Linnaeus Tripe and early photographic pioneers of the South West at Plymouth Museum

By Ralph Gifford | 30 March 2011
a black and white negative print showing a landscape and horizon with a church and large brick buildings
A Linnaeus Tripe negative from Devonport. © Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery
Exhibition: Amateurs and Artists, Early Photography and Plymouth at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery from April 9 to July 30 2011.

The names Daguerre and Fox Talbot are central to the story of the birth of photography, but close behind come some less familiar names like Linnaeus Tripe, Robert Hunt and Richard Beard, all of whom were from Devonport.

Now a new photography exhibition at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery is set to shed light on their often forgotten role in the important development of early photography and the links it had to the southwest.

Amateurs and Artists: Early Photography and Plymouth features work by all three of these pioneering early photographers with particular focus on a series of Linnaeus Tripe photographs taken locally and dated to between 1851 and 1855.

Tripe was a career soldier who spent much of his time in India. Today he is most renowned for his photos of the people and temples of India and Burma during the mid 19th century. But he was also a prolific local snapper and after a long career, he settled back in his hometown of Devonport where died in 1902. The museum holds original waxed paper calotype negatives of many of his local photographs.

All the photographs in the exhibition are primarily of the ‘Three Towns’ of Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse, which today make up modern day Plymouth.

In the 19th century they were distinct growing naval garrisons and with the coming of the railway the area’s expansion saw the demand for portraits of scenic landmarks grow. These factors led to a rapid increase in the number of photography studios in the Plymouth area.

One of the most famous opened in 1857, when Devonport optical and mathematical instrument maker William Cox set up a photography department in his business that catered for both amateurs and artists. 

Nigel Overton, Maritime Heritage Officer at the museum said the exhibition will “provide a fascinating glimpse into the local and social history of the ‘Three Towns’” and offer a glimpse into the “growing fashion for photography during the second half of the 19th century.”

  • Family friendly workshops based around the exhibition will be held at lunchtime on April 13, May 10, June 14 and July 12.  It is supported by the Royal Photographic Society Historical Group and admission is free.

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