Monday, 8 May 2017

"Tintype" Memories of a Visit to Kilmarnock

A Group of Friends at Kilmarnock, circa 1880.
John Humphrey's Photo.
[From my own collection]

Today I am featuring an apparently unremarkable and slightly faded CDV (carte-de-visite) studio portrait of nine men taken in a photographer's studio in Kilmarnock, Scotland sometime around 1880. But unremarkable? Well, as I have discovered, perhaps not.

It was only a couple of years ago while I was slowly cataloguing my large collection of old family photographs and inputting the information into an Excel database that I made a surprising connection with this photo. But I still don't know why these nine rather dapper looking friends from around neighbouring Dalserf and Stonehouse Parishes in Lanarkshire visited Kilmarnock in East Ayrshire. While this was a distance of only some 25 miles by the Caledonian and Glasgow & South Western Railways from Stonehouse to Kilmarnock via Darvil it must still must have been to attend an unknown event. I do note some of the men have what appears to be a flower in their lapel buttonholes. But if one specifically wanted to have a special photograph taken then nearby Hamilton or even Glasgow would have been the logical choice and other photographs in my collection support this.

Without a known date or some other clue solving this mystery is probably beyond my normally successful research skills. But it was certainly not unusual to be professionally photographed while away from home, And of course people wished, as they still do, to have a record of a special occasion or of their visit as a personal memory and gifting a photograph to friends and relatives was also commonplace. But it was more unusual to travel some distance in a group.

The dates and places where Humphrey is known to have been in business are 123 King street Kilmarnock from 1864 until 1867 (in partnership with James Paton) then on his own account at 127 King street from 1868 until his death in March 1889. My photos are taken during this latter period. Judging by the age of a relative who appears in the photograph I would say no later than around 1880, give or take a year. My relative left for New Zealand in January 1882 so it is definitely taken prior to this date.

I also note that Humphrey's name is spelt "Humphry" on the tintypes below. Although I note both spellings as being common in Kilmarnock census returns, John Humphrey always appears to have traded with this latter version of his surname. It may be a throwback to an older phonetic spelling of the surname and the printer inadvertently assumed this to be correct. A Humphrey family descendant in Canada cannot explain this use of different spelling and had not been aware of this before. Nor had he been aware of 'tintypes' produced by this studio from such a late period. So, another mystery!

Names Recorded on Rear of Group Photo.
John Humphrey Photo, Kilmarnock.
[From my own collection]

Although I could recognise my young looking Great Great Uncle James Watson among the group, my Great Aunt has usefully recorded all the names on the back of the photograph, probably identified in latter years by her elderly mother as it is the latter's writing on the back of all the "tintypes". Most are residents of Dalserf Parish and in and around Stonehouse. At least two are related to each other (Watson and Muter).

Back Row Standing (left to right) : Francis [Frank] Struthers ('Broomfield', Dalserf'); James Watson ('Muirhead', Dalserf); Alex. Baird ('Canderside', Stonehouse); [..?..] Wilson (Buck's Head Inn, Stonehouse); Mungo Shearer (Stonehouse?).
Front Row Sitting : Thomas Shearer ('Yards', Stonehouse); William Thomson ('Netherburn'?); William Muter ('Watston', Stonehouse); Gavin Baird ('Canderside', Stonehouse & 'Gartliston', Coatbridge).

But what makes this photograph different?

Scattered throughout two large photo albums of period photographs are novelty "Tintype" individual and very clear portraits apparently taken on the same visit of no less than five of these men, one being my above Great Great Uncle James Watson.

Rear of a "Tintype" clearly showing
not only the almost octagonal shaped
small metal support for the photo but
also the propensity to rust

What is a "Tintype"?

"Tintypes"  (also known as "Ferrotypes") were "made by creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel and used as the support for the photographic emulsion."

They were inexpensive and easy to process and thus became popular at fairs and carnivals. They were most popular around the 1860's and 1870's but persisted for many years later. As they had a solid metal support they could be prepared, exposed, developed, varnished and dried within a matter of minutes and handed to the waiting customer. But I would discount these being taken at a fair as I also hold the matching studio portrait, same people, mostly wearing the same clothes except two who appears to have changed to a lighter jacket and bow tie, and of course the same photographer.

Another interesting point to mention is that unlike the above carte-de-visite studio portrait, tintypes were "direct positives", in other words there was no negative so that each image is unique. This also means that each person normally appears as a mirror image of themselves. If you compare the photograph of Francis Struthers below with his image in the group portrait above you will see that his button hole flower has swapped sides from left to right. "Tintypes" do need to be kept in a dry and stable environment free of damp as they have a propensity to rust as can be seen in the image above.

