A u2018hauntingu2019 archive of shipwreck photographs dating back to 1869, captured by four generations of the same family, will go on sale at Sothebyu2019s next month.


‘The Hansy’, wrecked in Housel Bay near the Lizard Point, Cornwall on 13 November 1911. It had been sailing from Sweden to Melbourne, Australia

More than 1,000 negatives, including over 700 original glass plates, document more than 200 shipwrecks off the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall between 1869 and 1997.

The archive, described as ‘unparalleled’ by auctioneers, was started by press photographer John Gibson (pictured below) who bought his first camera 150 years ago.

‘At the very forefront of early photojournalism, John Gibson and his descendents were determined to be first on the scene when these shipwrecks struck,’ said a spokesperson for Sotheby’s in London where the collection will go on sale on 12 November.

‘Each and every wreck had its own story to tell with unfolding drama, heroics, tragedies and triumphs to be photographed and recorded – the news of which the Gibsons would disseminate to the British mainland and beyond.’


‘The Minnehaha’, wrecked off the Isles of Scilly on 18 January 1874

John worked with his sons, including Alexander who served as a ‘telegraphist’. The team were said to have travelled with handcarts to reach the shipwrecks, ‘scrambling over treacherous coastline with a portable darkroom, carrying glass plates and heavy equipment’.

Rex Cowan, a shipwreck hunter and author, described the collection as ‘the greatest archive of the drama and mechanics of shipwreck we will ever see – a thousand images stretching back 130 years, of such power, insight and nostalgia that even the most passive observer cannot fail to feel the excitement or pathos of the events they depict’.

John Gibson had previously worked as a studio photographer in Penzance, Cornwall, before returning to the Isles of Scilly in 1865.

The archive is estimated to fetch up to £150,000.


Nineteenth century photojournalist John Gibson 


[All images courtesy, Sotheby’s]