Peter Airth Feathers Esquire
Peter Airth Feathers was an optician, instrument maker, retailer and pioneer of photography based in Dock Street near the Customs House, Harbour Offices and Inland Revenue offices. Two of his sons, James and Peter, followed him into the family business.
Subscription value in 1863:
Relative to inflation up to 2023:
Relative to income compared to 2023:
Personal details and history
Peter Airth Feathers
Date of birth
Place of birth
Name of spouse
James 1846; Jane 1847; Jessie 1850; Agnes 1854; Isabella Bridie 1856; Peter; John Murray Mitchell 1863;
Age at death:
Place of death:
Somerville House, Broughty Ferry
Date of death:
Western Cemetery, Dundee, Lair number 140,a,b,c
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Liberal - until announcement of Home Rule for Ireland in 1886
Clubs / societies
Member of the committee of the Dundee Seaman's Friend Society: Subscriber to the fund in aid of "The Widows, Orphans and Other Sufferers by the loss of the S.S. Dalhousie of Dundee": Subscriber to the fund in aid of "The Widows and Orphans of the Tug 'Ospray'": Subscriber to "behoof of the Widow and Family of the Late Alex. Gloack, Broughty Ferry, Chief officer of the 'Northfleet'": Subscriber to the fund in aid of "The Widows and Orphans of the crew of the S.S. 'Celebrity": Subscriber to the City of Glasgow Bank Relief Fund: Officer of Monifieth Parochial Board: Dundee and East of Scotland Photographic Society: Dundee Amateur Photographic Association:
Director of Broughty Ferry Police Commission: Commissioner of Supply for the County of Forfar[:for]
Career and worklife
Optician, Nautical Instrument and Chronometer maker and pioneer of photography.
Place of work
Optician, Nautical Instrument and Chronometer maker
Career to date:
Peter Airth Feathers started as a watchmaker in Dundee's High Street, a few doors down from where he was born. He became a prominent nautical and scientific instrument maker and retailer, as well as an optician and pioneer of photography.
Peter Airth Feathers was the son of James Feathers, a tailor in Dundee’s High Street and his wife, Helen Airth. The building, known as ‘Gardyne’s Land,’ is still present in Dundee’s town centre today and is one of the oldest remaining, dating to the 16th century and earlier.
Peter, did not join his father’s trade. In the Post Office Directory for 1846-47 he was listed under “watch and clock makers” at 16 Dock Street, but listed himself, in the category “Principal Inhabitants of Dundee,” as living at 5 Castle Court and being a “watchmaker and optician.“ However, in the previous directory, he listed himself as “chronometer and nautical instrument maker. P A Feathers appears to have been able to turn his hand to numerous different, but associated, occupations successfully. He perhaps seemed most proud of being a ‘nautical instrument maker’ not ‘optician’ as that is what he called himself in the advert listing the subscribers to the Albert Institute. Artefacts made and retailed by him appear in the auction catalogues and dealers’ lists throughout the world and examples of his goods are in many major museum collections, including the National Museum of Scotland.
A prosperous and innovative family firm
His elder two sons joined him in the family firm from 1874. A catalogue was printed by Peter Feathers junior for the opening of his own premises in the early 1890s, but there seems to be no similar surviving relic of his father’s business.
