Chris W. Hollyer, Victoria West Photographer

For forty-two years, Christopher William Hollyer (1866-1938) was a well-known and well-respected resident of Victoria West, British Columbia. Hollyer was a sergeant-major in the local militia, long-time employee of Sayward Lumber, and popular comedic actor in the Victoria West Amateur Dramatic Society. Hollyer grew up in an artistic family in London and obtained professional qualifications as a photographer. In Victoria, he used his camera in an amateur capacity. His close friends, the Lawrie family (my Grandpa’s family) were constant subjects of Hollyer’s camera on picnics by the Gorge and sailboat rides in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Hollyer made over 200 negatives into glass slide images to be viewed through a lantern projector. In 2010, our family, who had inherited Hollyer’s slides, donated them to the City of Victoria Archives.

lantern slide victoria archives
Stephanie Warner looks at Christopher William Hollyer’s lantern slide projector in the City of Victoria Archives

Family background

Christopher (“Chris”) William Hollyer was born on August 27 1866 in Kentish Town, North London and grew up surrounded by the Victorian art world.

Chris’ grandfather Samuel Hollyer (1797-1883) was an art publisher and Chris’ uncle Samuel Hollyer was a well-known New York City artist and engraver (he designed the front cover for Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”).

Chris’ father Christopher Charles Hollyer (1836-1874) was an artist and engraver. Hollyer died when Chris was 8 years old, and Chris and his mother Annie moved in with her father, William Henry Simmons (1811-1882) a renowned mezzotint engraver, whose work was shown in the Royal Academy. (Simmons was well-known for engraving the works of Pre-Raphaelite painters like Edward Burne-Jones).

Chris’ uncle Frederick Hollyer (1837-1933) was a member of the Royal Photographic Society. At the time Chris was born, “Fred” lived around the corner in Kentish Town and was experimenting with photography, specifically the platinum printing process (platinotypes). By the 1870s, Hollyer had a studio in Kensington and had established a business making photographic reproductions of well-known artworks. In the 1880s, Hollyer began to reserve Mondays for taking portraits of leading Victorians in the Arts and Crafts Movement and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (such as Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris). Frederick Hollyer’s portraits are in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

City and Guilds Photography Examination

It’s highly probable that Chris trained in photography with his uncle Frederick Hollyer. By the 1880s, Chris was proficient enough to attempt professional qualifications. The City and Guilds of London Institute for the Advancement of Technical Education ran annual technological examinations in Photography. Chris Hollyer took the examinations on Wednesday evening, May 20 1885. The examination results were published in the August 14 1885 issue of The Photographic News, a Weekly Report of the Process of Photography. First Class Ordinary Pass Grade – C.W. Hollyer.

Hollyer was one of only 38 successful students. This was a tough examination. In May 1884, the year before Hollyer took his examinations, 61 candidates entered the examination and 37 passed. (The Photographic News August 8 1884)]

These are the questions from the City and Guilds Photography examination of May 20 1885. (Published in Photographic News May 22 1885)

Photographic Club, London

Chris Hollyer was a member of The Photographic Club in London. The club, established in 1879,  had 74 ordinary members in 1884. Chris’ uncle Frederick Hollyer was an early member of the club (he’s mentioned in 1880 in reference to a talk on the collodion wet plate process) Meetings were held every Wednesday at 8 o’clock at Anderton’s Hotel, Fleet Street. (British Journal of Photography Annual)

On March 3 1886, Mr. C.W. Hollyer was in the chair. Several members who had experimented with seaweed gelatine had found it unsuitable for emulsion work. Hollyer gave a demonstration about where the sun is in photographs: “As he said, no rule could be laid down, but each subject should be studied with reference to its own peculiarities. He thought sufficient attention was not generally paid to this subject. Mr. Hollyer illustrated his remarks with numerous examples. Mr. Bedford agreed with Mr. Hollyer’s remarks and said that many effective pictures had been taken with the sun in front of photographer.”

On October 19 1887, “Mr. C.W. Hollyer exhibited and explained the working of a detective camera of his own manufacture, and also passed around some photographs taken with it.”

“Photographer”

In the 1891 England and Wales Census, Chris gave his occupation as “photographer”. On the date of the census, Chris and his mother were in the spa town, Harrogate, Yorkshire. They appear to be visitors to Harrogate as my search through contemporary town directories did not show Chris Hollyer as a resident photographer. It’s probable that they were in Harrogate for Annie Hollyer’s health, as few weeks after the census, her death was registered in Harrogate.

