Thursday, 28 March 2013

Sepia Saturday 170: The Gamekeeper

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett and Kat Mortensen

I trust that Sepia Saturday readers will forgive my contribution this week having little in common with the photo prompt, except in the sense of two men loitering around a doorway. Actually there's not even a doorway in my photograph, although the sharp-eyed will note that there used to be one.

This cabinet portrait is the first photograph in an album given to me several years ago by Jack Armstrong, which is the subject of an ongoing (albeit not very recent) series of Photo-Sleuth articles devoted to documenting, researching and conserving old photograph albums:

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Unidentified men outside house
Cabinet card by unknown photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne (Jack Armstrong Album)

The cabinet mount is glossy green card with no printed indication of the photographer or the location, which is unfortunate. Based on a geographical analysis conducted of the contents of the album - due to appear as the next article in the series mentioned above, in due course - and careful scrutiny of the building's brickwork style by fellow Sepian Nigel Aspdin, it seems likely that it was taken somewhere in the English Midlands, probably in north-east Staffordshire or southern Derbyshire.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Both men stand with their left hands on their hips and are wearing trousers, jacket, waistcoat and flat caps, superficially very similar, but on closer examination a number of differences are apparent setting them well apart. On the left, the slightly older, moustachioed man has a nicely cut jacket with matching waistcoat, a cravate and what appears to be a pair of check Tweed trousers (perhaps even the Prince of Wales check, commissioned first by Edward VII). His shoes are highly polished, his flat cap (possibly also made of Tweed) sits at a slight angle and he carries a cane in his right hand.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The more hirsute man on the right, however, has a thicker jacket and waistcoat to protect from him from the elements, and with plenty of pockets, well-worn, faded and creased working trousers tucked into calf-length gaiters, which in turn cover the upper parts of a pair of clean, but slightly duller working boots with thick soles. His flat cap, like the rest of his clothes, is unpatterned and rather utitlitarian, covering his hair and with the peak horizontally set above his eyes. His only concession to flair is a spotted cravate, just visible beneath a roughly trimmed beard.

Image © Freda Longstaff and courtesy of Lunedale Heritage Image Archive
Gamekeepers and dogs at Wemmergill, undated, probably c1900s
Image © Freda Longstaff and courtesy of Lunedale Heritage Image Archive

It occurred to me that the man on the left was probably a landowner, while the other, probably his employee, is most likely a gamekeeper. A dog - possibly a spaniel, although I'm no expert on breeds - the one accessory that a gamekeeper could not do without, sits patiently at his feet. Searching for images of Victorian and Edwardian gamekeepers on the net produced a brace of similar examples, including the group above, complete with a very similar breed of dog, but I remembered that I have another in my collection of images contributed to the archive for Derbyshire Photographers.

Image © and courtesy of John Bradley
Unidentified gamekeeper
Carte de visite by Thomas Roberts of Albert Street, Derby
Image © and courtesy of John Bradley

This full length portrait from the early 1860s is almost certainly of a gamekeeper with his shotgun, sadly without a spaniel, but wearing similar working clothing except for a flat cap, replaced by a fairly low-crowned, practical top hat. His gaiters are almost identical to those worn by our putative gamekeeper in the first image. Unfortunately the subject this one is likewise not identified, leaving us to assume that he was employed on an estate somewhere near Derby.

Thomas Roberts, Derby's first resident photographer, operated studios in Victoria Street, Oakes' Yard, St James' Lane and Albert Street from 1843 intermittently until 1876. His studio was situated in Albert Street in the latter part of this period, from c.1862 onwards, giving us an earliest date for the portrait.

Unidentified subject with gun and dog, c.1865-1867
Carte de visite by Disdéri & Co, 70-72 Brook Street, Hanover Square W.

Finally I include an image that I've had on file for a while, having found it on eBay (although it was too pricey for me to consider purchasing). The carte de visite was produced by, and presumably taken at, the Westminster branch studio of renowned photographer Disdéri, who operated from this particular address (70,71,72 Brook Street) for a relatively short period of three years, providing a narrow date range for the portrait. Disdéri is credited with the introduction, in 1854, and later popularisation of the carte de visite format.

The young man pictured sitting rather unceremoniously on an what appears to be an upturned tub or half-barrel has all the trappings of a gamekeeper, including stout shoes, shoulder patches, a double-barrelled shotgun and a dutiful dog at his feet.

Image © and courtesy of The Royal CollectionImage © and courtesy of The Di Rocco Wieler Private Collection
H.R.H. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales
(Left) Detail from portrait by Abdullah Freres, Constantinople, c1868
(Right) Carte de visite portrait by Sergei Levitsky, c1870
Images © The Royal Collection and The Di Rocco Wieler Private Collection

His face looked to me rather familiar, and I wondered if he was a young Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII. Certainly he looks very similar to these two portraits of him taken in the late 1860s.

