Skip to main content

Albums by Francis Frith

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/Y30214A-C

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of printed published volumes illustrated with albumen prints tipped on to the leaves with detailed text accompanying each photograph.

The landscape and monumental remains of Egypt and the Middle East had exercised a profound fascination upon the European imagination for centuries, but it was only in the 19th century - and particularly after the impetus of Napolean's Egyptian campaign of 1798 - that visitors arrived in any great numbers. Scholars, adventurers and artists all produced their own impressions of the land and its relics, but it was not until the invention of photography that these landscapes were conveyed with an indelible accuracy. Photography's advantages in this field of reportage were quickly appreciated - in fact it was almost immediately suggested that daguerreotype would be an ideal tool for copying the thousands of hieroglyphics scattered throughout Egypt. Throughout the 1840s and 1850s photographers were drawn to Egypt, among them the Reverend George Bridges, Maxime du Camp (who travelled to Egypt with the novelist Gustave Flaubert), J.B. Greene, C.G. Wheelhouse and John Shaw Smith. Several of the men were talented amateurs and the end of this pioneer phase of documentation is signalled by Francis Frith, who organised his work in a carefully professional manner. By the 1860s a generation of locally based photographers was coming to the fore and, stimulated by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, later documentation of North Africa and the Middle East was undertaken by such men as Felix Bonfils, Lekegian, Zangaki and Hippolyte Arnoux.


  • Creation: 1857 - 1860


Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

Born in Derbyshire of a Quaker family, Frith was apprenticed in his youth to a Sheffield cutlery firm before starting a wholesale grocery in Liverpool and establishing a printing firm. This latter was successful enough to allow him to retire at 35. Frith had taken up photography in 1850 and from the mid-1850s travelled in Africa and the Middle East. He first visited Egypt in September 1856-July 1857, exploring the Nile region from Cairo to Abu Simbel. The series of photographs from this exhibition was published in 1857 and established his reputation as a photographer. In October 1857 he returned to Egypt in the company of his assistant Frank Good, and again in 1859 when he travelled beyond the Sixth Cataract, some 1500 miles below the Delta. Frith travelled with 3 different cameras - a stereo apparatus, an 8 x 10 inch and a 16 x 20 inch camera for larger views. The bulkiness of such cameras was further compounded by the difficulties of processing. Using the wet collodion process, which entailed coating, exposing and developing the large glass plates while still wet, Frith's was a major photographic achievement and his description of his hardships indicates some of the problems encountered by all photographers until the advent of the dry collodion process in the 1870s:

'The difficulties which I had to overcome in working collodion, in those hot and dry climates, were also very serious. When (at the Second Cataract, one thousand miles from the mouth of the Nile, with the thermometer at 110° in my tent) the collodion actually boiled when pouring upon the glass plate, I almost despaired of success. By degrees, however, I overcame this and other difficulties; but suffered a good deal throughout the journey from the severe labour rendered necessary by the rapidity with which every stage of the process must be accomplished in climates such as these; and from excessive perspiration, consequent on the suffocating heat of a small tent, from which every ray of light, and consequently every breath of air, was necessarily excluded'.

On his return to England, Frith went into business as a publisher and photographer, issuing in addition to volumes of his own Egyptian and Middle Eastern photographs reprographical views of England and Europe. The company produced vast numbers of photographs and post cards, in all formats from their Reigate premises, and were for many years the largest mass production photographic company in Europe. Their topographical and architectural collections of views of the British Isles were particularly extensive and form a valuable historical source in the present day.


3 album(s)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Y30214A-B were purchased in 1906 and Y30214C was given by the Inter-Allied Book Centre in 1946.

Existence and Location of Copies

This collection is available on microfiche: Middle East, fiche number 14-18.

Related Materials

Approximately half of those in Y30214C are duplicates of those in Y30214A-B or are different views of the same subject.


Early daguerreotypes were published as engravings in the travel publication: Lerebours, Noel Paymal, (1841), Excursions daguerriennes, Paris.


This collection level description was entered by SG using information from the original typescript catalogue.


Frith, Francis, 1822-1898, photographer

Includes index.
2004-02-25 14:39:09+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom