Thomas was born in 1834, a twin with his brother James. Like his brothers and most men around Fyvie, Thomas started to work on the farm. However, when he was about 28 years old, just married, his oldest child recently born, Thomas left farm work and started a business as a photographer. He was one of the first local photographers who took advantage of improvements in photographic materials, particularly the small carte de visite pictures. This brought down the price and made having a photograph taken accessible and affordable for ordinary people. Thomas was taking a risk: he was an entrepreneur. He would have had to teach himself the science necessary to operate the camera optics and to process the glass-plate negatives and make the prints. With no electricity for spotlights or flash, or for making photographic prints, the photographer was dependant on daylight. So the very stiffly posed photographs of this era would probably have been taken in what we would call a conservatory. Even in this light, exposure times would be in seconds necessitating the very stiff poses – and the situation would be worse in winter.
Thomas must have overcome these difficulties since photography was his occupation for about 30 years, during which time he and his wife brought up 11 children. A verse from a poem about Fyvie records the end of his time as a photographer.
A baker, a butcher, a smiddy, that’s a’
They aince had a photographer, noo he’s awa’.
He aince had guid hopes but very soon saw
There was little tae tak’ aboot Fyvie.
Look at some examples of carte de visite photographs.
Thomas was also a gardener and was very successful with his entries in the Fyvie Flower Show, frequently winning prizes, especially for his garden peas. He not only grew peas but also bred new varieties. Letters discovered in the Fyvie Heritage Centre show that he corresponded with the Suttons seed company and offered them seed of his varieties, hoping that they would be good enough to introduce in their catalogue – and pay him for them. Searches in the Sutton archive have not found any information about the outcome of his correspondence.