Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Earliest Photographs

Looks like the old market sheds below what is now Military Road. One can see them in the larger panoramic view often taken from the St Mary's Cemetery across the Baakens

This was another first for Port Elizabeth. By all accounts, the first photographic studio in South Africa was established in Port Elizabeth.

The first publicly announced photographic process, was the Daguerreotype process, or daguerreotypy. It was introduced worldwide in 1839. For following nearly twenty years, it was the most commonly used photographic processes internationally.

The first photograph using this process in Port Elizabeth was on the 17th October 1846.

Main picture: The best guess what this photograph represents are the old market sheds below what is now Military Road. One can identify them in the larger panoramic view often taken from the St Mary’s Cemetery across the Baakens River

Monsieur Jules Leger of Paris, a daguerreotypist, arrived in Port Elizabeth from India on October 14, 1846 aboard the schooner Hannah Codner. Three days later, he was taking “photographic likenesses (a minute’s attendance)”, in Mr. William Ring’s library. Very soon Leger exhibited a handful of settler portraits and some colonial scenes which were described in the Grahamstown Journal in November 1946 as “beautiful, wonderful, interesting.”

Another of the early photographs of Port Elizabeth probably from the 1850s

Another of the early photographs of Port Elizabeth probably from the 1850s

Leger’s associate, William Ring, then moved to Cape Town with the equipment which Leger had sold to him but he was less successful. The adoption of the wet plate process ensured that photography in South Africa expanded.

Main Street between 1853 & 1858 as there is no Town Hall & the new Church on the right was built in 1853

Main Street between 1853 & 1858 as there is no Town Hall & the new Church on the right was built in 1853

No sources are able to identify who the first persons were to be photographed. The only reasonable assumption to be made is that they were affluent. Moreover, none of these photographs is extant.

The City Hall being constructed: 1858 - 1862

The City Hall being constructed: 1858 – 1862

The only extant photographs that I have able to trace, which can be classified as early photographs, are the ones used in this blog.

As regards photographers, according to JJ Redgrave, one of the first and best was a Mr James Bruton who operated a studio in Jetty Street. The exact year when he commenced business cannot be established but it must be in the 1850s as Redgrave records that his photographs of Port Elizabeth some thirty years are its establishment are some of the best & as such, Port Elizabeth owes him a debt of gratitude.

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Sources:

http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/SOUTH-AFRICA/2003-07/1058776733

http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/SOUTH-AFRICA/2003-07/1058693826

http://reference.sabinet.co.za/webx/access/journal_archive/02590190/602.pdf

http://www.ancestors.co.za/articles/research-help/photographers-of-the-19th-century-in-south-africa/

 

Pioneer Port: The illustrated History of East London by Joseph Denfield

 


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