SCOTLAND can lay claim to having the world's first female photographer.

Jessie Mann, who lived in Edinburgh in the 1840s, may have been the first to use photographic machinery to capture images of people and places.

Miss Mann, from Perthshire, was an assistant to Edinburgh-based photographic pioneers David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson. However, beyond her name nothing more was known about her until now.

Roddy Simpson, a former secretary of the Scottish Society for the History of Photography and currently a photographic researcher at Glasgow University, has found an intimate letter between Miss Mann and Hill, and a portrait shot by Hill that is likely to be an image of her.

It is clear Miss Mann played a key role in the life and work of the two pioneers, who began their partnership during the tumultuous religious upheaval in Edinburgh in 1843, and worked from a studio in Rock House, on Calton Hill.

Hill and Adamson created thousands of calotype portraits, views and landscapes, and have been acknowledged as the forefathers of modern photography. More than 5000 of their images are held by the National Galleries of Scotland.

Hill, a painter and member of the artistic establishment, teamed up with Adamson, a master of early photographic techniques. They hired Miss Mann to help them capture the likenesses of the 450 ministers who had seceded from the Church of Scotland in the Great Disruption to form the Free Church of Scotland.

Hill’s painting, The Disruption, contains 457 figures, including three woman – one of whom, it is believed, is Jessie Mann.

The image of her in the painting was based, Mr Simpson believes, on a photograph he recently found in the archives of Glasgow University.

Mr Simpson found the image, Two Women in Bonnets, in the Special Collections Department. He said: “It is clear from an examination of this photograph that it represents two of the three Mann sisters in The Disruption painting.

“The younger woman, standing beside one of her older sisters, is likely to be Jessie.

“The photograph is also very unusual in that it is trimmed in a circle, presumably to fit a frame,” he said.

A letter from the painter James Naysmith to Hill, written in 1845, asks about the health of Miss Mann, “that most skillful and zealous of assistants”.

It is believed Miss Mann made at least one calotype of the King of Saxony, who unexpectedly visited Rock House in August, 1844. Hill and Adamson were away, so she took an image of the king and his party instead.

Mr Simpson has found a letter, in the archives of the Royal Scottish Academy, from Ms Mann to Hill that shows the affectionate relationship between the two.

Dated May 26, 1856, and sent to Hill from Musselburgh, it begins, “Dear D.O.” and continues: “Isabella [her employer’s daughter] thinks I should say Darling D.O. because you are her darling; so you can read it any way you like best.”

Two other British women involved in photography in the 1840s were Anna Atkins and Constance Talbot.