Whaling connections and the Albert Institute
Like many Dundonians, Peter Airth Feathers’ life was intertwined with seamen and whaling, having had shares in the Tay Whale Fishing Company and been heavily involved in fund raising for the widows of sailors lost at sea. But the widespread appreciation of P.A. Feathers’ work is perhaps summed up by the eerie story of the whaling ship ‘Balena’ and her crew’s discoveries of 1894. The Balena, having been delayed by pack ice, was moored that July in Elwin Bay, at Prince Regent’s inlet, an Arctic waterway in Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada. A party from the ship went ashore to investigate the state of the ice and made a gruesome discovery. The remains of several human bodies were found and amongst the remaining possessions were needles and thread, a rifle and a telescope signed P. A Feathers. There were signs of cannibalism noted amongst the bodies, too gory for the modern reader to endure but which made the story newsworthy across the UK and Canada. The bodies clearly belonged to, what was then known as Esquimaux, the Inuit. Having later met with another group of Inuit, further up the Bay, they discovered that the bodies they had found belonged to a group of people who had traded with a Dundee whaler some three years previously at Ganges Bay, British Columbia (then called Admiralty Bay), a quite unimaginably long journey. The party had gone looking for the Dundee whalers again and had not been seen or heard of since. Amongst the bodies were the furs of musk ox and “other animals” which the Inuit had probably taken to trade with the British sailors. Whilst they had a Snider rifle, they appeared to have no shot or powder. The Dundonian sailors brought the telescope and other articles they scavenged from the bodies back to Dundee and presented them to the Albert Institute. Presumably Peter Airth Feathers was aware of the discovery of his telescope in these dramatic circumstances.
Peter Airth Feathers bought a plot in the new Western Cemetery, Dundee in 1851 with twelve lairs. He died on 19th February 1904 and was presumably buried there, although no stone has been found.
His optician’s firm was continued by his son James, his son Peter became a pioneer of cinema in Scotland. Peter Feathers made some of the earliest films of Dundee, including one of employees leaving Baxter’s Works in 1901 and an 1897 film of Railway trip over the Tay from Tayport to Dundee  only a decade after the bridge had reopened.
- Peter Airth Feathers, Ancestry.com. Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
- Peter Airth Feathers, marriage, FHL Film Number: 993404,Ancestry.com. Scotland, Select Marriages, 1561-1910 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
- The Dundee Post Office Directory for 1845, Printed by, and for, Peter Williamson, Dundee, National Library of Scotland, Page 31 http://www.archive.org/stream/dundeepostoffice184445pri#page/30/mode/2up/search/feathers
- Parish: Dundee; ED: 12; Page: 16; Line: 1; Roll: CSSCT1851_60; Year: 1851, 1851 Scotland Census, Ancestry.com.
- Post Office Directory for 1846-47, Printed by Hill & Alexander, Dundee, Page 108, National Library of Scotland, http://www.archive.org/stream/postofficedundee184647dun#page/108/mode/2up/search/feathers
- Employees of the Dundee Post Office, 1859, The Post Office Dundee Directory for 1858/59, p 251, National Library of Scotlandhttp://www.archive.org/stream/postofficedundee185859dun#page/250/mode/2up/search/feathers.
- Commissioners of Supply for the County of Forfar, Dundee Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 15 January 1895, Page 2, British Library Board via BNA website.
- Statutory Registers. Monifieth. Deaths. (1904). 310/ 22. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Western Cemetery Burial Lair Records, Friends of Dundee City Archives, http://www.fdca.org.uk/pdf%20files/WesternCemeteryF.pdf
- Death of Well Known Dundonian, Dundee Evening Post - Friday 19 February 1904, Page 4, British Library Board via BNA website.
- Broughty Ferry, Queen Street, East Church A Category B Listed Building in Dundee, Dundee, British Listed Buildings,https://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/200362333-broughty-ferry-queen-street-east-church-dundee#.Wr9kZ4jwbIU
- Advert, Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, Friday 07 March 1856, Page 2, British Library Board, via BNA website.
- The Widows, Orphans and Other Sufferers by the loss of the S.S. Dalhousie of Dundee,Dundee Courier, Friday 02 December 1864, Page 2, BNA website.
- Subscriptions for the relief of the widows and orphans, Dundee Courier, Saturday 16 September 1871, Page 1, British Library Board via BNA website.
- Behoof of the Widow and Family of the Late Alex. Gloack, Broughty Ferry, Chief officer of the 'Northfleet', Dundee Courier, Tuesday 11 March 1873, Page 1, ritish Library Board via B.N.A. website.
- The Widows and Orphans of the crew of the S.S. 'Celebrity',Dundee Courier - Thursday 01 January 1874, Page 1, British Library Board via B.N.A. website.
