Closing in on our “Killaloe” lantern slide photographer
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Last year, via the Archive of the Month medium, we began to tell the story of the “Killaloe” lantern slide collection recovered from the deanery in Killaloe, county Clare revealing examples of the work of a skilled and widely–travelled photographer. In the context of presenting a selection of his fine pictures of a tour in Palestine (which we initially speculated to be at least 100 years old) a public appeal was launched to help identify who he might have been (in June last year) at this link:
Twelve months on, we focus this month on the evolving story that has developed from the public response by showing a further selection of previously unseen original images. All of the 296 slides comprising the collection – once randomly arranged in six different storage boxes, and including an array of other subjects and interests in addition to travels in Palestine and India – have now been sorted and arranged into the following eight subject groups:
- Pictures from a tour in Palestine 100 years ago (see link);
- Dublin University Mission at Chota Nagpur, North India (for online presentation, click here);
- People mostly as yet unidentified but all highly personal images revealing that the subjects were close to the photographer – perhaps members of his family, friends, or people from his wider local community. This section also includes two images of a photographer at work – one with camera and one with lantern slide projector; click here for slideshow 1
- Places in Ireland and elsewhere, some identified including Newport, and Borrishoole Friary, county Mayo; Belfast Harbour; Ballyclare, county Antrim; Coleraine, county Londonderry; and also Venice, while others as yet remain unidentified; click here for slideshow 2
- The Irish International Exhibition held in Dublin in 1907 most of which are not available elsewhere and do not form part of the official published record of that event ; click here for slideshow 3
- Hymns – being the words of four different hymns – presumably used for presentations involving audience participation and indicating a religious link;
- Military people mostly unidentified but including some commercially–produced images of military figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries;
- Commercially reproduced copies of prints showing famous people of the day including Queen Victoria, Lord Palmerston, Charles Dickens etc; of scenes in London; of industrial scenes such as steam engines, trains, various engineering works and the Leeds City Tramway; and finally cartoons of the Victorian era.
Having appealed for public help to identify the photographer, our strongest lead came from a BBC journalist in Northern Ireland who remembered reading about the Revd Willie Wilson, a Presbyterian minister, born in Belfast in 1869, who served in New Row Presbyterian Church Coleraine until his untimely death as a result of a motor accident in Paris during the First World War, in 1918. The story was further covered on the BBC website under the working title ‘Mystery Holy Land slides linked to Coleraine minister’:
Screen shot of the BBC website feature on our initial presentation, June 2012. ‘Mystery Holy Land slides linked to Coleraine minister’:
According to the history of this church by Julia Mullin, New Row: the history of New Row Presbyterian Church, Coleraine, 1727–1977 (Coleraine, 1976) Mr Wilson had given a lecture in December 1897 about his Holy Land journey to the Holy Land, undertaken as part of a group in the spring of that year. The lecture was accompanied by lantern slides taken by a companion.
We then went back to these original sources (assisted by Coleraine Public Library). In articles published in the
Coleraine Chronicle on 8 December 1897, and the Coleraine Herald on Saturday 11 December 1897, we found amazing descriptive references to Wilson’s arrival in Jaffa, his onward journey by train to Jerusalem, and visits to other places with observations that bore an uncanny resemblance to the visual material in our custody.
The Coleraine Herald reported:
“Mr Wilson’s story took the whole of two hours in the telling and no one wished it any shorter not even the man who was nearest the stove. From the landing at Jaffa to the final farewell, the greatest interest was maintained… word pictures that satisfied the most cultivated mind and snap–shots that gave delight to any but a jaundiced eye was the bill of fare on this occasion… The pilgrimage taken by the party of which the lecturer was a member commenced at Jaffa, from thence the journey was made to Jerusalem by rail through the valley of Sharon and hills of Judea, and after a fortnight spent in the Holy City and a short excursion to Jericho and the Dead Sea, the caravan proceeded up country to Galilee, travelling on horseback.”
In a more detailed article under the headline ‘Spring Time in the Holy Land’ the Chronicle reported how Wilson’s lecture had opened with a description of his landing at Jaffa on 19 March 1897:
“His first view of the land he had longed to see was through the porthole of a steamer. But it was a glorious view. Across a mile of sea which was as smooth as the Bann, at the Bridge, was the little town of Jaffa, with every house, window, palm tree and minaret clear in the morning light…
Jaffa harbour is formed by a reef of rocks with an opening 10 feet wide through which the boatmen shoot their boats. With the wind blowing in from the sea and a swell on the row from the steamer to the land, the journey to the harbour includes a last terrific plunge amid the surf over the reef into the harbour. They themselves were the last passengers landed at Jaffa for a fortnight, for the weather broke the following day”.
