The greatest collection of shipwreck photographs, amassed by the Isles of Scilly Gibson family, go under the hammer at Sotheby’s next month.

Thousands of films, glass negatives, silver print photos and a hand written shipwreck ledger compiled by Herbert and Alexander Gibson are to be auctioned as a single lot.

The Gibson’s are well-known in Cornwall, and indeed around the world, for the evocative shipwreck images captured since the 19th Century.

(Below) BAY OF PANAMA: Drove into cliffs at Nare Point, near Falmouth March 10th, 1891.
One of the most famous and notorious of all Cornish wrecks, this exceptionally fine ship was carrying jute from Calcutta when, caught in a blizzard, she went headlong into the cliffs.
A monstrous wave swept nine overboard including the captain and his wife, while another six froze to death overnight. The boatswain went mad and jumped into the sea. 17 of the crew of 40 survived the night. The horse-drawn omnibus taking the survivors to Falmouth the next day was caught in a snow-drift and they had to finish their journey on foot – some without shoes – an ordeal which was said to be worse than the shipwreck itself.
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The unparalleled archive of shipwreck images will be presented for sale at Sotheby’s London auction on November 12. Taken by four generations of the Gibson family of photographers over nearly 130 years, the 1000 negatives record the wrecks of over 200 ships and the fate of their passengers, crew and cargo as they travelled from across the world through the notoriously treacherous seas around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly between 1869 and 1997.

The images have captured the imagination of some of the UK’s most celebrated authors.

Author John Le Carré, on visiting the Gibsons of Scilly archive with Frank Gibson in 1997, said: "We are standing in an Aladdin’s cave where the Gibson treasure is stored, and Frank is its keeper. It is half shed, half amateur laboratory, a litter of cluttered shelves, ancient equipment, boxes, printer’s blocks and books.

"Many hundreds of plates and thousands of photographs are still waiting an inventory. Most have never seen the light of day. Any agent, publisher or accountant would go into free fall at the very sight of them.’

At the very forefront of early photojournalism, John Gibson and his descendants were determined to be first on the scene when these shipwrecks struck. 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 original handwritten eye-witness accounts as recorded by Alexander and Herbert Gibson in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries will be sold alongside these images. The archive will be sold as a single lot in Sotheby’s Travel, Atlases, Maps and Natural History sale, and is estimated to achieve between £100,000 and £150,000.

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