Images attributable to
Thomas Vernon Begbie
"While browsing the EdinPhoto website recently I was on the
Thomas Begbie pages where I recognised several of the
photographs as ones which I held in my collection. This led me
to the Capital Collections site of Edinburgh libraries and
museums which displayed several further images which I own."
Thomas Begbie's Edinburgh
A Mid-Victorian Portrait
"I then acquired a copy of the 1992 book 'Thomas Begbie's
Edinburgh - a Mid-Victorian Portrait' by Joe Rock and
spotted several other photographs that I own.
However in every case the photographs that I recognised were by
"It was also obvious that the dating of the photographs on the
Capital Collections site was generally incorrect. The images are
mainly stereoviews and have mostly been dated 1887 on the site
but as many of these were advertised for sale by McGlashon in
1858 (advert on Edinphoto site) clearly there is a dating
This can also be verified in some instances from physical
features in the photographs; for example the view of Princes
Street from the Scott Monument clearly shows Campbell’s North
British Hotel which was still trading as such in 1857 but by
1858 had become Wilson’s North British Hotel. Despite this
Capital Collections dates the image to 1887."
"It should be borne in mind that Begbie was born in the first
half of 1841 making him age 16/17 when these stereos were taken.
Oddly, for someone being credited with such remarkable
photography, there are few contemporary references to him.
Indeed a detailed search of the online British Newspaper Archive
failed to produce any references to him."
"Begbie did run a studio from his house in Leith Street from
1874–81 but from the lack of any other recorded photographic
activities it is reasonable to assume that he was not
particularly successful as a photographer.
Indeed I am struck by the scarcity of surviving photos
bearing the Begbie name and in particular I have not seen any
Victorian stereoviews with his name on them.
There is a reference here in the
Edinphoto website to Begbie having worked as an assistant for
Alexander McGlashon but I have been unable to find any
corroboration for this statement.
If these stereo plates were ever in the possession of Begbie,
and there is no clear evidence that they were, I would suggest
that the most likely scenario was that he purchased them from
McGlashon with a view to reusing them, but that his business
never grew sufficiently for him to make use of them.
Bearing in mind that these plates were discovered in St James
Square in 1950 it may also be relevant that at the time of his
death in 1877 the McGlashon business was based in St James
Square and his daughter lived in a further address in that
Square which she still owned at the time of her death in 1919."
"In the introductory pages of the book by Joe Rock there is
clear and I believe well founded scepticism that the youthful
Begbie could have been the photographer.
I have recently corresponded with Joe on this subject and he has
confirmed that he has always been sceptical of the attribution
of these photographs to Begbie; as he stated in the book “on
balance we must accept Begbie as the author until more evidence
should prove otherwise”
I think that the required evidence is now available that the
photographs are by Alexander McGlashon and should be recognised
Alex Sinclair, Dunblane, Stirling, Scotland: 11 + 25 April