Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem

Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem

Sergeant McDonald

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Published with the Wilson Centre for Photography, this digital edition of Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem (1865), brings together the historic photography of Sergeant James McDonald – whose work is considered one of the most important achievements in the photography of the Middle East. The Survey was the first modern cartographic and archeological survey of Palestine; it contains McDonald's exquisite gold-toned albumen prints, which present a vivid picture of Old Jerusalem – remaining an authoritative source on the location of the city's ancient buildings. The ebook includes an essay by WCP curator Hope Kingsley.

In this edition, the Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem is presented in two sections: the first containing over 60 photographs of historic sights and topography displayed in their original volume, alongside five detailed maps with zoom functionality, showing the locations of the city’s ancient structures (originally Part II and III); the second, entitled ‘The Notes’, is comprised of an account of the Survey illustrated with maps, drawings and geological sections (originally Part I).

The Survey was commissioned in response to the unhealthy state of the water supply in Jerusalem, then a rather neglected part of the Ottoman Empire. The resulting images were printed onto albumen silver paper, which was the standard photographic print material of the time. The Survey photographs were also gold-toned for permanence – they were meant to be the durable record of an ambitious project.

Information on the life of James McDonald is limited – restricted solely to his military career; there is no known documentation on his parents or family. Born in 1822, his military records chart a successful career that culminated with his promotion to the rank of captain in the Royal Engineers, a great achievement for a man who in 1839 had entered the army as a 17-year-old Sapper. In December 1840, McDonald joined the Ordnance Survey at York, which had a training regime for officers in surveying, fieldwork and demolition. His time at the Royal Engineers at Chatham coincided with the organisation of formal photographic training at the institution, and for lack of other evidence, it might be supposed that he learned photography at that time.