Alphonse-Eugène-Jules Itier (8 April 1802, Paris–1877), an officer of the French Customs Office, captured the earliest extant daguerreotype of Singapore in1844 while he was passing through in July that year, en-route to China as part of a French trade mission.
On the heels of England’s Treaty of Nanking signed in 1842, then King Louis Philippe of France sent an envoy to China in December 1843 to negotiate a commercial treaty with the Chinese. Headed by M. Theodose de Lagrene, the Lagrene mission as it became known, included Jules Itier who served as a French customs officer. Itier had joined the French Customs Office around 1819 and was actively involved with the scientific community in the 1830s and 1840s. He was introduced to photography in 1840 soon after its invention and took some of the earliest known daguerreotype photographs during his many travels to Africa, the West Indies and the East. Accounts of Itier’s journey and photographs of Asia, including the trade mission’s visit to Singapore, were published in Journal d’un voyage en Chine en 1843, 1844, 1845 et 1848.
The French trade mission arrived in Singapore on 3 July 1844 in three French warships, remaining for two weeks before departing on 16 July. The members of the trade mission lodged at Gaston Dutronquoy’s London Hotel at No. 3 Coleman Street. Dutronquoy ran a photographic studio within the hotel that allowed Itier to have access to the chemicals required for developing his daguerreotypes. As honoured guests, the members of the trade mission were taken on a tour of Singapore island, even venturing into the “interior places” such as Bukit Timah and Serangoon. The envoy M. Theodose de Lagrene was introduced to a number of local dignitaries such as Joseph Balestier, the US First Consul; Jose d’Almeida, the Portuguese Consul; and Aime Rivoire, the French Consul. Itier had the privilege of receiving a personal invitation from Elliot, then director of the Magnetic Observatory, who noting his guest’s interest in plants and geology, brought him to survey the island. Itier took photographs of Singapore as part of his report to reflect the extent of business on the island.
One of the images Itier captured was a panoramic view of Boat Quay along the Singapore River taken from Government Hill. It is the oldest known surviving photograph of Singapore. The image is laterally reversed, as all daguerreotypes are. This photograph, together with another later photograph of the same view taken in 1886, was offered to the National Museum in 1994 at a cost of S$60,000 by Lu Chisen, son of Lu Yaw, a consultant curator at the Lee Kong Chian Art Museum. The younger Lu had purchased the two photographs from the Itier family sometime in the early 1990s.
Another of Itier’s daguerreotype of Singapore and described in his book was taken from the altar of the Thian Hock Keng Temple on Telok Ayer Street, capturing the view through the main door. However, the whereabouts of this actual photograph is unknown.
Itier is considered the most widely travelled of the early daguerreotype photographers. He is credited with being the first to photograph the scenery of far-flung places such as Canton (now known as Guangzhou) and Macau in 1844 as well as the Ramses mortuary complex in Egypt. Other early daguerreotypes of Southeast Asia made by Itier include views of Borneo, Manila and South Vietnam dated around 1845. Itier’s daguerreotype works were rediscovered only in the 1980s.
1. Pilon, M., & Weiler, D. (2011). The French in Singapore: An illustrated history (1819–today) (p. 38). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. Call no.: RSING 305.84105957 PIL.
2. Pilon & Weiler, 2011, p. 36; Falconer, J. (1987). A vision of the past: A history of early photography in Singapore and Malaya: The photographs of G. R. Lambert & Co., 1880–1910. G. Liu (Ed.) (p. 9). Singapore: Times Editions. Call no.: RSING 779.995957 FAL.
3. Hannavy, J. (2008). Itier, Alphonse-Eugène-Jules (pp. 758–759). In J. Hannavy (Ed.), Encyclopedia of nineteenth-century photography (Vol. 1). New York: Routledge. Retrieved August 19, 2014, from http://home.fa.utl.pt/~cfig/Bibliografia/Extras/Fotografia/Enciclopedia%20of%20the%2019th%20Century%20Photography.pdf
4. The J. Paul Getty Trust. (n. d.). Artists – Jules Itier. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from the J. Paul Getty Museum website: http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artMakerDetails?maker=1699
5. Hannavy, 2008, p. 758.
6. The J. Paul Getty Trust, n. d.
7. Itier, J. (1848). Journal d’un voyage en Chine en 1843, 1844, 1845 et 1848 (Vol. 1, pp. 200–205). Paris: Dauvin et Fontaine. Retrieved August 19, 2014 from Bibliotheca Sinica website: http://www.univie.ac.at/Geschichte/China-Bibliographie/blog/2013/09/03/itier-journal-dun-voyage-en-chine-en-1843-1844-1845-1846/; Falconer, 1987, pp. 9-10.
8. The Free Press. (1844, July 4) The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertisements (1835–1869), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. The Free Press. (1844, July 18) The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertisements (1835–1869), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Toh, J. (2009). Singapore through 19th century photographs (p. 14). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. Call no.: RSING 959.5703 TOH-[HIS].
11. The Free Press, 18 Jul 1844, p. 3.
12. Pilon & Weiler, 2011, p. 38; Balestier – first US Consul to S’pore. (2005, December 29). The Straits Times, p. 28; Davies, D. (1956, April 1). The first d’Almeida in Singapore. The Straits Times, p. 12; Page 1 Advertisements Column 1 (Belgian Consulate). (1844, November 7). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Pilon & Weiler, 2011, p. 39.
14. Ho, S. B. (1994, September 4). Museum seeks funds. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from Newspaper SG.
15. Ho, S. B. (1994, September 4). What’s in an old photo? The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ho, The Straits Times, 4 Sep 1994, p. 7.
16. The Straits Times, 4 Sep 1994, p. 7.
17. Falconer, 1987, pp. 10–11; Toh, 2009, pp. 14–15; Itier, 1848, Vol 1, p. 211.
18. Lowry, B., & Lowry, I. B. (1998). The silver canvas: Daguerreotype masterpieces from the J. Paul Getty Museum (p. 34). Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum. Retrieved August 19, 2014, from Google Books website: http://books.google.com.sg/books?id=d-80AgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
19. Ghesquière, J. (2008). Societies, groups, institutions and exhibitions in Asia (excluding India) (p. 1283). In J. Hannavy (Ed.), Encyclopedia of nineteenth-century photography (Vol. 1). New York: Routledge. Retrieved August 19, 2014, from
20. Lowry & Lowry, 1998, p. 34.
21. Newton, G. (2008). South-east Asia: Malaya, Singapore, and Philippines (pp. 1314, 1315) and Newton, G. (2008). South-east Asia: Thailand, Burma, and Indochina (Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos) (p. 1316). In J. Hannavy (Ed.), Encyclopedia of nineteenth-century photography (Vol. 1). New York: Routledge. Retrieved August 19, 2014, from http://home.fa.utl.pt/~cfig/Bibliografia/Extras/Fotografia/Enciclopedia%20of%20the%2019th%20Century%20Photography.pdf
22. Lowry & Lowry, 1998, p. 215.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.