Also in 1891, Hollyer’s photographic work appeared in print. “This Year’s Art” (A concise epitome of all things relating to painting, sculpture and architecture which have occurred during the year 1891) reproduced a photograph of Bernard Evans, “from a photograph by C.W. Hollyer”.  Bernard Evans, Royal Institute of Painters, was a friend / colleague of the Hollyers from Kentish Town (Chris’ grandfather Samuel Hollyer died while visiting Evans).  

A move to Victoria British Columbia

Sometime around 1895 Hollyer emigrated to British Columbia. (I have not found exactly when or why he moved to Canada). In early 1896, his name first appears in local newspapers as a member of the militia. The 1898 British Columbia Voters List for Victoria City District lists Christopher William Hollyer, Esquimalt Road Victoria West, occupation Photographer. Chris’ work as a professional photographer may have been short-lived (I have seen no other mention of this) and he appears in city directories briefly as a carpenter and then as a clerk at Sayward Lumber Company.

Chris Hollyer worked as a clerk in the office at Sayward Lumber Company. Hollyer is more than likely one of the men in this photograph. The Daily Colonist March 30 1902
Sergeant-Major C.W. Hollyer

Technical abilities in the militia

Chris Hollyer’s main occupation at this time was as a militia man. He was Sergeant-Major in the Fifth Regiment, Canadian Garrison Artillery and Sergeant-Major “A” Company, Royal Canadian Regiment, Special Service 1900-1901. Chris’ militia work intersects with his photography work, as it shows evidence of his technical skills.

June 1896 is the first of many mentions of C.W. Hollyer as prize winner in shooting “spoons” competitions – this suggests good hand/eye coordination and attention to detail.

From February 1 1897 – May 8 1897, Bombardier Christopher William Hollyer attended a course of instruction and on June 30 1897 was awarded a 1st Class Certificate of Military Instruction. These are his scores:

Written 90.5

  • Ammunition 92/100
  • Material and appliances 92/100
  • Gunnery and construction of ordnance 83/100
  • Coast defence 95/100

Practical 88.6

  • Infantry drills 85/100
  • 6 inch B.L. drill 90/100,
  • 6 P.R. QF gun drill maxim 87/100
  • Elementary exercises 45/50
  • P.R.F. 47/50
  • Capacity for imparting instruction 42/50
  • Gun laying and fuse setting 42/50

Snapshots of the Lawries

In the early 1900s, Chris Hollyer continued his photography in an amateur capacity, mainly taking photographs of friends’ social activities. Chris’s membership in the local militia led him to friendship with Al Colby and Henderson Lawrie of Victoria West. From then on, the Lawrie family became constant subjects of Chris’s amateur photography. Chris and Al (and his wife Clara Lawrie) and Henderson (and wife Mary) were active thespians in the Victoria West Amateur Dramatic Society. In the late 1890s, Chris boarded with Henderson’s brother Percy (who became Chris’ best friend for the next 30 years). Stanley Lawrie (also in the militia) had a sailboat and Chris joined him for many trips on the local waters.

Henderson Lawrie, detail from a photo by Chris Hollyer
Stan Lawrie at the helm. Lawrie was an active member of the Victoria Yacht Club. This is one of Hollyer’s many action shots aboard sailboats circa 1905-1910. He probably used a smaller folding portable camera.

In 1902, Percy’s brother Edwin and family moved out from London, and nieces Dorothy and Ivy were constant visitors to the house. From 1908-1918 my great-grandmother Dorothy Lawrie was “housekeeper” to her uncle Percy Lawrie and Chris Hollyer at their home on William Street (and later Suffolk Street) in Victoria West. (The job was apparently fairly easy; according to her daughter she hired a Chinese servant to do the heavy work and she had lots of time for socializing and acting in amateur dramatics.) During this time, Dorothy was a willing “model” in many of Chris’s posed photos – Dorothy in fancy apron and bonnet in a “country” scene or in a fancy dress costume ready for a masquerade.

Chris Hollyer’s hand-tinted glass slide of Dorothy Lawrie in fancy dress circa 1910. City of Victoria Archives Image M09869

Photos submitted to The Camera and Darkroom

In July 1904, Hollyer submitted photos for critique in The Camera and Darkroom, the journal of New York Society of Amateur Photographers. Picture Criticism conducted by Sadakichi Hartmann mentions photos by Chris W. Hollyer:  “‘Indian Clam Seller’ ‘Noontide Heat’ ‘Coming Storm’ and others are all lacking in tone values. Study the successful work of others and you will discover your shortcomings. ‘The Close of Day’ is the best of the lot, but the unpleasant tone of the print mars the effect. Printed on sepia or other warm toned paper this would make a very pleasing picture. The massing of the lights and shadows is all that could be desired.”

