The George Washington Wilson and Co. photographic collection consists of over 37,000 glass plate negatives, produced by the Aberdeen firm between the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century.

George Washington Wilson (1823-1893), born in the North East of Scotland, went to Edinburgh and then London in the 1840s to train as a portrait miniaturist. He became established in Aberdeen in the 1850s as an artist and photographer, and quickly made a name for himself among the middle classes and landed gentry. His patronage by the Royal Family during their visits to the Balmoral Estates began in 1854 when he was invited to take photographs of the Royal family in the grounds of Balmoral. He received the official appointment of Photographer Royal for Scotland in 1860 and his relationship with the Royal family continued throughout his career. Wilson’s success allowed him to employ staff photographers to carry out the routine portraiture business whilst he travelled the country indulging in his new interest in landscape photography.

Wilson won a number of prizes for his photographic works including winning medals at the Great London International Exhibition of 1862 for his experimentation for quick exposures.

George Washington Wilson and Co., captured images from all over Britain, recording everything from the natural grandeur of Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa to the bustle of London's Oxford Street. Wilson had a staff of photographers including his son, Charles Wilson, who with senior staff photographer Fred Hardie, toured the colonial townships of South Africa. Dispatched to capture images of Australia in 1892, Hardie also travelled through Queensland, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. These tours provide a vivid picture of gold miners and early settlers at work and play, and of the native or aboriginal way of life. The company invested in sourcing independent photographer to capture the western Mediterranean, where they took images of Gibraltar and the south of Spain, Morocco and Tangiers.

Throughout, Wilson demonstrated technical and commercial acumen, and, by the early 1880s, the company he founded had become the largest and best-known photographic and printing firm in Scotland. Wilson handed the business over to his sons, Charles, Louis and John Wilson in 1888. The company, however, only survived for a short time under the management of Wilson’s sons, with much of the company being sold in 1905 and the company finally ceasing trading in 1908.

The company stock was auctioned off in 1908. The plates passed into the possession of Fred Hardie, and then to the photographer, Archibald J. B. Strachan, who in 1954, offered them to the University Library. The University is pleased to acknowledge the foresight and beneficence of Mr Strachan.

The entire collection of ‘George Washington Wilson and Company’ glass plate negatives is available digitally on our website. Each high resolution image provides a superb level of detail and the collection is fully searchable. Access to the original glass plates is therefore not permitted for conservation reasons.

For more information, please see the catalogue

For information on dating GWW images please use this guide 

Related Collections

  • MSU 1225 - Feu Charters from the University to George Washington Wilson of land at the junction of St Swithin's Street and Queen's Cross, Aberdeen: 1868 - 1895
  • MS 3125 - Papers relating to the George Washington Wilson and Co. photographic collection including original sale catalogues and copies of business papers. There are also administrative papers relating to the university’s custody of the collection and genealogical and biographical research on the Wilson family: 1850 - current
  • MS 3309 - George Washington Wilson’s passport for travelling on the continent and in Egypt: 1878.
  • MS 3375 - A collection of Wilson family photographs comprising of 57 photographs, mostly studio style, of members of the Wilson family in West Calder, Lothian: 1860 - 1930
  • MS 3839 - The research papers of Roger Taylor into the life of George Washington Wilson compiled by Taylor for his MA thesis and following publication 'George Washington Wilson Artist and Photographer (1823 - 1893)'. The papers comprise three broad areas: research into Wilson, his family and his business, correspondence with Wilson's living relatives and papers relating to Taylor's publications: c 1820 - 1998
  • MS 3840 - This is an artificial collection to unite various deposits and purchases, which all contain George Washington Wilson & Co. commercial products. The collection includes: albums of prints, carte-de-visite, stereoscope cards, un-mounted prints, glass lanternslides and a medallion portrait of Robert Burns. Geographically the collection covers mainly Scottish Scenery: 1850 - 1989