James Rae
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James Rae (1825 - 1890) - Photographer

James Rae?

Possible photo of James Rae

James Rae was born on the 17th July 1825 at Holywood, Scotland, a village three and a half miles NW of Dumfries. In 1848 at the age of 23, he was employed as a policeman on the new Caledonian Railway, the year they opened the route between Edinburgh and Glasgow. With the security of his new job he was able to marry Miss Margaret Blackstock of Old Monkland, Lanark, Scotland, on the 28th May 1848. His son James was born the following year (1849), then Peter (1851), and Rachel (1856).

Rae seems to have been involved in photography from about the beginning of the Cartes de visite (CDV's) boom, probably starting in business in 1859 or 1860. He was already describing himself as a photographic artist in the census of 1861 and was living with his wife and his three children at 45 Shakespeare St, Dumfries.

His photographic studio was in Dumfries where he produced CDV portraits and local scenes. His early CDV's were printed with a stag logo and 'RAE, photographer, Dumfries' and 'copies may be had'. He advertised for business in the local papers, including the Dumfries and Galloway Standard of 1st May 1862, from which we find that cartes de visite were sold for three shillings for the first copy, and one shilling thereafter. It is likely that Rae made a considerable amount of money from the boom period of the early 1860s when studios are reported to have taken 8000 to 12000 a year in London. Sales of CDVs took a downturn during 1864 and he may have decided that he should diversify.

Rae had a good business sense, he went into the railways when that was the latest boom, got in on the photograph boom of the 1860s, and on the 6th July 1868 he started a new venture - he opened a billiard hall. The night of the grand opening, the billiard match was between Mr Roberts 'Champion of the World' and Mr Herst 'The Champion of Scotland'. The showmanship in all this shows that Rae was also a bit of a character!

Three years later in 1871 he had moved house to Stonewall Place, Dumfries, and no longer living with his wife and children, instead he lived with his niece Jane Aitchison who acted as his housekeeper, and his nephew, William who worked for Rea as a billiard marker. Rae recorded his profession in the census of 1871 as a 'professional photographer'.

He had a particular liking for Robert Burns, and on the 24th August 1878 made the huge donation of five guineas towards the construction of a statue of Burns, it still stands in the centre of Dumfries. An advertising CDV * from this period shows scenes of the major buildings of Dumfries and a portrait of Burns, and possibly one of Rae himself. This card was made to fit on page 1, in a slot in a CDV album, sold by Rae in one of his studios, the wording says:

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot,

And Never Brought to Mind,

While I've an Album to Contain,

The Friends of 'Auld Lang Syne'

Then Cie's ye're 'Carte'

My Trusty Friend

And Here's a 'Carte' O'Mine,

We'll Fill Our Albums to the End

Wi the Friends of Auld Lang Syne


By the time of the next census, 1881, Rae had left Dumfries to live in Jersey, he took with him his niece Jane Aitchison, where he would have taken a lease on a house. His wife Margaret, now lived alone in the High Street, Dumfries. Rae probably gave up the running of the photographic business at this time and may have taken early retirement - he was 56, or he may have had health problems and gone to a better climate.

Rea died aged 64 on the 23rd of February 1890, at Nithsdale House, Jersey. He was described as a 'retired photographer'. His Scottish estate went to his niece Jane Aitchison , it was valued at over 2000, a considerable sum at the time. There was no mention of any property in Jersey.

His son James Rae (b.1849) followed his father's railway interest and became the Manager of the Drypool and Marfleet Steam Tramways Company in Hull. * Many of the photographs shown on the advertising "carte" are published in a book of historical scenes of Dumfries – and still obtainable at the tourist office (see the carte on the previous page). Constructed by Roger Vaughan using information from James Rae's descendant James Dent - many thanks.

Addition 2012 by contributor Ian Moonie - thanks

James Rae is listed in Hudson Scott's 1858 Directory of Carlisle as, photographic artist, Normans Place, Stanwix [now in Carlisle, but before 1912 a village outside the city]. As Rachel Rae was born, in the Carlisle registration district, in the March qtr. 1856 it is evident that the James Rae, living in Stanwix, was the same person as the person described in your biography.

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