The Geography Collection

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The Geography Collection consists of 1109 black and white photographs together with contact prints and negatives. These photographs depict many images of Newfoundland and Labrador houses, churches, public buildings, ships, railways, communities, and special events. The creation of these photographs was primarily the work of three prominent photographers: Robert Holloway, S.H. Parsons and James Vey. Through a special project initiated by the Geography Department of Memorial University of Newfoundland, the photographs were copied from the original glass negatives that were in the custody of the Newfoundland Museum but are now on deposit in the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador. They were arranged and described in an annotated guide to the collection, The Historic Photographic Collection of the Department of Geography, in three volumes by Dr. Maurice Scarlett, professor of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, and his wife, Shirley Scarlett.

These photographs will be of interest to anyone seeking historic photographs of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Arranged and Described by Linda White and Claire Jamieson
Archives and Special Collections Division, Memorial University of Newfoundland
September 1999

Historical Background

This collection of photographs was acquired through a project initiated by Michael Crane, cartographer with the Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland. Crane was anxious to preserve the substantial collection of glass plate negatives that were stored at the Newfoundland Museum. Crane, along with Dr. John Mannion, also of the Geography Department, applied for and received funding from the Canada Council to assist with this work. With the co-operation of F. Burnham Gill, the Provincial Archivist, work began in 1976. Crane did the copying of the photographs in the Department of Geography's dark room. A print, together with the original cleaned and properly stored glass negative, was then returned to the Newfoundland Museum. A collection of plastic 4x4 negatives and prints remained in the Department of Geography.

Dr. Maurice Scarlett and his wife, Shirley Scarlett, became associated with the project very soon after it began. (According to sources in the Geography Department, most of the work of describing the photographs and compiling the index was done by Shirley Scarlett). They eventually published an annotated index in three volumes titled The Historic Photographic Collection of the Department of Geography, in 1980, 1981 and 1987 respectively. Volume One was an index to the images related to St. John's and environs, Volume Two was an index to the community images related to Newfoundland excluding St. John's, and Volume Three was an index to "special topics" such as sealing, the building of the dry dock in St. John's, shipping, aviation, railways, displays and commercial buildings.

Financial support for the project came from several sources over the years. The Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University, and the Geography Department both contributed money and resources. However, for reasons unknown, the project came abruptly to an end after the second volume had been published. According to the introduction in Volume Three, the project was finally completed when financial help was forthcoming from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Although it is unclear where the descriptions of the photographs in the guide came from, we may assume that all those people listed in the acknowledgement section of the guides helped with the identification.

In addition to an annotated index, The Historic Photographic Collection of the Department of Geography, provides informative biographical sketches on the three principal photographers, Robert Holloway, S.H. Parsons, and James Vey.

The majority of the photographs were taken by Robert Edward Holloway.(1) Although known as a photographer, Holloway started his career as a teacher before turning to photography. Holloway was born in England in 1850 and received his education there. He eventually obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from London University. By 1874 he was living in St. John's and working as the Principal of the Wesleyan Academy, located on Long's Hill, in the heart of the city. On June 25, 1878, Robert Holloway married Henrietta Palfrey, niece of local politician, Hon. C.R. Ayre. They had several children but only two survived to adulthood: Robert and Elsie. In 1874 the Wesleyan Academy changed its name to the Methodist Academy and then to the Methodist College when the Wesleyan-Methodist Church of Eastern British America changed its name to the Methodist Church of Canada.

During his 30 years at the Methodist College, Holloway pursued and promoted the sciences. He established the school's science laboratory and constructed the first telephone ever seen in Newfoundland. During this time Holloway also developed a keen interest in photography. During his summer holidays each year, he travelled extensively around Newfoundland island and occasionally to Labrador taking photographs. Holloway and his family travelled by coastal boat, horse and carriage and on occasion, by train. From the photographs in the collection, holidays were spent on a schooner in Grosswater Bay, Labrador, cruising with friends and family in Notre Dame Bay, and visiting Burin, Bonne Bay and the Bay of Islands. Photographs depict the group having picnics, camping at the Steadies, and men walking the railway line. Holloway also canoed on the Humber. By the turn of the century Holloway photographs were becoming very well known. They appeared on postcards and as illustrations in books and guides and in magazines such as Christmas Bells and the newly founded Newfoundland Quarterly.

However, Holloway's health was not good. He had suffered from tuberculosis for many years and in 1904 he visited England for treatment. But by the fall of 1904 his condition had deteriorated and he died on September 4. Newspapers reported that there were a large number of people at his funeral including the Prime Minister of Newfoundland, Sir Robert Bond, and several members of the Cabinet. After his death, Holloway's family published Through Newfoundland With the Camera (1905), a book Holloway had worked on for several years before his death. A second edition was published in 1910. The preface of the book, written by Holloway, notes that two of his photographs had been reproduced on Newfoundland stamps and one on a Canadian two-dollar bank note. Of the 14 stamps of the Newfoundland 1923-24 pictorial issue, twelve were taken from Holloway prints. Methodist College was renamed Holloway School in his honour in 1929.

Following Holloway's death, Mrs. Holloway, together with her son Bert and daughter, Elsie, moved from the Methodist College Home on Long's Hill to 168 Gower Street (later 180 Gower Street). By 1913 the family had established the Holloway Studio on the eastern side of Bates Hill at the corner of Henry Street. In the meantime, Bert Holloway had become a professional photographer. He had married and by 1915 he was listed in the City Directory as the proprietor of Holloway Studio. Bert Holloway enlisted in the Newfoundland Regiment in World War I, rising to the rank of Lieutenant. He was killed in France on April 14, 1917. What became of his wife is not known.

