Genealogical research on the Valentine family reveals confirmed portrait of Agnes Forbes Blackadder Savill

In the 1970s, the Department of Special Collections took in the vast archive of the commercial photographic company known as Valentines of Dundee. This internationally renowned firm was started by James Valentine in 1851 and prospered both nationally and internationally under the management of several generations of the Valentine family. The collection consists of over 120,000 prints, negatives, albums, educational and popular lantern slides and various other media. Because of its diverse representation of Scottish and more broadly British subjects, it stands out as one of our most frequently researched photographic collections.

James Valentine began his career as lithographer, printer and stationer. He studied photography in the 1840s and by 1855 photography formed a major part of the family business. James was a founding member of the Edinburgh Photographic Society and his landscape photography was highly regarded, leading to his obtaining Royal patronage in 1868 when Queen Victoria commissioned forty highland scenes and appointed him Photographer to the Queen. From their Dundee base the firm steadily grew to become a global operation with branches throughout Britain, the United States, Canada, South Africa, Norway and New Zealand. In 1897 the Valentine company went into postcard production. It is often the postcards, greetings cards, calendars and popular topographical albums for which Valentines is chiefly remembered. What is frequently overlooked is that the majority of these mass-produced reproductions were based on traditional photographic processes, many of which remain preserved in our archive.

Photographs of some of the Valentine workshops, from A Visit to Valentines: impressions of a pressman by Norval Scrymgeour (c. 1920).

Beyond this intrinsic connection to St Andrews due to photography, the Valentine family has an additional link to the university. Easton Smith Valentine (1868-1940), younger son of James, gained his M.A. degree at the University of St Andrews, became an English examiner at the Universities of St Andrews and Glasgow, and then went on to become Head of the English Department at Dundee High School. Whilst pursuing a distinguished career as an educator and scholar, he cemented his role within the wider local community by authoring books and journals on English grammar, poetry and geographies, including Fifeshire, Forfarshire and his Handbook and Guide to Dundee and district.

Easton S. Valentine and his family. Evangeline Valentine, the oldest daughter of Easton, (who would marry Thomas Blackadder, below) is standing at the centre of this portrait.

Pursuing more far reaching aspirations, in 1906 Easton Valentine successfully campaigned for the establishment of The English Association. It was founded by a small group of English teachers and scholars who wished to “further knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of the English language and its literatures and to foster good practice in its teaching and learning at all levels.” A remark made by Arundell Esdaile, recorded in the Association’s centenary publication, highlights Valentine’s involvement in this group:

“It is no unique paradox that the English Association … traces its first conception to a Scotchman”

The Scottish branch was established in 1907, representing a diverse membership that included educators and scholars, clergymen, civil servants, librarians, and writers such as Andrew Lang of St Andrews.

A portrait of the Blackadder family, taken December 1907 in Broughty Ferry. From left to right: Thomas Blackadder, Helen Blackadder, Robert Blackadder, Robin Blackadder, David Blackadder, Agnes Savill (née Blackadder), Agnes Blackadder (née Sturrock), Henry Blackadder and Willie Blackadder.

Our interest in the Valentine family was piqued recently when a descendent of Easton Valentine contacted us from New York regarding genealogical research. In her correspondence she attached some rather exciting family photographs featuring her grandmother Evangeline, along with her siblings, mother and father, Easton Smith Valentine (at top of post). These family photographs are doubly exciting as they shed light not only on the Valentine family but also on the extremely important aspect of the University’s history with regards to women. The researcher’s grandmother, Evangeline, married Thomas Blackadder, a chemist from nearby Broughty Ferry, Dundee, whose sister was Agnes Forbes Blackadder (Savill), the first woman to graduate from the University of St Andrews. Until now, the university was not in possession of a photograph which we could use to positively identify our first female graduate. So, when these images of the Blackadder family arrived, we were very happy indeed! She is seen here with her family at their Broughty Ferry home.

A close-up of Agnes Savill (née Blackadder).

Coincidentally, a recent student poll as part of the University of St Andrews’ 600th centenary celebrations revealed Agnes Forbes Blackadder to be the most popular choice in the renaming of New Hall residence. Agnes Forbes Blackadder Savill (1875-1964), received her MA degree from St Andrews on 29 March 1895 then forged a distinguished career as a surgeon.

We are delighted to feature these newly found photographs here and to be able to finally reveal a confirmed portrait of this important woman.

Pam Cranston

Photographic Research and Preservation Officer

2 responses to “Genealogical research on the Valentine family reveals confirmed portrait of Agnes Forbes Blackadder Savill

  1. It is great to have a confirmed identification of Agnes Savill (nee Blackadder) in such a wonderful photograph.

    The best biographical source I have found for information about her is the one Pam highlights – the University of Glasgow story site which gives details of alumni – see http://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/ww1-biography/?id=1458. As it says there, Agnes Savill was active in the Scots Hospital at Royaumont during the First World War, although I thought I remembered from Eileen Crofton’s ‘The Women of Royaumont: a Scottish Women’s Hospital on the Western Front ‘ (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1997) that she wasn’t present in France for very much of the war; rather she visited, set up the radiography unit, and returned on regular occasions from her normal job in the hospital in London – it must have been a hazardous journey.

    In another tribute to this splendid lady, alongside the renaming of New Hall in her honour, the group of women associated with the University of St Andrews and who formerly gathered as the University Ladies’ Club are now the ‘Agnes Savill Club’. It is as Agnes Savill that she achieved her fame – but, perhaps fittingly, the hall of residence pays tribute to the name under which she graduated from St Andrews (MA 1895).

  2. Agnes married my relative M.D. Thomas Dixon Savill.
    he too excelled in many medical areas-and wrote books on the subjects.
    He lost his life from a horse riding accident in Algeria while they
    holidayed in 1910.
    How proud he would have been of this dedication to Agnes.

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