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HomeContents > People > Photographers > John McCosh

Names:
Other: Dr John M'Cosh 
Other: Dr John McCosh 
Other: John MacCosh 
Other: Surgeon John McCosh 
Dates:  1805, 5 March - 1885
Born:  Scotland, Ayrshire, Kirkmichael
Died:  UK, England, London
Active:  India / Burma
 
  
A doctor in the army of the East India Company, and served with the Bengal Artillery during the Second Sikh War (1848-49) and the Second Burma War (1852-53). A collection of military photographs attributed to him is in the National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London, SW3 4HT.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for John McCosh
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

 
  
John McCosh was a doctor and amateur photographer stationed in Burma during the Anglo-Burmese War of 1852. 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
  
SHARED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION PROJECT 
  
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.
 
  

Approved biography for John McCosh
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

 
  
The son of a Scottish surveyor, McCosh (also MacCosh) studied medicine in Edinburgh and joined the Indian Medical Service in 1831. Returning to India from Tasmania, where he had been on sick leave with jungle fever, he was the sole survivor when his ship was wrecked off the desolate island of Amsterdam in 1833. Stationed in the foothills of the Himalayas, he took up photography in 1844. McCosh is best known for the small calotype negatives, mostly portraits, which he took during the Second Sikh War in 1848, today recognized as the earliest war photographs. He again turned to photography for the Second Burmese War in 1852, this time using a larger camera. McCosh was not only an early photographer but one always aware of artistic considerations. He submitted hand-colored photographs to the 1855 exhibition of the Photographic Society of Bombay. In the revised edition of his Advice to Officers in India (1856), McCosh urged “every assistant-surgeon to make himself master of photography in all its branches, on paper, on plate glass, and on metallic plates. I have practised it for many years, and know of no extra professional pursuit that will more repay him for all the expense and trouble (and both are very considerable) than this fascinating study . . . during the course of his service in India, he may make such a faithful collection of representations of man and animals, of architecture and landscape, that would be a welcome contribution to any museum.” For the humid climate he recommended French paper, rather than English, as well as a substantial mahogany camera, observing that “it is a great mistake to make things light and portable for Indian use, as if the owner himself had to carry them. Carriage for every piece of apparatus is cheap, safe, and abundant.” McCosh later turned to travel and poetry, bringing to the latter more enthusiasm than talent. 
  
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007) 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012. 
  
SHARED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION PROJECT 
  
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.
 
  

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John McCosh
The Artist McCosh 
1850 (ca)
 
  
Family history 
  
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
 
  

John Falconer, British Library 
A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia

 
Amateur, India, Burma
Son of John McCosh, land surveyor of Kirkmichael, Ayr and Robina Main (who married 24.6.1801); baptised, 12 Mar 1805 at Kirkmichael; MD, Edinburgh, 1841; Indian Medical Service (Bengal), 1831-56. Sailed for India on the Farquarson on 2 Feb 1831. Only survivor of the wreck of the barque Lady Munro on island of Amsterdam, 11 Oct 1833; served in operations against Kols on S.W. Frontier 1832-3; Second Sikh or Punjab War 1848-9; Burma 1852-4.
 
Author: Narrative of the loss of the ‘Lady Munro’ (1835); Topography of Assam (1837); Medical advice to the Indian stranger (1841); Advice to officers in India (1843); Nuova Italia, a poem (1873); Grand tour in many lands, a poem (1881).
 
Took calotype portraits and a view of the tomb of Ranjit Singh at Lahore during the Second Sikh War, 1848-9; joined the 5th Battery, Bengal Infantry and photographed scenes during the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852. Sent specimens of his work, some coloured by himself, to the Bombay Photographic Society in 1855 (jnl, Jul 1855). McCosh's work is some of the earliest surviving from India and Burma.
 
His Advice to officers in India (London, 1856, p. 7) recommends photography as a useful and satisfying pastime in India:
I would strongly recommend every assistant-surgeon to make himself master of photography in all its branches, on paper, on plate glass, and on metallic plates. I have practised it for many years, and know of no extra professional pursuit that will more repay him for all the expense and trouble (and both are very considerable) than this fascinating study - especially the new process by collodion for the stereoscope. During the course of his service in India, he may make such a faithful collection of representations of man and animals, of architecture and landscape, that would be a welcome contribution to any museum. The camera should be made of good substantial mahogany, clamped with brass, made to stand extremes of heat. The flimsy, folding portable cameras, made light for Indian use, soon become useless. It is a great mistake to make things light and portable for Indian use, as if the owner himself had to carry them. Carriage for every piece of apparatus is cheap, safe, and abundant. French paper, Canson freres is the best, and does not get damaged by damp so soon as English paper.
Collection in National Army Museum, London
[IOR/L/MIL/9/5]
[IOR/L/MIL/9/382/ff.78-83] 
  
 
  

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Internet resources

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John McCosh (1805-1885 
http://www.edinphoto.org.uk ... 
Biographical details on a surgeon in the East India Company army. 
  
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on John McCosh.] 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
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