Following Bert's death, Elsie became the manager of the Studio. One of her first acts was to have all the Holloway photographs copyrighted. She had taken a course in England on retouching photographs but her expertise lay in portrait and studio group photography. The Studio also did commercial photography and in 1939 provided an official photographer for the Royal Visit. Holloway Studio remained in business until the 1940s when Marshall Studio took it over. Elsie Holloway died in 1971.

The second photographer represented in this collection is Simeon Henry Parsons. Born in Harbour Grace in 1844, he married Isabella Robbins and they had three sons and two daughters: William, Charles, George, Annie and Jessie. During the 1860s and 1870s Parsons worked as a cabinetmaker and shipbuilder and taught himself optics, chemistry and art as they applied to photography. While he was living in Harbour Grace he entered into a partnership in a photography studio with a man named Squires. This ended when Parsons moved to St. John's in 1875. Before moving, Parsons gave his carpentry business to his brother Edward. In St. John's, S.H. Parsons set up the Photographic Studio and Fine Art Emporium, first on Duckworth Street and then at 310 Water Street. Parsons, like Holloway, travelled extensively throughout Newfoundland taking photographs. He was an avid sportsman and enjoyed hunting and fishing. He was one of a group of people who built a cabin at 2 Mile (later 9 Mile) post of the Placentia Railway Line which was popularly known as "Parsons's Shack".

Parsons's photographs were used to illustrate books, magazines (including the London Illustrated News), postcards, and stamps. At the Barcelona Exhibition in 1888 he won a silver medal and a certificate of merit. Sometime between 1894 and 1898, he moved into a newly constructed building at the corner of Prescott Street and Water Street. The family lived on the premises except for William who was probably married by then.

William was the first son to become a professional photographer. He had established his own photographic business in his father's former premises at 310 Water Street. William eventually moved to England where he worked as a photographer. S.H. Parsons' other son, Charles, worked in the family business. By 1908, George too had joined his father's business and the name of the company was changed to S.H. Parsons and Sons.

S.H. Parsons visited Montreal in 1907 for treatment of stomach cancer. He died on March 1, 1908. According to contemporary reports, there were a large number of mourners at the funeral including members of the Cochrane Street Methodist Church choir, of which Parsons had been a member.

For several years following his death, there were several people with the Parsons name that were associated with the business, including a Seymour Parsons and William Parsons, who presumably had returned from England. By 1924 Charles Parsons was again working as a photographer in St. John's. Photographs by him were credited to J.C. Parsons. By 1928 William had become the sole proprietor of the family business. He was the only Parsons listed as a photographer in St. John's in the City Directory. Sometime after this a Parsons Studio was established in Corner Brook, perhaps by J.C. Parsons. It was eventually taken over by Marshall Studios. S.H. Parsons and Sons continued in St. John's until the 1950s. It is not known what happened to all the glass plates and negatives.

The third photographer whose work is represented in this collection is James Vey. Vey was born in St. John's, the son of Samuel Vey. He married Alice Whitely. Vey had apprenticed with two photography studios, first with Page Woods and then Simeon H. Parsons. In 1886 he began a photographic studio with E.W. Lyon. After the Great Fire of 1892 he opened his own studio on the top floor of the Bank of Montreal building at the corner of Water Street and McBride's Hill. About 1917 he closed this studio and went to work as a picture framer with S.E. Garland, bookseller and stationer. Little of Vey's work has survived except for a collection of images of St. John's harbour and the sealing fleet. He made several voyages to the Front in order to photograph the seal hunt. Vey worked on contract for private groups. He was hired to do a series of pictures documenting experiments conducted by Guglielmo Marconi on Signal Hill in 1901. He also did a series of photographs of the Reid Newfoundland Company fleet of coastal steamers. Vey died in 1922.


St. John's Streets and Town Views

St. John's Buildings - Mercantile and Manufacturing Premises

St. John's Buildings - Churches

St. John's Buildings - Schools

St. John's Buildings - Public Buildings

St. John's Buildings - Hotels

St. John's Buildings - Government House

St. John's Buildings - Houses

St. John's Buildings - Cabot Tower

St. John's Harbour - Harbour Views

St. John's Harbour - Waterfront

St. John's Harbour - The Narrows

St. John's Harbour - Southside

St. John's Harbour - Ships in Harbour

St. John's Harbour - Drydock

St. John's Harbour - The Battery

St. John's - People

St. John's - Events

St. John's - Sports

St. John's - Environs

Placentia Bay and Burin Peninsula

Salmonier and Colinet

Conception Bay, Whitbourne and Salmonier

Trinity Bay

Bonavista Bay

Notra Dame Bay

Bonne Bay

Channel and Port aux Basques

Bay of Islands Area

West Coast - Bay St. George and the Codroy Valley

Howley on Grand Lake

Great Northern Peninsula

Central Newfoundland

South Coast


St. Pierre


Seals, Caribou and Trout



Buildings, Unidentified

Communities and General Views, Unidentified

Rev. Edwin Hunt Photographs - Trinity

Rev. Edwin Hunt Photographs - Goose Cove, Fisher's Cove, Dunfield

Rev. Edwin Hunt Photographs - Trouty, Port Rexton, Goobies, Heart's Delight

Rev. Edwin Hunt Photographs - Heart's Content

Rev. Edwin Hunt Photographs - Spaniard's Bay, Bay Roberts, Upper Island Cove

Rev. Edwin Hunt Photographs - Grand Bank, Twillingate, Labrador

Rev. Edwin Hunt Photographs - Miscellaneous

2000 Series - St. John's and Environs

2000 Series - Ships

2000 Series - Placentia

A-O Series - Bell Island, Pilley's Island, Conception Bay, Whitbourne

A-O Series - Corner Brook and Area

A-O Series - Notra Dame Bay

A-O Series - St. John's


Memorial University - Archives and Special Collections