Image © and courtesy of the National Portrait GalleryImage © and courtesy of the National Portrait GalleryImage © and courtesy of the National Portrait GalleryImage © and courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery
Carte de visite portraits of H.R.H. Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh
by (Top) James Russell & Sons, Chichester, 1866 (Lower left) S.B. Barnard, Cape Town, August 1867 (Lower right) Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., Melbourne, 1867-1868
Images © and courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

However, while searching for images of the young Prince in the right time frame (1865-1867) I came across several of his younger brother, Prince Alfred, from May 1866 the Duke of Edinburgh and later the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. During the period in question he was serving as a Captain in the Royal Navy, in command of the frigate HMS Galatea, and sailed on a voyage around the world from January 1867 until June 1871, interrupted by a trip back to England after a failed assassination attempt in Sydney, Australia.

The National Portrait Gallery has a number of portraits of Prince Alfred, including the four above taken in various studios from 1866 to 1868. It is these portraits that have convinced me that the Disderi CDV is indeed of Prince Alfred, not really masquerading as a gamekeeper, but ready to go out for a spot of pheasant shooting.

To end this addition to my intermittent series of Victorian portraits depicting occupations, I'll leave you with a description of an encounter with a gamekeeper and his dog.

She was watching a brown spaniel that had run out of a side-path, and was looking towards them with a lifted nose, making a soft fluffy bark. A man with a gun strode swiftly, softly out after the dog, facing their way as if about to attack them; then stopped instead, saluted, and was turning downhill. It was only the new game-keeper, but he had frightened Connie, he seemed to emerge with such a swift menace ... He was a man in dark green velveteens and gaiters ... the old style, with a red face and red moustache and distant eyes. He was going quickly downhill. 'Mellors!' called Clifford.

D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover


Archival Gamekeepers, from Archival Clothing.

Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi (1819-1889), from the photoLondon database.

Hirsch, Robert (2009) The Carte de Visite and the Photo Album (Chapter 4.5), in Seizing the Light: A Social History of Photography, Second edition, McGraw-Hill, reproduced on Luminous Lint.

Biography of and Photographs by Disdéri on Luminous Lint.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Sepia Saturday 169: Keeping a Kodak Story, the Autographic camera

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett & Kat Mortensen

The image prompt from Sepia Saturday this week depicts a swarm of photographers framing shots of the Washington Monument, the Tidal Basin and cherry trees in full bloom in April 1922. My focus will be on the instrument rather than the practitioner.

Image courtesy of Google Patents
US Patent 1184941 issued to H.J Gaisman, 30 May 1916

Between 1912 and 1917, a young backyard inventor by the name of Henry J. Gaisman was granted several patents for photographic cameras. These improvements allowed the user to "write" a brief caption permanently on the film through a small window in the back of the camera, most importantly, at the time the picture was taken. Gaisman stated that his work on this device arose from the fact that "it annoyed him to return from a vacation trip with pictures that he could not identify," an irritation familiar to most of us who have taken more than a couple of snapshots.

Image © and courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections
"The Autographic Kodaks"
Detail from 1914 Advertisement by Eastman Kodak Co.
Image © and courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections

In July 1914 George Eastman of Eastman Kodal Ltd. paid Gaisman the "remarkable" sum of $300,000 for the patent rights. Within three months several Kodak camera models (1A, 3 and 3A) were on sale, modified accordingly, a special red paper/carbon-backed Autographic Film Cartridge also available in the appropriate film sizes (Coe, 1978).

Image © and courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections
"Make Your Kodak Autographic"
1914 Advertisement by Eastman Kodak Co.
Image © and courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections

In their marketing blurb Eastman Kodak described the Autographic as "the most important photographic Development in two decades." Not only was the feature "incorporated in all of the most important Kodak models," but they also supplied Autographic Backs at very reasonable prices, which could be retro-fitted to at least ten different models, as listed in a number of advertisements.
Prices from $9.00 to $65.00. If you already have a Kodak we can sell you a separate Autographic back. Prices $2.50 up.

Image © and courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections
"The Autographic Kodak" - a negative image
Detail from 1914 Advertisement by Eastman Kodak Co.
Image © and courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections

The advertisements emphasized the usefulness of the Autographic feature, and some included examples of the negatives and prints produced by the camera:
Every negative that is worth making is worth a date and title. The places you visit - interesting dates and facts about the children, their age at the time the pictures were made - the autographs of friends you photograph - these notations add to the value of every picture you make ... The amateur photographer who wants to improve the quality of his work can make notations on his negatives, of the light conditions, stop and exposure.

