Dr Beatrice Garvie was born in Perth. Her family were well off, her father was a cloth merchant and an elder in the Kirk. Her mother owned property. The household was wealthy enough to employ a servant and cook.
Beatrice studied medicine in the 1890s. She took the ‘Triple Qualification’ in medicine. In practice, there were still very few women training in medicine, despite a growing acknowledgement that women were capable of doing so. A local church newspaper approved of one of Beatrice Garvie’s first appointments; travelling to India to become a ‘medical missionary’. She also worked in Glasgow, Stirling, Fife, Rotherham and Islington, in London.
Throughout her career she championed the universal right to good health, and took a particular interest in the health of women and children. She worked in fever hospitals, and became the county ‘tuberculosis officer’, around the time of the First World War. At this time, she was also an active supporter of suffrage, raising money for donations for maternity units for refugees, in support of the Scottish Women’s Hospital units.
She was nearly 60 by the time she came to North Ronaldsay, where she continued as doctor on the island, until she retired at 74. During this time, she made an extensive record of island life, in photographs. Over 500 of these are kept in our Archive, as well as in many family albums, as she made sure to give copies of her photographs to the people who were in them.
Her photographic work is now increasingly recognised as exceptional for its time. Her portraits of islanders are natural, and unstaged. She captures movement with technical skill and she documented work on the island in sequences, with succinct clarity. She was interested in women’s lives, and families, in particular, although many island events, such as the first plane service, are also extensively recorded.
For the sixteen years that she lived on North Ronaldsay, her home was ‘The Bungalow’, where she lived with her housekeeper, Charlotte Tulloch. When she retired, both women left the island. Some islanders recall that it was known that Beatrice and Charlotte were a couple.
It is very likely that Beatrice Garvie would have photographed the other places that she lived and worked too, although, as yet, there is no evidence of these photographs still being in existence.