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  Samuel Bourne, Photographer

Samuel Bourne, the third son of Thomas and Harriet Dobson Bourne, was born in the Staffordshire, England farming village of Mucklestone on October 30, 1834. After his formal schooling, he studied to become a clergyman before being hired as a clerk at Nottingham’s Moore and Robinson’s Bank. It was during this time when the 21-year-old acquired the hobby of photography, and armed with a small camera that cost £5, he cured his boredom by taking pictures of a bustling marketplace from his office window. Though self-taught, Mr. Bourne’s obvious talent and technical skill belied his amateur status evident by his photographs of northern Wales’ Lake District and the Scottish Highlands, which were exhibited at then Nottingham Photographic Society and featured at the London international Exhibition in 1862.

As 1862 came to a close, Mr. Bourne quit his bank job and decided to try his luck as a professional photographer. Believing he would have a greater chance of success in India, where photography was “a new thing,” he arrived in Calcutta in early 1863. With him were the latest tools of the trade to produce albumen photographs, which allowed Mr. Bourne to become one of the first commercial photographers in India. When Mr. Bourne applied his Picturesque sensibilities to the Indian countryside, it was a marriage made in photographic heaven. While attending the Bengal Photographic Society in Calcutta, he met fellow photographers Charles Shepherd and Arthur Robertson. The trio joined forces to form the Bourne, Robertson & Shepherd gallery in Simla. Mr. Robertson departed shortly thereafter, and the renamed Bourne & Shepherd firm specialized in Woodburytype and autotype prints.

Although himself a gifted businessman, Mr. Bourne preferred the open spaces to the cramped four walls of an office, and in July of 1863 left for the first of three photographic tours of the Himalayas. The weather and elevation became a constant challenge, as Mr. Bourne acknowledged when he wrote of a passing snowstorm that severely compromised his photographs of the Taree Pass. His frostbitten hands could only manage a single 15-second exposure, and the collodion process took an agonizing five minutes, which produced what Mr. Bourne deemed a weak negative. It was a combination of Mr. Bourne’s creative talents and marketing abilities that cemented his reputation as India’s most successful commercial photographer. While expanding his Indian studio empire, Mr. Bourne paused briefly to return to England and marry Margaret “Mary” Tolley, the daughter of a prosperous Nottingham businessman.

The Bournes left India for good in November 1870, but Mr. Bourne retained interest in Bourne & Shepherd until 1874. Settling in Nottingham, he entered into a cotton business with his brother-in-law J.B. Tolley, and served as president of the Nottingham’s Camera Club and Society of Artists. Although he remained a recreational photographer, most of his creative energies were focused on watercolor painting in his later years. Seventy-seven-year-old Samuel Bourne died in Nottingham on April 24, 1912. However, his studio, Bourne & Shepherd, continued to flourish under Indian ownership until it closed its final gallery in Calcutta in June of 2016.

2017 Biography: 19th Century Photographer Samuel Bourne (URL:

2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 425, 580, 820, 949-950.

1984 The Golden Age of British Photography 1839-1900 (London: Victoria & Albert Museum), p. 105.

2016 Oldest Running Photo Studio in the world shuts down (URL:

2018 Photographs of India (URL:

1997 Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire by James R. Ryan (London: Reaktion Books Ltd.), pp. 47-48.

2018 Portrait of Samuel Bourne, 1864 (URL:

1983 Samuel Bourne: Images of India by Arthur Ollman (Carmel, CA: The Friends of Photography), p. 10.

2017 Seizing the Light: A Social and Aesthetic History of Photography by Robert Hirsch (New York: Routledge), pp. 148-149.

2018 The Taree Pass, Elevation 15,282 Feet (Another View) (URL:

2006 Visualizing Space in Banaras edited by Martin Gaenszle and Jörg Gengnagel (Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz KG), p. 215.

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2020-05-14 16:57:33

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