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Bermuda’s first slide show

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Before the invention of photography, the world around us was recorded by artists in various forms of painting and later with lithography, which allowed for the multiplication of single images.

Through lithographs, the world in pictures became accessible to many, as they were inexpensive compared with one-off oil or watercolour painting. Bermuda's first lithographs hit the streets and lanes of the island in 1849, courtesy of a young British soldier, Edmund Gilling Hallewell.

The young lad arrived on the island in 1841 at the tender age of 19 and what a culture shock it must have been, after boot camp in damp old Blighty.

Hallewell, however, rose to be the most well-known artist of Bermuda in the 19th century and especially later, due to the production of a set of 13 lithographs of the island, designed to form three panoramas, or to be framed and hung individually.

To put him in context, there are only two known major artists of Bermuda before Hallewell. Thomas Driver painted here in the 1820s and left two daughters, the descendants of whom are yet with us: his works are part of the Fay and Geoffrey Elliott Collection, Bermuda National Trust.

The recently unknown Dr Johnson Savage gave us a portfolio of 49 magnificent paintings from the mid-1830s, lately donated by his descendants and published by the National Museum: neither produced lithographs, and neither, as it were, got into that mass-circulation of their art, as did Hallewell.

The energetic Governor of Bermuda, Major General Sir William Reid (1839-1846), became aware of Hallewell's artistic talents and in 1842 asked him to draw a series of panoramas that Reid eventually sent to the Foreign Office to encourage interest in the island.

Those are the earliest known examples of E.G. “Ben” Hallewell's artwork and are extant. After marrying Sophia, one of the general's daughters in 1843, Hallewell produced further artwork; an album of Bermuda and the West Indies was recently acquired by a Bermudian colleague in the new project to produce a book on the artist.

At some time, Ben came up with the idea of lithographic panoramas of Bermuda and made a set of basic paintings that would serve to make the set of 13 images. In sets of six, four and three, when joined, three panoramas, likely hand-painted, could be composed.

By 1848, he was ready to go to the market in Bermuda and London with two forms of lithographs, the one with descriptive titles in the bottom white border, destined to be sold in book form (dedicated to Lady Adam, wife of Sir Charles Adam KCB and C-in-C North America and West Indies Station, centred at Bermuda), and the other within lithographs that had no borders and were designed to be inserted into “Bermuda's First Slide Show”.

The latter were to be rolled into small mahogany cases, of which a couple of examples of the cases are known.

Of the contents of the case, only one example has been recently been found, courtesy of a Bermudian collector, each having a number (No I, II or III) on the left side.

From a 1990 auction catalogue, “the views comprise: No I Taken from some high Ground above Spanish Point, looking to the Great Sound with the shores of Warwick, Southampton and Sandys Parishes, on 4 sheets; No II Taken from the Hill to the Westward of Gibb's Hill, a view of the islands in the Great Sound, on 6 sheets; No III Taken from near St David's Head, situated on the Island of that name, a view from near St David's Lighthouse looking over Smith's Island to the town and parish of St George's, on 3 sheets”.

The three panoramas were glued to a linen backing and rolled into the mahogany case for a length of almost 20 feet. When extracted through a slit in the column by a pull-rod, the three panoramas became “Bermuda's First Slide Show”, or perhaps in modern parlance, website.

It is not known which “slide” appeared first, whether the order was I, II, then III, or the reverse. In the days before Magic Lantern slide shows and similar photographic wonders, the Hallewell cases with the pictorial content would have served for part of an evening's entertainment.

My colleague, Linda Abend, and I would like to solve the last details of the Hallewell panoramas in the mahogany cases, so if you have, or know of others who may have such artwork, or indeed individual Hallewell works, do call or e-mail me.

Edward Harris, PhD, is at or on 1-441-704-5480 and was formerly the director of the National Museum of Bermuda

Ahead of his time: British soldier Edmund Gilling Hallewell arrived on the island in 1841, aged 19. Hallewell rose to become the most well-known artist of Bermuda in the 19th century and came up with the idea of lithographic panoramas of the island
Rare find: one of the few known Hallewell cases, which has the pull-rod and first bit of the linen backing protruding from its side. The ring at the top served to wind the 20ft panorama back into the case for storage. A unique artefact of Bermuda's artistic heritage: the first “slide projector”
Widescreen entertainment: the No III panorama in the Hallewell case was composed of three sheets and is the view from near St David's Head towards St George. It is 9in tall and 4ft 6in long

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Published September 05, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated September 05, 2020 at 8:57 am)

Bermuda’s first slide show

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