The life of a one-time Falmouth resident who made great contributions to early photography has been celebrated with the unveiling of a plaque at his former home in Kimberley Park Road.

Robert Hunt was chemist, writer and early photographer, and a blue plaque was officially unveiled at 4 Kimberley Park Road, where Hunt used to live when it was part of Berkeley Vale.

There were speeches by Charles Fox, whose ancestor, Robert Barclay Fox, had a close connection with Robert Hunt, Professor David Hosken of the University of Exeter, and by the mayor, Grenville Chappel, and thanks were given by Professor Mike Jenks, chair of Falmouth Civic Society. The plaque had been initiated by Falmouth Civic Society and sponsored by the University of Exeter.

After a reception and lunch at The Poly, where Robert Hunt was secretary from 1840 to 1845, associate Professor James Ryan of the University of Exeter gave a talk about the scientist. He examined the significant but frequently overlooked contributions made to early photography by the Devon and Cornwall-based chemist, whose contribution has opened up questions about where and when early photography developed.

Robert Hunt lived from 1807 to 1887, and rose from a relatively humble background, experimenting widely with early photographic processes, impressing scientists Sir John Herschel and William Fox Talbot, and making the earliest photographs in Devon and Cornwall. From his home in Falmouth he wrote a range of texts that earned him praise as an authority on the new art-science, including the first and much reprinted English language manual and general history of photography A Popular Treatise on the Art of Photography.

He championed photography in learned society through his prolific writings, exhibitions and lectures, and had founding roles in the Calotype Club and the Royal Photographic Society, from where he played a decisive part in successfully opposing Talbot’s patent claim on the calotype photographic process, opening up photography to everyone.

His research and writing on chemistry and light secured him election to the Royal Society in 1854, and his important, and at times contentious, contributions to early photography need to be better appreciated and understood alongside the role of science and applied arts in Cornwall and beyond.