by Margaret O’Brien Moran, PhD researcher

I am a postgraduate researcher in the Centre for Media Research at the University of Ulster, Coleraine. Through an historical inquiry into the Poole Photographic Collection at the National Photographic Archive, my study considers the importance of the physical photograph and the impact of digitisation.

The Poole Photographic Collection is one of the largest collections of early Irish photography held by the National Library of Ireland. This extensive collection, produced at A.H. Poole’s photographic studios in Waterford between 1884 and 1954, consists of c. 65,000 original glass plate negatives and provides images of the social and economic life of the south-east of Ireland during this period.

Poole Studios

Photographic Studios of Messrs. A.H. Poole at 34 The Mall, Waterford. NLI ref. PWP2027

In addition to the glass plates the Poole Photographic Collection includes nine large boxes and twenty-seven small boxes of original Poole prints. It is this material archive which forms the basis of my project. Box D19289–D19438 which is the first of the large boxes that I have examined, contains an assortment of photographs both in size and subject matter. So far the work undertaken has involved separating and sorting the photographic prints according to categories and locations and recording the notation on the verso of the prints. Snippets of information from late 19th and early 20th century Irish society weddings, engagements, the hunt or a visit by royalty provide a background to the photographs – without which the cultural significance remains obscure.

This box D19289 – D19438 contains quite a number of photographs of Curraghmore Estate, which is situated about 14km north-west of Waterford City and has been the home of the Marquess of Waterford and his ancestors since 1170. One of the first Curraghmore photographs I came across was of a beautiful and evocative memorial sculpture of Florence Grosvenor, wife of the 5th Marquess of Waterford.  According to the notation on the verso of the photograph this was a “Monument placed by the 5th Marquess of Waterford in the family burial place, Clonegam Church, Curraghmore Demesne, of his first wife with her still-born child”. However, the heading of the notation on the back states, “Waterford Title Disputed” and continues “The claimant to the title, story is that there was no still-born child, but that he is that child, and was handed over by a maid to a Mrs. Duncan who brought him up under the name of George Tooth”. This simple statement connects the material evidence, which is the photograph, to an historically-situated event.

Florence Grosvenor

Photographic print from the Poole Photographic Collection of the funerary monument to Florence Grosvenor, wife of the 5th Marquess of Waterford, and her child. NLI ref. Box D19289-D19438

Research has revealed that John Henry De la Poer Beresford, the 5th Marquess of Waterford, married Florence Grosvenor Rowley in 1872. Having given birth to a still-born child on 27 March 1873, Lady Waterford’s health declined and she died on the 4th of April of that year.  Lord Waterford married for a second time on 21 July 1874.  He married Lady Blanche Somerset, the daughter of Henry Somerset, the 8th Duke of Beaufort.  Lord Waterford and his second wife had four children, three daughters and one son.  On the death of his father in 1895, Henry De la Poer Beresford succeeded his father as the 6th Marquess of Waterford.

Verso of Poole Print

Verso of photographic print from the Poole Photographic Collection of the funerary monument to Florence Grosvenor, Wife of the 5th Marquess of Waterford. NLI ref. Box D19289-D19438

On 13 November 1917, the Times published an article entitled “A Gardeners claim to a peerage” concerning a case which had come before the Court of Appeal.  The action was brought by George Tooth under the Legitimacy Declaration Act 1858, seeking to establish that he was the son of the 5th Marquess of Waterford and his first wife Florence Grosvenor. Lord Waterford on the other hand, claimed that his wife gave birth to a still-born child on 27 March 1873, and that on 4 April 1873, Lady Waterford died and she and the child were buried together.

It appears that early in 1872, Lady Waterford spent a few weeks at a Franciscan Convent in London. While there, she heard from her maid and companion Mrs. White, that the cook’s sister Georgina Tooth had given birth to a child in the Holborn Union Workhouse; and had died shortly afterwards. In the nineteenth century, people ended up in the workhouse for a variety of reasons. Although workhouses were not prisons, and entry was generally on a voluntary basis, for many unmarried pregnant women who were disowned by their families, the workhouse was the only place they could go during and after the birth of their child. Out of sympathy, Lady Waterford, had arranged for the child to be taken from the workhouse and on 21 February 1872 that boy was christened George Tooth (after his mother Georgina). Lady Waterford also organised George Tooth’s care and education, which was continued by Lord Waterford after her death.

