William Daniell's journeys around Skye, Raasay and the Moray Coast in 1815
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The Northern Times, July 2014
This is the second book by John Garvey about the 19th Century Royal Academician William Daniell. His first one, "William Daniell's Isle of Skye and Raasay" published in 2009 was described by one critic as "....an unexpected joy. It is simply an absorbing, original and beautiful book." One can rightly say the same of this his second book, "William Daniell's Inverness and the Moray Firth".
John Garvey is an Invernessian, educated at Inverness Royal Academy. He went on to Glasgow University to study Physics and from there to Oxford. Finally he moved to Birmingham University to become Professor of Particle Physics. On his retirement from the scientific life, he began his research into the life and work of Daniell, whose work had fascinated him from the time he discovered original aquatints in the late 1960s.
Particularly fascinating in Chapter Two is the description of the aquatint process and the challenges it gave to Daniell, the delicacy of the technique required is illustrated by prints and examples of magnified detail. That the history of the area has had an influence on what Daniell found on his journey from Thurso to Banff is also amply illustrated often in Daniell's own words.
"Caithness is the county of castles" an apt description of the coastal area from Thurso "snug within Thurso Bay" to Navidale "a bridgehead of Christian enlightenment in a dark and turbulent land". These succinct descriptions occur again and again throughout the whole book. The castles in all their starkness, but with subtlety of tint, are contrasted with modern colour photographs, thriving 19th century areas, juxtaposed with their present day ruins or in some instances restored buildings. On reaching Berriedale the writer makes this observation, "Daniell's next point of interest is Berriedale about 10 miles south of Dunbeath. He seems to give a verbal sigh of relief when he emerges from the line of Caithness castles into more scenic surroundings!"
The author comments, "Daniell's print of Helmsdale is a very beautiful one. It contains such a wealth of detail. The sketch for this aquatint was made by Daniell in August 1815, when the transformation of Helmsdale from a tiny village into a thriving fishing port was just under way." Here too there is another little gem of information. Daniell stayed at Crackaig and was given a pony by Major Clunes to journey to Dunrobin Castle. The print shows the castle with quite a substantial harbour and it does look, "a very impressive edifice." However as locals know the pier was washed away in a storm in fairly recent times and the foreshore between here and Golspie is under attack from the sea. From Dunrobin he travelled south to Dornoch, where the illustration known to many from Bentinck's book, shows the dominant position of the cathedral and the castle. The Bonar Bridge print is described as "a wonderful restful print." which it undoubtedly is. From Bonar, the journey continues south to the Black Isle, Inverness and the Moray Coast.
The perceptive way in which the author enlarges the details which show the observation and execution of that detail by Daniell shows the thoroughness of his research and adds significantly to the enjoyment of the reader, whether it is the illustration of the boat at Burghead, fisherwomen on the quay at Nairn,the washerwomen on the riverside in Inverness, a sailing boat at Fortrose or the movement of the rowing boat upriver in the print of Bonar Bridge. As readers we are reminded time and again throughout the book of the subtlety of the aquatint process. "What impresses is the naturalness of the aquatint print", "The colours in the print are soft and delicate. The Black Isle and Ben Wyvis sit comfortable in the distance" are but two examples.
Throughout the book from start to finish the reader is made aware of the history of Caithness through Sutherland to the Moray Coast. The Picts, the Norse, the feuding clans, the '45 rebellion, the genealogies of the main families, the Clearances, the Covenanters all played a part in the country depicted by Daniell.
John Garvey concludes with the following words. "The aquatints reproduced in this book were not completed and published until June 1821. For instance the time elapsed between his sketch of Duff House and his completion of the aquatint, was probably 5 years! It is remarkable how much detail must have been retained in his sketches, and how accurate they must have been in all aspects of the view, to allow such wonderful prints to be made." He has written a very enjoyable, accessible book which covers in particular, a part of the north country often missed by those who follow the well trodden west coast tourist trail!
This book like his previous one on Skye has been self-published and is priced at £20. There is a web-site for the book www.daniell-on-the-moray-coast.com. Books signed by the author can be obtained from the website.