- Employees of the Dundee Post Office, 1859, The Post Office Dundee Directory for 1858/59, p 245, National Library of Scotland, http://www.archive.org/stream/postofficedundee185859dun#page/244/mode/2up/search/feathers.
- Dundee Courier - Monday 28 February 1870, Page 4, British Library Board via BNA website.
- Dundee Photographic Society, Dundee Courier - Saturday 20 August 1881, Page 2, British Library Board via BNA website.
- Dundee Courier - Tuesday 10 April 1888, Page 2, British Library Board via BNA website.
- Broughty Ferry Police Commission Elections, Dundee Advertiser - Wednesday 08 March 1865, Page 3, British Library Board via BNA website.
- Employees of the Dundee Post Office, 1859, The Post Office Dundee Directory for 1858/59, p 242, National Library of Scotland, http://www.archive.org/stream/postofficedundee185859dun#page/242/mode/2up/search/feathers
- Octant- SCRAN website. (n.d.). Retrieved March 05, 2018, from http://nms.scran.ac.uk/database/results.php?field=who&searchterm=%22Peter%2BAirth%2BFeathers%22&searchdb=scran&PHPSESSID=nrhfheo5imnhr24lunnv382j13
- Lucerna Magic Lantern Web Resource. Accessed 21 March 2018.
-  Dundee Directory for 1824, Printed and Published by and for A. Colville Dundee, Page 119, National Library of Scotland, http://www.archive.org/stream/dundeeregisterdi18245dund#page/118/mode/2up/search/feathers
- Dundee, 72, 73 High Street, Gardyne's Land, Canmore, National Record of the Historic Environment, Historic Environment Scotland, https://canmore.org.uk/site/260476/dundee-72-73-high-street-gardynes-land
- Post Office Directory for 1846-47, Printed by Hill & Alexander, Dundee, Page 240, National Library of Scotland, http://www.archive.org/stream/postofficedundee184647dun#page/240/mode/2up/search/feathers
- Subscriptions to the Albert Institute, Dundee Courier - Thursday 17 December 1863, Page 2, British Library Board via BNA website.
- See- the National Museum of Scotland, Museum reference T.1980.184 for an Octant https://www.nms.ac.uk/explore-our-collections/collection-search-results/?item_id=220806 and the National Museum of Scotland, Museum reference T.1980.184 for a Sextant https://www.nms.ac.uk/explore-our-collections/collection-search-results/?item_id=223233
- Local Intelligence, Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, Tuesday 07 October 1845, Page 3, British Library Board via BNA website.
- FDCA-The High School of Dundee Selected Admission Records - Art School 1871 to 1876. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2018, from http://www.fdca.org.uk/pdf%20files/HS%20Art%20School%20F.pdf
- Dundee High School Prizes, 1859-1881, Friends of Dundee City Archive, http://www.fdca.org.uk/pdf%20files/HighSchoolPrizes%20F.pdf
- Advert for new business, Dundee Advertiser - Friday 08 May 1891, Page 1, British Library Board via BNA website.
- The Tay Whale Fishing Company,Dundee Advertiser - Monday 30 June 1890, Page 2, British Library Board via BNA website.
- See the University of St Andrews Photography Archive for a photo of the Balaena by Valentine's of Dundee https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/imu/imu.php?request=display&port=45176&id=c057&flag=start&offset=0&sort=date&count=20&listcount=20&view=list&departmentfilter=Special%20Collections&ecatalogue=on&keywords=balaena&operator3=ge&column3=creation_date&operator2=le&column2=creation_date_to
- Dundee Evening Telegraph - Friday 09 November 1894, Page 3, British Library Board, BNA website.
- Friends of the Dundee City Archive, http://www.fdca.org.uk/pdf%20files/WesternCemeteryF.pdf
- Dundee Courier - Saturday 20 February 1904, Page 10, British Library Board via BNA website.
- Dundee cinemas on http://www.scottishcinemas.org.uk see accompanying photographs.
- Film Pioneer, Dundee Courier. Tuesday 04 October 1938. Page 6. British Library Board via B.N.A. website.
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