Detail: Ilan Dun from the Village, showing the cragsmen of St Kilda (NRS: GD41/598)

Sir Thomas Dick Lauder was an administrator in manufacturing and fisheries during the 1840s, required to travel extensively around Scotland’s coasts. In his journeys, he sketched detailed scenes of the coastlines and fishing villages he visited.

NRS Conservator Jackie Thorburn has been telling us about striking and interesting items from our archives that she’s been working on. Today, she shares excerpts from one of Sir Thomas’s sketchbooks and tells us how she stabilised and preserved this fascinating record of one man’s working life….

Condition and treatment

This is one of twenty five sketchbooks that Thomas Dick-Lauder produced during his voyages around the British coastline, made between June 1841 & August 1846.

This particular volume – number four in the series and measuring 180 x 265 x 17mm – covers the period from 5 July to 3 August 1841. It contains forty eight pen & ink drawings of the area extending from the Isle of Lewis in the south to John O’Groats in the north, and it includes several images of St Kilda. It was in such poor condition that full cataloguing could not proceed without treatment.

The degree of mould damage meant that the sewing structure had collapsed. I decided to remove the binding from the text block, revealing the true extent of the damage. The paper folios were discoloured, very fragile & many were blocked together. I separated these whilst dry, as the paper was extremely ‘soft’ & the introduction of moisture was therefore not an option. I was also unable to test the solubility of the media.

Very gently, I eased the folios apart using a Teflon spatula and subsequently removed the remnants of the sewing thread. There were six sewing holes on each section fold. Once separated, the folios were housed in temporary paper folders, labelled to show their location within the book.

Although the paper was in very poor condition, the ink was quite strong: black in appearance and without any apparent surface gloss. Testing indicated that it was carbon based rather than iron gall. The ink was insoluble when tested with a 50: 50 mixture of alcohol and warm water but there was a pronounced movement of discolouration through the paper. This persuaded me that the folios should be washed in order to reduce this soluble discolouration, and this treatment and subsequent drying would also improve the flexibility of the paper. Extensive areas of mould mycelia were also visible across many folios, marring the image. I removed this using a small brush dipped in alcohol inside a fume cupboard.

I sprayed the folios with the  50:50 mixture and placed them on a stack of dampened blotter, and movement of discolouration was seen through the blotter stack. Each folio was ‘blotter washed’ in this way for a total of twenty minutes. They were then repaired using Japanese tissues & wheat starch paste. After treatment each folio ‘felt’ much stronger & more flexible than before.

Detail of Dunvegan Castle, before treatment
Detail of Loch Shell, Lewis, before treatment
Ilan Dun, before treatment
Text block, before treatment
Detail of Dunvegan Castle, after treatment
Detail of Loch Shell, Lewis, after treatment
Ilan Dun, after treatment
Text block, after treatment

I folded the folios to reform sections and were re-sewn on archival tapes using the original sewing holes. New endpapers & guard sheets were made up from sheets of Greenwich handmade paper. Finally, the text block was fitted into a new case binding made up from 2mm Gemini board and covered with Zaanch Bord (Antraceit) paper.  

Background and further interest

Sir Thomas Dick Lauder (1784-1848), was appointed Secretary to The Board of Manufacturers & Fisheries in Scotland in 1839, and later to the Board of British White Herring Fishery. As such, he was obliged to undertake an annual voyage of inspection around the British coast to examine places of export.

During the three month trip aboard the government cutter ‘Princess Royal’ recorded within the sketchbook, he was accompanied by the naturalist James Wilson and the pair gathered sufficient material to publish a narrative – ‘A Voyage round the coast of Scotland & the Isles’ – a year later.

This particular voyage not only filled a sketchbook and a publication but it also solved a dilemma which came to light later that same year. St Kilda had been missed off the 1841 census. Wilson reported in a footnote to his publication that:

“We were surprised to find that although the census or enumeration of the inhabitants of the whole kingdom had been recently taken up, poor St Kilda had not even been regarded as belonging to the British dominions. No one there had ever heard of the census, & no schedule had been sent to the minister from any quarter. We shall supply the deficiency by the following list of inhabitants up to August 1841. … the whole of the male sex who have attained to & have not passed the prime of life, are what we may call practical ornithologists, or cragsmen”.

‘The St Kilda cragsmen exhibiting over a cliff 800 feet high’.

Amongst the 105 names recorded by Wilson’s in his list of 1841, one entry in particular caught my attention:

“Euphemia Macrimmon, an old maid & her niece”.  

Housed within the NRS is GD492/12, an album of photographs largely produced in 1860 by Cpt F. W. L. Thomas R. N, of H.M.S. Porcupine. Here, once again Euphemia is recorded, but this time her likeness is captured:

‘Effie Mackinnon, a reverend St Kildean spinster of 80′.

This is a direct link from an early ‘census’ to some of the earliest photographs of the inhabitants of those islands with a sketchbook full of some of the earliest drawings, all of which are in the care of NRS – a happy chance finding!

You can find out more about the inhabitants of St Kilda in our records here on the NRS website.

This blog was produced with the kind permission of the Dick Lauder family.

3 thoughts on “Conservation of a Sketchbook

  1. Jackie, what a lovely piece! Not sure if I’m nostalgic for the times…or the Conservation studio. probably both.


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