Photographer. New York 1870 - Cape Town 20.11.1938. An orphan from the age of 12, he earned his living in Scotland before coming to South Africa, aged nearly 20, and tried various odd jobs in Johannesburg, including that of scene-painter and production manager to Luscombe Searelle. He also brought the first phonograph to the Transvaal and played it to President Kruger. Arriving in Cape Town as a South African War refugee in 1900, he took to photography, which became his life-work. A plaque at 134 Long Street indicates where this modest bachelor lived frugally and worked without stint for 32 years to record the passing scene. His intense love of South African history and Cape Dutch architecture is expressed in his 10 000 photographs, which form an unrivalled pictorial record of the early 20th century at the Cape. Major exhibitions of his work were held in 1910 (for which Theal wrote the historical notes), 1913 (the catalogue again compiled by Theal, with FK KENDALL's classic essay on Cape architecture), 1926 (with introduction by Sir George Cory), 1930 (the largest, arranged by W. R. Morrison) and 1938 (the catalogue edited by Victor de Kock). Educationists, historians and architects in particular value Elliott's pictures, many of which, especially those of farm-houses and other old buildings, have become irreplaceable. His most popular photograph was 'The sandpipers', which went round the world. During his lifetime only a portfolio of his photographs for the use of schools was published, but 1969 saw the publication of 162 of his best pictures of farmsteads and historic buildings, with valuable text by Hans FRANSEN. Shortly before Elliott's death he offered his collection to the Government for £5 000, but this was turned down. Eventually, in 1946, the main Elliott Collection, acquired for the Historical Monuments Commission six years before by means of contributions totaling a mere £2 525 [R5 050], was presented to the Cape Archives by the Government, which had itself contributed £1 000 [R2 000] to the purchase price. The Administration of the Cape Province added the same sum and the City Council of Cape Town £500 [R1 000]. A further thousand photographs in WR Morrison's collection were added later.
(Lighton in SESA, Vol. 4, 1974: 294-5).
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These notes were last edited on 2020 05 15
All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.
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