How old are these photographs?

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Following the addition to Jerripedia in February 2016 of an article charting the early years of photography in Jersey we were sent digital copies of some very early images, including what we believe to be the earliest surviving picture of an outdoor scene in Jersey. We thought that to celebrate we should create a new gallery featuring some of our oldest images of island scenes.

We start the gallery with this harbour photograph, and another slightly different image which was taken at the same time and was offered for sale a few weeks later. We will add to these as soon as we have time to fully research further images.

Image dating problems

We want to take things a little further than simply showcasing old pictures; we want to take the opportunity to examine some of the problems we encounter when trying to date old photographs, and discuss the clues which can be used.

Putting accurate dates to mid-19th century photographs can be extremely difficult. We are frequently sent, or come across, photographs with suggested dates, but they can be wildly inaccurate.

A common problem is that pictures known to have been taken some time in the 1890s, for example, will be described as '1890', the date can, therefore be nearly a decade out.

In other cases the handwritten date on the back of a photograph or the caption to a digital image may simply be somebody's guess, so the first rule when it comes to dating photographs is: 'Don't believe what you are told!'.

And here we must hold our hands up and admit that our estimates of dates cannot always be relied on, either. Over 48,000 images have been added to Jerripedia since we started with a photograph of All Saints Church on 12 August 2010. That's roughly 28 every day, and given that several hours can be spent just trying to pin down the date of a single photograph, we hope you will appreciate the difficulties we face and the efforts we go to in an attempt to 'get it right'.

Jerripedia has the largest online collection of images of Jersey; over 49,500 compared to the Société Jersiaise photographic archive's 35,000. OK, not all our images are original photographs - some are paintings and drawings - but we are not sure whether the Société's total includes all the images in its online catalogue which are not actually available to view.

But such comparisons are odious and what is important is that Jerripedia 'gets it right', and we are constantly adding dates to photographs on the site, or amending existing ones. Please forgive us if we have got something wrong, but don't keep the information to yourself! Let us know what you think, and we will make amendments and corrections as quickly as possible.

Are these the oldest?

The photograph at the top of the page was believed to show the French Harbour, one of the original sections of St Helier Harbour, protected by what was called South Pier, then Old South Pier, and is again known as South Pier today. The picture immediately attracted our attention because it shows such a lovely view of a port in the Victorian era, crowded with wooden sailing ships. Undoubtedly some of these vessels would have been built in Jersey, which was a major ship building centre in the middle of the 19th century.

The emergence of the second photograph reveals that we had the wrong section of harbour. This is actually the English Harbour, to the right of the French, as it is viewed here. The wider view on the left of the later image shows the area known as La Folie, which is between the two harbours.

Closer inspection reveals that these photographs are remarkable not for what is in them, but for what is not there. One of the best ways of dating photographs is if they do not show a building or other structure known to have been erected at a certain date, and if they show another structure known to have been built earlier, that gives a timeframe during which the photograph must have been taken.

There is something clearly missing from this image, and that is the Albert Pier, the outer arm of St Helier's Harbour for over a century, which should stretch across in the background, ending just after the angle in the pier. Closer inspection of the clearer picture shows that there appears to be a new pier under construction, and on the very left of the image is a dark triangular shape, which we now know to be the end of the South Pier, not the Victoria Pier as previously stated, and which is out of sight to the left of the view shown.

The latter was completed in 1846 and renamed from its original New South Pier in honour of the visit of Queen Victoria that year. The new North Pier was started in 1846 and completed in 1853, then renamed Albert Pier in honour of Prince Albert. This dates the photograph to between these last two years, and given the state of progress on the new pier, which has yet to reach its full length or height, probably somewhere in the middle - perhaps 1849-1851.

This makes these remarkable and historic photographs, because, although studio portraits are in existence which have been dated to around 1845 - five years after the first demonstration of photography is believed to have taken place in the island - the earliest pictures taken outdoors in the island showing any recognisable structure were previously believed to be those of the Royal Square taken in 1852, and of Victoria College, taken the following year, a few months after it opened, by Charles, the son of exiled French writer Victor Hugo.

Album of early photographs

There are other very early photographs of Jersey in an album in the collection of Princeton University, including this picture of Gorey Harbour and Mont Orgueil Castle, possibly taken in 1851, and predating the Charles Hugo images.

