Beatty, Francis Stewart (1807-91), pioneer Irish photographer, of unknown parentage and place of birth but presumably born somewhere in the north of Ireland, is first documented in the 1830s in Belfast, where he was an engraver and linen ornament manufacturer. An elaborate double-page advertisement in Simms and McIntyre's Northern or Belfast Almanack of 1836 gives the location of his premises at the time as 17 Castle Place, in the town centre. This good address suggests that the business was a prosperous one.
Biographical details about Beatty are almost non-existent. We know, however, from his own later testimony, that his life and career were transformed in 1839 by the discovery of photography, with which he may have experimented even before the announcement of Daguerre's and Talbot's rival processes. Within a week of Daguerre's manual being published in English, Beatty was able to produce and exhibit daguerreotype views of his own, as he announced in the Belfast News Letter on 20 September 1839. At the same time he was producing paper negatives, for in August 1840 the local press carried news of his success with both processes in representations of the decrepit old Long Bridge of Belfast. So far as we know, these were the first successful permanent photographic images produced in Ireland, making Beatty the Irish pioneer of the exciting new phenomenon.
Beatty also claimed to have improved the optics – and hence reduced the exposure time – of the original daguerreotype camera. In 1841 he produced his first portrait by this method. In consequence he was invited to work for Richard Beard, London coal merchant and owner of the first photographic studio in Europe, in Regent St. Beard, who had bought the patent rights for England and Wales from Daguerre, offered Beatty the post of operator in a gallery he proposed to open in Dublin. Since patent restrictions did not extend to Ireland, Beatty declined the offer, instead returning to Belfast to set up his own portrait studio at 22 Castle St. An article in the Belfast Penny Journal in 1845, though anonymous, was certainly by Beatty; it was illustrated by a woodcut of a daguerreotype photographer at work, with the Cave Hill visible in the background, and an engraving of ‘F. S. Beatty's improved achromatic and periscopic camera, for daguerreotype portraiture’.
The Belfast studio failed to attract sufficient support, and Beatty's name disappeared from later Belfast directories. Thereafter he surfaced briefly in Dublin in the mid 1850s as proprietor of a studio in St Stephen's Green, in 1860 (with a partner) as patentee of a chromolithography process, and in the 1880s as a patent agent. None of these occupations appears to have brought him commercial success, for he ended his days in the North Dublin workhouse in 1891 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Mount Jerome cemetery. He never married.
Our main sources of information about Beatty's photographic career are the various articles that he published, either anonymously or under his own name, over a period of nearly forty years. Apart from ‘The history of photography’ in the Belfast Penny Journal in 1845, these were: ‘The science of photography’ (Dublin Journal, 1858); ‘Some historical recollections of photography’ (Photographic News, 1879); and ‘Some historical recollections of the application of photography to portraiture’ (Year Book of Photography and Photographic News Almanac, 1884). None of his original photographs has survived, so far as is known, but a calotype portrait of Belfast's landlord, the 2nd marquess of Donegall (qv), said to have been taken in 1843 and published in 1912, from a later copy negative, was almost certainly his work.
Beatty was undoubtedly the pioneer of Irish photography. His writings suggest that he had a lively sense of his own importance in this respect, and not only his stature in Ireland alone. The capital letter P he devised and engraved for the Dublin Journal article of 1858 incorporated his name along with those of the most distinguished figures in early photography – the scientists Davy and Herschel, and the photographic pioneers Niépce, Daguerre, Talbot, and Archer.