Close-up of a "Tintype" of Francis Struthers
showing the clarity of the image

These photographs were obviously purchased by or for my young looking Gt. Gt. Uncle who appears in the main photo and himself as a tintype. Knowing that the 'tintypes' were the cheaper option it is very interesting to note that they are in almost original condition whereas the albumen print has faded, suffers from 'spotting', and had been touched up (note James Watson's and Mr Baird's eyes). But the advantage of the albumen print photo was that a glass negative existed from which any number of copies, including an enlarged print, could be made from the original negative which was retained by the photographic studio.

The Five "Tintypes" With Short Biographies

So, here are the five individual tintypes which have been placed in colourful card mounts, there being three variants in style and colour. It will be interesting to see if any descendants recognise family members and of course the photographs you see below could not be duplicated so are, as noted above, unique. Please do let me know if you see any of your relatives and / or can add any additional information, even if you also hold a photo relating to this 'snapshot in time' commemorating the visit by a group of friends to Kilmarnock. My email link appears in the right hand menu bar.

James Watson, 'Muirhead', Dalserf

James (Jimmie) Watson of 'Muirhead Farm', Dalserf and 'Meadowbank Farm', Heddon Bush, New Zealand. Born 1st October 1859, the son of Thomas Watson & Helen Dougall, emigrated to Southland New Zealand January 1882, Died 26th November 1935 aged 76 years, never married. Interred in the old Winton cemetery, Southland, New Zealand. [Link]

William Muter, 'East Watston',

William Muter, born 'East Watsone Farm', Stonehouse, 28th October 1847, the son of John Muter and Elizabeth Letham, Farmer at 'East Watstone Farm' Stonehouse residing with his brother in law, Archibald Steele as Head of House and family, never married, died 19th September 1921, Buried in St. Ninian's Churchyard, Stonehouse. William appears in a lighter jacket and white bow tie in the group photo. 

Francis [Frank] Struthers, 'Broomfield',

Francis [Frank] Struthers, born 'Broomfield', Dalserf, born 6th January 1861, the son of Allan Struthers and Catherine Weir, Married Isabella Black, had issue, died 4th June 1926 in Dalserf Parish, aged 65 years, buried in Dalserf churchyard. 

Gavin Baird, 'Canderside', Stonehouse
& 'Gartliston', Coatbridge

Gavin Baird of 'Canderside Farm' Stonehouse and Gartliston, Coatbridge. Born in Avondale Parish 3rd December 1859, the son of William Baird and Ann Kirkland. Married Ann Fleming, had issue, Died Townhead Road, Coatbridge 27th August 1926, aged 66 years (cancer).

Thomas Shearer, "Yards", Stonehouse

Thomas Shearer, a Farmer on own account of 'Yards' Farm, Stonehouse, born 22nd September 1861, the son of James Shearer and Mary Lamond, married Elizabeth Hamilton, died at 'Yards' Farm, Stonehouse, 4th May 1931 in his 70th year, buried in Stonehouse cemetery. Thomas appears in a lighter jacket but the same shirt and tie in the group photo.

Sources :
- Watson family photographs (held by the writer)
- Various Internet resources
- Family Search


  1. Thank goodness your great aunt wrote the names of the people on the back. As I tell everyone who handles photos, include ALL the details! The participants will know and where who they are, but their children and grandchildren may not.

    1. Having been a photographic Archivist I am aware of many unidentified photos which is a great shame. But at least the photographs survive. In this digital age, will we even have the images taken today in 100 years time?

  2. Hi Don, my 2 x Grt Grandfather was John Watson who owned a photography studion at John Finnie St, Kilmarnock. He worked alongside the Humphrey's and the family families married into each other resulting in my Grt Grandfather John Humphrey Watson. Is it possible the James Watson pictured is in someway related to my 2 x Grt Grandfather?

    Many Thanks,

    Scott Anderson

    1. Hi, Thanks Scott for your comment. I've researched my extended Watson family quite thoroughly and cannot make any connection to your Kilmarnock family. I hope you have had contact with John Humphrey on Rootschat thread on Humphrey Photos?

  3. Yes I have Don, John and I are related distantly via the Watson/Humphrey marriage. I just thought it interesting that one of the chaps was a Watson. My Watson line originated with John's father Joseph Watson b:1806 in Campsie and also Denny in Stirlingshire, Scotland where they were Calico Printers as were the Humphrey's before they went into photography in Kilmarnock. Thanks for replying so soon.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...