Munster Express

From the Munster Express on Saturday, 2 August 1913

Around 1893, George Tooth (who was now aged 21) began to make statements alleging that he was the purported still-born child of Lord and Lady Waterford, however due to lack of funds he could not bring his case to court. It appears that George had written to Lord Waterford on several occasions. In one correspondence dated 1895, Lord Waterford stated that he had started George in life but that he must look after himself in the future. As the only people who knew the details of the matter were getting old, an action was instigated to “perpetuate testimony”. The chief witnesses were Mrs Pricella White, who in 1873 had been a maid companion to Lady Waterford and had been involved in taking the child from the workhouse; and Mrs Price, a personal friend of Lady Waterford who was with her at the times in question. In July 1913, due to an order made by George Tooth, the witnesses were cross-examined in London before one of the examiners of the Court. On 31 March 1914, Tooth began an action for slander against Mrs White (the maid companion) for stating that Tooth was not the Marquess of Waterford. The case went to the Court of Appeal and was eventually dismissed.  Nevertheless on the day that the appeal was dismissed, George Tooth began to send abusive letters and post cards to Mrs White. On 15 June 1914, he sent her three post cards, in which he accused her of being a liar and of being involved in a conspiracy against him. Tooth also accused Mrs White of being a murderess!  Tooth was subsequently arrested and tried at the Old Bailey. Having pleaded guilty and apologised, he was released and bound over to keep the peace.

However in January 1917 an application was made to publish the evidence given by the witnesses.  Permission was duly granted.  It was argued that this evidence should be allowed to be used at the trial of this case, which was pending.  Both of the witnesses were now quite old and Mrs White was unwilling to subject herself to the possibility of further attacks by Tooth. A long drawn out trial, lasting one hundred and three days ensued, and on 2 February 1918 the Times published the following:

“The Waterford Peerage
The gardener named Tooth, who claimed the Waterford peerage has lost his case, and he cannot have the satisfaction of knowing that the result leaves the slightest doubt in the mind of any reasonable person. It is hard to believe how he found anyone to support his impudent pretensions. … Tooth’s case was clumsy, variable and tenuous. It never had in it the romantic allegations which marked the effort of an organ grinder to obtain the Poulett earldom in 1903, or the claim to the Sackville barony in 1910. It needed no reply, and none would have been given but for the wise desire of the Waterford family to allay once and for all the foolish gossip to which TOOTH and a female busybody who encouraged him had given currency.”

Therefore, from the hand-written annotation on the Poole photograph of Florence Grosvenor’s funerary monument, it is possible to understand the context in which the photograph was taken and recognise its cultural significance. A.H. (Arthur Henri) Poole, as I have discovered, was a member of the Press Picture Agency of London which would suggest that the photograph discussed here was for publication. Due to the materiality of the photograph – an historical object handled, annotated and stamped at the time it was produced – we are able to glean additional information which could not be derived from the image alone; thus highlighting the importance of photographs as physical artifacts.

Photographer Poole

Photographer Arthur Henri Poole. NLI ref. PWP2929a

The PhD I am undertaking is practice-based which means that as well as a written thesis, I must produce a body of practical work which develops and contributes to the overall research. Following on from the research I carried out on the Poole photographic prints at the National Photographic Archive, I applied for and secured an ArtLinks 2012 Bursary Award from Waterford County Council. That funding will support the production of an interactive web interface which will indicate the areas in Ireland and England where the Poole firm operated. From the notation on the verso of the photographic prints it is evident that A.H. Poole’s firm operated extensively throughout Ireland and parts of England; photographing a variety of social occasions. The aim is to create links from the indicated locations to pages of photographs of these events, with accompanying information obtained from the verso of the photographs. This will form part of the practice-based element of the research; highlight the importance of the material archive; and help determine the significance of the Poole Photographic Firm.  It is envisaged that this website will be utilised by the National Photographic Archive, and Museums and Arts Centres throughout the country, in particular in the Waterford area.

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by Jenny Doyle,  Digitisation Programme Co-ordinator

42,430 + 12,000 = 11%

For those of you with Holmesian standard detection abilities, apologies for this update, as you have probably already noticed something different about the NLI’s catalogue. For those less eagle-eyed or less regular users of our collections, I’d like to draw your attention to a big number: 54,430. To the untrained eye not a particularly significant or memorable number, but for those of you interested in seeing our wonderful and unique collections of photos, prints and drawings, manuscripts and ephemera without coming all the way to Kildare Street in Dublin, it means we’ve added 12,000 digital items that can be viewed through our online catalogue in the last 6 months.

Digitised

From our newly digitised material

So now 11% of catalogued NLI collections are available digitally for you to research, enjoy, marvel at, be surprised or intrigued by – all from the comfort of your own digital device. You can see the full detail of any of these images by using our Mega Zoomifier (patent pending) image viewers. These allow you to zoom in and move around the image in great detail.

Digitised

From our newly digitised material

One of my own favourites is from our Elinor Wiltshire photographic collection – a boy with a bucket and spade on Sandymount Strand, Dublin in 1969. I like the specifically Irish beach attire – shorts AND an Aran jumper!

Wiltshire Photo

Boy with bucket and spade on Sandymount Strand by Elinor Wiltshire. NLI ref. WIL 48 7

As a path into all of this digitised material, it might help you to explore some individual pieces or collections first. You could try our Douglas Hyde Photographs; Topographia Hibernica; Tuke Photographs; Wallace Album; 1798 material; Longfield Maps; Wiltshire Photographs; Grace Gifford collection; Gordon Brewster cartoons. Or you could get absolutely lost (in a good way) in our amazing collection of printed ephemera!