A photograph of Gorey Harbour, possibly taken in 1851

The date when the photograph was taken, apparently by a Mr Brodie, to whom other photographs in the album have been linked, is not known. However, it appears on the same page as other images dated 1851, and close examination of the picture, which shows active shipyards on the shore on the left, suggest that this date is quite possible.

More early Harbour photographs

This is one of the best photographs of St Helier Harbour in the 19th century we have ever seen. This is the top of the Old Harbour, between Commercial Buildings and the New North Quay. The area occupied by the variety of ships in the foreground was filled in in 1884 to allow the Weighbridge Garden to be built with a statue of Queen Victoria in the centre, and further down in 1928 to provide parking spaces. It's difficult to put a date to this picture, but we think that it could be as early as 1853, because although the Albert Pier is complete in the background, it does not look as if it is yet in use. That was the year it was completed.

This photograph of the Weighbridge, showing the Hotel du Havre where the Southampton hotel stood later, is one of the earliest known photographs of St Helier. The exact date is unknown, because there appears to be no record of the premises as the Hotel du Havre. To the right of the Havre, partly hidden behind the first public weighbridge, was the Custom House (later the Weighbridge Cafe), then the Weighbridge Hotel (later Hill's Weighbridge Hotel, and then Richards Finsbury Hotel), and to its right, another hotel, the Navy Hotel (later Hill's Navy Hotel). Across Mulcaster Street, moving further to the right, is Chase's Royal Yacht Club Hotel, without the fourth storey which had been added by the 1860s
The top end of the Old Harbour, looking in the opposite direction from the picture above, and almost certainly an earlier photograph. The buildings are part of Caledonia Place, with Pier Road above and behind, and the outline of Fort Regent discernable at the top.

Old Harbour, but how old?

Here is another very old photograph of St Helier Harbour, although exactly how old is open to debate. The photograph was offered for sale at the end of 2017 dated 1880s, but we believe it to be considerably earlier. The image shows the end of the North Quay, as it was then known, and the Old Harbour stretching across to Commercial Buildings. It was taken from the end of the South Pier, which appears to be in somewhat poor condition. The almost identical picture below has been in our St Helier Harbour gallery since June 2017, and the painting at the bottom, which is clearly based on the top picture, has been in our collection since 2011. Our first thought when the new picture arrived was that it showed the full extent of the harbour at the time, with no Albert Pier and Harbour to the left of the north quay. That would date it to before 1853. However, the painting shows small boats outside the North Quay, suggesting that the Albert Pier had been built. We still do not think the photographs were taken as late as the 1880s, and identification of the paddle steamer in the background as possibly the Aquila suggests that the photograph was taken in the late 1850s or 1860s

Early market women

This photograph of French stallholders in a Jersey market went on sale in 2018, dated pre-1850. This demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the progress of photography in its early years, or a deliberate attempt to mislead potential purchasers. The first demonstration of daguerreotype photography in the island was in 1840, and although some pictures survive from the following decade, there is nothing of this quality. Various experts have dated this picture, based on the clothing and other aspects, as '1870 at the earliest' - '1880s or later' and nobody we have consulted believes that it could have been taken anywhere near as early as 1850

Crumbling granite

At first sight there does not appear to be any connection between the two pictures chosen as our joint Picture of the week in January 2020. Both show crumbling granite, but that is not the link. These photographs are both old - very old - and are believed to have been taken within a couple of years of each other in the mid-1850s. That means that they are contemporaneous with photographs taken by Victor Hugo and his entourage during their stay in Jersey between 1852 and 1855, which are generally recognised as the earliest surviving outdoor views of the island. The photograph of a thatched cottage is of such amazing quality that we had previously doubted the date attributed to it of September 1855, but further information which has been discovered by our researcher Gary Mayne supports the date. The photograph, of an unknown building, was taken by Joseph Cundall, a pioneer photographer in London, and a founder member of the Royal Photographic Society. The photograph is in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. According to an inscription on the print, it was produced using the collodion process, which was invented in 1851. The museum holds an albumen silver print made from a glass negative, acquired through a bequest in 1952. The picture below of a crumbling Jersey coastal tower is believed to be a year older. The photographer is unknown, but the print is believed to have been produced in 1854 using the Blanquart-Evrard process. This was Tour du Sud, originally Tower A at the southern end of St Ouen's Bay, on the shore opposite La Rocco Tower. Tour du Sud, as well as Towers B and C to its north, were undermined by the sea. It is not known how long Tower A survived in the condition found by the unknown photographer in 1854, but the major damage is believed to have occurred in 1851
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