Wilson then ‘told the story of the rugged railway journey from Jaffa to Jerusalem’, alluding to ‘the Bible memories which hallow the ground traversed’ while his long stay in Jerusalem permitted many and varied views of the Holy City as well as the various excursions before the journey continued through the Galilee and all the way north to the city of Damascus. After a single shot of Nazareth, our collection abruptly ends, but we speculated that the journey might have continued on to the Syrian capital, as was the case for many pilgrimages of this era – including Wilson’s.
Crucially, at the very end of the Chronicle piece about Wilson’s pictures, it mentions that ‘most of them’ came from ‘Mr David Brown’s camera’. Here the story becomes more intriguing because it transpires that David Brown was the Revd Willie Wilson’s brother–in–law, through his marriage to his artistic and talented sister Adeline (or Ada as she was known in the family) one of ten other siblings, several of whom had creative and interesting lives that were bound up in their deep Christian faith.
A soap and candle manufacturer from Donaghmore, county Tyrone, with his twin brother Robert, David Brown ran the Donaghmore soapworks, then the largest such business in Ireland and famous for their McClinton and Colleen Soap brands.
As successful and upcoming entrepreneurs, both were able to indulge in expensive hobbies like photography and motor cars, while as deeply–spiritual men committed to the witness of their Church, they also supported a range of missionary and charitable works connected to it. Robert for example championed the movement to eradicate tuberculosis in Ireland, and the cheap availability of pure soap–based products which his company promoted at events such as the Dublin International Industrial Exhibition made an important practical contribution to improving general standards of hygiene which won him the admiration of the National Health Association chaired by Lady Aberdeen, wife of the Lord Lieutenant to Ireland.
The local historian in Donaghmore Patricia Bogue, who has researched the history of the soapworks and the Brown family, and kindly made available many illustrative items for this online presentation, has confirmed that the lives of the Browns and the Wilsons became intimately linked following the marriage of David to Ada during the 1890s. For further information about the Donaghmore Historical Society and its Living History initiative see this link www.donaghmorelivinghistory.com
Like the Browns, the Wilsons were a formidable and talented family. Their father, the Revd Andrew James Wilson, ministered at Minterburn, Caledon, county Tyrone, and later at Malone Presbyterian Church in Belfast, where this early 20th–century family portrait (in family custody) was taken.
The Wilson family pictured at Malone Manse, Belfast, in the summer of 1906.
As there is no professional photographer’s stamp on the picture, it could well have been taken by David Brown.
From a private family collection, courtesy of Mr Tony Irwin, Dungannon, County Tyrone.
Andrew is the bearded man left of centre in the front. Willie can be seen second from the right holding on his knee his son Lawrence (who became a minister in the Scottish Episcopal Church) and his son Robert is at his feet. He is sitting between his elegant sister Mollie to the right (fondling the dog) who loved animals and Annie, another sister who is holding her son Patrick. Patrick later died in Manchuria where his father – the Revd Frederick (Fred) O’Neill served as a missionary from 1897 until the end of the Second World War and went on to have a distinguished career in the Presbyterian Church, serving as Moderator in 1938. He was in France during the First World War, where he was serving with the China Labour Corps, and it was during a visit with him that the Revd Willie Wilson was killed in a motor accident in 1918, before the war ended. For a recently–published book about his life see Frederick – the Life of My Missionary Grandfather in Manchuria by Mark O’Neill available throught this link www.presbyterianhistoryireland.com. Fred can be seen on the left in the back row, whilst in front of him on the extreme left of the front row is Harry or Henry Pringle Wilson, another brother who had emigrated to Canada, but later returned to manage various projects for the Brown brothers, including the ‘Irish village’ which they helped design for the industrial exhibitions held in Dublin in 1907 and White City, London, the following year – a subject to which we shall return below. Andrew’s wife and mother to the 11 Wilson children is directly behind her husband, and beside her is another Presbyterian minister son, the Revd James or Jimmy who served in South Africa, with an unnamed Indian servant, and finally his wife Ellen. Another sister Edith, holding her son George is seated next to her father in the front row.