Ephemera

From our vast collection of ephemera

All of these 12,000 images have been brought to you by the hardworking elves of Library Towers or as they are more usually known, our staff, particularly the conservation interns and Digital Studio staff.

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by Grace Hall, photography student at DIT

I have just completed my third year as a student of photography at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). The course includes not only the practice of photography, in addition to its theoretical and cultural contexts, but also the study of the archive as it relates to photography especially in terms of history. As the DIT photography course is situated in the same building as the National Photographic Archive (NPA) in Temple Bar, it has a close and significant relationship with the Archive both physically and philosophically.

The work that I carried out at the NPA was completed in fulfilment of the Stage 3 module ‘Archiving in Context’, and this module is run in conjunction with the NPA. The work I undertook offered an opportunity for me to learn about preservation methodologies and the cataloguing of photographic collections, with particular emphasis on the place of the photographic print.

Fergus Bourke died aged 70 in October 2004, after a long career as a renowned Irish photographer. There were some 494 prints in his studio and his widow offered these prints to the NPA.  On receipt by the NPA the prints had all been inserted into Mylar preservation sleeves and placed in 8 drawers, but had not been sorted, listed or catalogued, and so there was no real order as to how they were stored.  I started with the prints in one of the drawers, checking the front and reverse of each print and entering the details on to the database. (It was quite slow work as I had to wear cotton gloves when handling the prints, but could not type in them with the result that the gloves were on and off for every print!)

The Pickaroon
The Pickaroon, Dublin, 1966 by Fergus Bourke

The majority of these Fergus Bourke prints are large, approximately 500 x 400mm. There are many different types of prints, some of street scenes, some of people, and some landscapes. Some of the images have titles, such as The Pickaroon above, a copy of which is one of seven Fergus Bourke images held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Most are untitled and appear, from their condition, to be work/test prints.  Only a few are signed. Most of the prints in this drawer are either street documentary or landscape, one of the most famous being The Banshee’s Grotto below.

I completed the detailed entry of the contents of this one drawer of 56 images on to the database.  However, due to the limited number of hours available for the work (since the module only covered one semester), it was impossible to carry out a detailed survey of all the images. In consultation with the NPA, I decided to do a second detailed survey of one other drawer. This one contained 2 boxes of A4 portraits of people. These prints are portraits of actors, politicians, and celebrities taken in the years 1984-1991, whom Fergus Bourke had photographed with a family member, and then published in a book entitled Kindred.

Banshee's Grotto
The Banshee’s Grotto, Connemara by Fergus Bourke

As there was only time in this ‘Archiving in Context’ module for the detailed listing of two drawers out of the eight, I then carried out a brief exploratory survey of the remaining six drawers. What became clear during this survey is that there are multiple copies of Fergus Bourke images scattered throughout the drawers, and that these images fall into roughly four categories: the early street documentary images of the 1960s such as The Pickaroon; the series of Kindred portraits from the 1980s; twenty four images from his two decades as official photographer of the Abbey Theatre; and his Wicklow and Connemara landscapes such as the The Banshee’s Grotto.

Due to the discovery of multiple copies of many of the images, it was decided in consultation with NPA staff that before any more detailed cataloguing of the collection was undertaken, it would, with the exception of the Kindred portraits, be necessary to re-sort the images, placing all copies of each image together. This helps to give staff at the NPA a better idea of exactly what is contained in the Fergus Bourke Collection.

Untitled
Untitled, 1968 by Fergus Bourke

I found this collection amazing since it brought back so many memories of Ireland throughout my life. The Connemara images resonated very strongly with me, since this is a place I have returned to again and again and have also photographed many times.

The work involved was painstaking, but never dull.  I never knew what I would find when I checked out an image since many had scribbled notes, drawings, plans, poetry on the reverse in Fergus Bourke’s handwriting. Also the work prints with their stains and marks all made him seem very alive to me. These marks brought home to me the importance of retaining the material image in any archive. Digitisation is great for showing the contents of an archive, but it is the material artefact with all its imperfections that carries the history of the image.

Dancing at Lughnasa
A scene from Dancing at Lughnasa at the Abbey Theatre by Fergus Bourke

My time working in the National Photographic Archive was a truly rewarding one. The work was of a very practical nature, and what was also very interesting was learning about the work of the NPA in its wider sense, i.e. education and outreach. In particular, I liked the investigative aspect of the work. I found the ‘Archiving in Context’ module to be very rewarding and it brought alive for me the importance of an archive such as the NPA to the preservation of cultural heritage, while giving me a greater knowledge of the work involved in the creation and maintenance of such a photographic archive. I also became more fully aware of the financial constraints that exist in acquiring, storing and renovating archived objects.

In agreement with the NPA I will be spending some time over the summer sorting the rest of the Fergus Bourke Collection and completing a detailed catalogue.

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