Royal Museums Greenwich buys "remarkable" archive of shipwreck photos

By Culture24 Reporter | 12 November 2013

Photographs of more than 200 shipwrecks, taken by four generations of one family over 125 years, have been bought by Royal Museums Greenwich in a remarkable, haunting archive of salvage and rescue operations off the frequently-treacherous coastlines of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

A black and white photo of a group of people looking out at an incoming ship from a cliff
The Granite State (1895)© Courtesy Sotheby's
Nearly 1,400 glass and film negatives, initiated by John Gibson in 1869 and expanded by his apprentice sons, Alexander and Herbert, amount to a masterclass in photographing misadventure at sea. The ledger the brothers kept, awash with stories of disaster and courage, including telegraph messages sent from Scilly, is included in a collection curators plan to tour to regional museums and galleries, with a focus on venues in the south-west.
“I know that the Gibson family are delighted that their family archive will remain and be displayed in this country,” said Lord Sterling of Plaistow, the Chairman of the Museums who oversaw the £122,500 acquisition.

“I am very pleased that the National Maritime Museum has been able to secure this wonderful collection for the nation.”

Hundreds of the glass plate negatives are still in 16 original wooden boxes. The archive also consists of 97 original silver print photographs, books by authors including John Fowles, John Arlott and John Le Carré and newspaper and magazine articles.

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A black and white photo of a ship which has crashed onto rocks at the bottom of a cliff
The Hansy (1911)© Courtesy Sotheby's
A black and white photo of a ship coming under the force of a huge white wave
The Jeanne Gougy (1962)© Courtesy Sotheby's
A black and white photo of a ship descending sideways into the sea while people watch
The Minnehaha (1874)© Courtesy Sotheby's
A black and white photo of a ship out at sea in front of a group of people on a beach
The Jeune Hortense (1888)© Courtesy Sotheby's
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