Samuel Dunseith McKellen was born to James and Margaret Dunseith McKellen in County Antrim in 1836. The following year, James McKellen moved his family to Manchester, where he became Superintendent and Missionary with the Manchester and Salford Mission. After his death in 1843, Mrs. McKellen generated income for her family by taking in boarders. Young Samuel went to technical school for watchmaking and jewelry, and after graduation became a craftsman's apprentice. Mr. McKellen started his own business in 1861, and it is believed this is when his experimentation with photography commenced. Two years' later he began submitting patents for his own watches and clocks. At the age of 29, he married Jane Jones, who later gave birth to their son John Dunseith McKellen. Sadly, tragedy befell the family in rapid succession beginning with the deaths of their young daughter Maud, their infant son Samuel, and the consumption death of Jane Jones McKellen. Within five years, Mr. McKellen married again to the much younger Eliza Moult; however, his son John continued living with relatives. The oft-troubled marriage would ultimately produce five sons.
At the time of his remarriage, Mr. McKellen applied his watchmaking skills to the design of his first camera, which consisted of a cigar box and a lens. He commissioned Manchester camera maker Joshua Billcliff to develop a model based on this design, and 'the McKellen Camera' was exhibited by the Photographic Society in 1884. So impressive was its innovative construction that it received a gold medal, the first every bestowed upon a camera. Mr. McKellen began manufacturing his camera (under the Treble Patent name), and within three years had incorporated eight patents. The camera was easy to mass-produce because it was simply constructed, lightweight, easily compacted, accepted various focal length lenses, and contained a convenient swing back and front. In 1888, Mr. McKellen's detective camera was licensed to be sold by London's Marion and Company Ltd. He also improved upon Thomas Sutton's panoramic camera design, adding a roller blind shutter and an internal mirror so that the image could be reflected onto a ground glass screen.
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