A possible Henry Whittemore. *Photo supplied
A possible Henry Whittemore. *Photo supplied

The Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art has recently purchased a very rare daguerreotype of St George’s, which will is now on display at the gallery. It is, in all likelihood, one of the earliest known photographic images of the island. We are confident Henry Whittemore, who was an itinerant American daguerreotypist and travelled throughout North and South America as well as the Caribbean in the mid 1800s, made this daguerreotype in 1855. We have found a number of advertisements and articles in the Royal Gazette such as “January 2, 1855-H.Whittemore has returned to Bermuda to solicit the patronage of the Public, and is fully prepared with Stock and Apparatus to take every variety of DAGURREOTYPE and PHOTOGRAPH…. specimens of work. …will be EXHIBITED FREE for a short time in his rooms above Mr Keanes’s Drug Store.” On January 18,1855 an article stated,” Mr Whittemore is now engaged upon a series of PHOTOGRAPHIC VEIWS of BERMUDA for Subscribers…His Excellency the Governor, the Chief Justice, Officers of the Army and Navy and many inhabitants have already subscribed…”

We also have a copy of Harper’s Daily, March 21,1857 titled Guide to the Somers Islands which printed a lithograph of St George’s taken from our daguerreotype. This was common practice in the early years of photography and enabled images of far-flung places to be available to the public.

In 1839, photography was invented – one of the single greatest developments of mankind. It was actually announced simultaneously by Jacques Daguerre in France and later that year by William Fox Talbot in England. In Daguerre’s case it was unpatented and because it was a positive process, no multiples could be made so each image was an “original”. The medium flourished. Meanwhile, Henry Fox Talbot’s invention was a negative-positive process that was immediately patented and therefore slower to explode on the world. This would become the process that eventually ruled the photographic world so by the 1870’s Daguerre’s invention was doomed. The negative-positive process was used right up to the digital age. 

This find by Masterworks is a view of St. Georges and is one of the earliest known photographs of Bermuda, given the process was only invented sixteen years earlier. This is a “must-see”-history has been made! n