New view of Empire life

We’ve been able to get a glimpse into the past with the latest donation to the museum collection; a stereoscope with 36 stereographs showing scenes from South Africa and India.

What makes stereographs different to normal photographs is that when they are inserted into the viewing device – the stereoscope – you are presented with the scene in 3D.  The stereograph is a piece of card with two identical photographs side by side.  Place them in the holder and view through the lenses, moving the card closer or further away to focus and the image emerges.

Museum volunteer, Carl Barker, tries out the stereoscope.

The stereoscope was produced by Underwood and Underwood, founded by two brothers in 1881 in Ottawa, Kansas. They were the largest producers of stereoscopes (also known as stereoviews) in the world – 10 million per year and publishing 25,000 stereographs a day by 1901, and introducing boxed sets based around specific themes. By 1910 the company had moved into photography and stereograph production was gradually wound down until discontinuation in 1920.

Our set is named ‘The South African War through the Stereoscope’ although the box itself contains images from after the Boer War and a single Coronation image from 1902.

Stereoscope facts

• Approximately 500 stereographs were produced for the South African War series
• There are no actions shots.  Cameras were mounted on tripods so were difficult to move around or set up in rough terrain and images needed a long exposure time
• All may not be as it seems.  Photographers often visited the scene after a conflict was over, resulting in landscape shots, or even completely faking the scene and not even taking the photographs on location.  Sometimes the same photo was reused with a completely different accompanying caption on the card
• It’s believed members of the Yorkshire Regiment feature on six stereograph cards created by Underwood and Underwood.  Thanks to this latest donation to our collection, we now have one of them.

The stereographs which were included in the set donated to the museum include ten of the South African War (The Boer War), with one featuring soldiers from the Yorkshire Regiment, one of the Prince of Wales’ carriage during his coronation in 1902, and 25 of India;  six of these have the longer, speech-like captions on the back and dated 1903.  The regiment’s 2nd Battalion were stationed in India 1890-1906, so would experienced those same scenes, even though they aren’t mentioned specifically.

The Yorkshire Regiment stereograph

The card is captioned “The Yorkshires breakfasting in camp at Naawpoort, S. Africa – their gallantry on Jan. 28th lauded by French”


In January 1900 the 1st Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, under General French, were to relieve the New Zealand Mounted Rifles who were being continually attacked by Boer snipers. On the 15th January the Boers attempted to take their position, known as New Zealand Hill, but were driven back by men of the Yorkshire Regiment, Royal Artillery and the New Zealand Rifles.

General French conveyed his admiration of their gallantry, making an official report of their conduct.  We think this might be the ‘gallantry’ mentioned in the caption.

Lance-Corporal Collings was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for leading a charge when all his superiors had been incapacitated.  Colour Sergeant Roberts was one of the Yorkshire Regiment men killed in the action. His rifle, with damage from the bullet which killed him, can be seen on display in the museum.