Image © and courtesy of Tauranga Heritage CollectionImage © and courtesy of Tauranga Heritage Collection
No 3A Autographic Kodak Special Model B
Image © and courtesy of Tauranga Heritage Collection

Kodak claimed great success with the Autographic models, in an 1915 advertisement apparently taken in by their own marketing strategies and hype (in West, 2000):
The Autographic feature has scored a hit, and a big one. At first, perhaps, the interest was mild ... now, in considerably less than a year, it is pretty hard to sell a camera without the Autographic Feature.
It would have been more accurate to say that it was pretty hard to find a Kodak camera without the Autographic feature as a standard feature.

Image © and courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections
"The Day of His Going"
1918 Advertisement by Eastman Kodak Co.
Image © and courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections

After the United States joined the War in April 1917, Kodak urged wives to capture the day of their husband's departure for Europe on film, not forgetting the date and title, permanently recorded on the negative. The Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic, reputedly used by the famed Ansel Adams on his second visit to Yellowstone in 1917, was even marketed as "The Soldier's Camera." The marketing focus was now on nostalgia rather than usefulness.

Image © and courtesy of Kristin Cleage
"?13/2/18 On Barron's Farm" - Paper print (116 x 78mm; 4¼" x 2½")
by an unidentified photographer using A116 film and a No. 1A Autographic Kodak or a No. 2A Folding Autographic Brownie camera
Image © and courtesy of Kristin Cleage

Fellow Sepian contributer Kristin Cleage posted this print of a rural family on her blog Finding Eliza a couple of years ago, and kindly assented to my using it to illustrate this article. It is typical of the prints that could be produced from Autographic film, the black left hand border containing a somewhat overexposed caption which is rather hard to read, perhaps indicative of a problem that was sometimes encountered with the Autographic.

No 1A Autographic Kodak (L), No 2A Folding Autographic Brownie (R)
Images © and courtesy of Historic Camera

Assuming that it is a contact print, the size corresponds to A116 film, which was used by both the No. 1A Autographic Kodak and the No. 2A Folding Autographic Brownie cameras, shown above. Kristin believes it was mostly likely taken at the farm of Oscar Barron in Elmore, Alabama, where her great-grandmother Annie Graham was working and living with her four children in 1920.

Image © and courtesy of Tauranga Heritage Collection
"Old Bill" - Paper print (40 x 60mm; 1⅝" x 2½")
by an unidentified photographer, undated
using A127 film and a Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic camera
Image © and courtesy of the Tauranga Heritage Collection

Another example of an Autographic print, this one probably taken in the late 1910s or early 1920s and possibly a copy, is from the Gunson-Stewart Album in the Tauranga Heritage Collection. The identity of the subject is unknown, although "Old Bill" could be William Nassau Stewart (1873-1954) of Katikati, maternal uncle of a former owner of the album.

Image © and courtesy of Historic Camera
Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic Special
Image © and courtesy of Historic Camera

Unless it is an enlargement rather than a contact print, the print size indicates A127 film, which was used in the Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic Special. Autographic cameras were on sale in New Zealand from at least as early as October 1915 (Advertisement, BOP Times, 1915).

Image © and courtesy of Fred the Oyster
"EAP" Kodak Autographic Print
Image © and courtesy of Fred the Oyster & Flickr

One of the few Autographic images that I did find is this example from Fred the Oyster's Flickr feed, which he scanned (and presumably inverted) from a negative purchased in a junk shop. I have seen very few examples of prints with the Autographic-style caption, and a trawl on the internet produces a similarly meagre catch.

Well known New Zealand photohistorian Bill Main (1990) wrote:
A type of camera which turns up regularly on our doorstep for our museum at the Centre is the Autographic Kodak in all its various shapes and sizes. The paradox of this is the fact that perhaps the rarest item in our collection happens to be photos made with the distinctive Autographic inscription on the print surrounds ... Why this innovation never appealed to the millions of Autographic camera users needs a lot of analysis and study.

and others have described similar experiences (Anon, 2001):
Over the years, at flea markets and antique stores, I've searched through boxes of old snapshots, but I rarely find Autographic prints with notations in the margins. If my experience is typical, then it makes me wonder if the Autographic feature was used very often?

Image © and courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections

Write it on the film - at the time.

