Published with the Wilson Centre for Photography, these two sets of rare albums of gold-toned albumen prints and maps present digital ordnance surveys of Jerusalem from 1865 and of Sinai from 1869. They are the work of the photographer Sergeant James McDonald and are considered one of the most important historical achievements in photography and mapping of the Middle East. The ebooks include an essay by WCP curator Hope Kingsley.
Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem (1865) was the first modern cartographic and archeological survey of Palestine; it contains McDonald's exquisite gold-toned albumen prints, which display a vivid picture of Old Jerusalem – remaining an authoritative source on the location of the city's ancient buildings. In this digital edition, the Survey 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.
Ordnance Survey of the Peninsula of Sinai (1869) was born from a second expedition to the Middle East, in which McDonald documented the Sinai Peninsula, producing over 300 photographs, which are displayed here alongside maps and notes encompassing natural history and archeological remains of the peninsula. The Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem led to the 1865 establishment of the Palestine Exploration Fund, and one of its first projects was to survey and document the Sinai Peninsula. McDonald again worked as the photographer, focusing on Mount Sinai and the surrounding area, mapping the Exodus route taken by Moses and the Israelites in flight from Egypt.
In this digital edition, the Survey is presented in two sections: the first contains ten exquisite maps with zoom functionality and three volumes of photographs (originally Part II and III); and the second comprises an account of the Survey in letterpress with lithographed illustrations (originally Part I).
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.