Of the Wilson siblings not in this photograph is David Wilson, based in London, who was a gifted water–colourist and cartoonist for Punch magazine. Another of the eleven, the Revd George Wilson, was serving as a missionary in India, and finally we can presume that Ada was at home Ivybank, Donaghmore, two baby daughters. It is possible that her husband David Brown actually took this picture, which has remained in family possession and is not obviously the work of a professional photographer. Family sources reveal that the lives of the Browns and the Wilsons were closely intermingled, and indeed would become more so in the aftermath of Willie’s tragic early death in 1918. When we contacted a descendant of the family, Tony Irwin (based in Dungannon, county Tyrone) about possible connections between our slides and the Wilson/Brown expedition to the Holy Land in 1897, his immediate response was: ‘This was exactly the kind of thing David and his brother did…”.
A family memoir survives entitled ‘There were giants’. Written by the Revd Lawrence Wilson ‘for family consumption’, it includes Lawrence’s early memories of his uncles David and Robert, including touching references to how influential they were in the aftermath of his father’s untimely accidental death:
“My uncle David had indeed a deep care for young people. After my father had been killed in France in a motor accident, family prayers at Donaghmore besought God to “bless the lads” and to “watch over these fatherless boys”. To be thus powerfully brought to God’s notice gave me a gratifying sense of importance that almost outweighed the shock and insecurity of my bereavement”.
On frequent visits to Donaghmore, the two boys were given the ‘run of the soap works’ and learned to operate machinery. Their uncle David also taught them how to drive in ‘one of several cars that he always kept’. Most intriguingly from the perspective of our photographic collection, the memoir further reveals information about the journey that their father and uncle made to ‘Egypt and the Holy Land’ full of adventurous and carefree spirit, so much so that even a robbery of their possessions did not seem to affect them adversely:
“In 1897 he and my father had visited Egypt and the Holy Land and had ridden on horse–back from Jerusalem to Jericho and then over stony tracks for many days from Jerusalem to Damascus. From my father’s letters he emerges care–free and open–handedly generous, riding or walking, Gordon–like with open Bible in hand, from campsite to campsite, sleeping peacefully through the chorus of yapping jackals and quite unperturbed by robbery by their own armed guards. He would have been willing, said my father, to dawdle indefinitely over the tour, or to loiter (if my father so wished) in Rome or Geneva or Paris on the return journey.”
In addition to the Palestine collection, the series of 28 images of the International Industrial Exhibition held in Dublin in 1907, and presented here for the first time to a worldwide audience, provides a further intriguing connection with the Brown–Wilson family. Brown’s best–selling products toiletries such as McClinton’s and Colleen soaps were part of a major exhibit known as he ‘Ballymaclinton village’ that included an Irish cottage as the backdrop for promoting Donaghmore goods in the Home Industries Hall.
An amazing 2.7 million visitors visited the International Exhibition in its entirety during the six–month period that it ran at Dublin’s Herbert Park, between May and November 1907 drawing exhibitors from all over the world. The ‘Ballymaclinton village’ was the brainchild of Harry Pringle Wilson who had returned from Canada to work for the Brown brothers. Whilst the images in our collection are mostly external views of the main exhibition halls, promenades and extensive amusement park, there is one close–up shot of the Canada Hall – the only national hall to be included.
Does this image indicate a connection with Wilson? Perhaps when he was not busy overseeing the Ballymaclinton exhibit complete with its full–scale Irish village, his brother–in–law David Brown was capturing images of the areas outside – many of which appear to have been taken early in the morning before the crowds arrived or at night. Whoever the photographer was, he was clearly fascinated by the grand scale of the specifically–constructed exhibition buildings such as the Grand Central Dome that stood 150–feet high above the exhibition park; and intrigued, as so many of the visitors must have been, by the amusement activities to be enjoyed including a water chute said to the tallest in the world that provided the thrill of landing in the artificial lake created within the theme park, a hurdy–gurdy lighthouse, concert performances from bandstands and lots more.
It is purely speculative, but the fact that these rare Industrial Exhibition images dating from 1907 exist side by side with the Palestine images from around the same era suggests a tantalizing link to the Brown–Wilson connection. But how could the photographs of a Presbyterian family from county Tyrone end up in a Church of Ireland deanery in Killaloe, county Clare?
