• Hello From Descent

    The publication date for issue 289 is the 10th of December, meaning subscribers should receive their copies during the week leading up to that date. It is also available from caving suppliers such as Inglesport and Starless River, or from our new website

    New Descent board here:

19th Century Cave Photography

Peter Burgess

New member
Cornishman, 10th October, 1878


Subterranean Photography by Artificial Light

Saturday?s Photographic News has an interesting and appreciative notice of the great step in photographic art taken by our former townsman, Mr. Brooks, of Reigate. It explains that the colour of the surface of the Reigate caves (in silver sand, we believe,) is black and blackish green, which increased the difficulty of the task. Indeed, the News adds, that the mechanical troubles of photographing dark interiors are not easily overcome and are, in many cases, insuperable, but Mr. Brooks has, in the present instance, with a happy audacity, dispensed with the aid of the electric, the lime, or the magnesium light (actinic lights) and used common paraffin lamps duly distributed, and has avoided the difficulty of keeping wet plates moist by using dry gelatine emulsion plates. After further reference to Mr. Brooks?s processes, the News says: ?Everything is duly rendered and fairly modelled; all trace of the intense shadows generally noticeable where artificial light is employed being absent,? and proceeds to shew how Mr. Brooks?s method of lighting up a cavern might be made available in coal-mining and tend to avert our disastrous colliery explosions.


Active member
Some ealy cave photographers:

"Numerous photographers have been intrigued by the challenge of underground photography and many have taken pictures of Mammoth Cave since 1866.  The earliest photographs were taken with magnesium in 1866, these were followed by flashpowder in 1891 and finally by flashbulbs in 1931.  Some of the famous photographers of Mammoth Cave include Adin Styles (1865), Charles Waldack (1866), Mandeville Thum (1876), W F Sesser (1886) Carlos Darnall (1889), Ben Hains (1889-1900), Frances Benjamin Johnston (1891) and Caulfield and Shook (1931).  These early photographers took many of the photographs used in this book."


MAMMOTH CAVE AND THE KENTUCKY CAVE REGION / Images of America [series]  by Bob and Judi Thompson 2003  128 pp  195 B&W photos, 2 surveys, location map.  ISBN 0-7385-1514-0  Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, USA.  SB  $19.99


Peter Burgess

New member
Cornishman, 3rd October, 1878

Subterranean Photography

We fancy we have heard something about the reproducing by photographs of some of our levels, vughs, or workings, but we are not quite sure whether it was an attempt or a success. However, we have before us some very meritorious and interesting specimens of cave and tunnel photographs, procured not in the cause of science or art but as an advertisement for a wine-merchant. Mr. Mead, of Reigate, is the owner of a series of underground caves, passages, and stores, about 40 feet beneath the earth?s surface. As a main cave and branches they occupy 130 feet of the ground in length, and the branches open up quite a maze of cavernous hollows. These excavations are 300 years old and have an average width of 8 ft and height of 10 ft. Their temperature never varies more than three degrees ? 57 deg. to 60 deg., and in them Mr. Mead stores his spirits, wines, ales, &c.

After many weeks of study and trial Mr. Brooks, formerly of Penzance, and one of our photographic pioneers, has succeeded in producing eight views of these ? the bottled ale depot, a long vista of casks of ale and stout, the repositories for the sherry, brandy, port, &c., in wood. In all the minuteness yet clearness with which the strata of the ground, recess within recess, and the casks and bottles are reproduced is surprising, but a more noticeable feature is the skilful and artistic way in which the light necessary to photographic success is concealed. In at least five of the pictures no one would suspect that any agency other than Sol?s beams had aided the lens. On being let into the secret the remaining three photographs would disclose artificial light. Our interest in the pictures is twofold. We are pleased to find that Mr. Brooks still experiments in his favourite pursuit and has met with so much success; and he shews us that it is possible to bring pictures from underground to instruct and amuse those who will never see the places photographed. The same skill which shews us a bottling machine 40 feet under the surface, can give us a boring machine 2000 feet beneath Cornish crofts; the lights which lit up Mr. Mead?s vaults can aid the photographer to give us some of the weird and singular scenes which Cornish mining presents under the land and the sea.

These eight photos would be of immense use to me and my colleagues who are presently restoring a similar vault that dates from the same period, and is situated within a few metres of Mr. Mead's stores, on the other side of the road. Does anyone know if they still exist, and how would I go about obtaining a copy of each of them, for our historical research? The historical record they represent is probably unique.

Mr. Mead's vaults still exist, having survived the stabilisation and infilling work of the 1980s.