Dr John Nicol

one of the prominent members of
Edinburgh Photographic Society



Edinburgh  -  West Indies  -  USA

John Nicol was born in Scotland on July 4, 1828 (not 1830!). [1]

-  He graduated from Edinburgh University in 1852.

-  He married Elizabeth Urquhart in 1857 (or 1860?). [2].

-  They had five children.  Elizabeth died 1876.

-  John is reported to have spent 12 years in the West Indies - Unlikely! [3]

-  He married Elizabeth Ransom in 1877.  She died, 1905.

-  In 1885, he emigrated to Chicago, USA, and moved to New York in 1890.

-  He died in New York on March 13, 1910.


Details above have been taken from a web site giving the biographies of men from Tioga County, New York where John Nicol settled, and from the May 1910 edition of the journal, American Photography.

[1]  The Tioga County web site gives birth details:  near Edinburgh, July 4, 1830.
The American Photography journal, May 1910 says:  Forfarshire, July 4, 1828.

Sherrilynn Nicol-Taylor (See 'Descendant' below) confirms the details in the American Photography Journal above.

[2]  The Tioga County web site says 1860:  American Photography says 1857.

[3] The Tioga County biography of John NIcol says that he returned to Edinburgh in 1877 after spending 12 years in the West Indies.  Was he really away for 12 years?  Further investigation is needed as according to his own accounts, he was resident in Edinburgh around 1861 when Edinburgh Photographic Society was established.

Sherrilynn Nicol-Taylor writes:

"I agree that he couldn't have been in the West Indies for 12 years.  He married Elizabeth Frances Ransom in 1878 in the family home in Tioga Center, New York not in Scotland.  There is a family letter describing the wedding there.

It would make sense that if he married Elizabeth U. in 1857 or 1860 that he was in Scotland and not the west Indies for 12 years.  After all she had 5 kids during that time so I wonder how he could have been away 12 years and returned in 1877."

Sherrilynn Nicol-Taylor:  Salina, Utah, USA  February 3, 2008


Thank you also to Sherrilynn Nicol-Taylor, great great grand-daughter of Dr John Nicol for providing comments.  Sherrilynn tells me that her information comes from her father Robert R. Nicol, Jr. and a cousin's publication entitled "The Ransom and Latimer Families" by Judith R. Collens.

Sherrilynn adds:

"The cousin who wrote that book has several of Dr. John's photographic plates and my father has his chemist box as well as a metal daguerreotype metal plate of his son Robert A. Nicol."

Sherrilynn Nicol-Taylor:  Salina, Utah, USA  February 3, 2008


The Life of Dr John Nicol

John Nicol's portrait appeared on the cover of the May 1890 edition American Photography, shortly after his death.

An account of his life appeared inside the journal.   Here are some extracts from this account:


"He (John Nicol) was a devoted student and became a teacher of science in the Edinburgh High School in the seventies.  We find him, in 1876, announcing himself as consulting and analytical chemist, having erected a new laboratory and studio, for private instruction in chemistry and photography at 16  Warriston Crescent."

Dry Plates

"A statement is also made that arrangements have been perfected for the preparation of dry plates, a stock of all ordinary sizes of which will be kept on hand, and that plates by any special process can be obtained  at a few hours' notice.  (This was before the commercial production of the present-day gelatine plate.)"

In fact, John Nicol placed an advert for his dry plates in The Scotsman newspaper as early as 1859!

  -  Peter Stubbs



"He was prepared to execute commissions in different departments of photography, such as printing in silver or carbon from amateurs' negatives, copying paintings, drawings, works of art generally, make landscapes and architectural photography in any part of the country, make enlargements from small negatives for paintings in oil or water colour on paper or canvas.

His announcement states further that he will continue the manufacture of the rarer chemicals that may be used in photography.

His studio was erected mainly for the convenience of those of his friends who might wish to practice portrait photography."


"A well-known physician in Edinburgh, Fellow and Treasurer of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, speaks highly of Dr Nicol as having had the sole management of the laboratory department of the royal Public Dispensary of Edinburgh, the duties of which he was thoroughly competent to perform."

Chemist then Scientific Teacher

"Another friend says of him, 'After conducting for a series of years the business of a chemist and druggist in Edinburgh, he became enamored of chemical science, more especially in the department of photography, relinquished business then gave himself wholly to scientific teaching.'

He concludes with the words, 'Altogether, he is a man possessed of great ability, pleasing manners, aptness in teaching, and an excellent pharmacist.' "


"Dr Nicol was a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, also of the Edinburgh Photographic Society, of which he was correspondent secretary in 1877. 

In 1873, he was treasurer of St Stephen's Ward of the High Constables of Edinburgh, instituted in 1611.  He was a regular contributor to the 'British Journal of Photography', and an intimate friend of J Trail Taylor, the editor of that publication.

John Traill Taylor was one of the founding members of Edinburgh Photographic Society in 1861.

  -  Peter Stubbs


The Beacon

"After leaving Scotland, Dr Nicol made his home in the United States and located in the city of Chicago, Ill., where he became connected with the photographic journal, named 'The Beacon'.  The first number appeared in January 1889."

Chicago Camera Club

"He acted as a judge in several photographic competitions.

In Chicago in 1889, he was chosen president of the Chicago Camera Club."

Thank you to Richard Holzman, Michigan, USA for sending me copies of pages from American Photography, May 1910.


Dr John Nicol

more pages

Early recollections - PSS, EPS, BJP

Wednesday Lectures to EPS

Dry Collodion Plates