Daguerreotypes and other images of the lost men

It’s always been known that a number of Daguerreotypes of the men of the Franklin Expedition were taken before they sailed, but how many of the 129 men lost on the Expedition left an image of themselves behind? And what other images might there be? This page brings together my thoughts on this topic previously published across several blog postings, and in this I am heavily indebted to the work of others, especially Professor Russell Potter.
What is a Daguerreotypes like? Each Daguerreotype is about 4 inches by 3 inches and is kept under glass in a neat little box.
The original Daguerreotype of Fairholme, now at the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge
The original Daguerreotype of Fairholme, now at the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge

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. There is a lot of information about them in the FAQ’s of the Daguerreian Society here.

A 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 points out, a standard Daguerreotype normally produced a laterally-reversed image. This could be corrected either by copying the image onto a second daguerreotype to correct the reversal, or to take the daguerreotype using a reversing prism or mirror. Besides the complexity of this, a problem with a reversing mirror was that if it was used outdoors it introduce movement into the camera which would cause a blurred image. So typically people just lived with a reversed image. There are five archives which hold either the original Daguerreotypes of Expedition members taken before they left in 1845, or early copies:
Me researching Franklin Daguerreotypes at the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge
Me researching Franklin Daguerreotypes at the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge

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, Crozier and Sargent, appear on images at the National Maritime Museum although there is no Daguerreotype of either of them at Cambridge.

Why, with the exception of Crozier, are all the officers taken from the Erebus? This seems to be explained by the comment below from the Illustrated London News, which accompanied the first published engravings of officers from the missing Franklin Expedition on 13th September, 1851:

“The portraits upon the preceding page have been engraved from photographs by Mr. Beard. Previous to the sailing of the Erebus and Terror, Mr. Beard was commissioned to supply Sir John Franklin with a complete Daguerrotype apparatus, to take out with him; and with which, on board one of the ships, the accompanying Portraits were taken. Lady Franklin possesses one case of these likenesses, and Mr. Beard has another, which he has kindly permitted our artist to copy.

“The Erebus and Terror, it will be recollected, sailed from Greenhithe on May 18th, 1845. A portrait of Sir John Franklin, with views of the vessels, and two cabins of the Erebus, appeared in the ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS for May 24”.

The Scott Polar Research Institute has made really high quality digital copies of the Daguerreotypes in their collection, which are a superb resource for scholars of photography as well as of the Franklin Expedition and 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.

The two Daguerreotypes of Fitzjames and Des Voeux in the Scott Polar Research Institute collection are clearly different images while the two of Le Vesconte seem to have been taken either simultaneously or immediately one after the other. The Le Vesconte images are unique in that he stood at the ship’s wheel holding the ship’s ‘Code of Signals‘, or signal book, something which Professor Russell Potter and Dr. Huw Lewis-Jones recently established.  All the other officers were Daguerreotyped seated in what appears to be a curtained booth which, if the Illustrated London News is to be taken at face value, was on board one of the ships.  This is discussed here by ‘Ship Modeller’ the author of the blog Building HMS Terror, in a very insightful posting.  Presumably this ship was the Erebus. Perhaps Erebus is also the ship which can be seen in some of the reflections in the polished cap peaks of some of the officers’ Daguerreotypes, notably those of Gore and Fitzjames.

I was excited when the Wills family, relatives of Lt. Henry Le Vesconte of the Franklin Expedition, contacted me because they had identified a Daguerreotype of their lost relative previously unknown to Franklin Expedition researchers. The Daguerreotype remains in the hands of the family. They have kindly sent me a photo of it which is reproduced above.

Le Vesconte Dag 2This Daguerreotype appears to be either a similar or identical image to that of Le Vesconte held in Cambridge at the Scott Polar Research Institute. It appears therefore that either the pictures were taken immediately one after the other without the sitter altering his pose or, perhaps more likely, the ‘photographer’ Richard Beard had a Daguerreotype camera which could expose two plates at the same time. But the frame and case of this Daguerreotype is completely different and it obscures more of the original image than the Daguerreotype at Cambridge.

After I published the original blog posting, I was contacted by a relative of Lt. Osmer who sent me an image of a Daguerreotype which they hold and which is said to be of Lt. Osmer.  It’s certainly not the same image as that taken by Richard Beard, but I suppose it is possible that it is of Osmer. Unfortunately I’ve lost the contact information for the owner of this Daguerreotype so I can’t give the correct credit – if they can contact me I’d be happy to do the honours.

Possible Dag of Osmer, provenance uncertain
Possible Daguerreotype of Osmer, provenance uncertain

 

Another is the oil painting here, which is held at the National Museum and believed to be of Alexander MacDonald, Assistant Surgeon on HMS Terror.

I am indebted to Professor Russell Potter for information on a further image.  He tells me that the Canadian Museum of History holds a nineteenth century image, a calotype, of a Daguerreotype of Lt. Fairholme.  The image is not online.  Apparently it is not identical to the Scott Polar Research Institute’s Daguerreotype of Fairholme but is very similar. It appears to have been taken at the same time as the other but the pose is slightly different: in this image Fairholme has shifted slightly, taken off his cap and put his hand inside his coat ‘Napoleon style’. That would make sense because we know from his account of the Daguerreotyping on board the Erebus that the temperature that day was cold.

Just recently yet another image resurfaced – a contemporary one of Lt. John Irving, held in the collection of the City of Edinburgh here.  Again Professor Russell Potter had the scoop here. Strictly the image is a ‘Talbotype’ and you can read the details on the link to Russell’s blog.

Let’s now reassess what we know about the Franklin Expedition Daguerreotypes and associated images. We can now locate thirteen original Daguerreotypes from the Franklin Expedition: twelve in the SPRI collection and one in private hands (Le Vesconte) plus a possible second one (Osmer).  We have the Talbotype of Irving, the Calotype copy of the lost Daguerreotype of Fairholme and a very early photograph of Goodsir.  We have the painting of MacDonald.  In terms of contemporary copies of originals we have the fourteen copies of Franklin Expedition Daguerreotypes in the Derbyshire County Archive at Matlock and the Talbotype of Fairholme, all of which appear to have been made at an early date. Modern photographic copies of these ‘Matlock’ images are held by the National Maritime Museum. That means that we now have the following detailed portraits of sixteen men from the Franklin Expedition (in no particular order):

  • Henry Le Vesconte, Lieutenant, HMS Erebus – there is a single Daguerreotype at Cambridge with a second identical Daguerreotype in his family’s hands. There is a reversed copy of what appear to be the Cambridge image in the collection at Matlock.
  • Sir John Franklin, Captain, HMS Erebus – there is a single Daguerreotype at Cambridge with a reversed copy of what appear to be the Cambridge image in the collection at Matlock. There are quite a number of other portraits of Franklin in existence, including paintings and engravings. If you look at the image carefully you will see from the buttons on Franklin’s coat that the image is laterally reversed, yet his medals appear to be on the ‘correct’ left hand side of his body.  The only explanation for this must be that he was aware that the image would reverse and therefore pinned his medal onto his right breast, so that on the image it would appear to be correct.
  • Harry D.S. Goodsir, Assistant Surgeon, HMS Erebus – there is a single Daguerreotype at Cambridge with a reversed copy of what appear to be the Cambridge image in the collection at Matlock. This Daguerreotype was used to help identify the Greenwich skeleton as Goodsir.  A further very early photograph of him also exists.
  • Charles Hamilton Osmer, Purser, HMS Erebus – there is a single Daguerreotype at Cambridge with a reversed copy of what appear to be the Cambridge image in the collection at Matlock.
  • Stephen Samuel Stanley, Surgeon, HMS Erebus – there is a single Daguerreotype at Cambridge with a reversed copy of what appear to be the Cambridge image in the collection at Matlock.
  • Henry Foster Collins, Second Master, HMS Erebus – there is a single Daguerreotype at Cambridge with an identical copy of the same image in the collection at Matlock.
  • Edward Couch, Mate, HMS Erebus – there is a single Daguerreotype at Cambridge with an identical copy of the same image in the collection at Matlock.
  • James Walter Fairholme, Lieutenant, HMS Erebus – there is a Daguerreotype at Cambridge with an identical copy of the same image in the collection at Matlock. The Canadian Museum of History hold a Calotype of another Daguerreotype of Fairholme, whereabouts unknown.  Note that in a letter Fairholme wrote to his family, now in the collection at Matlock, he mentioned that he was photographed wearing Fitzjames’ coat.
  • Graham Gore, Lieutenant, HMS Erebus – there is a single Daguerreotype at Cambridge with an identical copy of the same image in the collection at Matlock.
  • James Reid, Ice Master, HMS Erebus – there is a single Daguerreotype at Cambridge with an identical copy of the same image in the collection at Matlock.
  • Charles Frederick Des Voeux, Mate, HMS Erebus – there is a single Daguerreotype at Cambridge with a copy of a different Daguerreotype in the collection at Matlock
  • James Fitzjames, Commander, HMS Erebus – there is a single Daguerreotype at Cambridge with a copy of a different Daguerreotype in the collection at Matlock. A beautiful chalk sketch of him is also held by the National Maritime Museum.
  • Francis Rawden Moira Crozier, Captain, HMS Terror – there is no surviving Daguerreotype but an early copy of one exists in the collection at Matlock
  • Robert Orme Sergeant, Mate, HMS Erebus – there is no surviving Daguerreotype but an early copy of one exists in the collection at Matlock and can be seen in collections of the images.  I’m not sure that a single high quality copy of the image of Mr. Sargent is accessible via the internet – I have seen the original at Matlock..
  • John Irving, Lt., HMS Terror – a copy of a Talbotype of him survives in the archives of the City of Edinburgh.
  • Alexander MacDonald, Assistant Surgeon, HMS Terror, an original oil painting in the collection of the National Maritime Museum.

It seems that most if not all the officers of HMS Erebus were Daguerreotyped and in four cases – Fitzjames, Des Voeux, Fairholme and Le Vesconte – we know that two Daguerreotypes were taken. I have heard it said that at one stage Graham Gore’s family believed they held an original Daguerreotype but I have not been able to track this down. If true that would a fifth confirmed ‘double-Daguerreotype’. This accords with the Illustrated London News’s account which says that two Daguerreotypes were taken to form two sets, or ‘cases’.  One case went to Lady Franklin and the other was kept by Richard Beard.  The set of prints at Matlock must have been Lady Franklin’s as they came via the Gell family.  But what happened to the original Daguerreotypes?  Did she give them to the families, and if so is there any evidence to support this in her letters or journals?  We might presume also that the Beard collection were used by the Illustrated London News for their woodcuts and then dispersed, perhaps also sold individually to family members.

All the Daguerreotypes from Lady Franklin’s and Beard’s collection are of officers of the Erebus, with the exception of the Daguerreotype of Crozier which survives only as a copy at Matlock.  We now also have images of two more of the Terror’s officers: the Talbotype of Irving and the oil painting of MacDonald.  Beard was making money out of charging for Daguerreotypes so it is possible that he took more Daguerreotypes of other officers of HMS Terror, and if so they may still survive either in family hands or unrecognised in the hands of collectors.

A further interesting point is that it seems pretty clear from the Illustrated London News account that only one Daguerreotype ‘apparatus’, or camera as we would now call it, was taken on the Expedition. From the preponderance of Erebus officers photographed with it, it must be a safe bet that the camera and any images taken by it would have been on HMS Erebus, and could conceivable still be on the ship today.  If so, it is I am told possible that they might be recoverable if preservation conditions have been benign.  So these just possibly might become a major new source of information on the Franklin Expedition.

Finally of course anyone seeking a complete archive of all images of men of the Franklin Expedition should noted that we have photographs of the three men whose bodies were exhumed from their graves on Beechey Island, and facial reconstructions of three more men: the Greenwich skeleton and the skulls of the two men who died at Erebus Bay and whose features have been reconstructed by Doug Stanton.  Astonishingly (assuming that the Greenwich skeleton is Goodsir and that neither of the Stenton reconstructions a man whose portraits already exists) this means we now can see the faces of no fewer that twenty one of the men who died on the Franklin Expedition.