   Make every negative more interesting; more valuable by permananently recording, at the time of exposure, the all important - who, when, where. It's a simple and almost instantaneous process with an

Autographic Kodak

Ask your dealer, or write us for catalogue

EASTMAN KODAK CO., Rochester, N.Y., The Kodak City

Eastman Kodak advertisement, 1917

With a little perseverance they can be found - Getty Images has a couple of examples from c.1918 and 1920 - but they are often referred to as a rarity. Judging by the number of Autographic cameras now available on eBay, between 1914 and the late 1930s, when they were discontinued, a huge number (reputedly millions) were sold, so why are there so few extant prints with the caption selvedge? There are several possible explanations:

  • There are many more examples, both in private collections and on the web, but they have not been recognised as emanating from Autographic cameras. Searching the web with Google Images retrieves hundreds of images of cameras, but very few photographs produced by them.
  • When prints are scanned for display on the web, the tendency is to remove framing and borders for aesthetic reasons. Many captions may also have been removed in the process, making them impossible to identify.
  • Despite Eastman Kodak's initial enthusiasm for the innovation, it is conceivable that the majority of Autographic users over the two decades that they were produced just couldn't be bothered to caption each and every snapshot they took.
The text of this Kodak advertisement from 1915 suggests, however, that most prints never have included the captions, even though they may have been inscribed on the negative:
The Autographic records are made on the margins between the exposures. It is not intended that they be made to appear in the prints themselves but that they be simply preserved as an authoritative reference. It is obvious, however, that they may be shown on the print itself - if desired.
Sadly the bulk of the negatives from films exposed during the Autographic era have probably been discarded decades ago, so we may never know.

Image © and courtesy of Tauranga Heritage Collection Image © and courtesy of Tauranga Heritage Collection
Vest Pocket Autographic Kodak Special
Image © and courtesy of Tauranga Heritage Collection

If you have any snapshots in your collection, either prints or original negatives, that include the typical Autographic caption, I'd be keen to hear from you, and perhaps to share images of them in a future Photo-Sleuth follow-up. Please email me.

For those readers wanting to match prints and negatives to cameras, this table may be useful. I've also created a Autographic Print Format PDF template with the various format sizes, which may be downloaded and printed out. It's always worth bearing in mind that not all prints are contact prints, i.e. identical in size to the negative from which they were printed. Enlargements were also offered to customers, even in Victorian and Edwardian times, but the vast majority of prints that were produced prior to the 1930s seem to be the much more affordable contact prints.

Film SizePrint/Negative SizeCamera Model(s)
A1162½" x 4¼" (64 x 108 mm)1A, 2A
A1183¼" x 4¼" (83 x 108 mm)3
A1202¼" x 3¼" (57 x 83 mm)1,2
A1223¼" x 5½" (83 x 140 mm)3A
A1234" x 5" (102 x 127 mm)4 (with conversion back)
A1264¼" x 6½" (108 x 165 mm)4A (with conversion back)
A1271⅝" x 2¼" (41 x 57 mm)Vest Pocket
A1302⅞" x 4⅞" (73 x 124 mm)2C


Kristin Cleage and Fiona Kean kindly assented to my use of Autographic prints, the former from her personal archives, the latter from the Tauranga Heritage Collection. Fiona also went to some trouble to assist with obtaining photographs of several Autographic cameras from the collection, for which I am most grateful.


Duke University Libraries Digital Collections, Emergence of Advertising in America Collection.

Eastman Autographic film, on Early Photography

Advertisement, Bay of Plenty Times, Volume XLIV, Issue 6506, 6 October 1915, Page 4, courtesy of Papers Past.

Anon (1914) $300,000 Won by a Young Inventor, The New York Times, 10 July 1914.

Anon (2001) Eastman Kodak Size A118 Autographic Film Cartridge, Scott's Photographic Collection.

Chocrón, Daniel Jiménez (2013) No. 1 Autographic Kodak Junior, on From the Focal Plane to Infinity.

Coe, Brian (1978) Cameras, from Daguerreotypes to Instant Pictures, United States: Crown Publishers, 240pp.

Gustavson, Todd (2009) Camera, A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital, New York: Sterling, 360pp.

Macpherson, Alan M D (nd) Kodak - No. 2 Autographic Brownie, on Classic Cameras.

Main, Bill (1990) Kodak Autographic Special, New Zealand Centre for Photography, 10 Cameras Exhibition [retrieved 12 March 2013 from cache on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine].

West, Nancy Martha (2000) "Let Kodak Keep the Story" - Narrative, Memory, and the Selling of the Autographic Camera during World War I, in Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia, University of Virginia Press, Ch 6, p.166-199.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Sepia Saturday 168: V-J Day in Church Gresley

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett and Kat Mortensen

Some years ago M.B. Venning sent me an unattributed image which I was unable to use at the time, but which fits this weeks Sepia Saturday theme very well, being a direct result of the Potsdam Conference and Declaration.

Image © and courtesy of M.B. Venning
V-J celebrations in Regent Street, Church Gresley, 15 August 1945
Postcard photograph by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of M.B. Venning

15 August 1945 was V-J (Victory over Japan) Day, marking the end of hostilities in the Second World War, and commemmorated in this part of the world as V-P (Victory in the Pacific) Day.

Most of the children and some of the adults have found time to dress up, and it's an interesting variety of costumes. Church Gresley was a mining and pottery town, and the men on the pavement to the right have perhaps just been given time off work. There are the usual nurses, maids, sailor suits and nursery rhyme characters (I think I see Mary, Mary, quite contrary in the back row, at left, there are a couple of potential Little Bo Peeps, and the Knave of Hearts is carrying a tart right in the centre).

