William Ellis (British, 1794–1872)
Albumen print from collodion negative
7 1/2 x 6 1/2 in. (19.1 x 16.5 cm)
Purchase, The Fred and Rita Richman Foundation Gift and Rogers Fund, 2000 (2000.608)
Reverend William Ellis, a prominent member of the London Missionary Society, established his reputation as a missionary 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 1853, at the age of fifty-nine, he embraced photography and would later receive technical advice in London from the prominent photographer Roger Fenton. That year, upon learning that the rulers of Madagascar were again amicable to missionaries, Ellis prepared to travel there on behalf of the society (eventually visiting three times). Ellis's first attempts, in 1853–54, to photograph the rulers in the northern section of the capital, Antsahatsiroa, were unsuccessful, but he returned in 1856 and was able to make portraits of some of Madagascar's royalty. This depiction of people assembled on the lower pathways and curving terraces of the city emphasizes the grandeur of its architecture. While the Jesuit priest Father Finaz was probably the first missionary to photograph the capital, his daguerreotypes have never been located, thus making Ellis's photographs of Madagascar some of the earliest known.