John Falconer, British Library
A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia
Commercial, Sri Lanka
The most famous 19th-century photographers of Ceylon. William Skeen, Government Printer, purchased business of J. Parting for his son W. L. H. Skeen. in about 1860. Advertisements state that Skeen was trained at the London School of Photography. The firm was known as Slinn and Co. in the early 1860s, with John Edward Wilshaw (in residence list for 1861) as the other partner. F.A.E. Skeen joined the firm in 1878 and continued to run the business after the death of W. L. H. Skeen in 1903. The firm's stock was possibly taken over by Plâté and Co. in the 1920s. See also Watts and Skeen.
Business originally trading under the name of Slinn and Co., and managed by S. Slinn Skeen and John Edward Wilshaw from premises in Fort district, Colombo; advertising new studio at 1 Baillie Street, Fort, 1863; for many years the firm also traded in stationery, jewellery, watches, etc.; name had been changed to W. L. H. Skeen and Co in the latter part of 1868;|footnote|source_02| studios advertised at:
1866-8 40 Chatham Street, Colombo.
1869 Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo.
1871 41 Chatham Street, Colombo.
1874 14 [41?] Chatham Street, Colombo.
1876-8 41 Chatham Street, Colombo.
1885-6 4 Chatham Street, Colombo.
1889 41 Chatham Street, Colombo.
1891 2 4 Chatham Street, Colombo. By 1891 there was also a Kandy branch at 21 Ward Street, where W.L.H. Skeen was now living, and where his wife was running a millinery business.
1893 41 Chatham Street, Colombo.
1919 By this time the name of the firm had been changed to F. Skeen and Co., trading from Union Place, Colombo. Business managed by E. Koch in later years.
c. 1920 Firm ceased trading and stock possibly taken over by Plâté and Co.
During its existence Skeen and Co. was the premier firm in the island, producing an extensive documentation of agriculture and industry (particularly tea and spices), landscape and racial types; recorded the construction of the Ceylon railways between the 1860s and 1890s and the construction of the Colombo Breakwater, 1879-85; published J.W.W. Birch’s photographs of Polonnaruwa, c. 1876 and also photographed in India, advertising a series of prints of Bombay, Jaipur, Delhi, Agra, Ramisseram, Darjiling, etc., c. 1890. His photographs of the Straits Settlements were advertised in Ferguson’s Ceylon Alamanac in 1893-4. The Selangor Journal for 8 September 1893 reports that at an art exhibition held at Colombo W.L.H. Skeen won three prizes for photographs taken during a recent visit to Selangor. A silver medal was awarded for his photograph of the Batu Caves. Photographers by appointment to the Duke of Edinburgh during his tour of 1870 and photographed the elephant kraals (also the kraals of 1882); exhibited at major international exhibitions between the 1870s-1900s. Issued The royal visit to Ceylon, April 1901 (Colombo, 1901), an album with letterpress and 58 platinum prints by Skeen, Plâté and the Colombo Apothecaries Company.
In 1893 Skeen won three prizes at an art exhibition held in Colombo for photographs taken during a recent visit to Selangor. A silver medal was awarded for a photograph of ‘the light cave at Batu.’|footnote|source_03|
Biographical details of various family members as follows:
WILLIAM SKEEN (d. 18 March 1873), son of Robert Skeen, printer; married Louisa Matilda Kemp, daughter of George Kemp, jeweller, 11 July 1846; was the first officially appointed Ceylon Government Printer, 1849-73; he purchased the photographic business of J. Parting (qv) for his son in 1860; author of The Knuckles and other poems (Colombo, 1868, illustrated with original photographs by W.L.H. Skeen), Adam’s Peak (Colombo, 1870); On the origins of the Sri-Pada, or sacred footprint on the summit of Adam’s Peak (Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon branch), 1870-1, pp. 63-112).
MRS LOUISA MATILDA SKEEN, wife of William Skeen, left Galle for Suez on the steamer Hindostan, with masters W.L.H. and G.J.A. Skeen on 13 February 1854: presumably returning to England for the children’s education.
HENRY SKEEN (b. 16 Jul 1831; d. Ceylon 26 Dec 1852), brother of William Skeen, arrived in Colombo from London on the barque Argrippina 11 Jul 1852 served as Assistant Government Printer, July-December 1852; buried in the Galle Face Cemetery, Colombo.|footnote|source_04|
S. SLINN SKEEN, (?)son of William Skeen (probably not, since W.L.H. Skeen was apparently his eldest son, born soon after his marriage), arrived at Galle on the Colombo, 3 September 1860; left Colombo for England on the Huguenot, 10 November 1861.
WILLIAM LOUIS HENRY SKEEN (b. London 1 July 1847; d. (?)Sri Lanka 1903), the son of William and Louisa Matilda Skeen, trained at the London School of Photography, arrived in Ceylon c. 1862; proposed for membership of the Bengal Photographic Society 1866;|footnote|source_05| married Elizabeth, who died 20 Jan 1933 at Clacton-on Sea; three children: Ellen Margaret (who married someone called Mann?), Sydney Louise Ernest, Harold Lewis Spencer.
FREDERICK ALBERT EDWARD SKEEN (b. c. 1862), arrived in Ceylon in 1878 to assist his brother; moved to Burma in 1887 to manage the photographic firm of Watts and Skeen (qv); married Frances Maud, daughter of Robert Greason, at Holy Trinity Church, Rangoon 21 January 1888;|footnote|source_06| their daughter Helen Louisa Maisie was born in November 1888 and baptised at St Philip’s Church, Rangoon 6 December 1888;|footnote|source_07| returned to Ceylon on the death of his brother in 1903, but had probably once more returned to Burma by 1914.
GEORGE JUSTIN ATHELSTAN SKEEN (b. 1852), son of William Skeen; Ceylon Government Printer, 1881-1906; author: Guide to Colombo (2nd edition, Colombo, 1889), A Guide to Kandy (Colombo, 1903).
HENRY GEORGE SKEEN (b. 1867), 2nd Assistant Government Printer 1888-93.|footnote|source_08|
G. W. R. SKEEN, eldest son of William L.H. Skeen, returning to Edinburgh to complete his medical training.
Ceylon almanacs; Ceylon civil lists; Ceylon blue books; Arnold Wright, Twentieth century impressions of Ceylon (London, 1907); John Falconer, Nineteenth-century photography in Ceylon (The Photographic Collector, Summer, 1981, pp. 39-54).
- Λ Apparently a commercial photographic studio rather than a training institution, active at various London addresses from 1858-74.
- Λ The firm’s advertisement in the directory for 1866-68 (whose introduction is dated July 1868), is under the name Slinn. By the time the supplement was published (corrected up to January 1869) the firm had become W.L.H. Skeen - ‘late Slinn and Co’.
- Λ Selangor Journal, 8 Sep 1893.
- Λ J. Penry Lewis, List of inscriptions of tombstones and monuments in Ceylon of historical or local interest, with an obitiuary of persons uncommemorated (Colombo, 1913), p. 61.
- Λ Report of meeting of 25 September 1866. Journal of the Bengal Photographic Society, new series np. 1, March 1867, p. 20.
- Λ IOR/N/1/290 f. 135.
- Λ IOR/N/1/290 f. 176.
- Λ Ceylon Standard 19 May 1903.