The Alfred Hugh Fisher Photographic Collection: Guest post by Sabrina Meneghini

Port Said, coal barges, 1907, Fisher 1_4

Outside the old cemetery, Colombo, 1907, Fisher 1_25


I am a PhD student at De Montfort University and last October I started my research The Legacy of Alfred Hugh Fisher and the Colonial Office Visual Instruction Committee (COVIC) here at Cambridge University Library. My dissertation focuses on the photographic collection of the British artist Alfred Hugh Fisher which is part of the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) Library Collection.

The Beira, Colombo, 1907 Fisher 1_46



In 1902 the Colonial Office was charged with creating a visual record of the British Empire. The COVIC produced sets of lantern slides which were to be presented as a series of geography lessons to school children. The project’s cultural exchange aims were twofold: British schools would receive images of the colonies, while colonial school children would receive and see slides from the Mother Country. In 1907 the Committee hired Alfred Hugh Fisher, an artist and newspaper illustrator, for a duration of three years. He was given the responsibility of creating a visual description of Britain’s overseas territories.


Kandyan Chief, 1907, Fisher 1_111

The Devon Falls, Telawakele, 1907, Fisher 1_112

The Fisher photograph collection consists of 29 albums of photographs taken by him, as well as a series of photographs he purchased from places he was not able to visit. Moreover, the archive contains Fisher’s oil paintings, notes, letters and text books.

One of the albums has been digitized (Fisher 1) and it can be seen on the Cambridge Digital Library. The photographs shown on this page are from the first volume of the collection which contains images of his initial journey, when he visited Ceylon from October to December 1907. All the albums were already tailored for holding four pictures in each page and the images have original captions providing the location.




  • Der Sabrina
    nice pictures. I wish you a prosperous work and a happy stay in Cambridge.

  • Che bel lavoro! Deve essere affascinante avere tra le mani delle foto così antiche e cariche di significato.

  • Hi Sabrina
    v. interested in yr project. I’m a Research Associate at Bristol University specialising in Britain in China in the 19th century . Did Fisher do any work in treaty port China or Hong Kong?

  • Professor Kenneth McConkey

    Dear John C,

    These photographs are fascinating, but do you know what has happened to Fisher’s paintings and drawings of India and Burmah? From the illustrations in his book, they seems interesting.

    Best Wishes with your research,
    Kenneth McConkey

    • Sabrina Meneghini

      Dear Professor McConkey,

      thank you for your interest in the Fisher Collection.

      The RCS Library also holds Fisher’s paintings and drawings made during the artist’s commitment with COVIC. Along with the photographic project, Fisher was also documenting the different landscapes and people of the British empire through his paintings. The majority of them are oil on board and truly show Fisher’s ability as an artist.
      We will be displaying reproductions of the Fisher Collection, including his paintings, in an exhibition at the Alison Richard Building, Cambridge, from 23rd of April until the end of May. It will be a unique opportunity to see Fisher’s work and we hope you will be able to visit it.

      Best wishes,
      Sabrina Meneghini
      PhD Candidate Photographic History Research Centre

      • Kenneth McConkey

        Dear Sabrina,

        Please accept my sincere apologies for the very long delay in responding to your email. I hope your thesis is progressing.
        Had your message come through on my email, I’d have replied long before now.

        I am nonetheless delighted to learn that Fisher’s oil sketches have survived. Have any of them been photographed, and are they available as images? I’d love to study them.

        My interest, two or three years ago, came from seeing them in ‘Through India and Burmah with Pen and Brush’, 1911. At the time I had completed a short chapter on artist-travellers in India for my book on artist-globetrotters (other chapters on France, Spain, Italy, the Middle East, Japan and the artists’ colonies in Paris, Venice and Tangier). It had been my intention to visit Cambridge last spring when lockdown occurred and my brother died of Covid at the beginning of June.

        I had, however, agreed to submit the text by the end of the year, so had, in the end, to go with the images I had, and sacrifice Burn Murdoch, Rothenstein, Fisher and one or two others who are simply mentioned in the text. The book, incidentally is ‘Towards the Sun, The Artist-Traveller at the turn of the Twentieth Century’ (Paul Holberton Publishing) and will be out at the beginning of next month. Although the book is now in print, it will always remain a continuing interest.

        Did your display at the Alison Richard Building take place?

        We need to know more about Fisher, so I look forward to learning more about your work.

        If you receive this, would you mind replying directly to my email.

        All good wishes,


    • Christopher Williamson

      Dear Sabrina ,
      I have just emailed CU Library about some glass slides I have ( and wish to donate) thinking they will be of interest to the Royal Commonwealth Society collection . It looks to me that my slides ( or at least some of them ) might be from the Fisher collection . If you are interested I could tell you more

  • Are you aware of the Herbert West collection of A. Hugh Fisher material at Yale University (New Haven, CT, USA)? A description is at — it apparently includes significant correspondence about Fisher’s work with COVIC. I haven’t examined the collection myself, so I can’t describe it.

    My grandmother was Fisher’s US publisher for his prints, and wrote the introduction to his children’s book Frolics with Uncle Yule. His children’s books (the other one I know of was the anonymous Yule’s Book, published earlier) go unmentioned in most biographies. He had correspondence with several children to whom he inscribed sketches as by “Uncle Yule” — this should probably be listed as a pseudonym in the various bibliographies, but does not seem to be. I have around 200 pieces of his artwork, mostly drypoints.

    • Dear Tom,

      Many thanks for your comments. I’ll pass them on to Sabrina.

      Best wishes,
      Suzanne Paul
      Special Collections

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