Photo: Niagara Falls, 1840

How academics found the first photograph to be taken in Canada
Click above to see larger version of this image. Image courtesy Robinson Library
Special Collections, Newcastle University, with thanks to Robin Anderson.

This image of Niagara Falls (above) was discovered twelve years ago in a box at Newcastle University in England. The box, marked “Daguerrotypes,” had been languishing on a shelf in Special Collections since 1926, when it was given to the library by descendants of British industrialist Hugh Lee Pattinson. Then a student of the early form of photography just perfected by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, Pattinson was in Canada on a business trip when he stopped at the Falls to practice his technique. It took more than twenty minutes for the scene to afx on the silver-coated copper plate inside his camera; afterward, he would envelop the plate in warm mercury fumes, slowly drawing the image to the surface. It must have been thrilling, but no more so than when, a century and half later, historians learned what had been unearthed at Newcastle: the frst photograph ever taken in Canada.

9 comment(s)

Canadian MalContentJune 17, 2009 18:31 EST

Perhaps the text could indicate whether this is a laterally reversed image?

Robin AndersonJune 20, 2009 20:42 EST

I hope the following is helpful.

Unfortunately, due to space constraint, this is a much abbreviated version of a fascinating and significant piece of discarded Canadian history.

Reference to the substantial research carried out by Graham W Garrett in the early 1990’s, ultimately published in 1996 prior to the discovery, has had to be omitted. It may even have been Garrett’s pursuit of the facts that led to the discovery. His work has largely gone unacknowledged.

Unlike today, in addition to the process being inordinately time consuming, the apparatus required to create photographs then was extremely cumbersome, weighing in excess of seventy pounds. Fortunately, Pattinson had traveling companions to assist him. The above image is of course laterally reversed. Table Rock can be seen on the left when it should be on the right. The small figure seen to the lower left is widely believed to be Pattinson himself. The figure also appears in the aquatint published by N. M. P. Lerebours (1807-1873) in Excursion Daguerriennes (1840-1844) which was engraved from this daguerreotype. Prior to the discovery it was not known whether the figure was part of the original image or had been added for effect by the engraver, common practice at the time.

This is but a small part of a much larger project. Discussion is underway with The Niagara Parks Commission toward the creation of a commemorative device to inform and educate visitors to the Falls, who to this day emulate Pattinson, entirely unaware they are carrying on a tradition begun nearly one hundred and seventy years ago.

robinjanderson@live.com

AnonymousOctober 27, 2009 17:18 EST

Fortunately, Pattinson had traveling companions to assist him. The above image is of course laterally reversed. Table Rock can be seen on the left when it should be on the right. The small figure seen to the lower left is widely believed to be Pattinson himself. The figure also appears in the aquatint published by N. M. P. Lerebours (1807-1873) in Excursion Daguerriennes (1840-1844) which was engraved from this daguerreotype.

barakDecember 05, 2009 06:42 EST

Are you sure if the photo is genuine and a true picture at that time?

DoctorDecember 30, 2009 17:14 EST

nice history, we must keep its

good in everydayJanuary 15, 2010 19:08 EST

wow that's great picture :D love it, keep it ..,

GeoPhotoMarch 14, 2011 12:11 EST

This is NOT the first photo ever taken in Canada. Photography in two forms was announced in 1839 and shortly after the announcements, amateurs and professional were reported to be using the one or another process in a number of Canadian newspapers.

AnonApril 01, 2011 08:17 EST

“The first recorded photograph of Niagara Falls was a daguerreotype made by H.L. Pattinson …”

The Taking of Niagara - a history of the Falls in photography
by Dr. Anthony Bannon
Director, George Eastman House International Museum of Photography & Film

Robin AndersonApril 18, 2011 10:02 EST

Better late than never.

Further to the contents of my comment above.

The Niagara Parks Commission has now placed a commemorative plaque in the Maid of the Mist Plaza to inform and educate visitors to the Falls of Pattinson's work; the making of the first photograph of Niagara Falls.



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