The Report of the Committee of the Archer Testimonial. *

The Committee of the Archer Testimonial, considering it necessary to furnish a statement of the course pursued towards the attainment of their object, desire to lay before the subscribers and the public generally a full report of their proceedings.

Shortly after the death of Mr. F. Scott Archer, a preliminary meeting of a few friends was held, and it was determined that a printed address should be issued to the photographic world.

Sir William Newton, cordially co-operating in the movement, at once made application to Her Most Gracious Majesty. The Queen, with her usual promptitude and kindness of heart, forwarded a donation of £20 towards the Testimonial. The Photographic Society of London, at the same time, proposed a grant of £50, and this liberality on the part of the Society was followed by an announcement of a list of donations from individual members, which induced your Committee to believe that if an appeal were made to the public, and those practising the photographic art, a sum might be raised sufficiently large, not only to relieve the immediate wants of the widow and children, but to purchase a small annuity, and thus in a slight degree compensate for the heavy loss they had sustained by the premature death of one to whom the photographic art had already become deeply indebted.

To aid in the accomplishment of this design, Mr. Mayall placed the use of his rooms at the service of a committee then about to be formed. Sir William Newton and Mr. Roger Penton consented to act as treasurers to the fund, and the Union, and London and Westminster Banks kindly undertook to receive subscriptions.

Your Committee first met on the 8th day of June, 1857, Mr. Digby Wyatt being called to the chair, when it was resolved to ask the consent of Professors Delamotte and Goodeve to become joint secretaries. These duties were willingly accepted, and subscription lists opened in various localities in furtherance of the Testimonial.

Your Committee met on the 8th day of July, and again on the 4th day of September, when, on each occasion, receipts were announced and paid into the bankers.

"The Society of Arts having kindly offered, through their Secretary, the use of apartments in the house of the Society for any further meetings, your Committee deemed it expedient to accept the same, and passed a vote of thanks to Mr. Mayall for the accommodation previously afforded by that gentleman.

"Your Committee, believing that the interests of the fund would be better served by a short delay in their proceedings, resolved on deferring their next meeting until the month of November, or until the Photographic Society should resume its meetings, when a full attendance of members might be anticipated; it being apparent that individually and collectively persons in the provinces had withheld their subscriptions until the grant of the Photographic Society of London had been formally sanctioned at a special meeting convened for the purpose, and that their object — the purchase of an annuity for Mrs. Archer and her children — could only be effected by the most active co-operation among all classes.

Your Committee again met on the 26th of November, when it was resolved to report progress to the general body of subscribers, and that a public meeting be called for the purpose, at which the Lord Chief Baron Pollock should be requested to preside. To this request the Lord Chief Baron most kindly and promptly acceded; and your Committee determined to seek the co-operation of their photographic friends and the public to enable them to carry out in its fullest integrity the immediate object of securing some small acknowledgement for the eminent services rendered to photography by the late Mr. Archer.

At this meeting it was stated that an impression existed, which to some extent still exists, that Mr. Archer was not the originator of the Collodion Process ; your Committee, therefore, think it their duty to state emphatically that they are fully satisfied of the great importance of the services rendered by him, as an original inventor, to the art of photography.

Professor Hunt, having studied during twenty years the beautiful art of photography in all its details, submitted to the Committee the following explanation of Mr. Archer's just right : —

“ As there appears to be some misconception of the real claim of Mr. Archer to be considered as a discoverer, it is thought desirable to state briefly and distinctly what we owe to him. There can be no doubt that much of the uncertainty which has been thought by some persons to surround the introduction of collodion, has arisen from the unobtrusive character of Mr, Archer himself, who deferred for a considerable period the publication of the process of which he was the discoverer.

When Professor Schonbein, of Basle, introduced guncotton at the meeting of the British Association at Southampton in 1846, the solubility of this curious substance in ether was alluded to. "Within a short time collodion was employed in our hospitals for the purposes of covering with a film impervious to air abraded surfaces on the body ; its peculiar electrical condition was also known and exhibited by Mr. Hall, of Dartford, and others.

The beautiful character of the collodion film speedily led to the idea of using it as a medium for receiving photographic agents, and experiments were made by spreading the collodion on paper and on glass, to form with it sensitive tablets. These experiments were all failures, owing to the circumstance that the collodion was regarded merely as a sheet upon which the photographic materials were to be spread ; the dry collodion film being in all cases employed.