In addition to undertaking the Palestine journey in 1897 the Wilson–Brown family had connections in India and China. We have previously shown a collection of Indian slides which appeared to be connected with the Very Revd Robert McNeill Boyd, former dean of Killaloe. We have subsequently discovered that Boyd served as a Temporary Chaplain to the Forces in France from 8 Feb 1915. He was mentioned in despatches (21 July 1917) and awarded the Military Cross in 1918. The Revd Andrew Wilson died in France while visiting his brother in law, the Revd Fred O’Neill, during the First World War. O’Neill was there with a Chinese Labour Battalion but returned to China where he had been a missionary since 1897 at the end of the War.
One of the few ‘people’ slides to be labelled in our collection is that of the Revd J.S. Collins, ordained as the Church of Ireland curate for Birr parish in the diocese of Killaloe in 1884, who went on to be the first Dublin University missionary to Fukien in China, and who later died tragically by drowning in the River Min in 1897. Did O’Neill know Collins? Did he pass on this picture to his brother–in– law Willie Wilson before the latter’s untimely death? Is it possible that Boyd, as a military chaplain in France at the time was involved in the funeral arrangements or repatriation of Wilson’s body to Ireland, and for some reason kept the lantern slides after he returned to Ireland to serve in the diocese of Killaloe?
We can’t answer these questions yet, but do seem to be close to linking David Brown and his Wilson family in–laws to our collection. This is why we are launching this fresh public appeal for help. Please examine the materials in our three slide presentations below – of people, places and the Dublin Exhibition, to see if you can identify any further information. Do you recognize any of the unidentified people in the “people slide show”?
Are you familiar with the landscapes shown in the “places show” – might you recognize where in Ireland this streetscape, landscape or seascape are located … ?
… or this golf course and rugby field … ?
Feel free to leave a comment online about an individual slide or contact us directly on the contact details below.
We gratefully acknowledge the interest and assistance of the following people for this online presentation:
Ms Patricia Bogue, Donaghmore Historical Society; Mr Tony Irwin, Dungannon, descendant of the Wilson family; Colum O’Riordan, Irish Architectural Archive; Ms Valerie Adams, Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland; Kirsten Walker, Coleraine Public Library; Prof. Kevin Rockett, Department of Film Studies, Trinity College Dublin; David Blake AMA, Curator, Museum of Army Chaplaincy; Ian Montgomery of PRONI, and finally Dave Culbert of the BBC.
In the Press
The rarity of the Dublin Industrial Exhibition images was featured in the Irish Times Fine Arts page on Saturday 1 June at this link:
TheJournal.ie is an Irish news website that invites its users to shape the news agenda. It featured a piece on this archive of the Month on Saturday, 8th June, 2013 Please click here to access the article.
From another source available in the RCB Library, the memoirs of the Revd Joseph Jackson (1884–1970), who was in Dublin in 1907 as a divinity student in training for the Church’s ministry at Trinity College, we have just obtained this humorous insight to the impact of the Industrial Exhibition on one young visitor. Recalling the spectacular event he remembered:
‘In 1907 there was a big International Exhibition held at RDS grounds in Ballsbridge. The Coldstream Guards had a standing engagement to play every day in the Central Hall. I remember seeing an exhibit of an African Somali village with natives brought over from Africa living in it. In the main Hall a firm Barringtons, makers of soap, had a stall, with all sorts of soaps; two oblelisks were made of soap with a label attached “Please do not touch, this is made of soap”.
…On the last night of the Exhibition, before closing, there was great jollification. I got one of the labels, which had a clip on it. I fastened it onto the back of a belt of a policeman who had his arms folded watching the crowds of people. When they saw the label fastened to his belt with the words “Please do not touch, this is made of soap” it created great laughter and fun. The policeman did not suspect what they were laughing at’.
On 28 August 2013, the lantern slide story was concluded with a news feature on BBC radio and television, which includes interviews with Dr Susan Hood of the RCB Library, JJ Fitzgibbon a magic lantern expert, and Patricia Bogue of Donaghmore.
For further background, see this link:
From the Tyrone Courier, Wednesday 4th September 2013
Donaghmore industrialist behind treasure trove of old photographs
To download this article as a PDF, please click here. PDF is 2Mb in size and requires a PDF Reader.
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood
Churchtown Dublin 14