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Tempest Anderson’s Photographs – by Rebecca Hall, Science Team Volunteer

With the digitisation process well underway, York Museums Trust Natural Sciences volunteer Rebecca Hall takes a look at some of the treasures from the Tempest Anderson photographic collection.

Tempest Anderson, an amateur volcanologist, donated his entire collection of photographic slides to the Yorkshire Museum upon his death in 1913.

For many years he chased volcanic eruptions across the world, capturing unique images of them and of the people that lived nearby. The collection contains around 5000 photographs and I have pulled out just a few of the highlights here.

Anderson himself appears in several of his images. In some he is pictured alone, always smartly dressed and often gesturing toward an area or surface of particular interest. In YORYM : TA230 (below left) he is standing against the vegetated north wall of the Trespe Valley, wearing his distinctive hat and bowtie.

In YORYM : TA28 (below right) he is on the volcanic island of Saint Vincent pointing at a part of the erosion surface, again in his hat and suit.

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In other images, Anderson is found with a group of people. Sometimes these are men that he is travelling with, like the Scottish geologist Sir John Smith Flett. On other occasions local people also feature; assisting the party with the photographic equipment, crewing small boats or sitting with the group in a social setting.

A nice example is YORYM : TA239 (below left) where three men are shown seated at the crater of Soufrière, Saint Vincent, with Anderson in the middle. Soufrière, meaning “sulfur outlet”, is an active volcano and appears in many of Anderson’s photographs.

It is not all treks and volcanoes though; Anderson is captured enjoying a bit of downtime in YORYM : TA646 (below right) on the left of a group of five men outside of a wooden house. It is likely that one of the men sporting a moustache is J. S. Flett. They are sat upright in low chairs and the viewer is left wondering whether they were perhaps indeed reclining leisurely before being brought to attention for the photograph.

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Tempest Anderson cannot be discussed without mention of the eruption for which he is arguably most well-known, that of Mount Pelée in 1902. This eruption was characterised by what he termed nuée ardente, or pyroclastic flow, a lethal combination of superheated gases and molten lava.

Anderson succeeded in immortalising many examples of the devastating effects that pyroclastic flow has on the surrounding landscape. YORYM : TA6 (below left) is one such image, showing a ridge covered in dust, or volcanic ash, with the stumps of palm trees protruding out from the ground.

The leaves are gone, obliterated by the eruption, leaving an eerily inhospitable landscape behind. The famous lava spine of Mount Pelée has been captured in YORYM : TA151 (below right)  formed when lava is slowly forced from within, with hot steam seen billowing around the structure.

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When capturing volcanic activity, Anderson appeared keen to also immortalise the local people who lived close to the landmarks and who were adapted to dealing with its consequences. YORYM : TA104 (below left) demonstrates this clearly.

It shows a man standing in front of a house with shattered windows, looking across a yard covered in ash and tree debris. A farm cart is lying on its side, presumably in that orientation as a result of the eruption, and half buried in the deposits.

A clean-up operation is pictured in YORYM : TA101 (below right) – a local man is barefoot in a yard shovelling ash that has accumulated on the floor post-eruption. He appears to have stopped to converse with a woman at the back of the scene who is standing with a man and small child. It is possible that they are members of the same family.

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As is usual, a lot of Anderson’s photographs have been staged; landscapes carefully recorded or people posing for the camera. I leave you though with my favourite image, YORYM : TA2 (below left).

At first glance you notice the man at the front of the shot, holding what looks to be a pickaxe over his shoulder, but during the digitisation process something more interesting was uncovered (image below right). A close up of the top of the mound reveals another figure who seems to be running at high speed to the summit. Who is it? Are they racing up to be photographed? Or are they trying to get a better view of something? I will leave you to decide.

This is the last in the series of Rebecca’s Tempest Anderson blog posts. Previous posts can be read on the YMT site at the links below, and keep an eye out for announcements on this project in the future.

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Your Comments

  1. Graham Thorne |

    This is great to see! I know it’s taken ages to photograph these!

    1. Rachel Wade |

      Thank you Graham, Rebecca and the team have done a fantastic job! We hope to keep working on our digital collections in the future.

      Best wishes,

      Rachel at York Museums Trust