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John Thomson

A Tribute

John Nicol PhD was a frequent lecturer to Edinburgh Photographic Society from 1861, the year the Society was established, until 1878.

He was also a regular contributor to the British Journal of Photography (BJP), writing a column entitled Notes from the North.  

In 1881, he looked back on the early days of photography and paid tribute to John Thomson.    [BJP:  1881, p.148]      John Nicol wrote: 

[My own headings have been added to the article below.]

Early Photographers

"One by one the pioneers of photography as a profession, and those who enjoyed the substantial rewards which its practice brought in its halcyon days, are passing away; and there is, for some of us at least, a tinge of sadness in the reflection that, yet a little while, and of all who were privileged to assist at the birth of this beautiful art, there shall not be one left.   ...   ...

Since my last batch of notes were printed, there has been gathered to his fathers Mr John Thomson, late of the well-known firm of Ross & Thomson.   ...   ...

The Daguerreotype

At the time that Daguerre's discovery was given to the world, Mr Thomson was a clerk in his father's office, who was a wine merchant in Leith, and before any definite information regarding it had reached this country, he was visited by a friend who had just returned from Paris from whom he got sufficient information as to the modus operandi to induce him to attempt a repetition of the Frenchman's experiments; and having previously been a somewhat diligent student of chemistry he met with success sufficient to rouse enthusiasm and encourage perseverance.

The classic cigar-box and spectacle eye were his first camera and lens, and a polished and iodised crown-piece was his first plate.   ...   ...

... as the daguerreotype picture required, for protection, to be enclosed in a case ... ... he entered into partnership with a jewel case manufacturer and thus was formed certainly the first photographic firm in Scotland - Macmillan & Thomson."

[John Nicol quotes a date of 1844 or 1845 for the Macmillan & Thomson partnership.  This seems a little late for a first Scottish photographic firm.  James Howie and Thomas Davidson began their photography around 1840.  The Hill & Adamson partnership began in 1843.  I have also found reference in the trade directories to other early partnerships, including Ross & Bishop in 1844]

Ross & Thomson Partnership

"...   I think in 1847, Mr Thomson became acquainted with Mr James Ross, at that time a professional artist, the outcome of which was the formation of the well known firm Ross & Thomson, a firm which by virtue of the happy union of the great artistic taste and ability of Mr Ross with the technical skill and chemical knowledge of Mr Thomson, rapidly attained a popularity that has continued to the present time.  

For a considerable period the work of the firm was largely confined to calotype work; but in May 1849 the Queen was graciously pleased to accept a handsomely-bound collection of their views of Edinburgh  which led to their appointment as photographers to Her Majesty in Scotland - the first of such appointments on record.   ...   ..."

[I believe this album is probably still in Her Majesty's collection at Windsor Castle]

The Albumen Process

A few months later, Ross & Thomson took up the albumen process.  John Nicol quoted from a Paper written by James Ross in 1873, which establishes the date of Ross & Thomson's adoption of the albumen process:

October 5th, 1849:   Half doz. eggs     -  paid 6d

October 6th, 1849:   3 plates of glass  -  paid 2s 0d 

John Nicol reported that after some fifteen or sixteen years of successful work Mr Thomson retired and was little known beyond his immediate circle.



A & D Thomson

John Thomson

Laurence S Thomson

Norman Thomson

Peter Thomson

Robert Kemp Thomson

RK Thomson & Co

Thomson Brothers

Cabinet Print

Carte de Visite

Tribute to John

Postcard Portrait