D.O. Hill’s daughter Chattie is best known from the iconic portrait taken near the start of her father’s partnership with Robert Adamson, but we have very few further calotype images of her (calotyping was too expensive for regular ‘family shapshots’) .
All we know from the playful letters, notes and sketches her father made for her, is that she remained central to his busy life and that her early death marked the beginning of his declining years.
When I was talking to other Hill and Adamson fans last year in St Andrews, one long-time aficionado exclaimed ‘Poor Chattie!’ and a collective sigh went up in recognition of a father’s grief and a young life snuffed out to soon.
Of course in historical fiction, the less we know about someone the easier it can be to incorporate them into the story we want to tell, and I’ve been thinking for a while that Chattie’s voice could be a useful vehicle for her father’s story if only because she provides a unifying thread, from the ‘Adamson years’ through the 1850’s, when she and D. O. shared Rock House with his sister Mary and an extended family of cousins. This was also when D. O. Hill grew particularly close to the artist Joseph Noel Paton, an alliance that would have repercussions on D.O.’s personal and professional life.
Next week I’m reading the beginning of a story set in 1854 when Chattie would have been fifteen and attending the first ever Edinburgh school for young ladies. By now she is old enough to take a view on her and her father’s situation. I wonder what she made of it all, and what D. O. made of her? I imagine her confident, articulate and well brought up. But we all know how teenagers can jump to conclusions …
If you’d like to hear my version of the (not so poor) Chattie, Novel Nights is taking place on Wednesday Jan 25th in its new venue at The Berkeley Square Hotel, Bristol at 8pm.
Several other local writers will be reading their work and there is a talk by historical fiction expert Celia Brayfield (also mentioned here).
Don’t forget to get your ticket in advance.
Looks like a lovely venue. I think Chattie will be in her element!
*Calotype of Chattie Hill by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, Scottish National Galleries collection https://art.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/42236/112194?overlay=download