Richard Ellis (Maltese photographer)

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Richard Ellis
Richard Ellis.jpg
Born(1842-01-27)27 January 1842
London, UK
Died23 December 1924(1924-12-23) (aged 82)
NationalityEnglish, Maltese
Years active1862–1924
Spouse(s)Alfonsina Curmi
ChildrenJohn Ellis

Richard Ellis (27 January 1842 – 23 December 1924) was a British-Maltese photographer who was one of the pioneers of photography in Malta during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in St.Luke's, East London, he travelled throughout Europe as a circus performer[1] before settling down in Malta at the age of nineteen. Within a few years he had opened a studio in Valletta, and he became a renowned photographer. His archive of tens of thousands of photographs still exists, and his work is significant for both its historic value and technical quality. His work is now in the public domain according to the law of Malta.

Early life[edit]

The Ellis Studio on Kingsway, Valletta

Ellis was born on 27 January 1842[2] in St Luke's, London to James and Sarah Ellis, who at that time already had 5 children and later would have 7 more. [3] [1] As a child he became apprenticed to the circus performers James and Sara Conroy.[1] They travelled throughout Europe, with Ellis becoming a tightrope walker.[1] During a trip to Paris, James Conroy and Richard Ellis became interested in photography and attended the Daguerre Institute.[1] They later travelled throughout Italy and Sicily,[1] but events related to the Italian unification led them to move to the nearest British colony, the Crown Colony of Malta.[4] James, Sarah Conroy, their 1 yeard old baby, Adelaide Anceschi and Richard Ellis arrived on the island in April 1861,[5] when Richard became an apprentice in James Conroy's first studio in Senglea.[1]


Ħal-Saflieni Hypogeum, photographed by Ellis, before 1910

On his arrival in Malta, James Conroy opened a Daguerreotype photography studio at 2 Strada Concezzione, Senglea [6] where Ellis worked as his assistant.[5] About 1865 James Conroy moved his studio to 134, Strada Stretta, Valletta,[7] where they specialised in ambrotypes as well as albumen print including portraits and images of warships in the Grand Harbour.[8] By 1870 James Conroy has opened additional premises at 56, Strada Stretta where mostly carte de visite were produced.[8]

In 1871 Ellis set up his own studio at 43, Strada Stretta, Valletta.[5][8] He was popular among both the locals and the British, since he had a British surname but was married to a Maltese woman.[9] He soon became one of the leading photographers on the island, at a time when photography was still in its early stages.[5] Ellis was active in multiple genres of photography, including views, portraits, still lifes and society photography.[5] He was also proficient in developing, editing, printing, mounting and frame-making.[5] Later on Ellis also dealt in photographic equipment.[5]

His work is renowned both for its historical value and also its technical quality.[5] Ellis' clients included King George V of the United Kingdom, King Albert I of Belgium,[10] the German emperor, the queen of Portugal and various other European royals or nobles.[5] His work has been featured in a number of publications, including in a 1920 issue of the National Geographic magazine and many posthumous publications.[10] He was awarded several medals and trophies at exhibitions.[5]

Cottonera Military Hospital Ward 10, photographed by Ellis during World War I

Throughout his decades-long career, Ellis created an archive of around 36,000 to 40,000 photographs,[9] which document Malta's history during the last few decades of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century.[1] These record buildings, views and events, and they also show social change.[1]

Other work and personal life[edit]

Ellis also tutored at the Malta Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.[5] He was a member of the organizing committee of the 24th International Eucharistic Congress held in 1913.[5]

At the age of 22,[1] Ellis married Alfonsina Curmi,[5] a Maltese woman from Cospicua.[9] They had a son named John.[5]


After Ellis' death, his photography business was taken over by his son John, and eventually by his grandson Richard Jr.[9] The focus of the firm moved from photography to frame-making in the 1990s.[9] The business then passed to Richard Jr's nephew Ian Ellis, whose focus has been on maintaining the photography archive.[4] Ian Ellis has published books showcasing Richard Ellis' photos, and he wants to establish a photography museum in Malta.[9]

Ellis' work is in high demand by collectors of old photographs.[4] Copyright on the photos by Richard Ellis expired in 1994, 70 years after his death.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Richard Ellis: The Man And His Legacy". The Malta Independent. 13 May 2012. Archived from the original on 30 March 2016.
  2. ^ Drury, Melanie (30 December 2018). "Why Englishman Richard Ellis deserves a monument in Malta". Archived from the original on 10 June 2020.
  3. ^ "Census 1851". Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  4. ^ a b c "The last of the Ellises". Business Today (536). 21 May 2008. Archived from the original on 10 January 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Schiavone, Michael J. (2009). Dictionary of Maltese Biographies Vol. 1 A–F. Pietà: Pubblikazzjonijiet Indipendenza. pp. 743–744. ISBN 9789993291329.
  6. ^ Casha, Kevin (2016). Photography in Malta, The History and The Protagonists. Malta: Kevin Casha. p. 56.
  7. ^ Tonna, Caroline (2018). "Women and early photography in Malta: Adelaide Conroy and Lucrezia Preziosi". In Abela, Joan; Buttigieg, Emanuel; Attard, Alex (eds.). Parallel Existences. Malta: Kite Publishing. pp. 259–271. ISBN 9789995750565.
  8. ^ a b c Harker, Margaret (2000). Photographers of Malta 1840-1990. Malta: Patrimonju Malti. ISBN 99932-10-04-8.[page needed]
  9. ^ a b c d e f Azzopardi, Marika (2012). "Richard Ellis: the man, his times & his pictures" (PDF). The Synapse (6). Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 December 2018.
  10. ^ a b Ayling, Liz (19 February 2011). "Malta through the lens: the Richard Ellis photographic archive". Malta InsideOut. Archived from the original on 27 October 2015.

Further reading[edit]