Early Norfolk Photographs
1840 - 1860
Samuel Smith Photographer
Samuel Smith
E. Johnson [Wisbech]
Samuel Smith
Albumen print, late 19th century
[Wisbech & Fenland Museum]

arrow gallery link Samuel Smith (1802-1892)
Collector, numismatist, scientific instrument maker, palaeontologist and photographer

Samuel Smith was a talented and very methodical photographer who made a special contribution to the history of photography by documenting the growth of Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, a market town and river port, during the 1850s and early 1860s. He also made some photographs of Norfolk when he travelled across the county and examples are illustrated in the Gallery.
The son of a farmer, he grew up some five miles from Wisbech and, in 1830, he became a timber merchant and mechanist at March, just ten miles distant. His financial progress was such that he retired in 1847. He was first married to Myra, by whom he had two children, and, following Myra’s death, he married Frances Dawbarn.
He was a director of the Wisbech Gas Light and Coke Company, a committee member of the Scientific Institution and Museum of Wisbech and a member of the Palaeontographical Society of London, the latter being devoted to the study of fossil floras and faunas. The Reverend Winks referred to Smith as my philosopher friend’.
He made waxed-paper negatives, probably using the process devised by Gustave Le Gray, and from these negatives he usually made albumen prints. His first dated print was made in 1852. In 1853, nineteen rooms of Hunstanton Hall, the home of the Le Strange family and one of the great Tudor houses of Norfolk, were destroyed by fire and, not long after, Samuel Smith documented the ruins, some examples of which are illustrated in the Gallery.



Sources and Notes

Millward, M. and Coe, B., Victorian Townscape: The Work of Samuel Smith.
London: Ward Lock Limited, 1974. Major collections of his work are held at the Wisbech & Fenland Museum and the National Media Museum, Bradford. There seems to be no written documentation associated with these collections. In 1971 Brian Coe, then curator of the Kodak Museum, together with Michael Millward, then curator of the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, started a research project on the work of Samuel Smith. This resulted in the publication of the book and exhibitions in the UK and the USA of England’s first documentary photographer.

The writer is particularly thankful to Brian Liddy, Curator of Museums Access, National Media Museum and David Wright, Curator of Wisbech &Fenland Museum for their unstinting support during his research.