Towards the front there are two boys dressed in costumes of more topical interest: the young lad on the left is a miner, complete with pit helmet (presumably like his Dad), while the one on the right wears a hastily constructed "V" for Victory costume (with the rank of corporal, perhaps like his Dad), and brandishes a Union Jack. Perhaps readers can spot some other characters in the crowd.

By the way, the large vehicle in the background is a Trent bus, a couple of which appeared in a previous Photo-Sleuth article.

Image courtesy of Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
Crowds on VJ day, Auckland, 15 August 1945
B&W Still from Weekly Review 208. National Film Unit, 1945
(click image to see the full video)
Image courtesy of Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

By way of contrast, these celebrations seem rather restrained compared with those that took place in countries surrounding the Pacific Ocean.

News of Japan's surrender following the dropping of two atom bombs was received in New Zealand at 11 a.m. on 15 August 1945. Sirens sounded immediately, and before long streamers were unfurled, and there were bands playing and people dancing in the streets.

Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Image courtesy of
Crowds on VJ day, Willis Street, Wellington, 15 August 1945
B&W film negative by John Pascoe
Image courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library

There were parades, bands playing, thanksgiving services, bonfires, dances and community sports. Once more the beer flowed, and there were streamers, whistles and dancing in the streets. Again there were two days' public holiday ... In Auckland, where there were few organised events, the city went out to enjoy itself the moment the factory whistle sounded. At first it was simply people drinking, dancing and scattering confetti. Then some rowdy people began throwing bottles. Windows were smashed, and people were hurt. By the evening, 51 people had been taken to hospital and 15 tons of glass lay in the roads.

New Zealand History online

Image © and courtesy of Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
"The Kiss," Times Square, New York, 15 August 1945
B&W photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt
Image © Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

And of course there was plenty of kissing.


McGibbon, Ian (2012) Second World War - Final victory, from Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Crowds on VJ day, Willis Street, Wellington, Pascoe, John Dobree, 1908-1972 :Photographic albums, prints and negatives, Ref: 1/4-001830-F, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Victory over Japan (VJ) Day, from New Zealand History online

V-J Day, 1945 - A Nation lets Loose, from

Sailor, nurse from iconic VJ Day photo reunited, from CBS

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Sepia Saturday 167: In Search of Mammoths - Journey to the Coldest Place on Earth

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett & Kat Mortensen

A few months ago Diana Burns sent me some scans of photographs in an album that she had just purchased. Taken during the northern hemisphere summer of 1914, the 22 snapshots appear to depict a trip down the River Lena in a remote part of Siberia. Although I did some research at the time Diana sent me the images, my work at the time precluded anything more than a cursory hunt on the net. This week's Sepia Saturday photo prompt includes a steam-powered river boat, which stimulated me into some further exploration, resulting in a breakthrough which I'd like to share with readers.

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns

The twenty two photographic prints are housed in a red bound album with a gilt art nouveau title and black pages, a style that became very popular in the first couple of decades of the 20th century, as amateur photography took off with great gusto. The prints measure roughly 3½" x 5", which probably equates to the 122 film used by a No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak camera.

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns
Taken on the Buriatric Steppe, on the road from Yakutsk to Irkutsk (#2)
Paper print (roughly 95 x 126mm/3½" x 5") by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns (Yakutsk Album)

Right from the start it is made clear by the compiler of the album that the journey documented in these pages is no ordinary one. The first image is at the very least bizarre, showing four dead sheep or goats mounted on the tops of some spindly trees, perhaps poplars or a similar species [silver birch family, thank you Mike].

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns

A caption handwritten in pencil on the back of the print specifies the location - "on the Buriatric Steppe, on the road from Yakutsk to Irkutsk" - but leaves the interpetation of the subject matter completely up to the viewer. Although the term "Buriatric" does not seem to have entered common usage, the Buryats are the largest indigenous ethnic group in Siberia, living in the region surrounding Lake Baikal.

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns
11 am 24 June Oost Eelgeenskaya, View of posting boats, River Lena (#3)
Paper print (roughly 95 x 126mm/3½" x 5") by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns (Yakutsk Album)

The next two photos in the album quickly move on to the means by which this remote and inhospitable region was accessed, the Lena River. This view of "posting boats" is followed by a blurry shot in which a man standing on top of a boat is identified as "Digby," with the added information that it was taken at 3.15pm on 24 June 1914.

