Navy, nation and empire
Nineteenth-century photographs of the British naval community overseas
in A new naval history
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From approximately 1860, the vogue for both individual, carte-de-visite portraits taken in professional photography studios as well as group photographs, often taken outdoors, swept across the British Empire. Photography studios from Plymouth to Cape Town catered to an increasingly enthusiastic naval community. This chapter focuses on photographs taken in the 1860s of officers, their families and associates in and beyond the Royal Naval base at Simon’s Town near Cape Town, South Africa. Individual studio portraits such as ‘Officers of HMS Racoon, 1857–61’, outdoor shots of officers, women and children at naval picnics, photographs of dead officers as well as commemorative photographs of officers visiting Napoleon’s former tomb in St. Helena and Sir John Moore’s tomb at Corunna indicate the links made between the past and the present, and between, Navy, nation and empire. The album also provides a unique documentary record of Prince Alfred’s 1867 visit to the Cape whilst captain of HMS Galatea. When compared with the more formal, professional album of this cruise held in the Royal Archives in Windsor, the Wits album helps us to understand how photographs both identified and supported members of the British naval ‘family’ ashore as well as at sea.

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