Early Norfolk Photographs
1840 - 1860
William Francis Photographer

William Francis (1814-1874)

Surgeon, general practitioner and photographer

In 1851, William Bransby Francis, MD (MRCS, LSA) was a surgeon, living with his wife Jane, his sister and their mother together with four servants in Colegate, Norwich. He was born in Beccles, Suffolk.

The photograph of bladder stones (in the Eaton album, ‘Calotypes’ – see Eaton) is believed to be one of the earliest medical photographs. The Welcome Foundation1collection has no medical photographs dated before 1850, and in France, Germany and the USA medical photographic images made before that date were daguerreotypes2. The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, opened in 1772, was famous for its lithotomy operations and had a collection of stones about which John Dalrymple3 wrote ‘The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital is already possessed of the finest collection of Urinary Calculi probably anywhere in existence and by it the reputation of the institution, has been extended by no slight degree.’When, in 1845 and on its premises, the hospital opened a museum containing ‘pathological and morbid parts’ an entry in its Catalogue of Calculi4 states:

‘2354Θβ Bladder with exceedingly large prostate & the bladder contained 14 Calculi Vide 2151 B. Francis’.
The listing with the next largest number of calculi shows only 6 stones so it’s possible that this photograph is of 2354Θβ where there is a connection with Francis. Although the hospital museum archive still retains some calculi in its collection, 2354Θβ is listed as having been thrown away in 1923.

Francis was elected Vice-President of the Norwich Photographic Society for the years 1856 and 1857 and in the Society’s 1856 exhibition he showed two photographs, printed from waxed paper negatives, of Beccles Church. He had previously loaned items to the Norwich 1840 Polytechnic Exhibition5, namely, the skeletons of a polecat and of a mole, and three teeth of a sperm whale.

Sources and Notes

  1. Private discussion, Welcome Foundation.
  2. Private communication, Dr. Stanley Burns.
  3. Minutes of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, Archive Centre, Norwich.
  4. Catalogue of Calculi, Norfolk Record Office.
  5. Catalogue of the Polytechnic Exhibition, 1840, Heritage Centre, Norwich.

    606      Skeleton of a polecat, male                         W. B. Francis
    616      Ditto, mole                                                    W. B. Francis
    850      Three teeth of a sperm whale                     W. B. Francis, Esq.

There is a fine wall monument to Francis in St. Clement’s Church, Colegate, Norwich.

bladder stones
Bladder Stones
Salted paper print, circa 1845
[Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service]
Becccles Church
Beccles Church, Norfolk
Albumen print, early 1850s
[Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service]