The People of Gibraltar
1861 - Browning and Dansey - Part 4

As well as being a surgeon George Dansey was also a keen amateur natural historian. With perhaps a weakness for the obscure he managed to discover a new species of Eukaryotic algae which was later named after him as either Dickieia or Mastogloia danseyi presumably only of great interest to those who actually know what a diatom is. It also meant that he had access to or owned a decent microscope. As quite a few of the photographs in the album confirm it was yet another indication of his fondness for technology.

The River Tamar - George Dansey discovered his diatom on the tidal shore of this river   (1855 - George Dansey)

Another view over the Tamar - I can’t identify the people on either photograph   (1855 - George Dansey)

Among the numerous example of Dansey’s work within the album of which at least 18 are “signed” - although quite a few other unsigned examples seem very likely to be his - four are of views or aspects of Mount Edgecumbe House.

Could this one have been among his first attempts? Is the Freddy?   (Undated - George Dansey)

The two ladies are identified - unconvincingly in my opinions - as George Dansey’s sister Mary and his daughter Mary Frances - The caption is from another photo behind this one  (Undated but possibly the 1850s - Probably by George Dansey)

The sitter in the foreground could be Dansey’s wife Mary   (Undated - Probably by George Dansey)

(1858 - Probably by George Dansey)

The two ladies on the right could be Mary Frances, Browning’s wife, and Georgina - the young boy would be their younger brother Freddy - If the latter is indeed Freddy then the date certainly refers to the year it was printed as Freddy died in 1858       (Unknown date - George Dansey)

Perhaps just a coincidence but Mount Edgecumbe was the home of Caroline, a half-sister of that much celebrated British photography pioneer Henry Fox Talbot and wife of the Earl of Mount Edgecumbe. Browning Snr and Talbot were both born within a year of each other - George Dansey was less than a decade younger.  

Is it possible that either the young photographer responsible for the “Trees” - or perhaps the Dansey family - might have been acquainted with Talbot Fox? Could they have known or have been influenced by his work? 

It seems unlikely although nine years later in 1865, George gave what may or may not have been a riveting talk in Plymouth on the “Camera Lucida” - an interesting coincidence given the above as it seems that it was William Fox Talbot’s disappointment with his results using this device that led him to try to find out:
  . . . . if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably and remain fixed upon the paper:

The Plymouth programme   (1865)

George was no doubt a man of many talents one of which was of course the ability to take a decent photographs during an era in which people that did so were few and far between. It’s hard to decide with any degree of certainty why he took up his hobby but putting two and two together from the evidence offered by several dated photographs in the album, he may have started taking his first ones at the time of the Crystal Palace Exhibition - a massive Victorian celebration of the brave new world of modern technology, show-casing among other far more ambitious projects several newly invented techniques in photography. 

An equestrian statue of Queen Victoria in front of the Indian stand at the Crystal Palace exhibition   (1851 - Probably taken by George Dansey from somebody else’s photo)

The evidence - such as it is - suggests that the caption on the above photograph may have been written by Browning Jnr or at any rate whoever wrote almost all the other captions in the album but offers no clues as to who took the original photograph. An alternative to Dansey might be Philip Henry Delamotte an artist made famous for his photographic record of the dismantling of the glass “Palace” in 1852 and its reconstruction in Sydenham.

As I mentioned previously the album does have a single photograph attributed to Delamotte. It is an undated portrait of a lady and child. Neither of them appear to have been members of the family but whoever wrote the caption - and it was not the person who wrote the majority of them - knew the name of the lady - a Mrs Solfleet - and of course the name of the photographer.

(Unknown date - P. H. Delamotte)

In yet another of those odd coincidences, Delamotte’s uncle was Dr Henry Digby Cotes Delamotte who happened to be an Admiralty surgeon living in Swanage. He must have known Deberoh Pyke - Browning’s grandmother quite well as he was a witness to a will she drew up in 1843. 

The fact that Browning Jnr had lived in Swanage with his mother for several years as a young man, that later both his and his father’s stints as surgeons in the Navy coincided with that of Dr Henry, suggests that the Browning family may have known the good doctor quite well and perhaps through him his nephew Philip.   

Obituary - (1874 - The British Medical Journal)

Reading between the lines, I suspect that the Crystal Palace Exhibition was hugely influential in Dansey’s development as a photographer. I would go so far as to guess that this is when he started. The oldest photos in the album attributed by him are all dated 1851. 

The exhibition also probably stimulated what I suspect might have been a general interest not just in photography but also in all things scientific and technological. As luck would have it Isambard Kingdom Brunel - a veritable icon of engineering during the Victorian era - was a contemporary of Dansey. Not only that but he was involved in two major projects not all that far from Stoke Dameral.

Construction work on the Royal Albert Bridge spanning the River Tamar at Saltash started in 1854 and finished four years later. It must have proved irresistible not to photograph the spectacular work in progress and I am absolutely certain that the single example in the album is not the only photo he ever took of it.

The bridge was not much more than 10 miles from St Michael’s Terrace    (1856 - George Dansey)

Brunel’s viaduct at nearby Ivybridge was yet another technological wonder that must have interested Dansey. Brunel had come up with an unusual method of construction involving wooden spans supported by fans of timber bracing, built on masonry piers. The rationale behind this was that it would be more economical .  In the event the cost of maintaining the thing proved more expensive than if had been built as an all masonry structure and the distinctive wooden filigree was replaced by more substantial material.

But all this was in the future. The Ivybridge viaduct was opened in 1848 but proved an awkward place to get to from Saltash despite not being all that far away. However, the opening of a brand new railway line - more grist to Dansey’s mill for all things modern -made it much easier for him to get himself and his photographic equipment to Ivybridge itself - something which I am certain he did more than once.

(1863 - G. Dansey and Browning Jnr - the date probably refers to the print date)

Perhaps the hotel he stayed in?  (Undated)

St John’s Old Church - Ivybridge   (Undated)

Another view of St John’s from the other side   (Undated)

The original bridge   (Undated - Geprge Dansey -Printed by Browning Jnr)


The River Erme - A small section of the a wooden span of the viaduct is just visible in the middle of the photo      (Undated but possibly 1856)

A crop of the above photo

A nearby place that Dansey also seemed to have found find photographically interesting was Stonehouse Pool. Not much more than walking distance from Stoke Dameral it lay a few miles upstream from Brunel’s new bridge.

(1856 - Printed by Browning Jnr)

(1855 - Printed by Browning Jnr)

(Undated but probably taken on the same day as the previous photograph - George Dansey)

Further afield was the impressive Stoke Military Hospital - nowadays Plymouth Boys School - on the northern bank of Mill Lake - also known as Stonehouse Creek and long since disappeared as reclaimed land. Surprisingly the album does not include a photo of the even more spectacular Royal Naval Hospital which directly faced the Military one on the opposite bank of the lake. 

(1858 - George Dansey - Printed by Browning Jnr)

St Saviour’s Church in Dartmouth is even further away - about 30 odd miles from Plymouth. The inside of the church in so far as the screen is concerned does not seem to have changed all that much today. It is considered among the 100 most beautiful churches in England. Dansey must have thought it well worth a visit.

The three girls might be Dansey’s daughters - It is also possible that the young man is a 21 year old Browning Jnr - but on the whole I find this unlikely     (1856 - Probably George Dansey)