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The Lost Daguerreotypes - 18 June 2009

Russell Potter has recently published two very interesting posts on his blog 'Visions of the North' relating to the Daguerreotypes taken of members of the Franklin Expedition just before they departed in 1845. I've just posted a note on his second story and I'm posting a similar piece here, though I would be staggered if anyone who reads this blog hasn't already read it on Russell's!

The problem is this: we are told that two copies were made of each subject on the Franklin Expedition. I have seen it said that two sets were made, and I also recall reading that there are twelve portraits in one set and fourteen in the other. It is certainly the case that Fitzjames was ‘snapped’ twice as he has a different pose in each picture. But I have a problem, because I’ve been trying actually to track down the two sets so I can make high quality reproductions of the two Fitzjames Daguerreotypes for my book.

Generally it is said that one set is at the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge, and the other set is generally said to be either at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich or at the Derbyshire County archive at Matlock. I have been in touch with all of these places and I can confirm that while there is one set at Cambridge, there are NO DAGUERREOTYPES either at Greenwich or at Matlock. This means that unless someone else can find tell us where the second set is, then as far as I can see they have been lost.

I didn’t want to place this comment until I was absolutely sure, but can we set up a Sherlock Holmes style search for the second set of Daguerreotypes? One thought which crosses my mind is this. We know that two Daguerreotypes of Fitzjames were taken because of the well-known differences in his pose between the two, but how many others do we KNOW were taken twice? What is held at Matlock are what appear to be very early, and very small, photographs of Daguerreotypes. They are mounted on card and look to me like the model for the Illustrated London News prints which were published of the Expedition members in, I think, 1851. They seem to have been catalogued mistakenly as Daguerreotypes when they were entered into the Derbyshire archive. Perhaps there never were two sets of Daguerreotypes? Perhaps Fitzjames was the first sitter, with two taken of him, and then the others one at a time. What makes me suspicious is that the only Daguerreotype I have seen of Franklin is very over-exposed. Surely if a second had been taken it would have been better exposed? Perhaps the set of prints at Matlock might be photographs taken as early as 1851 which were mistakenly referred to as Daguerreotypes?

It's strange because these Daguerreotypes are very famous, and yet there still seem to be mysteries about them which we have not yet solved.

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