Picture Criticism, The Camera and Dark-Room, July 1904

This seems a pretty harsh public critique, but compared to other critiques in the 1904 issues, was quite complementary! The magazine didn’t publish any of Hollyer’s photographs next to the critique, so its not clear if any of the photographs in the glass slides are those that Chris submitted. However, “Indian Clam Seller” could possibly be the following photograph from the slide collection.

In this photograph, an old woman walks on a wooden sidewalk past a picket fence, showing a distinct period of time when the Songhees people were living in Victoria West. At the time Hollyer took this photo, the Songhees Nation was living on a reserve at Songhees Point in Victoria West, which was about to be taken over by the government and subdivided for housing. (The Songhees were moved to a reserve on the other side of Esquimalt). There is another image in Hollyer’s slides showing two Songhees men in a canoe.

Victoria Photographic Society

As a member of the Victoria Photographic Society, Hollyer continued to develop his photography skills. The Victoria Photographic Society was formed in Fall 1907 by A.V. Kenah, formerly of Kodak in London. In Summer 1907, The Daily Colonist ran a weekly Sunday column by Kenah, “The Amateur Photographer”. These articles give a good overview for the reasons of starting a photographic society.

See The Daily Colonist Sunday July 21 1907:  “A photographic society for Victoria?” There surely must be a sufficient number of people in this town, who are interested in photography, to make a success of such a venture, and many people have already spoken to me on the subject, and assured me that if once the idea was properly started, a strong feature could be made of it. I trust that this may be so, as I know from my own experience that a good photographic society is of great benefit to all who take an interest in photography. The idea of such an organization is to stimulate an intelligent appreciation of photography and to bring those who are interested in the subject together for the purposes of mutual help and companionship.”

Chris Hollyer and his friend Al Colby joined – See the Victoria Daily Times August 3 1908  “ …the features of this month’s meeting of the Photographic Society, which was held Friday evening at the residence of Mr. Colby, were the report on the new process of color photography and an illustrated lecture by Mr. Hollyer on portrait work.”

The Photographic Society gave Hollyer the opportunity to interact with leading Victoria photographers. At that same August 1908 meeting, two new members were elected: Frederick Dundas Todd, soon to be author of “Elements of Pictorial Composition” (1910) and “Jack” Savannah, the most fashionable portrait photographer in Victoria.

I haven’t found any further newspaper references to the Photographic Society after 1908 and am unclear whether it disbanded.

From 1916-1919, Chris Hollyer left Victoria, acting as a paymaster with the Canadian military in England. His three years in the “Old Country” would have given him ample opportunity to take new photographs and visit his Uncle Frederick Hollyer’s London studio.

Once he returned to Victoria, he became a member of a new photographic society (The society is referred to by varied names as Amateur Photographic Society and Society of Amateur Photographers) The Society held its first meeting at the Provincial Library on Friday evening, September 3 1920. Chris Hollyer was elected to the executive committee.

By November 1920, the Photographic Society was well underway and mapping out plans for the winter. The Daily Colonist November 4 1920

In January 1921, the first annual exhibition of the amateur photographic society was opened at the Legislative Buildings. Chris Hollyer was on the Exhibition Committee, and also was awarded a prize for a photo (…award given to C. Hollyer for [photo] 61 – judges Miss Kitton, C. Pemberton and F.D. Todd)

Hollyer is mentioned a few times in connection to the photographic society. In April 1921, he was appointed to the Executive Committee and in March 1923 to the Exhibition Committee. He also showed his photos: At the meeting on April 3 1922, “two splendid exhibits were shown, that of portraiture by Mr. Weller, and marine studies by C.W. Hollyer. ”

Camera Jaunts

Hollyer and Photographic Society members went on photo day trips to local nature spots: “Members of the club could be met, carrying their heavy cameras and tripods, hiking over trails and gravel highways in the vicinity of Victoria on their weekly excursions to picture and record the beauties of the day.” (The Daily Colonist November 18 1934). 

