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Alfred Capel-Cure – Pioneer Of Early Tipperary Photography.

On this Sunday evening, August 29th 2021, with almost all of us whinging and moaning about having to cocoon within our warm, comfortable homes; with our fully stocked refrigerator; our arses firmly planted on soft couches; watching repeats of “Love Island” on our 50 inch big screen TV’s; that bottle of Dry Sauvignon Blanc cooling in the icebox and the Crottin de Chavignol, waiting to be consumed on our cheese boards; then watch this slide show immediately hereunder and thank our God, whom ever we conceive Him to be, for having been given birth during this current generation.

Note: The images contained in this slide show, hereunder, were photographed between the years 1852 and 1856. They show, as well as the dereliction, the filth, hunger and poverty then being experienced by Tipperary local, landless inhabitants, in a God forsaken country, under British rule, just four to five years after the Great Famine (1845-1849) here in Ireland.

The man responsible for the images in the slide show above, you may have gathered, was photographer, Colonel Alfred Capel-Cure, an English soldier and a pioneer of early photography.
He was born on December 8th 1826 and died 70 years later, on July 29th 1896, the second son to parents Alfred Capel-Cure (High Sheriff of Essex), and Frederica Cure (Nee Cheney). He had at least three brothers named as Robert Capel-Cure; Reverend Edward Capel-Cure, M.A.; Reverend Laurence George Capel-Cure, and two sisters Rosamund Harriet Cure and Emmeline Cure. There possibly may have been two further children in the family unit, bringing the number of children in total to eight.

The family motto was: “Fais que doit arrive que pourra”, loosely translated from the French, “Do your duty, come what may”. We know little about him, but the limited information available is gathered together hereunder.

Alfred Capel-Cure joined the British army at the age of 18 years, rising through the ranks in active service to the level of Major in 1855. He served here in Ireland almost 150 years ago; having been possibly stationed in army barracks at Athlone, Co. Westmeath, Roscrea and Templemore, Co. Tipperary,
Capel-Cure was commissioned into the 55th Foot, but later transferred to the Grenadier Guards. He would be promoted a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel in 1858 and Colonel in 1863.

Note: A ‘Brevet’ rank was an honorary promotion given to an officer (or occasionally, an enlisted man) in recognition of gallant conduct or other meritorious service, but may not have conferred the authority, precedence, or even the pay of the real true rank.

Firstly, we need to remember that the world’s first photograph made; using a camera, was taken in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Ni épce. That photograph was taken from the upstairs windows of Niépce’s own estate, in the Burgundy region of France.

Alfred Capel-Cure was first introduced to photography by his uncle, latter the watercolour painter and photographer Robert Henry Cheney. In 1852 he started taking photographs in his own right, emerging as a distinct talent from among the first generation of amateur photographers.

His early photographs are calotypes, a process invented by William Henry Fox Talbot. This less sharp process used a paper negative to make a print, thus making it possible to turn out multiple copies.

While many of the landed gentry in the early to mid-1800’s became involved in this new art of photography, [The word ‘photograph’ derives from the Greek word ‘photo’, meaning light and ‘graph’, meaning to draw, hence ‘drawing with light’] the photographs produced by them rarely contained images of the labouring, working classes.

Alfred Capel-Cure through his photography, made studies of everything; his beloved dogs “Pharaoh”, “Jet” and “Peter” (1854-1860), still life images, trees, horses, castles, antiquities, army recruits (including those later killed in battle), landscapes, his country houses at Blake Hall and Badger Hall, churches, cathedrals and abbeys, historic ruins, his family, visiting gentry, and portraits of those regarded as lower class individuals.

Back in the early days of photography exposure was down to light levels and sensitivity of the medium used to capture the image, be it a glass plate or treated paper. For this reason in those days subject matter had to keep still, while having their photo taken, resulting in the reason that few if any persons are seen to smile in old photographs, due to the length of each exposure.

After leaving Templemore, Alfred Capel-Cure served in the Crimean War and was wounded at Redan, in a fight between his own British force and a Russia force, on September 8th 1855. Same battle ground was part of the Siege of Sevastopol, the fall of which would lead to Russian defeat in that same war.

His last photo appears to date as 1860 and it is believed he simply quit photography, coinciding with the same time his aging uncle also abandoned the art.

A plaque on the wall of Badger Church, states that, “He succeeded his Uncle Edward Cheney at Badger Hall and for many years devoted himself to the welfare of his tenants, his neighbours and those dependent upon him.”

In 1867, Alfred Capel-Cure bought himself out of the army, as was permitted in the latter half of the 1800’s, at no little cost to himself.

Twenty Nine years later, aged 70 years, Alfred Capel-Cure died on July 29th, 1896, in an accidental explosion, while attempting to dynamite tree roots in his park at Badger Hall.

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