Edward Augustus Inglefield

Captain Edward Augustus Inglefield
Captain Edward Augustus Inglefield

Perhaps the most significant of all the signatures in the Bradford scrapbooks is that of Captain (and later Admiral) Edward Augustus Inglefield — not only because Inglefield was the commander of three Arctic expeditions involved in the Franklin search, but because he was also a pioneering Arctic photographer — quite possibly the very first to use the wet-plate collodion process in those regions. Inglefield was also an accomplished painter, who exhibited his “Arctic pictures” (possibly including photographs) at several venues in London in the 1850’s (the ambiguity of the word “pictures” makes it hard to know for certain exactly what was in these exhibits).

Douglas Wamsley, the biographer of Isaac Israel Hayes who has contributed several valuable items to the Arctic Visions exhibit, is also the co-author, with William Barr, of a key study of early Arctic photography. Wamsley and Barr note that Inglefield, a dedicated amateur photographer, brought with him not only the apparatus and chemicals needed, but a copy of one of the earliest instruction books, Frederick Scott Archer‘s A manual of the collodion photographic process (1852). His plates are remarkably good; although in a few cases the “pour” of the collodion failed to cover the entire plate, the exposures are clear and crisp, and include the remarkable portrait above. Here we see Inglefield in less formal dress, with a naval jacket, “smoking cap” and a rather more full beard than in his other portraits.  Inglefield also took photographs of Greenland Inuit, including a man in a kayak with a skin bladder, images of several settlements, and groups of native women.

And, as was the case with Bradford’s lantern slides, the Inglefield plates were preserved but mislaid in the vast vaults of the National Maritime Museum; as Barr and Wamsley note, they weren’t discovered until a major collection move in 1994, when they were found in a box with no label; identification was made from the inscription “Holsteinbourg. E.A. Inglefield 1854” which was scratched on the emulsion of one plate. The Maritime Museum included images of several of these plates as part of their “Freeze Frame” exhibition, and they may be seen online here.

So here we have Inglefield — possibly the first person ever to try the wet-plate process in the Arctic — patronizing Bradford’s studios and looking at the work of Dunmore and Critcherson. One can only imagine — and wish one could overhear — the conversation that must have ensued between Inglefield and Bradford.

Russell A. Potter has been fascinated with the Arctic regions for many years, and has written and lectured extensively on many different aspects of its history. His book Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture, 1818-1875, is required reading for anyone interested in our Arctic Visions exhibit. In addition to contributing to this blog he is providing critical guidance as Curatorial Consultant, and has authored the Introduction to our re-publication of Arctic Regions

2 thoughts on “Edward Augustus Inglefield

  1. Dr. Potter,
    Thank you for the lovely, informative, and inspirational blog. I say inspirational because it has prompted me to write again in “Arctic Visions.” The first thoughts that come to mind about Captain Inglefield are courageous, adaptive, and inquisitive. Certainly those characteristics and others were required to conduct his explorations (including searching for Sir John Franklin) and to find the need, the desire to experiment with nascent photography, to document what he saw and experienced. Perhaps that is one reason why Arctic explorers were such skilled, expository writers and artists. For decades, the printed word and canvas was their “photographic emulsion.” The work of Inglefield and Bradford broke the Arctic ice for the photography that explorers and scientists rely on so heavily today. Regards, Fran Hennessey

  2. Fran, many thanks for your kind words!

    Inglefield was, indeed, one of those Arctic commanders whose natural skills and interests had found their ideal subjects in the Arctic. He had many of them: besides photography, his paintings were well-regarded enough to be shown at the Royal Academy; he invented a hydraulic steering gear, collected Venetian glass, and wrote numerous pamphlets on naval subjects and terrestrial magnetism.

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