John Thomas (photographer)

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John Thomas
My mother (sitting) Shan y Lliwdy and Bontfaen maid.jpg
"My mother (sitting), Shan y Lliwdy and Bontfaen maid", 1867
Born 14 April 1838
Llanfair Clydogau near Lampeter, Wales
Died 14 October 1905
Liverpool, England
Nationality Welsh
Occupation Photographer

John Thomas (14 April 1838 – 14 October 1905) was a Welsh photographer, specialising in landscape images of Wales and Welsh chapels, and portraits of notable Welsh people, particularly church and chapel ministers.


Thomas was born at Glanrhyd, in the parish of Llanfair Clydogau, near Lampeter, Cardiganshire in 1838, the son of David, a labourer, and his wife Jane. Thomas was educated in the village of Cellan, first as a pupil and then a pupil-teacher.[1]

For a short time he worked as an assistant in a draper's shop in Lampeter. While still a teenager, in May 1853, he travelled to Liverpool, walking to Tregaron and then for 40 miles (64 km) to Llanidloes via Pontrhydfendigaid, Devil's Bridge and Plynlimon, before completing his journey by canal boat and train.[2] He worked for ten years in Liverpool, in a draper's shop,[3] starting in 1853, but was then obliged to change his way of life due to poor health. Before 1870 he got a job travelling, selling writing materials and selling photographs which enabled him to work in the country. Thomas realised that he was selling the very fashionable pictures called carte-de-visites that were of well known people, but few were from Wales. In 1863 he became manager of Harry Emmens' photographic studio in Liverpool, where he specialised in photographing non-conformist ministers.[4]

In 1867 he established The Cambrian Gallery in Liverpool, a photographic business where he produced carte-de-visites and In memoriam cards.[4] He ran a conventional studio photography business but he also took thousands of photographs on long journeys through Wales at a time when a photo took time to both prepare and develop. Thomas captured not only the people of Wales, but the landscapes as well.

Before his death, Thomas selected 3,113 glass plate negatives which were bought by the educationalist and historian Owen Morgan Edwards to illustrate his Welsh language magazine Cymru. The negatives are now in the collection of the National Library of Wales.[4] Edwards commented "that no-one has such a complete collection of views of Welsh historic sites".[5]

Thomas's second child was Professor William Thelwall Thomas MBE, Ch.M., FRCS (1865–1927), president of the surgery section of the British Medical Association.[6]

Thomas died on 14 October 1905 at the house of his son Albert Ivor (1870–1911)[3] and was buried at Anfield Cemetery in Liverpool.[2]


  1. ^ Jones, Emyr Wyn. "THOMAS, JOHN (1838–1905), photographer". Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved 16 July 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Jones, Emyr Wyn (Winter 1956). "John Thomas of the Cambrian Gallery". National Library of Wales Journal IX (4): 385-391. 
  3. ^ a b "John Thomas (1838–1905)". National Library of Wales. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c Crawford, Alistair (2013). "Thomas, John (1838–1905)". In Hannavy, John. Encyclopedia of nineteenth-century photography. 1384: Routledge. ISBN 9781135873264. 
  5. ^ Translated from Welsh, Cymru, 17, (1899), p.134 cited here
  6. ^ Jones, Emyr Wyn. "THOMAS , WILLIAM THELWALL (1865–1927), surgeon". Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved 16 July 2015. 

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