The Franklin expedition at auction | Polarjournal

UPDATE 09/27/2023: The auction of a series of portraits of members of the Franklin expedition has exceeded expectations. Originally estimated at between £150,000 and £200,000, the twelve daguerotypes of Sir John Franklin and eleven of his officers sold for £444,500 (over half a million euros). The auction took place on Thursday 21st September at Sotheby’s Travel, Atlases, Maps & Photographs Sale in London, and the price is among the highest achieved for any daguerreotype at auction. At the time of writing, however, the identity of the buyer has not been communicated to us.

Fourteen daguerreotypes of the Franklin expedition officers, photographed between 15 and 17 May 1845. The photo collection, owned by Franklin’s descendants, will be auctioned by Sotheby’s on September 21. Image : Sotheby’s

A series of portraits of the Franklin expedition officers are up for auction. The collection of daguerreotypes, thought to have been lost, is estimated at over £150,000.

May 1845. On the deck of HMS Erebus, the officers of the Franklin expedition stand before the lens of the Richard Beard studio in London’s Regent Street, specially commissioned by Lady Jane Franklin for the occasion. Commander John Franklin and his thirteen officers pose for posterity, unaware that these images will be the last taken of them.

Nearly 180 years later, these photographs, thought to have been lost, will be sold in London by Sotheby’s on September 21 for an estimated value of £150,000 to £200,000 (€175,000 to €234,000). This collection of fourteen daguerreotypes is presented in a book-form morocco case. Each plate measures 70x83mm, and the details (buttons, hat bands, epaulettes) on the officers’ jackets have been hand-tinted coloured with shell gold.

The portrait of Commander Sir John Franklin. Having just recovered from the flu, he poses for this photo, which will be the last one taken of him. At the age of 59, he was given command of the expedition to find the Northwest Passage. Two ships, each equipped with the latest technology of the time, and 133 men set out to conquer the mythical Arctic passage will disappear body and soul. Image : Sotheby’s

Owned by Franklin’s descendants, the collection is remarkably well preserved: “Each plate is stunningly crisp and conveys the high level of detail the best daguerreotypes are known for.”, notes Emily Bierman, Global Head of Sotheby’s Photographs department. The collection is also accompanied by a handwritten list of officers’ names.

Another original collection of officers’ daguerreotypes exists in the Scott Polar Research Institute archives. However, it only includes twelve portraits, those of Francis Crozier, commander of HMS Terror and Robert Sargent, second-in-command on HMS Erebus being missing. With the lot offered for sale by Sotheby’s, the collection is now complete.

The Scott Polar Research Institute collection. Until now, the collection of daguerreotypes held by the institute only contained copies of portraits of Robert Sargent (first row, fourth from left) and Francis Crozier (second row, second portrait from left). Image: SPRI

The Franklin expedition, one of the most famous in the history of Arctic polar exploration, left England on 19 May 1845 with 134 men on board, aiming to discover the unexplored Northwest Passage. The Erebus and Terror will be last seen by the crew of a whaler near Lancaster Sound. Caught in the ice near King William Island in 1846, the ships eventually sank, leaving the surviving crew alone in the middle of the Arctic.

Several unsuccessful search expeditions were carried out between 1848 and 1880. No member of the expedition survived, and the wrecks were not found until 2014 for the Erebus and 2016 for the Terror.

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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