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns
View of Paddle S/S "Yakut" off Oostkootsk. 30th June (#8)
Paper print (roughly 95 x 126mm/3½" x 5") by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns (Yakutsk Album)

By 30th June, they had transferred to a paddle steamboat the Yakutsk, which took them all the way downstream to the town of Yakutsk, in a region often described as the coldest place on earth. For a westerner to make a journey into the Siberian heartland in 1914 seemed to me rather unusual. Large deposits of gold and other minerals were discovered in Siberia in the 1880s and 1890s, resulting in the development of Yakutsk as a significant centre, but westerners were still the exception, even by 1914.,117.37793&spn=18.527368,33.793945
Image © Brett Payne & Google Maps

The diary transcript of an expedition by intrepid Australian ornithologists Robert Hall and Ernie Trebilcock down the River Lena a decade earlier (Robin & Sirina, nd) shows that they must have taken the same route, probably because it was the easiest way to get into Siberia at the time. Given the fragmentary record of Diana's Yakutsk album, I've taken the liberty of including extracts from the diary and some additional photographs taken by them. Transport technology is unlikely to have changed much in the intervening years, so the length of the journey (14 days) was probably similar, and the added detail will help to illustrate the 1914 journey. The full transcript of Trebilcock's diary, for those who are interested, may be found here.

I've also read Sokolnikov's account of a journey to Siberia in 1899 for further background material. My task was was complicated by the multitude of spellings of place names:
  • Vercholensk = Verkholensk
  • Gigalowa = Zhigalov = Zhigalovo
  • Oostkootsk = Oustkoutsk = Ust-Kut
  • Olekminsk = Olyokminsk
  • Jarkutsk = Yakutsk
Horse and wagon transport Siberia, 1903
Glass plate negative by Hall & Trebilcock
Image © State Library of Victoria and courtesy of Robin & Sirina

The travellers would have started their journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, which reached Irkutsk in 1898. The first stage of the journey from Irkutsk by post horses, shown in the image above, took about three days:
Left Irkutsk early in morning by post horses – two conveyances ea having three horses. Bells – two small bells suspended from the top of the arch over the middle horse. Carriage slung on poles, no springs! Each stage is about 20 to 35 versts long. At the end of each there is a real house where a supply of fresh horses is always ready, & where the traveller can get a samovar, or if necessary free shelter for 24 hours. The horses travel very quickly, their drivers often urging them into a gallop, much to the discomfort of the traveller if he is not well provided with pillows & cushions ... Bells on arch above horse have to be tied up while in towns to prevent their ringing.

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns
3.15pm 24 June 1914, View of Boat, Digby standing on top of boat (#4)
Paper print (roughly 95 x 126mm/3½" x 5") by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns (Yakutsk Album)

From somewhere in the vicinity of Zhigalovo - I wasn't able to find the place referred to as "Eelgeenskaya" - they would have transferred to a long, thin, shallow bottomed boat (Sokolnikov refers to them as pauzki):
This distance (335 versts) we did in a boat, mainly by drifting with the current, in four days & three nights. Our boat, which was one of the usual kind used on the Lena for such purposes was about 40 ft. long, & had a deck house wh. though not high was large enough to shelter us & our luggage at night.

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns
11.30am 25 June. P S/S Alexandra & barge in tow, River Lena (#7)
Paper print (roughly 95 x 126mm/3½" x 5") by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns (Yakutsk Album)

Our intrepid explorers passed the paddle steamer Alexandra towing a barge upstream, similar to those described by Trebilcock:
Passed a number of merchants barges drifting down stream. These are veritable floating warehouses, doing both a wholesale & a retail biz at an enormous profit, giving credit & charging for it.
Image © and courtesy of the State Library of Victoria
Music aboard the Lena River barge 1903
Glass plate negative by Hall & Trebilcock
Image © State Library of Victoria and courtesy of Robin & Sirina

When they reached Oost Kootsk (Ust-Kut) the Lena became considerably wider and they were able to board the more spacious and comfortable paddle steamer Yakut for the remainder of the journey downstream. In 1903 the company included a couple of women, a samovar was on the boil, and even musical entertainment was provided.
Very comfortable considering locality – very little diffce betn 1st & 2nd class except in price. But third class! Meals not supplied for the fare – meal tariff very high. Boat travels very fast. Russians cross themselves on starting their journey ... Had a very pleasant evening of a social nature. French was the language. Got on very well with two young Russian ladies.
One hopes the later travellers enjoyed similarly salubrious company.

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns
12.00pm 5th July. Olekminsk. View of the church (#13)
Paper print (roughly 126 x 95mm/5" x 3½") by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns (Yakutsk Album)

Спасский собор, Olyokminsk
Image © 2008 voluntas_tua and courtesy of Panoramio

During the 1914 journey a brief stop was made on Sunday 5th July at the riverside settlement of Olekminsk (Olyokminsk), perhaps to attend a church service. This snapshot produced in 1914 shows a church that has changed remarkably little in the century since.

