# 36035

MOFFAT, John (1819-1894)

Sir Robert Christison, toxicologist and physician : stereoscopic portrait. Edinburgh, 1856-57.

$600.00 AUD

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Stereoscopic albumen print photograph, each image 75 x 63 mm (arched-top format), on yellow card mount 83 x 173 mm, with blind stamp of ‘Lennie / 46 Princes St. / Edinburgh’; verso with facsimile signature of the sitter ‘R. Christison’, and with the original Scots-Australian owner’s name in pencil ‘McMillan’; the albumen prints are both crisp images with excellent tonal range, in very good condition; the mount is excellent (verso with some insignificant pale foxing).

Rare early photographic portrait of the eminent Scottish physician, Sir Robert Christison.

Sir Robert Christison, 1st Baronet, FRSE FRCSE FRCPE (1797-1882), was a Scottish toxicologist and physician who served as president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (1838-40 and 1846-8) and as president of the British Medical Association (1875). He was the first person to describe renal anaemia.

The photograph was taken by pioneer Scottish photographer John Moffat (1819-1894) in his studio at 19 Princes Street, Edinburgh, in 1856-57, and was sold by Moffat’s neighbour, the optician John Lennie, whose business premises were at 46 Princes Street from 1856. (John Lennie joined the Photographic Society of Scotland in 1856 and joined Edinburgh Photographic Society in 1861).

The only other example of this stereoscopic photograph we have been able to trace online is held in the National Portrait Gallery (NPG x45706), where it is attributed to John Moffat and dated to around 1860. However, we believe the photograph is more likely to date to around 1856 or 1857, based on the fact that it was sourced with a group of stereoscopic photographs – clearly all by the same photographer and taken around the same time – which included a portrait of Hungarian revolutionary, statesman and orator Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894), taken in Edinburgh by John Moffat during Kossuth’s lecture tour of Scotland in 1856-57.

These stereoviews were sourced in Melbourne, and were originally acquired by a Scots-Australian named McMillan; all of the backs bear his discreet ownership signature in pencil. We believe this is likely to be Dr. Thomas Law McMillan, who received his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1850 and then made his way to Australia via America, working his passage as a ship’s surgeon. He arrived in Port Phillip in February 1853 during the early phase of the first Australian gold rush. After a period seeking his fortune on the Central Victorian goldfields, McMillan returned to medicine and worked as a doctor in Geelong and Melbourne, where he became President of the Medical Society of Victoria. These facts provide a plausible explanation as to why the subjects of the stereoscopic photographs McMillan acquired – presumably on a visit home to Edinburgh in the second half of the 1850s – are, in the main, prominent Scottish figures in the fields of medicine and science (while Lajos Kossuth, of course, was a hero to every Scot with nationalist leanings). Furthermore, the Australian stereoscopic views from the same collection, similarly inscribed McMillan, date from the early 1860s and are mostly of Central Victorian goldfields subjects, a fact which also neatly dovetails with the Thomas Law McMillan hypothesis.