The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

William Grant

William Grant

William John Alexander ('Johnny') Grant was born on 1 May 1851 at Hillersdon House, a large and handsome mansion near Cullompton in Devon. He was educated at Harrow and at Merton College, Oxford, where according to Allen Young ‘he had made a special study’ of photography. Possessed of independent financial resources, he practiced his art for years afterwards for little or no pay, serving on eight Arctic expeditions between 1876 and 1883.

His first expedition to the Arctic was on board the steam yacht Pandora with Sir Allen Young in 1876, during which he produced at least 40 photographs. These images depicted the settlements and their inhabitants that the expedition visited in Greenland, while other photographs documented the depots of the British Arctic Expedition commanded by Sir George Nares.

Between 1878 and 1884, Grant made a further four voyages to the Arctic in the Dutch schooner Willem Barents. His work on these voyages was impressive and following each trip he produced a high quality photographic album. He also participated in two other Arctic excursions on British yachts, sailing with Benjamin Leigh Smith on board Eira in 1880 and again with Smith on board Kara in 1882 and again in 1884, producing a photographic record of each voyage. He later exhibited his photographs at the Royal Photographic Society in London, of which he was a fellow. He was also a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, and received the Arctic Medal 1875-1876 for his services on the Pandora. After 1882 he made no further voyages to the Arctic but visited Egypt in 1894 and made a thousand-mile voyage up the Amazon shortly before his death.

He married Enid Maud Forster on 7 August 1895 but the couple were divorced in 1901. Grant died on 10 March 1935, aged 83, at Cullompton in Devon. His estates were inherited by Sir Mark Beresford Russell Sturgis KCB, who took the additional name of Grant.

The following is from the conclusion to an article on Grant by Willem F.J. Mörzer Bryns published in The Polar Record (volume 39, number 209) in April 2003: 'In the period 1876-84, Grant photographed much of the Arctic between the west coast of Greenland and Novaya Zemlya. A considerable number of his photographs survive in various institutions. The majority, including all known glass-plate negatives, come from his four voyages in Willem Barents. The historic significance of Grant's photographic oeuvre is that it includes some of the earliest photographs taken in the areas he visited. His participation in eight Arctic expeditions as a professional photographer was unprecedented; no previous photographer is known to have participated in more than two Arctic expeditions. Without question, Grant was the most experienced and prolific Arctic photographer of the late nineteenth century.'

Self-portrait by the photographer.


Code: 125874
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