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns
Wooden building, gateway and courtyard in unidentified location (#15)
Paper print (roughly 126 x 95mm/5" x 3½") by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns (Yakutsk Album)

A few days later, they reached the town of Yakutsk. There are no photographs in the album that are captioned with the town's name, although there is a view (shown above) which includes a substantial wooden building with very ornate window frames, a courtyard with what might be stacks of firewood, just visible through a large signposted gateway, flanked by street lamps, and adjacent to an unpaved road. It is almost certainly the premises where the next four images were taken.

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns
Displaying a collection of fossil bones (#18-21)
Paper prints (roughly 4" x 5") by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns (Yakutsk Album)

Among the last few photographs in the album are four slightly larger images (roughly 4" x 5", used by a variety of roll film formats) which have less of a sepia tint. In fact, their quality is so much better than the others, in terms of focus, composition, exposure, even processing, that I find it difficult to believe they were taken with the same camera, even by the same photographer. They depict a man (in one photo he is accompanied by three others) with a trilby hat and pipe displaying a number of fossil bones; using my rudimentary knowledge of palaeontology I have been able to identify tusks and jaw bone of the woolly mammoth, as well as a woolly rhinoceros skull and horn.

Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns
Russian newspapers or broadsheets (#22)
Paper print (roughly 126 x 95mm/5" x 3½") by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of Diana Burns (Yakutsk Album)

The final image in the album is perhaps merely a curiosity. It depicts a couple of pages from a Russian newspaper or broadsheet pinned up on boards, leaning against the wooden boards of a wall. It is not well focussed and my understanding of Russian is slim to non-existent, but I think I can make out the following (what it really means, I haven't a clue):


Apart from the mention of "Digby" and "D." in the captions to three of the photographs, there are no clues as to the identity of the subjects, or to the owner of the album. Nor is there any real indication as to the purpose of the trip. Given that Europe was on the cusp of war, it would have been a tricky time to be travelling abroad. Prior to doing further research my own impression was that the tusk/horn/fossil photos, despite being at the end of the album, actually provided a focus point and could have formed the primary reason for the expedition.

Image © Chicago History Museum and courtesy of American Memory from the Library of Congress
Bassett Digby, correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, 1918
Glass plate negative (4" x 5") of paper print tacked on board
Chicago Daily News neg. coll., DN-0003451, courtesy of Chicago History Museum & American Memory from the Library of Congress

I won't relate the full story here, but using the words Digby, mammoth and Yakutsk in a Google search yielded the first clues: a book written in 1913 recounting a trip through Siberia by R.L. Wright and Bassett Digby, a paper on "the provenance of Bassett Digby's contributions to the Natural History Museum, London, and the British Museum" written by his grand-daughter, and a book written in 1926 by Bassett Digby himself, "The Mammoth and Mammoth-Hunting in North-East Siberia."

Woolly mammoth model at the Royal British Columbia Museum
Image © 2011 Flying Puffin & courtesy of Flickr

Bassett Digby was a journalist who followed in the footsteps of Mark Twain and others by funding his adventures with travel writing. After the publication of Through Siberia: an Empire in the Making in 1913, Digby returned to Siberia the following year. It is not clear what the primary purpose of the trip was but, as is clear from his book and research carried out recently by Susan Digby (2004 & 2008), mammoths featured prominently. Apart from the scientific interest, there was also a significant commercial trade:
In the early twentieth century there was an active market for mammoth ivory, and Yakutsk was the location of tusk yards maintained by middlemen who bought ivory and other fossil finds from native peoples for sale to southern traders. Good quality mammoth ivory was used as an alternative to elephant tusks for such things as piano keys, combs, jewellery, chess sets and billiard balls.
Although Digby provided the "first written comprehensive English-language information on [the mammoth]," Susan notes:
Digby’s involvement in this financial side of mammoth ivory collection is unknown ... [his] journey to Yakutsk was definitely enmeshed with the story of trade and potential riches. His acknowledgement read: "I wish to make my acknowledgements to a certain genial and enterprising gentleman who took a sporting chance on my being able to find a big hoard of mammoth-ivory for him." This acknowledgement, together with a collection of photographs in an album, suggests that he funded his travel and collecting interests by locating ivory for an ivory trader.
Image © and courtesy of Susan Ann Digby
Valuation of mammoth jaws and tusks, Ivory trade in Yakutsk, July 1914
Series of paper prints (3" x 2") mounted on black card album page
Image courtesy of Susan Ann Digby, Adsbol family album

The following extract from Digby's 1926 book describes his discovery of a hoard of mammoth ivory in the trader's store room, later arrayed, photographed and valued in the yard outide, as depicted in images #15, #18-#21 from Diana's Yakutsk album. A further series of photographs of the hoard was discovered by Susan and her brother, in an album originally owned by Martinus Adsbol, who had accompanied Digby on the journey to Yakutsk.
Our luck was in. One morning we located a really big hoard. A key was turned in a massive padlock. With a muffled clang the sheet-iron door was flung open. We stepped out of the blinding July sunshine into pitchdarkness ... and, dimly at first, then more and more clearly, this great heap of Arctic loot appeared, like the slow developing of a photographic plate. Huge horns that curled this way and that ... No, not horns; but tusks, mammoth tusks by the dozen, by the score – hundreds and hundreds of them, cairn upon cairn, stack upon stack. Tons and tons of prehistoric ivory.
The snapshots in the Adsbol album are smaller, measuring approx. 3" x 2" although they are roughly trimmed. This may correspond to the 129 film format developed by Kodak for the Houghton Ensignette No 2 and Deluxe cameras first produced in 1912-1913.

Image © 2006 Inocybe and courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Woolly rhinoceros depicted in rock art at Chauvet Cave, southern France
Image © 2006 Inocybe and courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Susan has worked with Natural History Museum staff in London to successfully identify several specimens and artefacts in the museum's collection as being those which her grandfather provided upon his return from his second Siberian trip. The woolly rhinoceros horn in particular was an especially rare find.

Mammoth-hunting in Siberia, by Bassett Digby
Published in The Graphic, 6 March 1915

Whilst the identity of the photographer of the majority of the photographs in the Yakutsk album remains unknown, if there is any doubt whatsoever that they were taken on the same trip, this is dispelled by another find on the net. An article written by Bassett Digby and published by The Graphic in 1915 includes two of the photographs which appear in Diana's album.

Like the Adsbol family photos discovered by Susan Digby, Diana Burns' Yakutsk album plays an important role in piecing together the history of the early 20th Century exploration of Siberia. We can be fairly sure that there were three separate cameras recording the trip, and probably three men participating in the expedition - the search to identify the "third man" continues.

If you've survived this far, then have a quick look at the remaining photos in Diana's Yakutsk Album before adventuring further afield in search of more Sepian discoveries.

Yakutsk Album


Diana Burns has very kindly shared many of her "photofinds" with me, and I'm grateful for permission to use scans of the photographs in her private collection here on Photo-Sleuth. It's not very different from the crowdsourcing collaboration between various archival institutions and members of the public through Flickr's "The Commons" project.

Staff of the State Library of Victoria responded most promptly to my request for further information regarding Hall & Trebilcock's glass plate negatives.

I am also indebted to Susan Digby for giving me access to her engaging Ph.D. dissertation about her "ordinary" grandfather's extraordinary life and travels, as well as excerpts from articles that he wrote about the trip to Siberia, and for pointing me to other resources relating to Bassett Digby.


Buryats, River Lena, Trans-Siberian Railway, Yakutsk, Woolly mammoth and Woolly rhinoceros, from Wikipedia.

No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak, from Historic Camera

The Ensignette Camera, from Early Photography

Roll film, from Camerapedia

Photograph of Chicago Daily News correspondent Bassett Digby, DN-0069953, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum, from American Memory (The Library of Congress Archive)

Letter to the Times - #2, from Gimcrack Hospital

The Ninety-Foot Plum Tree, Filling Some Gaps, by Mammoth Tales

Digby, Bassett (1915) Mammoth Hunting in Siberia, The Graphic, 6 March 1915, p.312.

Digby, Bassett (1916a) Along a great Siberian river, Travel 25 (June): 18–21, 46, 47.

Digby, Bassett (1916b) Yakutsk – A Siberian outpost, Travel 25 (July): 18–21, 45–48.

Digby, Susan A. (2004) Mammoths and wars, travel and home: The geographical life of journalist and natural historian Bassett Digby (1888-1962), unpubl. Ph.D. Dissertation (Geography), University of California, Los Angeles.

Digby, Susan A. (2008) Early twentieth-century collection of extinct mammals from northern Siberia: the provenance of Bassett Digby’s contributions to the Natural History Museum, London, and the British Museum, Archives of Natural History 35 (1): 105–117.

Gustavson, Todd (2009) Camera, A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital, New York: Sterling, 360 pp.

Robin, L. & Sirina, A. (nd) Siberian ornithology - Australian style, 1903, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University.

Sokolnikov, Prokopy N. (1899) Wives and Children of the Doukhobors (translation), from the Doukhboro Genealogy Website.

Tolmachoff, I.P. (1935) The carcasses of the mammoth and rhinoceros found in the frozen ground of Siberia, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 24 (Part 2, June 1935), 11-74.

Trebilcock, R.E. (1903) Diary of Expedition to Siberia (transcript), from the State Library of Victoria (MS 9247).

Wright, R. L. and Digby, B. (1913) Through Siberia: an Empire in the Making, New York & London: McBride, Nast & Company, Hurst & Blackett.
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