To Mr. Archer, who spent freely both time and money in experimental research, it first occurred to dissolve in the collodion itself the iodide of potassium. By this means he removed every difficulty, and became the inventor of the collodion process. The pictures thus obtained were exhibited, and some of the details of the process communicated by Mr. Scott Archer in confidence to friends before he published his process. This led, very unfortunately, to experiments by others in the same direction, and hence there have arisen claims in opposition to those of this lamented photographer. Everyone, however, acquainted with the early history of the collodion process freely admits that Mr. Archer was the sole inventor of iodized collodion, and of those manipulatory details which still, with very slight modifications, constitute the collodion process, and he was the first person who published any account of the application of this remarkable accelerating agent, by which the most important movement has been given to the art of photography.

Your committee, in May last, heard with deep regret of the sudden death of the widow, Mrs. Archer, which melancholy event caused a postponement of the general meeting resolved upon in November last. Sir Wm. Newton thereupon resolved to make another effort to obtain a pension for the three orphan children, now more destitute than ever, and so earnestly did he urge their claim upon the Minister, Lord Derby, that a reply came the same day from his lordship's private secretary, saying, “The Queen has been pleased to approve of a pension of fifty pounds per annum being paid from the Civil List to the children of the late Mr. Frederick Scott Archer, in consideration of the scientific discoveries of their father,” his lordship adding his regrets “that the means at his disposal have not enabled him to do more in this case.”

Your committee, to mark their sense of the value of the services rendered to the cause by Sir William Newton, thereupon passed a vote of thanks to him. In conclusion, your committee have to state that a trust deed has been prepared, free of charge, by Henry White, Esq., of 7, Southampton Street, which conveys the fund collected to trustees, to be by them invested in the public securities for the sole benefit of the orphan children. The sum in the Union Bank now amounts to £549 ls. 4d., exclusive of interest, and the various sums — in all about £68 — paid over to Mrs. Archer last year. Thus far, the result is a subject for congratulation to the subscribers and your committee, whose labours have hitherto not been in vain. Tour committee are, nevertheless, of opinion that an appeal to Parliament might be productive of a larger recognition of the claim of these orphan children — a claim not undeserving the recognition of the Legislature, when the inestimable boon bestowed upon the country is duly considered. Since March 1851, when Mr. Archer described his process in the pages of the Chemist, how many thousands must in some way or other have been made acquainted with the immense advantages it offers over all other processes in the arts, and how many instances could be adduced in testimony of its usefulness ? For instance, its value to the Government during the last war, in the engineering department, the construction of field works, and in recording observations of historical and scientific interest. Your committee noticed that an attractive feature of the Photographic Society's last exhibition was a series of drawings and plans, executed by the Royal Engineers, in reduction of various ordnance maps, at a saving estimated at £30,000 to the country. The non-commissioned officers of this corps are now trained in this art, and sent to different foreign stations, so that in a few years there will be a network of photographic stations spread over the world, and having their results recorded in the "War Department, and, in a short time, all the world will be brought under the subjugation of art.

Mr.Warren De la Rue exhibited to the Astronomical Society November, 1857, photographs of the moon and Jupiter, taken by the collodion process in five seconds, of which the Astronomer Royal said, “that a step of very great importance had been made, and that, either as regards the self-delineation of clusters of stars, nebulae, and planets, or the self-registration of observations, it is impossible at present to estimate the value.” “When admiring the magnificent photographic prints which are now to be seen in almost every part of the civilised world, an involuntary sense of gratitude towards the discoverer of the collodion process must be experienced, and it cannot but be felt how much the world is indebted to Mr. Archer for having placed at its command the means by which such beautiful objects are presented. How many thousands amongst those who owe their means of subsistence to this process must have experienced such a feeling of gratitude? It is upon such considerations that the public have been, and still are, invited to assist in securing for the orphan children of the late Mr. Archer some fitting appreciation of the service which he rendered to science, art, his country — nay, to the whole world”.

Mr. Digby Wyatt, Chairman, Jabez Hogg, Secretary to Committee “Society of Arts, July, 1858.”

*The Evolution of Photography. John Werge. 1890. pages 59-64

Return to the Frederick's home page