Ayún Músa (Wells of Moses)

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James McDonald (1822-1885), Ayún Músa (Wells of Moses), 1869. Albumen silver print on a title page from Ordnance Survey of the Peninsula of Sinai by Captains C.W. Wilson, and H.S. Palmer, R.E. … (Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, MDCCCLXIX [1869]). Very large books (XL). Firestone C-i-J DT137.S55 O736 1869e
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The British photographer James McDonald was a Colour Sergeant with the British Army (that is, a non-commissioned officer). From 1868-69, he traveled with Captain Charles Wilson’s team of Royal Engineers to the Sinai Peninsula. This was McDonald’s second expedition, having been on an Ordnance Survey to Jerusalem in 1864.

The first survey was financed entirely by one woman, Baroness Burdett Coutts, who wished to have sites mentioned in the Christian bible identified and documented. The success of that survey’s publication, illustrated with McDonald’s photographs, resulted in the formation of the Palestine Exploration Society and funding for a second expedition.

Wilson’s Sinai Peninsula survey was charged, in particular, with the identification of Mount Sinai and the route taken by Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt. McDonald made hundreds of glass-plate negatives, which he carried back to England for printing. It is unfortunate that Princeton’s copies of these two surveys are incomplete, holding only a few of McDonald’s spectacular original photographs.