York’s First Photographs

October 22, 2019

A New Trail in York Museum Gardens Celebrates Victorian Visionaries

29 August- 4 November 2019

The first photographs taken in York, depicting Victorian visionaries, innovators and influencers, are on display in York Museum Gardens and Library Lawn as part of a new trail.

In 1844, the greatest scientific minds in the UK gathered for the York meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Their visit was captured on camera by D O Hill and R Adamson, leaders in their field, and these very early photographs, known as calotypes, are believed to have been the very first taken in York.

Andrew Woods, senior curator at the Yorkshire Museum, said: “These photographs are not only exceptional in that they are the first taken in York and are revolutionary in their technological advancement, but to also capture the scientific minds who played such an integral role in history is extraordinary.

“Some of the individuals featured in the trail are well-known and some are less so, but all have incredible stories and made great contributions in their fields.

“Come along to find out more about photography, these trailblazing scientists and the role that the Yorkshire Museum and Gardens played, and still plays, in the scientific world.”

The photographs, which have be reproduced with the permission of the National Galleries Scotland, will feature alongside fascinating insights into each individual, to form a new trail that leads through York Museum Gardens and its historic buildings and the Library Lawn.

Follow the trail to discover more about twelve Victorians who made their mark on York and the world of science.

 These are:

William Etty (1787 – 1849)

Born in York, William Etty was one of the most famous painters of his day. He campaigned for an art school in York, and to preserve the city walls. He is commemorated with a statue in Exhibition Square. You can see his tomb in St Olave’s churchyard through the railings in the Abbey ruins.

David Octavius Hill (1802 – 1870) and Robert Adamson (1821 – 1848)

In 1843, Robert Adamson set up a studio to make calotypes – a form of early photograph – in Edinburgh. He was joined by David Octavius Hill, a landscape painter. They came to York in 1844 where they used the new technology to photograph the scientists attending the British Association conference.

Edward Harcourt (1757 – 1847)  

Edward Harcourt was the Archbishop of York. Even at 87, he remained one of the most influential men in York and had many aristocratic connections. He laid the foundation stone for the Yorkshire Museum in 1827, and was a life member of the British Association.

John Johnstone (1799-1869)     

John Johnstone was a wealthy landowner and Member of Parliament. He provided the stone to build the Yorkshire Museum and the Scarborough Rotunda. He gave a home and employment to the impoverished ‘Father of English Geology’, William Smith. At the 1844 conference, he served as a Vice-President of the Statistics Section.

The Baines family 

Henry Baines was responsible for York Museum Gardens. He is shown with his wife Rebecca, and four of their five daughters. For many years the family lived in the museum basement. In 1845 they moved to the newly-built Manor Cottage.

William Scoresby (1789-1857)    

William Scoresby was an Arctic explorer and scientist. He made his first voyage when he was ten years old. Later, he captained a Whitby whaling ship and studied the animals, weather and sea of the Arctic. By 1844, he was a vicar and retired from Arctic exploration. He continued to study, publishing important work on magnetism.

Charles Peach (1800-1886)         

Charles Peach was a coastguard officer who became an amateur naturalist and geologist. He presented a paper on marine zoology at the 1844 meeting. Although he had no formal training, the British Association was impressed by his findings and offered to help him with his studies.

Thomas Simpson (1788-1863)   

Thomas Simpson was a surgeon who lived and practised in York. He helped to found the York Medical Society and twice served as its President. At the 1844 conference he served as Vice-President of the Medical Science section.