image of Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)

Although not a member of the Edinburgh Calotype Club, Sir David Brewster (1781-1868) played a major role in the development and advancement of photography in Scotland. Born in Jedburgh, he entered Edinburgh University at the age of 12 and studied for the ministry. He abandoned the church in the early 1800s to pursue a career in science. He specialized in research into optics and invented the kaleidoscope in 1816 and later pioneered research into the operation of lighthouses. During his life he wrote over 300 scientific papers and edited three journals. Brewster first met William Henry Fox Talbot in 1836 at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and and was Talbot’s guest at Lacock Abbey. The two men corresponded regularly between 1839 and 1843 on Talbot’s calotype discoveries and during this time Brewster unceasingly promoted Talbot’s work both in St. Andrews and Edinburgh. As early as March 1839, Brewster was showing Talbot’s ‘photogenic drawings’ to members of the St. Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society, less than six weeks after Talbot first exhibited the calotype in London. The two men remained in contact until at least 1864 when they participated in experiments held at a meeting of the Photographic Society of Scotland. Brewster experimented in the photographic art, but apparently did not take many photographs himself. However he did write and lecture on the subject and received a medal from the Photographic Society of Paris in 1865. Brewster was also the first president of the Photographic Society of Scotland, founded in 1856. Arguably his most important contribution was to introduce the Edinburgh painter David Octavius Hill to one of Talbot’s St. Andrews disciples, Robert Adamson.