David Octavius Hill lived from 1802 to May 1870. He was an artist who went on to help pioneer many aspects of photography in Scotland. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
David Octavius Hill was born in 1802 in Perth. His father was a bookseller and publisher who had helped re-establish Perth Academy: and David and his brothers were educated there. His older brother later went to work at a publishers in Edinburgh, and David went to stay with him and study at the School of Design. He achieved success early when the Institution for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland exhibited a number of his landscape paintings of Perthshire. In 1829 he helped found the Scottish Academy with his friend, Henry Cockburn.
From 1930 he moved into the production of illustrations for books, most notable providing illustrations for editions of the works of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. From 1836 he worked as Secretary to the Royal Scottish Academy and the following year he married Ann Macdonald. She, however, fell ill after the birth of their daughter and subsequently died.
Hill was present at the "Disrupution" Church of Scotland Assembly in 1843, during which 450 ministers walked out to form the Free Church of Scotland. He decided to record the event in a large painting that eventually emerged in 1866. More importantly, however, he was assisted in capturing the likenesses of the church ministers involved in the disruption, by pioneer photographer Robert Adamson, using a technique only invented four years earlier.
The pair realised that here was a tool with far wider applications. With Hill proving an expert in lighting and composition, and Adamson handling the camera, they formed a partnership that over the five years from 1843 to 1848 would capture 3,000 ground-breaking images of Scotland. They photographed a range of landscapes and urban scenes, including images of the Scott Monument under construction in Edinburgh. They were also very good at photographing ordinary working folk, particularly fishermen and fishwives, and "action" photographs of soldiers.
Adamson died in 1848, and Hill returned to painting and illustrating. In 1862 he married his second wife, the sculptress Amelia Paton, and did much to further her artistic career. He returned to photography in the 1860s, and finally completed his painting of the Disruption - to great acclaim - in 1866. £1,200 was raised by public subscription to buy the painting for the Free Church of Scotland. He died in May 1870.