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Welcome to the Johnston Collection

The Johnston Collection represents the work of three generations of Caithness photographers who captured images of life in and around the area between 1863 and 1975. During that period they produced around a hundred thousand glass plate negatives. Of these, around fifty thousand survive and are held in trust by the Wick Society.

The Johnstons captured an era when Wick was the herring capital of Europe. The silver darlings (as the herring were fondly known) used to attract over a thousand boats which crowded the harbour during August and September each year, and thousands of migrant workers would swell the town's population. They were photographed preparing the boats, setting sails, landing catches, and onshore in scenes of intense activity. Also photographed were teams of workers who gutted, cured, packed, and carted the salted herring for export across the world.

The collection represents a unique record of Wick's development and its importance as a major herring fishing port, as well as unique scenes from many other areas of industry and general life across Caithness and Sutherland.




Registration and new features

You can now become a registered user of the collection. Registration means that you will be first to receive the latest news about the collection, will be able to save photographs to a favourites list, and participate in discussions about the photographs.

  • Favourites - Click the "Add favourite" button below a photograph to add it to your favourte list. Your favourites are listed on your profile page.
  • Then and now - Recreate Johnston photographs and upload them to be publicly displayed alongside the original. Simply log in and click on the "Recreate photo" button.
  • Comments - You can leave public comments or discuss the photographs by using the "Comment on this photograph" box at the bottom of the photo page.
  • Tell us about it - If you have information about any of our photographs that is not listed in the description then please tell us what you know by clicking the "Click here to share your knowledge" button. The information you provide is essential to making this collection a wonderful resource for people all over the world.
  • Share to Facebook - You can share our photographs on Facebook by clicking the "Like / Share" button above each photograph.



Family history and genealogy

The vast majority of surviving images in the Johnston Collection are studio portraits of those living in and around Caithness and Sutherland during the Johnston period. For this reason, the collection can be an invaluable tool for anybody with an interest in their family history. If your family lived in the region during the period, simply typing your surname into the search box is a great way to start.

Details are sparse for many of the photographs in the collection, and for this reason if you recognise people or places in the photographs or just have a story to tell about one of them, we would be very happy to hear it and add it to the rest of the information.




We need your help!

The information in this database has been put together by a small group of volunteers. It is a work in progress, and we need your help to complete the project! If you see mistakes in the information which is attached to the photgraphs then please let us know by filling in the form at the bottom of the image page. It's important that we get it right for future generations.