ca. 1845

John   Adamson

(1810-1870)

Doctor and chemist in St. Andrews, and curator of the St. Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society Museum in Scotland from its formation in 1838 until his death in 1870. He was educated in St Andrews and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh from 1826 to 1829. He returned to St. Andrews to practise medicine in 1835. He was awarded an M.D. from St. Andrews in 1843. Adamson learned of the invention of photography from Sir David Brewster, and as an experienced chemist he mastered the calotype process around the spring of 1842. Later, he adopted the new collodion process invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851, and continued to practise portraiture until his death.


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ca. 1865


John Adamson is believed to have taken the first portrait in Scotland, a calotype made in St Andrews, in May 1840, before Talbot had made the process public. Dr. John Adamson was also a daguerreotypist.

He, together with Sir David Brewster, was a central figure in the development of photography in Scotland. He taught photography to his younger brother, Robert, and to his laboratory assistant, Thomas Rodger.

It was John Adamson who suggested that Robert should give up his plans for a career in engineering, and should take up the calotype process, entering into partnership in Edinburgh with David Octavius Hill.

Robert Adamson moved to Edinburgh in 1843 to become a partner of David Octavius Hill. Together, from their studio at Rock House, they produced several thousand calotype photographs over a period of 4 years. Robert returned to St. Andrews in ill health in 1847, and died a few months later, aged 26. [or aged 27]

John Adamson may also have suggested, after the death of his brother in 1848, that Thomas Rodger should set up the first photographic studio in St. Andrews. © EdinPhoto



Dr. John Adamson was a Scottish physician, pioneer photographer, physicist, lecturer and museum curator. He was a highly respected figure in St. Andrews, and was responsible for producing the first calotype portrait in Scotland in 1841. He taught the process to his brother, the famous pioneering photographer Robert Adamson. He was curator of the Literary and Philosophical Society Museum at St. Andrews from 1838 until his death.

Adamson was born in St. Andrews, and grew up in Burnside, the son of John Adamson, Sr., a Fife farmer and his wife, Rachael Melville.

Adamson was educated in the University of St. Andrews and University of Edinburgh, graduating with a diploma in Surgery in 1829. He moved to Paris, where he opened up a practice and was then employed as a ship's surgeon on a voyage to China. He returned to .Andrews in 1835, where he set up practice permanently. Adamson became heavily involved with Brewster at the university, studying the calotype and also became a lecturer and curator of the university museum. The older brother of pioneering photographer Robert Adamson, it was John who produced the first calotype portrait in Scotland at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh in May 1841 (various sources also say May 1840 or May 1842), with his close associate, physicist David Brewster of the University of St. Andrews. Adamson "discovered how to control a process that remained remarkably difficult." John was also responsible for educating Robert in the process which he later used to produce some 2500 calotypes with David Octavius Hill between 1843 and 1848. Through Brewster, Adamson was in close contact with Henry Fox Talbot who invented the process. He obtained a Master's Degree in 1843. He was also a member and the curator of the St. Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society museum from 1838. until his death.

There is a blue plaque in his honour on his home at 127 South Street in St. Andrews, where he lived from 1848 to 1865. It says "He was a physician and pioneer photographer. In 1841, he took the first caloptype portrait. He also taught his brother Robert, and *Thomas Rodger the technique and art of photography. A town councillor, he was a tireless worker for public health, and the hospital here is, in part, his memorial.

*Thomas Rodger (8 April 1832-6 January 1883) was an early Scottish photographer. He studied at the University of St Andrews and was a protégé of Dr. John Adamson who also persuaded him to become a photographer. en.Wikipedia



The Edinburgh Calotype Club

(1843 - c.1850s)

The first photographic club in the world. Its members consisted of pioneering photographers primarily from Edinburgh and St. Andrews. The efforts of the Club's members resulted in the production of two of the world's earliest assembled photographic albums, consisting of more than 300 images.

The group was formed after the introduction of calotype photography to Edinburgh gentlemen by Sir David Brewster, then Principal of the colleges of St Salvator and St Leonard at St. Andrews and also a close friend of the inventor of the calotype process, William Henry Fox Talbot. Talbot sent Brewster examples of his work well before publishing on his findings, and it was Brewster who suggested that Talbot only patent his invention in England, and not Scotland, which eventually allowed for the club's formation.

Talbot sent Brewster examples of his calotype photography, but Brewster had to turn to a colleague at St. Andrews, the Professor of Chemistry Dr. John Adamson, in order to discover how to reproduce his friend's process. Although John Adamson was the first person in Scotland to use calotype photography, it was his brother, Robert, who was to take up photography as a passion and a profession, eventually establishing Scotland's first photographic studio with painter and pioneering photographer David Octavius Hill.

A visit from James Francis Montgomery, who was studying for the bar in Edinburgh, and a group of friends who were interested in Brewster's and John Adamson's reproduction of the calotype process allegedly led to the formation of the Edinburgh Calotype Club itself.

The membership of the Club was composed of professional gentlemen from a variety of backgrounds -- including clerics, academics, physicians -- in both Edinburgh and St. Andrews. Meetings of the club are described as being generally informal, and retrospective on the Club from an 1874 edition of The British Journal of Photography states that had "neither laws, office-bearers, or formalities of any kind":

"The meetings were held periodically at the houses of the members alternately, and generally each took the form of a breakfast, although when some greater step than ordinary had been made in advance it was generally honoured by being introduced to the members at a formal dinner."

The club's membership included notable figures of the time, particularly from Edinburgh and St. Andrews:
John Adamson (1810-1870), doctor and chemist in St. Andrews.
David Brewster (1781-1868), Scottish physicist, mathematician, astronomer, inventor, and writer.
Cosmo Innes (1798-1874), Scottish historian and antiquary.
James Francis Montgomery (1818-1897), advocate and cleric.
Mark Napier (1798-1879), historian.
Hugh Lyon Playfair (1786-1861), Provost of St. Andrews.
William Fox Talbot (1800-1877), British inventor and pioneer of photography.
George Moir (1800-1870), Scottish advocate and author.

The Edinburgh Calotype Club continued meeting until sometime in the 1850s; although the exact date when it ceased to exist is not known, curators at the National Library of Scotland suggest that it was likely around the mid 1850s, "when the albumen and collodion processes superseded the calotype... The Edinburgh Calotype Club had, in a sense, outlived its usefulness." The development of newer photographic technologies meant that photography was opened to a wider audience, and "spread like wildfire over the country."

Some members of the Club, in particular David Brewster, George Moir and Cosmo Innes, went on to become active in the later Photographic Society of Scotland that was founded in 1856. Brewster became the President of the Photographic Society of Scotland, Moir one of its two vice presidents, and Innes a council member.

en.wikipedia; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.



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