at the lower end of the quality spectrum, however, the photographs of this pair are anything but, if the quality of their surviving cartes de visites is anything to go by. Whilst ‘local news’ pieces in contemporary newspapers were generally effusive, especially for advertisers, the favourable reviews of the fidelity of their photographs seem more fulsome than most.

Oglesby is an interesting character, in 1833 he and his brother Henry were sentenced, age 10 and 12 respectively, to 7 years transportation for theft of items valued at 8s. 6d. Due to a backlog of prisoners awaiting transportation, they spent 2 years on the prison hulk Euryalus, moored off Chatham. There they remained until they boarded the convict ship John Barry on 31 August 1835. It set sail on 7th September, with 320 convicts on board, bound for New South Wales arriving in Australia on 17th January 1836. Apart from discovering that both brothers received their Certificate of Freedom on the same day, 28th June 1841, to date I have found nothing else about them for the period 1836 – 1849.

Samuel re-emerges in the summer of 1849 as a daguerreotype photographer in Adelaide. I have tracked various references to him 1849 – Aug.1852 on Trove. He subsequently returned to the UK (before or after Beard’s patent had expired?); Heathcote has him in Peterborough in June 1854. After some itinerant years touring the country, his van rolled into Preston in the autumn of 1861, where he settled before moving to Llandudno 5 years later; he died there in 1879.

I’m hoping that there might be some antipodean members who could advise me as to how I might fill in some of the gaps in the timeline.

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Comment by Rob Whalley on March 9, 2023 at 1:31

I have just discovered that Anne and Paul Bayliss wrote a lengthy article (pp 61-83) about Sarony for the Transactions of the Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society, Number 37, and that it is available to download online: 

Some bedtime reading until their book arrives.

Comment by Rob Whalley on March 7, 2023 at 10:11

John, Thanks for sharing these, so good to finally see the quality of his work!

Comment by John Marriage on March 7, 2023 at 9:39

By request, here are a couple of images of the Sarony daguerreotype I mentioned earlier. Bought in an antique shop in Ely, so probably from the Sarony visits to either Wisbech or Cambridge in 1854 - sold as "Interesting Victorian Frame" with no mention of the picture!

Comment by Jack Lowe on March 6, 2023 at 17:00

Here's mine, Rob — a decommissioned NHS emergency ambulance turned wet collodion darkroom affectionately known as Neena (see cab door).

Have a look at my profile for full context.

Best wishes,


Comment by Rob Whalley on March 6, 2023 at 10:32

Thanks John, I have recently sourced and bought a copy of the Bayliss's book, eagerly awaiting its arrival! It would be great if you could post a photo of that daguerreotype on here, I and probably many others, have never seen one.

Comment by María de los Santos García Felgu on March 6, 2023 at 10:06

A very interesting topic, Rob. Congratulations!

In Spain the Jean Laurent's van was reconstructed for the  exhibition  La España de Laurent (1856-1886). Un paseo fotográfico por la historia, Pablo Jiménez Díaz, Óscar Muñoz Sánchez and Carlos Teixidor Cadenas, Madrid, Ministerio de Cultura, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, 2018.

Comment by John Marriage on March 6, 2023 at 9:23

There is a booklet "Photographers in mid Nineteenth Century Scarborough" by Anne & Paul Bayliss, subtitle "The Sarony Years". It has a chapter on Oliver Sarony including his itinerant period 1843-57. ISBN 0-9506405-3-0. I got my copy after buying a Sarony daguerreotype in an Ely antique shop!

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