Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Alexander Gardener - The Man From Paisley, Scotland

Alexander Gardener was born in Paisley, Scotland, 1821.  As was the case for most teens, he became an apprentice.  Gardener began working for a jeweler at the age of fourteen.  He attended school in the evening at the Glasgow Athenaeum.  Photography caught his interest, especially the wet-plate process and he became an expert.   Gardener also became a socialist and supported Chartism, as did Alan Pinkerton.  He was active in attacks against capitalism.

He was also interested in a colony called Clydesdale located in the "wilderness of Iowa."  I did a goggle search for more information about the Clydesdale colony, but found nothing.  I never actually thought of Iowa as being a wilderness but maybe it was in the 1800's. Perhaps some of our readers can help. Gardener had watched many of his friends and relatives go to the "Utopia" in America and he intended to join them.

In the Spring of 1856, Gardener immigrated to the United States with his mother, his wife Margaret, and two children.  But, they did not go to Iowa instead he settled with his family in New York.  The colony had been devastated by tuberculosis including his sister Jesse Sinclair and her husband.  Matthew Brady an internationally known portrait photographer had paid their fare and invited Gardener to be his partner.

When the Civil War began in 1861, Brady was appointed the official photographer of the Union armies.  Gardener set off to the battlefields with a wagon as a darkroom, to record the war.  He was at the Battle of Antietam where 20,000 were left dead or wounded.  At Gettysburg, he recorded scenes which shocked America including his famous picture the "Death of a Rebel Sniper."

Along the way, he met a fellow Scot, Allan Pinkerton, who was the head of the Secret Service and bodyguard of Abraham Lincoln. They had much in common and so became friends. Gardener was a "quiet, dour intelligent man (much like Pinkerton) who wished to make his name as a photographer."  However, all the pictures he took were credited to Matthew Brady and so Gardener left to establish his own business.  His two volume book "Gardener's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War" is today considered a photographic masterpiece.  At the time it was a commercial failure.

In Washington, he ran a portrait gallery and also compiled the first "rogues gallery" for the Washington police and Allan Pinkerton.   He also recorded the progress of the Union Pacific Railway across the plains of Kansas and Texas.  But, his most important client was President Abraham Lincoln.  Five days before his death the President visited Gardener's portrait gallery and had a series of pictures taken.   They were the last pictures of the beloved President.

Alexander Gardener was a remarkable man from Paisley.  He died in Washington, D.C. in 1882 and is buried among America's heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.

1 comment:

  1. I have just been informed that the Colony was close to Monona, Clayton County, Iowa. A check on the Internet shows the town of Monona is just across the Mississippi. In the history of Monona nothing is said about the Colony.