February ‘Archive of the Month’ at the Church of Ireland RCB Library to showcase rare lantern slides
RCB Library Notes
Added on 01/02/2012
Continuing its ‘Archive of the Month’ initiative, the RCB Library will showcase a rare collection of images from Bihar in north India dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries for February 2012. This forms part of a larger collection of lantern slides that appear to have originated in the Deanery in Killaloe. The entire collection was transferred to the RCB Library in 2011, by the Very Revd Stephen White, current Dean of Killaloe, and may have belonged to one of his predecessors. The complete ‘Killaloe collection’ of lantern slides consists of over 200 images randomly arranged in six boxes, complete with the lantern slide projector used to view them.
Lantern slides were images on glass plates, where the photographic positive was fixed between two pieces of glass, projected using a lamp – originally powered by oil or later by electric cable. They were common from the mid–19th century, reaching the peak of popularity about 1900, and continuing in domestic use until the 1950s when they were gradually replaced by 35mm slides.
The ‘Killaloe collection’ covers a range of subjects including an early 20th–century pilgrimage in the Holy Land, with stunning views of holy sites in Jerusalem and other parts of historic Palestine (which we will feature as a later Archive of the Month); views of the Irish International Exhibition held in Dublin in 1907; a series of commercial copies of various scenes from Victorian life and landmarks in London; as yet unidentified family pictures and scenes from rural and urban locations in Ireland but dating from the late 19th–century; and finally some 48 images documenting the story of the Dublin University Mission at Chota Nagpur [DUMCN] in North India, which appear to cover the period from 1892 when the Mission began to the 1920s.
It is fortunate that the RCB Library already had custody of the bulk of the DUMCN archive, consisting of minutes, working papers of Executive Committee, correspondence, and miscellaneous materials for the period 1891–2004, (RCB Library MS 166) which made it easy to identify the significance of the Indian images in the ‘Killaloe collection’.
In 1892 a group of graduates from Dublin University [DU] answered a call from the Society for Propagation of the Gospel to send a team of missionaries to the Hazaribag district in Bihar. The Anglican Church had begun work in the Chota Nagpur district in 1869, and by 1890 a diocese of the same name was established – carved from the existing huge diocese of Calcutta. The new diocese of Chota Nagpur was about the size of Ireland, so the first bishop, the Rt. Revd J.C. Whitley, requested that the DU group be put to work in the Hazaribag area – 74 miles from the nearest railway station. Into this hilly, densely–wooded countryside, with no roads or easy means of communication, these first Irish missionaries made their pioneering journey, establishing a focal point in Hazaribagh, and soon building a dispensary and hospital and a girls’ and boys’ high schools and a primary school. Over the next 70 years, the DU Mission community would be staffed by missionary clergy, doctors, nurses, teachers and lay people from Ireland and elsewhere. In over 40 images, scenes, people and locations, from the early stages of the Mission’s development are depicted, bringing to life the challenging conditions in which the missionaries worked.
The RCB Library hopes that online access to these pictures may create public interest and enable an as yet unexplained aspect of the lantern slide jigsaw – to identify the photographer. One small clue as to whom the ‘Killaloe collection’ of lantern slides may have belonged is offered by a label on the largest and only wooden of the six boxes complete with Free State postage stamps (which happens to contain the Chota Nagpur images) addressed as follows: ‘Dean Boyd, Deanery, Killaloe, County Clare’. When this label was carefully removed, a further label was revealed underneath, indicating that the box had originally been sent via rail, to another recipient, as it reads as follows: ‘Mrs Jobson, Holly Park, Newtown Park Ave, Blackrock [County Dublin], Kingsbridge St [station] to be called for’.
The Very Revd Robert McNeill Boyd was dean of Killaloe and Kilfenora between 1936 and 1943, after which he became bishop of that diocese until 1945, when he was translated to Derry and Raphoe where he served until his death in 1958. Boyd was born in 1890, making it impossible that he could have photographed the Chota Nagpur collection, and so we wonder how it came into his possession.
During his early clerical career, Boyd most likely travelled widely, as he was a chaplain to the forces between 1915 and 1919 before returning to Ireland to serve in the diocese of Killaloe. Perhaps he developed an interest in photography abroad and acquired the projector and/or images on his travels. No connection between Dean Boyd and Mrs Jobson has as yet been established, so any insight from members of the public who may have further information would be welcomed.
The collection launches online on Wednesday the 1st of February:
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood