Sunday, 28 June 2009

More on the Franklin Expedition Daguerreotypes

I owe a huge debt of thanks to Heather Lane, Librarian and Keeper of Collections at the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge and her colleagues Lucy Martin, Picture Library Manager and Fiona Cahill, Conservator. Last Friday 26th June, they very kindly permitted me to see the original Daguerreotypes taken in 1845 of members of the Franklin Expedition in their collection and were extremely generous with their time and expertise. Here's a picture of me with one of the Daguerrreotypes.

What are the Daguerreotypes like? That's one of them in front of me on the desk. (Incidentally that is NOT a half-drunk bottle of scotch next to me - it's something mysterious in a bottle of theirs...) Each Daguerreotype is about 4 inches by 3 inches and is kept under glass in a neat little box. The detail on them is very fine, much more than appears to be the case from the reproductions which circulate on the internet at the moment, and most of them also have some slight colouring, which was a tinting applied to the image after it was taken. Here is a near-contemporary description of how they were taken:
and the FAQ’s of the Daguerreian Society are also instructive:
One point of significance is that a Daguerreotype is an original image, not a positive derived from a negative like a conventional photograph. As the Society’s FAQ’s say, it is “normally a reversed (or, correctly stated, a laterally-reversed) image. The only way to get a correct orientation was to copy the image with a second daguerreotype, or to make the original daguerreotype using a reversing prism or mirror. Besides the complexity, a problem with a reversing mirror was, if taken outdoors, it may be subject to movement by a breeze causing a blurred image. So typically people just lived with a reversed image”. There are twelve Daguerreotypes at the SPRI in total.
The other images in existence are what appear to be early copies of Franklin Expedition Daguerreotypes which are held at the Derbyshire County Archive in Matlock, and what appear to be photographs of these copies in the National Maritime Museum’s image collection, which you can see here:
The National Maritime Museum’s collection has fourteen images, which proves that fourteen of the twenty four officers on the Expedition were Daguerreotyped. A comparison of the images in the two collections suggests that perhaps more were originally taken. Here’s why. In ten cases, the image in the photograph in the National Maritime Museum is identical with that of the Daguerreotype now held at SPRI. This is true for Franklin, Reid, Collins, Stanley, Le Vesconte, Gore, Osmer, Fairholme, Couch and Goodsir, although five of them (Franklin, Stanley, Le Vesconte, Osmer and Goodsir) have been reversed. This suggests that they not all the copies were made at the same time. In two cases, Fitzjames and Des Voeux, the picture on the National Maritime Museum photograph is of a different Daguerreotype. It is well known that two Daguerreotypes were taken of Fitzjames – in the National Maritime Museum image he is holding a telescope and in the Daguerreotype at Cambridge he is not. But I don’t think it has previously been realised that the images of Des Voeux are also different – in the National Maritime Museum image he is hatless, but in the Cambridge Daguerreotype he is wearing a hat. And two officers appear on an image at the National Maritime Museum, Crozier and Sargent, although there is no Daguerreotype of either of them at Cambridge. This prompts some further questions:

1) What are the images at Matlock, from which apparently the National Maritime Museum photos were derived? They are undoubtedly taken from Daguerreotypes, but when were they made, by whom and with what process?

2) Were the Derbyshire images made directly from the original Daguerreotypes? Perhaps the ones which are reversed went through a further intermediate step?

3) Where are the Daguerreotypes of Crozier and Sargent, which the Derbyshire copyist had access to but which seem now to be lost?

4) If these two Daguerreotypes have been lost, could others have been lost also? Des Voeux and Fitzjames were both taken twice, so perhaps each officer was taken twice? It is noteworthy that in some Daguerreotypes the subject is wearing his hat and in others he is hatless. This might suggest that two Daguerreotypes were taken of each subject, one with and one without his hat, although Fitzjames is hatless in both images. That would suggest that twenty eight Daguerreotypes were taken – two of each officer – with sixteen surviving until the date the unknown copyist made the Derbyshire/National Maritime Museum copies, and twelve finding their way into the SPRI Collection at Cambridge.

