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Treasure 32: George Washington Wilson South Africa Photography Collection
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Treasure 32: George Washington Wilson South Africa Photography Collection

Historic Photographs
David Oswald
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Treasure 32: George Washington Wilson South Africa Photography Collection
Historic Photographs
Treasure 32: George Washington Wilson South Africa Photography Collection
George Washington Wilson is one of the great names in 19th century photography, famous for capturing images of people, buildings and landscapes across Scotland. His photography drew attention to the beauty of his country, but his travels further afield are not as well known.

As an innovative pioneer in photography, George Washington Wilson's work reflected the reality and attitudes of society during his lifetime (1823-1893). In our collections we hold a vast selection of photographs and portraits taken by the G. W. Wilson Company in South Africa. These images were taken by his son, Charles Wilson, and Fred Hardie, a company photographer of George Washington Wilson & Co.

The company's photographs of South Africa captured scenes of the country which would have been perceived as unusual and exotic to British people at the time.

South Africa and its Treasures

The majority of British colonization was concentrated in South Africa during the 19th century. In the past, the country was colonized in order to control one of the main trade routes to India. Due to the abundance of resources such as spices and tea, European interest in Africa increased dramatically in the late 19th century, especially with the discovery of gold and diamonds in the 1860s-1880s.

On their return to Britain, George Washington Wilson & Co presented many photographs showing these natural resources, from the Robinson Gold mine in Johannesburg to De Beers Diamond Mines in Kimberley.

Tea was also a very valuable resource, and people in Britain were keen to learn more about its production and its use in South Africa.

Photography and Tourism

The collection held by Aberdeen City Libraries shows local places of interest in South Africa. These photographs capture Cape Town and Johannesburg, two of the biggest cities in the country. Many Europeans emigrated to these cities in the 19th century, due to the discovery of valuable resources in the surrounding area.

With the rapid rise of tourism in this period, George Washington Wilson & Co. looked for new ways to promote and sell their work. Around 1880-1890, they started to commercialize their photography via picture postcards, a relatively new concept in Britain. This new form of media met with huge success as it was easy to write and cheap to send. It soon became the standard way to communicate with friends and family when abroad, a holiday tradition which remains today.

The postcards, in colour and having a standard size, featured many different scenes from South Africa and were viewed as an innovative way to publicize the country - and the works of photographic firms such as George Washington Wilson & Co.
South Africa
George Washington Wilson
Aberdeen Local Studies
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