John McCosh

or MacCosh



John McCosh


John McCosh was one of a number of Scottish photographers who travelled abroad in the mid-19th century.  Others include:

Robert Macpherson

George Moir

Charles Piazzi Smyth

John Thomson.

John McCosh was born on 5 March 1805 and died on 18 January 1885.  [I've not yet discovered the places of birth and death.]


Thank you to David Bruce who wrote:

"I believe that John MacCosh (or McCosh) was from Kirkmichael in Ayrshire where the local village hall is named after him."

David Bruce, Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire, Scotland:  April 7, 2010

John McCosh spent much of his life in India, serving as a surgeon with the East India Company, with a break of about 4 years around 1840 when he returned to Edinburgh to study at


John McCosh entered the service in the Bengal Establishment of the East India Company's Army, as assistant surgeon.


He served on the South-East Frontier against the Kols.


He studied in Edinburgh to complete his formal education in medicine.


He returned to India (probably taking his photographic equipment with him.

One of his earliest photographs is of Lt Stewart, who was killed in 1843.  [Ray McKenzie]

He served in Gwalior, where he was awarded the Marahajpur Bronze Star for his service in the Battle of Maharajpur.


He moved, with the 31st Bengal Native Infantry to Almera in the foothills of the Himalayas. 

It was here where he probably began his photography in earnest.
[Peter Russell-Jones]


He moved to Jullundur Doob


He moved to Ferozepore in Gwalior


He  was based in Lahore and Ludhiaana, immediately before the second Anglo-Sikh war


He participated in the second Sikh War which resulted in the abrogation of the Sikh kingdom of the Punjab.

He took photographs while off duty.


He was appointed Surgeon to the 2nd Bengal Europeans, stationed in Lahore.

Here he took the first known photographs of the Sikh people and photographs of the palaces of Lahore.


He was posted to the 33rd Bengal Native Infantry, stationed at Benares.


He was posted to the 5th Battery Bengal Artillery.


He sailed with the Bengal Artillery from Calcutta (which hi photographed) to serve in the second Burma War.  He took many photos during the second Burma War.


John McCosh retired from the army.


John McCosh


Views on Photography

John McCosh took many photographs over about a decade, from around the mid 1840s.  Most of his photographs were calotypes, and most were portraits.

His photographs taken in the second Sikh War are referred to in the 'National Army Museum' notes below

Here are extracts from advice that he gave in a note addressed to Officers in 1856:


"I have practiced it for many years, and know of no extra professional pursuit that will more repay him for all the expense and trouble (and both are very considrable) than this fascinating study - especially the new process by collodion for the stereoscope."

"The camera should be made of good substantial mahogany, clamped with brass, made to stand extremes of heat."

Sizes and Subjects

McCosh's calotype portraits are 10cm x 8cm.  Some of his views are larger.  His prints from Calcutta are up to 15cm x 19cm.  Those from the second Burma War being up to 20.5cm x 21cm.

In the second Burma War he was present at the attack on Rangoon. He photographed captured Burmese guns, pagodas, monasteries and palaces in the city.  He took similar photos at Prone after its capture.

Photos on the Web

Three photographs by John McCosh can be found in an article entitled:

"Ethnographical Photography in India 1850-1900"

on the Andaman web site.


John McCosh

Photographs in Collections

National Army Museum

An album of McCosh's photographs is now held by the National Army Museum in London. The album appears to have been assembled without any overall plan.  Some of its photos are duplicates.  It may have been assembled in an attempt to bring together McCosh's collection of photographs at a time when he was moving on to other interests.

This note by John Gore appears in the front of the album:

"These photographs have no pretensions to merit.  The negatives were taken on paper before the present process of collodion was known.  Their fidelity will however make amends for their sorry imperfections.  Like fragile remains of lost ages, their value is enhanced because the originals are no longer forthcoming."

The album includes 310 photographs, almost all are calotypes, most are portraits.  The album includes

-  Portraits of many of British Officers and their wives.  The subjects were represented as individuals  -  e.g. Captain Jones, Madras

-  Portraits of some of the local Indian population.  These were described in ethnic or racial terms  e.g. "Burmese Beauty" and "Madras Man".

-  47 views of Burma, including temples and buildings around Prome and Rangoon.

-  2 views of Calcutta, 3 of Lahore, 2 of Calcutta, 1 possibly of Malta and 2 of relics.

V & A Museum

The Persimmon web site refers to photos of different types of people of India sent to the India Museum and included in an eight volume set, published between 1868 and 1875, entitled 'The People of India'.

This web site also gives a review of the book 'The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms' which includes a chapter entitled: 'Photography and the Romance of the Punjab'

The India Museum has been absorbed by the Victoria & Albert Museum.  I contacted the Victoria & Albert Museum and Ms Divia Patel told me that:

- the chapter entitled: 'Photography and the Romance of the Punjab' above was in fact written by her (not David Patel).  However, this chapter has been reduced to such an extent that she believes that the review misrepresents McCosh's photography.

McCosh's photographs do not appear in the eight volume set of published books entitled 'The people of India'.


John McCosh

Other Interests

John McCosh MD FRSCE HEICS FRGSL etc. had many interests.

In the 1830s, he produced lithographs.  One of these, from 1837, taken from Topography of Assan, is illustrated in the article: The Laboratory of Mankind by Ray MacKenzie.

He wrote about ten books, several of them featuring his poetry.

When he retired in 1856, John McCosh was probably better remembered for his good medical advice that he had given and for his poetry than for his photography.

[Peter Russell-Jones]



Sources used to compile the notes above include:

1.  A Moment in Time (John Hannavy)   pp.62-63.

2.  John MacCosh's Photographs (Peter Russell-Jones):

Photographic Journal Vol 108 (Jan 1968)  pp25-27.
(for most of the historical dates quoted above and
the contents of the National Army Museum Album).

3.  The Laboratory of Mankind  - John McCosh and the
Beginnings of Photography in India
:     (Ray McKenzie)

History of Photography, Vol 11 (1987)  pp.109-118. [ISSN 0308 7298]   (including McCosh's advice to Officers on photography in 1856).

4.  David Bruce

Place of birth


Other Photographers