Here’s a notice from June 24 1921: “There will be a “camera jaunt” tomorrow. Mr. Butchart has kindly given permission to the society to visit his gardens at Tod Inlet. Trains leave the interurban station at 1:30, 3:30 and 4:30.” The next “camera jaunts” for the summer were to Macauley Point working towards Esquimalt Harbour and Prospect Lake finishing up at the Dominion Observatory, “where Mr. Plaskett has kindly offered to show the party over the observatory.”

Here are photos from Hollyer’s collection showing an early 1900s excursion to Goldstream Park.

Albert Colby on left next to Henderson Lawrie.
The Goldstream Park Bridge.

** Note – See also photos in the City of Victoria Archives by amateur Victoria photographer John Lewis: Item M09052 and Item M09043. Both photos taken between 1895-1905 show photographers and cameras in similar outdoor settings. It’s possible that Lewis was also a part of the same amateur photography club.

Hollyer’s lantern slides

Hollyer turned many of his negatives into glass lantern slides to show on a lantern projector. (Lantern slide shows were common during the early 1900s, see the Victoria newspapers for continual mentions).

There was a skill in creating a good lantern slide, and Hollyer clearly had it — C.W. Hollyer won 1st prize for an amateur landscape and 1st prize for a set of 3 lantern slides at the 1922 Victoria Exhibition at the Willows (Victoria Daily Times September 20 1922) Hollyer also had skill in presenting a good lantern slide show. (Not surprising, since he was an experienced military officer, instructor and an actor). Here is the news item from Victoria Daily Times February 13 1920

Victoria Daily Times February 13 1920

On February 12 1920, Chris Hollyer gave a slideshow on the cathedrals of England at the Island Arts and Crafts Society: “Those members of the Island Arts and Crafts Club who were not present at the lantern lecture given by Christopher Hollyer last night in the clubroom on the Cathedrals, Abbeys and Homes of England and Wales missed a pictorial treat. After the introduction of the lecturer by the president, Mr. Hollyer soon attracted the attention of his large audience by the masterly manner in which he showed the many interesting views at his disposal. The short crisp remarks of the lecturer on the historical and biographical associations of the views was a feature in itself….Large views of clouds, landscape and seascape were also thrown on the screen and heartily appreciated. At the close of the lecture, Mr. Hollyer was accorded a spontaneous expression of thanks by a standing vote of all of the members present.”

Later, at the May 1 1922 meeting, the special subject for the evening was “A Trip Through the Old Country” illustrated with lantern slides by Mr. C.W. Hollyer.”

It’s probable that Hollyer’s slide images came from his travels in England during WWI, though he may have also purchased sets of slides, like the Cathedrals, while over there. The “large views of clouds, landscape and seascapes were definitely his own images, though, as there are many “cloud / seascape” images in the glass slide collection.

Note — Hollyer seems to have been considered a well-known artist. A notice about the 1919 annual meeting of the Island Arts and Crafts Society indicated that “ladies and gentlemen prominent (my emphasis) in art work will lecture to members throughout the coming months.”)

“A well-known and well-respected citizen of Victoria for the past forty-two years…”

In 1930, Hollyer’s long-time friend Percy Lawrie died. Dorothy (Lawrie) Warner inherited the house on Suffolk Street and moved in with her children Dick and Barbara. Through the 1930s, Chris Hollyer remained busy with amateur theatricals, but his eyesight for detail work was failing. The Warner kids helped him with his stamp collection and with photo developing. “Uncle Chris” left a positive impression on the kids – in 2010, Barbara (and cousin Dale Sutherland) still remembered him as “a really nice man.”

In February 1938, friends were shocked when Chris Hollyer suddenly died during routine surgery. He was only 71 and a half years, and with a family longevity well into the 90s, he may have had many more years of creative contribution in the Victoria community. His funeral took place “in the presence of many sorrowing friends. The profusion of floral tributes which were banked around the casket bore testimony of the high regard in which Mr. Hollyer was held.” (The Daily Colonist February 22 1938)

Hollyer’s lantern slide projector and boxes of over 200 glass slides were left in the Suffolk Street house. In the 1950s, Dick’s kids (my dad and uncle) used to have fun running slide shows. When Dorothy Lawrie sold the house in the 1960s, Dick took the projector and slides. They eventually made their way to his garage in Comox BC, where they were discovered after his death in 2010. The lantern projector and slides were donated to the City of Victoria Archives in early 2011. A few of the slides have been digitized and appear on the Archives’ online collection (search for “Hollyer”).