View of Antsahatsiroa, Madagascar

William Ellis British

Not on view

Reverend William Ellis, a prominent member of the London Missionary Society, made this exquisite view of Antsahatsiroa, Madagascar. We know a great deal about his life and photographs from the publications of Simon Peers. Ellis established his reputation in Hawaii and Tahiti during the early 1820s and was the first European in those places to translate, print, and illustrate Christian scriptures in local languages. In London, in 1853, Ellis heard that the rulers of Madagascar were again amicable to missionaries, and he prepared to travel there for the society (he eventually visited three times). Ellis was fully aware of the power of the printed word and image, and that year, at the age of fifty-nine, he embraced photography. He received technical advice in London from the prominent photographer Roger Fenton. In Madagascar Ellis joined his society colleague James Cameron, a photographer who had been among the first group of British missionaries to travel to the island in 1826 and was now fluent in the Malagasy language. Ellis's first attempts in 1853-54 to visit the rulers at Antananarivo with a camera were not successful, but he returned to the capital in 1856 to make portraits of some of Madagascar's royalty. Ellis was not the first missionary to take photographs in the capital but was possibly second to a Jesuit, Father Finaz. However, those daguerreotypes have never been located; thus Ellis's photographs of Madagascar are some of the earliest in existence.

View of Antsahatsiroa, Madagascar, William Ellis (British, 1794–1872), Albumen print from a collodion negative

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