George Davidson


Thomas Davidson



George Davidson

Pioneer Photographer

I have discovered information about Thomas Davidson from the early trade directories, press and photographic journals, but I still have to investigate the life and work of George Davidson.

C S Minto, Edinburgh City Librarian, reported in his lecture to Edinburgh Photographic Society in the 1950s that Thomas Davidson had taken over the family optician business from George Davidson in 1841, and that George Davidson was, himself, a daguerreotypist.


John Nicol's recollections of Thomas Davidson

Pioneer Photographer

John Nicol, a regular speaker at EPS meetings, gave an interesting review of the life of Thomas Davidson [1798-1878] in an article he wrote in the year following Davidson’s death.  

Speaking of the pioneers of photography, Nicol said:

“As year by year we are coming nearer and nearer to the last link. It is a pity that anyone who played an important part in laying the foundation on which so grand a structure has been reared, should be allowed to pass away without an attempt being made to keep his memory green, and to associate his name with the trials and troubles then overcome.”


Before Photography

Thomas Davidson was born in Northumberland and trained as a weaver.  As an amateur optician and instrument maker, he made lathes, telescopes, flutes and a violin.  He moved in the 1820s to East Anglia, where he continued his weaving business, joined the herring fishermen and ran an instrument repair business.

In 1836, he moved to Edinburgh, working first for John Davis, mathematical and philosophical instrument maker and optician, then based at 64 Princes Street, the same address as James Howie’s premises from 1832 to 1840.

Camers and Lenses

In 1839, following Daguerre’s announcement of his photographic process, Davidson set up his own business in Edinburgh, making camera and lenses.

In 1840 he was offering  8½ ins x 6½ ins cameras which “commanded a ready sale at good prices”.

He later made a camera for Hill & Adamson, using a concave mirror for a lens, and capable of producing slides 16 ins x 13 ins.  His cameras were admired by Talbot and his circle.

Davidson went on to make lenses for the prominent photographers of Edinburgh: 

              -   James Howie,  

              -   Hill & Adamson

              -   Ross & Thomson

              -  James Good Tunny 

              -  others

 It was W Davidson’s improved lens that James Howie used in his roof-top studio in late 1841.

Silver Medal

Thomas Davidson was awarded a Silver Medal by the Royal Scottish Society of Arts for his paper delivered on 23 Nov 1840:

“Description of the Process of Daguerreotype and Remarks on the Action of Light in that Process, both in respect of Landscapes and Miniature Portraits”.



Thomas Davidson

Entries in the Trade Directories and Advertisement

Thomas Davidson first appeared in the Edinburgh & Leith Trade Directories in 1841.  He was listed as:




Thomas Davidson, Optician, 12 Royal Exchange


Thomas Davidson, Working Optician, 63 Princes Street




[not listed in the Post Office Directories]


Thomas & W Davidson, Opticians &c., 29 Haddington Place


Thomas Davidson & Co, Opticians &c., 29 Haddington Place



Thomas Davidson & Co, Opticians &c., 187, High Street



Thomas Davidson & Co, Opticians, 4 Infirmary Street


and later years

[not listed in the Post Office Directories]

In 1844, Thomas Davidson placed an advert, promoting the business he had established in his new premises at 63 Princes Street:

“Working Optician, Mathematical and Philosophical Instrument Maker respectfully intimates that he has opened the above premises with an entirely new stock, including every description of theodolites and levels, single compasses, achromatic and reflecting microscopes, spectacles, eye glasses, …

Daguerreotype and Calotype Apparatus with latest improvements.”

In 1848, the daguerreotype part of Thomson's business was taken over by John Thomson of the Ross & Thomson partnership.


Thomas Davidson  -  Never made a fortune!

Unfortunately, despite his inventive skills, Thomas Davidson appears not to have been a successful businessman.  John Nicol reported that Davidson was well known to the Edinburgh photographers of the 1840s and 1850s, but by the time of his death in 1878, he was a poor man, unrecognised in his retirement by the current generation of photographers    [BJP: 1879, p391]



Photographers named


George Davidson


Thomas Davidson


Frederick Davidson

(emigrated to USA 1896)

James Davidson (1)
James Davidson (2)
Davidson & Austin