Sunday, August 2, 2009

A second photograph of Harry Goodsir

One of the more unusual categories for early sitters for the Daguerreian camera is monophotic, meaning persons for whom there exists only a single photograph. It's possible, as some have speculated, that Beard's apparatus, used to photograph the Franklin expedition's officers, was used to make two of every subject -- but so far, we only have a second image for two of them: Fitzjames and Des Voeux. We can now add a third sitter for whom this was not to be his only surviving photograph: Henry Duncan Spens ("Harry") Goodsir .

The photo has survived in the collections of the University of St. Andrews, and is labelled "1842 Dr. Harry Goodsir." It's a remarkable photograph, not only for the very different pose struck by Goodsir, but by this date. The Talbotype (later, calotype) process had only been invented two years earlier by Henry Fox Talbot; aside from those he made himself, only a handful of photographs made prior to 1843 by this process survive to the present day. That a portrait of Goodsir is among them is not, however, merely a matter of good fortune.

The Goodsirs were an illustrious scientific family; Goodsir's eldest brother, John Goodsir, was the foremost British anatomist of his era. In 1843, only a year after this image was taken, Harry Goodsir assumed the post of Consevator of the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh (a post earlier held by both his elder brothers). There had been considerable interest in the College, as well as at the University of Edinburgh, in the possible scientific applications of photography. The daguerreotype, in theory at least, was unavailable due to patent restrictions, but Talbot's calotype process was restricted only in England, not Scotland. And, as it happened, it was to be David Brewster, principal of St Leonard and St Salvator College at St. Andrew's University, who first brought the calotype to Scotland. Brewster was an expert in optics and spectroscopy, and among other things was the inventor of the kaleidoscope; he had corresponded extensively with Talbot, and may indeed have been the man to persuade him to permit free use of his invention in Scotland.

Under Brewster's influence, Robert Adamson, working with David Octavius Hill, opened the first portrait studio in Scotland in Edinburgh in May of 1843. As this Goodsir image precedes their establishment by at least several months, it's tempting to think that it may have been made directly under Brewster's tutelage, or even by him. There may, indeed, be still other photographs of Goodsir; I have heard rumors of a group portrait in which he is included, and with the spirit of experimentation then in the air, it would not be surprising if there were still others. Indeed, I think it very likely that Goodsir -- who was given a naval commission explicitly to serve as the Franklin expedition's naturalist -- was the officer in whose charge the Dageurreotype apparatus was placed. After all , in 1845, very few men, in or out of the Navy, could have claimed three or more years' experience with the newfangled science of "sun pictures."


  1. Yes,as you say it is a different pose,it looks like his right hand is resting on what could be a cane or stick,hard to tell though.
    After seeing this image I went to Google images and Dr Harry Goodsir is the only person of the Franklin expedition where there two images, this one and the image taken prior to sailing.

  2. I think Goodsir is holding a book with his right hand. That would fit with his scholarly background. Not entirely unlike the "thinker" pose he held in the Daguerreotype taken before they sailed.

    It is possible to enhance the image a bit by playing with the contrast and brightness. Most picture editors will let you do this. Hitting "Auto Correct" in MS Office Picture Manager helped clean up the image.

  3. I am working to get a much better resolution version of this image -- what you see here is very lo-def! -- more detail may possibly be retrieved. Calotypes do sometimes have a rather faded look, and can fade further over time; they are also not as sharp as Daguerreotypes. I'll keep everyone posted!

  4. Alas, the smaller version has already been enhanced; the unmodified original scan shows, if anything, even less detail. You can see the full-size scan (which unfortunately has a massive watermark) at:

  5. Just a question Do we have any photos of the men who were sent back for reasons of illness etc? I believe it amounted to 7 or 8 men. further did those men ever express any opinion about what happened to their shipmates and their own good fortune?

  6. Hi Pacal,

    Interesting question.

    I'm typing this from memory, but as I recall the Expedition should have sailed with 139 men (69 on Terror and 70 on Erebus - James Fitzjames being the 'extra' person on Erebus). One position on Terror was never filled amd four men who were enrolled onto the ships' Muster Books were then discharged for one reason or another before the ships left the Thames Estuary. One of these at least was discharged to Greenwich Hospital, which suggests he was ill, and another was discharged to an appointment on another ship, which suggests he was NOT ill.

    A further individual was sent back from Orkney and four more from Greenland. Crozier reported that two of the men discharged from Terror at Greenland were sent back because they were 'completely useless'. This might refer to their state of health, but then again it might not. On the other hand it implies that the other two WERE diagnosed with some illness.

    Lucky men!

    This means that 138 men were enrolled onto the Expedition but only 129 men died on it. No one has authoritatively worked out the reasons for all these discharges. I plan to try to trace the rest of the lives of these men who 'survived' and one, at least, I think, became a Ships' Chandler in Ireland and lived to a ripe old age long after the days of the Franklin Expedition.

    It looks very much as though more Daguerreotypes were taken than are known to have survived. But it seems unlikely that any were taken of non-commissioned members of the ships' companies, if only because their families were not likely to be able to pay for them! They were expensive for the day and Richard Beard the 'Daguerreotypist' (if that's the right word) was a highly commercial man!

    However, if iy is possible to trace the lives of the men who were discharged, it's possible that some of them at least were photographed in later life.

  7. Thanks for the additional information. Yes it would be interesting to trace what happpened to those men.

  8. How interesting would it be if a daguerrotype of one of the 3 beechey mummies were found!

  9. It would be amazing if any Daguerreotypes were ever recivered from this expedition!