R.J. Welch Collection

Extensive collection of photographs by the Belfast photographer, R.J. Welch (1870-1939). With a career spanning some 53 years, Robert John Welch was the leading photographer of his generation operating in the north of Ireland. Setting up business on his own in 1883, Welch built up a high reputation as a photographer covering a wide range of fields including geology, botany, topography, zoology, archaeology and ethnography. In his work he dealt with all of Ireland, but especially Ulster, developing an impressive portfolio of images that were used for scientific articles and lectures, as well as for book illustrations, advertisements and publicity purposes. The collection itself contains an impressive selection of his extant work. Comprising over 5000 glass plate negatives (all of which are available in modern print formats), the collection includes photographs concerning all areas of interest to Welch throughout his long career. Belfast, linen and shipbuilding, transport, road and rail, urban and rural ways of life, plants and animals, monuments, architecture and buildings, rocks and landscapes are just some of the broad subject areas covered in the collection. Of particular note are images depicting the White Linen Hall (internal and external shots), c. 1890, Belfast City Hall, scenes from the Harland & Wolff shipyard, and the old Lammas Fair to name but a few. The collection also includes an accompanying range of printed and private papers relating to Welch. Of these important series include Welch's personal diaries, memoirs and notebooks, 1905-1936, various manuscript indices to negatives, and annotated pamphlets, maps and books. An album of some 60 original prints by David Welch (d. 1875), Robert's father, who was also a photographer by profession, is also to be found. Compiled and arranged by R.J. Welch, this last item depicts mostly great houses of Ireland, particularly in Cos. Tyrone, Down, Killarney and Kilkenny.


The Welch Collection is an important visual resource for late 19th and early 20th century Ulster. A collection of national significance, it provides a valuable commentary on many areas of interest to students of this period, particularly in the field of history, geology, natural history, botany, and geography etc.

Physical characteristics

The collection comprises approx. 5,300 glass plate negatives and a relatively small assemblage of some 20 volumes, 30 maps, various lists and documents.

Description or Catalogue

Details of the collection are recorded on to an automated database which is available at the Museum to researchers on request. A hard copy catalogue is also available for consultation: A List of Photographs in the R.J. Welch Collection in the Ulster Museum, Vol. 1. Topography and History (Belfast, 1979) and Vol. 2. Botany, Geology and Zoology (Belfast, 1983).

Accrual Policy
Accrual Method
Accrual Periodicity

The collection was gifted to the Ulster Museum in 1940 on condition it would be made available to bone fide students for research purposes. Relevant material continues to be accrued if and when it is made available.

Added by Ulster Museum | Last updated on: 09 February 2018