24.06.2019 One hundred and sixty years ago, a young Swiss adventurer creates the first photographs of Japan to be sent to the World

22 June 1859. On board the Imperial Fleet ship …

“In the light of a candle, exhausted by the journey and the incessant movements of a rough sea, I sketch out in the freshness of the moment, my first impressions of Japan as seen in the night. Although we did not really have access to the port of Nagasaki, the doors of the Deshima counter welcomed us warmly and quickly opened up to a multitude of new and interesting characters, Japanese and foreign residents, scientists and traders, dignitaries and coolies. We sleep in comfortable wooden huts, and due to the relative promiscuity of the place, contacts are easy and fast. The geography of the area already tells us about the immense distance we will have to travel to reach the heart of the country, which we do not yet see…”

Those lines are translated from a recently imagined letter of Pierre Rossier, a young Swiss man who was really sent to China, Japan and the Philippines by the ambitious photographic firm of the Chrystal Palace to provide the first images of the Far East to the western Public in 1858. The name of Pierre Rossier had disappeared for 150 years from public attention.

All the informations gathered in this article come from the patient investigation of a passionate dealer and private scholar, Terry Bennett, who investigated for over 20 years. He received help from the community of collectors and curators after he published his first article in the December 2004 issue of The PhotoHistorian- Journal of the Historical Group of the Royal Photographic Society. His books on the history of photography in Japan (2006), China (2009) and Korea (1998) have become classics. The provenance of the six stereoscopic albumen prints offered here is the Gimon collection.

An opportunity to evoke the richness and fragility of the history of photography when the patient and curious study of mysterious clues is threatened by the ogre appetites of the expensive and sterile din of big data.

 

Pierre Rossier. Reception of the British Legation, Yedo, July 1859

(Original quotes and captions will be found in the main article)

It is probably thanks to Henry Purcell Ward, an officer on board, that Rossier received permission to join this very official trip from Minister Rutherford Alcock, accompanied by consuls and officers, all of whom are coming from Shanghai to attend a historic meeting with the Emperor of Japan.

The boat will stop in Kanagawa and Yokohama after having covered nearly 712 nautical miles, and this before continuing to Yedo.

Pierre Rossier, British Legation, Joryuji Temple, Kanagawa, July 1859

Sir Rutherford Alcock, first Consul,  would not marry Lucy, widow of Rev.  Lowder, British chaplain at Shanghai until July 1862, and the first vice-consul, Francis “Punch” Howard Vyse (1828-1891) never get married. Original quotes and captions will be found in the main article:

PIERRE ROSSIER – CRONOLOGICAL ELEMENTS

1829 – Grandsivaz

Pierre Joseph Rossier was born on the 16th July 1829 in Grandsivaz, a small village in the Canton of Fribourg, Switzerland, into a Catholic French-speaking farming family of modest means, the 4th eldest of 10 children.

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