A gallery of 1850s photographs;
or are they?
A train leaving Gorey in the 1850s. Hardly, the service to the harbour did not start until 1891
Early photographs of Jersey scenes frequently appear on the popular auction sites but anyone tempted to bid for them should be very careful. The suggested dates when the photographs were taken can be wildly inaccurate.
Many photographs which survive from the early days of photography in Jersey were printed as 'stereo pairs', designed to provide a three-dimensional effect when looked at through a special viewer. It is probably because the two images were mounted on a stiff card that they have survived.
But they are not all as old as they are often said to be.
The picture in the box at the top right is undoubtedly a superb image of a steam engine leaving Gorey Harbour, but it could hardly have been taken in the 1850s, as was claimed when it was offered for sale, along with a number of other stereo pairs in January 2018.
Stereo pair photography was very much in its infancy in the 1850s, and did not really start to be used commercially by photographers in Jersey until the following decade. But this pair is much younger, because the Jersey Eastern Railway did not start operating until 1874, and the line was not extended to Gorey Harbour until 1891.
So what does that tell us about the other images offered for sale by the same seller at the same time?
They have the appearance of being part of a single collection, and there must be a strong suspicion that they were also taken much later than claimed. If pressed, we would suggest that none of them were taken in the 1850s, or even the following couple of decades.
Although professional photographers were active in Jersey in the 1840s, they were too busy making money by taking portraits of rich Jersey families to be out and about with their early cameras - or, if they were, the images they took have not survived. And we believe that a only a handful of the 50,000 images in Jerripedia's galleries - the largest online collection of Jersey photographs - can definitely be said to have been taken in the 1850s.
The main problem is that the earliest images did not have a date written on the back, or not one which was written at the time they were printed, and all sorts of detective work is involved in attempting to pin down the year, or even the decade, in which they were taken.
Probably the oldest outdoor photographs which have an authenticated date are those taken by Victor Hugo and his son Charles. They lived in Jersey from 1852 to 1855, and set about taking photographs soon after their arrival. One of Victoria College, known to have been taken in 1853, is, along with others taken in Jersey between 1853 and 1855, now in various Hugo collections in Paris museums.
The first Jersey photographer who was active outside his studio and whose images survive was Henry Mullins. He opened a studio in the Royal Square in 1848, but his outdoor photographs are all believed to have been taken in the 1860s. There are very few surviving images of his subjects taken earlier by other photographers.
We do not know who took the picture of the train at Gorey, or those below. A photographer's name, and the knowledge of when he was in business, is often the only real guide to when photographs were taken.
But so is content, and just as the train could not have been photographed in 1850, the picture below of St Helier Harbour contains a steamship which would have been in service towards the end of the 19th century, not in the middle. Pictures such as that below of waves breaking over White Rock are impossible to date from their content.
Other '1850s' pictures
Having dismissed the pictures above as probably all dating from the 1890s rather than the 1850s, we have a few more below, offered for sale separately in early 2018, and also described as taken in the 1850s.
The picture of the top of the Albert Harbour is probably the only one of these taken at any time near the 1850s, and could possibly be that old.
We can safely say that the picture of the Royal Square was not taken before 1894, when trees were first planted there; the picture of St Aubin's Harbour includes the Jersey Western Railway terminus hotel, not built until 1874; The Plemont cave image is impossible to date; the Rouge Bouillon picture contains buildings which were certainly present in the 1850s, and there could easily have been a gas lamp present then, but we just think it looks rather too neat and tidy to be that early.
There was a remarkable flurry of offers for sale of early Jersey photographs in January 2018. This next batch are said to have been taken in the 1860s, and with the majority, of what appears to be a set assembled by a contemporaneous collector, sold as stereo pairs by Henry Mullins, we are happy with the 1860s as a likely date.
Henry Mullins was a prominent portrait photographer in Jersey for many years, but Samuel Poulton, who took photographs of St Brelade's Parish Church for sale as a stereo pair at about the same time as Mullins, was not known to have worked in Jersey until photographs he took of Jersey fisherwomen in 1858 first came to light in 2017.
His photographs of the church appear to have formed part of the same collection as some of Mullins' stereo pairs, as evidenced by the collector's hand-written initials and numbers on the backs.