5) Why, with the exception of Crozier, are all the officers taken from the Erebus? Was a similar set of Daguerreotypes taken of the officers on board the Terror? The connection with Derbyshire suggests that the Daguerreotypes which have survived may have passed through Lady Franklin’s hands. The Erebus was of course Sir John Franklin’s ship, so that might suggest why she kept these Daguerreotype. If two were taken of the officers on the Terror, do some of them still survive, unrecognised, in other museums, collections or in the hands of descendants or relatives?

I may be wrong with some of these speculations and there may be other questions which can be asked (and perhaps answered) too, but I hope this analysis and these questions can serve to help others take this picture research forwards. Before closing I’d just make a few more comments.

Dr. Huw Lewis-Jones of the Scott Polar Research Institute has already observed that in the polished peak of Lt. Gore’s cap can be seen what appears to be the reflection of the rigging of a ship. Most of the Daguerreotypes seem to have been taken in the same place and in fact what appears to be rigging or reflections of images derived from ships can also be seen in the peaks of Osmer’s, Fairholme’s and Goodsir’s caps as well. Someone with a skill at optics might be able to consolidate these reflected images and build up a better picture of the scene where these Daguerreotypes were taken.

The Scott Polar Research Institute have made really high quality digital copies of the Daguerreotypes in their collection, which will soon be published on their Freeze Frame website. This will be a superb resource for scholars of photography as well as of the Franklin Expedition and I am sure will enable a lot more information to be gleaned from these important images. I think people who are familiar with the National Maritime Museum images will be surprised by some of these. For example, the National Maritime Museum image of Collins is very overexposed, yet the SPRI Daguerreotype image of him is a superb and detailed portrait, as is that of Couch.

A final thought is that the lettering on the log-book which Lt. Le Vesconte is holding looks as though it is likely to be legible under a microscope.. That will be interesting – perhaps that is the closest we will ever get to reading the log of the Erebus?

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The lost Daguerreotypes

Russell Potter has recently published two very interesting posts on his blog 'Visions of the North' relating to the Daguerreotypes taken of members of the Franklin Expedition just before they departed in 1845. I've just posted a note on his second story and I'm posting a similar piece here, though I would be staggered if anyone who reads this blog hasn't already read it on Russell's!

The problem is this: we are told that two copies were made of each subject on the Franklin Expedition. I have seen it said that two sets were made, and I also recall reading that there are twelve portraits in one set and fourteen in the other. It is certainly the case that Fitzjames was ‘snapped’ twice as he has a different pose in each picture. But I have a problem, because I’ve been trying actually to track down the two sets so I can make high quality reproductions of the two Fitzjames Daguerreotypes for my book.

Generally it is said that one set is at the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge, and the other set is generally said to be either at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich or at the Derbyshire County archive at Matlock. I have been in touch with all of these places and I can confirm that while there is one set at Cambridge, there are NO DAGUERREOTYPES either at Greenwich or at Matlock. This means that unless someone else can find tell us where the second set is, then as far as I can see they have been lost.

I didn’t want to place this comment until I was absolutely sure, but can we set up a Sherlock Holmes style search for the second set of Daguerreotypes? One thought which crosses my mind is this. We know that two Daguerreotypes of Fitzjames were taken because of the well-known differences in his pose between the two, but how many others do we KNOW were taken twice? What is held at Matlock are what appear to be very early, and very small, photographs of Daguerreotypes. They are mounted on card and look to me like the model for the Illustrated London News prints which were published of the Expedition members in, I think, 1851. They seem to have been catalogued mistakenly as Daguerreotypes when they were entered into the Derbyshire archive. Perhaps there never were two sets of Daguerreotypes? Perhaps Fitzjames was the first sitter, with two taken of him, and then the others one at a time. What makes me suspicious is that the only Daguerreotype I have seen of Franklin is very over-exposed. Surely if a second had been taken it would have been better exposed? Perhaps the set of prints at Matlock might be photographs taken as early as 1851 which were mistakenly referred to as Daguerreotypes?

It's strange because these Daguerreotypes are very famous, and yet there still seem to be mysteries about them which we have not yet solved.