Friday, December 19, 2014

New Photograph of Lieutenant Irving

Image courtesy City of Edinburgh Council – Libraries
Thanks to a posting by Stuart Tedham over on the Remembering the Franklin Expedition Facebook page, we now can look upon a never-before-noticed photographic image of Lieutenant John Irving. Because the family name was sometimes spelt "Irvine," and the photo was catalogued under that name, it had been missed by generations of Franklin scholars. It's appropriate, indeed, that Mr. Tedham -- who hails from Dumfries and Galloway -- rediscovered this Scottish photograph in the electronic archives of the city of Edinburgh.

The photograph is a Talbotype -- or more properly, a salted-paper positive print made from a Talbotype paper negative. Developed by William Henry Fox Talbot, this process postdated that of Daguerre, but had the advantage of not conflicting with Daguerre's patents (contrary to Daguerre's claim of having donated his invention to France and the world in exchange for a pension, he enforced his patent in Britain and the United States). Thus, while in all of England only Antoine Claudet and Richard Beard were licensed to take photographs, in Scotland, a number of photographers took up Talbot's process with his informal knowledge and consent.  Among the pioneers there was Dr. John Adamson, whom we know took at least one photograph of Harry Goodsir, and his brother Robert Adamson, who with David Ocatvius Hill formed the firm of Hill and Adamson.

The Talbotype process had one further advantage -- unlike Daguerre's, which produced a single opaque image (the metal plate from the camera itself), Talbotypes were negatives on paper, which could produce one -- or more than one -- positive print. Sensitized paper was placed atop the negative, and the resulting contact print or prints were positives. The image of Irving is one of these, and shows a high degree of skill and professionalism; Irving is posed in from of some buildings (or possibly a backdrop), but the depth of field is such that he is in sharp focus, with the background blurred. He is wearing civilian dress, with broad sideburns (a popular style choice on the Franklin Expedition, being also favored by Goodsir, Gore, and Fairholme). There is, according to the curators, no further information about the image in their files, but it's reasonable to assume that Irving had his portrait made not long prior to departing for London and thence to the Arctic. There's also good reason to attribute the image to Hill and Adamson; the style is quite like theirs, and few other photographers active at this time would have been able to make such a fine portrait.

It's remarkable to note that Franklin's expedition may not have been the first to be photographed, nor the first to have taken photographic apparatus to the Frozen Regions -- Talbot himself corresponded briefly with one of the officers of James Clark Ross's Antarctic expedition, who sought training and supplies to try his process there -- alas, we don't know whether these plans were ever followed through.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Tale of a Spoon (Part 3)

"Eothen" Log (courtesy New Bedford Whaling Museum)
When last I wrote, I'd held out hope that the log book of the whaleship "Eothen," which Thomas Barry swore would vindicate him, would -- or would not -- do so. Alas, it does neither, although it does give us some wonderful insights into the daily routine of life aboard such ships.

The vast majority of the notations in the log focus on the weather, the sighting of other ships, and other routine matters. Thomas Barry did not write the log himself, but delegated the task to one Frederick Merrill, a thorough man but somewhat challenged when it came to spelling (he spells his own name "Merel"). He rarely gives details of any shipboard doings, though at a couple of points he finds them worthy of note. On 28 July he writes that "Tonight the first Esquimaux came aboard: men, women, and girls. They gave us whale bones and deer, seal, and bear skins." When it came to the vessel's task in bringing Schwatka and his men north, there is a similarly brief note: "Franklynn [sic] Arctic Search Party," which seems to have been meant as a header for the journal as a whole. Somewhat later, around September, are several stanzas from a whalemen's alphabet song, with lines such as "I is the iron on the staysail-boom fit / J is the Jib that neatly did sit / K is the kelson that lies in the hole / L is the lanyards that take a good hold." There are many other versions of this song -- here's a common one -- it may be worth noting that in the place of the traditional "G is for Gangway," the version recorded by Merrill has "G is for grog, that seldom came 'round."

There's an extensive notation of personal supplies, including an accounting of the tobacco used by Captain Barry -- but no enumeration of the stores meant for the Schwatka group. The log ends before the voyage does; it's likely that it was continued in a succeeding volume, which is not presently available. And there's nothing -- alas -- about spoons. As to the honesty of Barry, we have no further indication here, although it's interesting to note that, despite his claim of having sent the mended spoon to Sophia Cracroft, he apparently didn't. In her own personal copy of Gilder's Schwatka's Search, Sophia added a note on the page where this claim was made: "This is not a correct statement. Barry never sent me a spoon." According to her note, once she read of this claim in the Times, she contacted the firm of Morrison and Brown and "after some negotiation" obtained one spoon -- apparently the mended one -- through the help of Professor Nourse (whose name is familiar to us today as the editor of Hall's account of his second voyage). This doesn't seem to speak well in support of Barry's overall honesty, but without any further information, it's hard to say how this misunderstanding came about. I'm continuing to research the history of these spoons -- I have at hand some papers from the Schwatka family that may prove to be of assistance -- if I find anything more, there'll be a part four.

With special thanks to Peter Collins and Michael Lapides of the New Bedford Whaling Museum for their assistance in searching and scanning the logbook of the "Eothen."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Last Man Searching

Circular Cairn at Erebus Bay (photo courtesy Tom Gross)
I saw the headline a few days after the discovery of HMS "Erebus" -- "Hay River Man Continues Search for Franklin's Grave" -- and at once I thought to myself, this guy must have something to do with Woodman. And so it proved to be: Tom Gross has walked the stones of King William Island with Dave for many years, part of several iterations of the legendary "Project Supunger" -- and even to this day, he's returned each year on his own to continue the search.

Finding Franklin's grave, after all, would be in some ways an even more iconic discovery than that of his ships. We know that he died on 11 June, 1847, at a point when the ships were still afloat, and all the resources that would have, up until his death, been at his command would have been employed in his interment. If the graves at Beechey showed extraordinary care -- custom-made coffins with metal nameplates, and carved headboards reminiscent of an English country churchyard -- surely Franklin's grave would have been even more substantial. And that's the kind of grave that Supunger described to Charles Francis Hall: a vault, about four feet in depth and longer than a man's body, all lined with smooth, closely-fitted stones. A large wooden pole was fixed in the ground nearby, though part of it had been chewed off by a polar bear; the grave itself had been breached by some animal, with the several body parts outside, and the skull and a leg bone inside.

Some -- including the present writer -- have suggested that Irving's grave, already found by Woodman, could be the remnant of this vault, but Gross disagrees. When I reached him by phone a couple of weeks ago, he explained that the Irving grave was, and had always been, a shallow one, made of just a few rough-shaped rocks; it was not even long enough for a body to lay straight. Franklin's tomb, on the other hand, must have been as strong and substantial as possible; Supunger's description of a fortified vault, four feet in depth and as long as as wide as a man, is just what one would expect.

But finding it is another matter. Woodman's earlier Project Supunger searches worked on the assumption that the pile of clothes, stoves and kettles, and other items was the one abandoned near Crozier's Landing. Tom Gross -- having searched there -- now believes this to be mistaken; he points out that there were at least two areas of large piles of abandoned goods, inclduing one on the shores of Erebus Bay. Large cook-stoves would make more sense there -- the ships may well have been just a short distance offshore, and reachable by open water (thus the boats); Gross believes the stoves may have been used to melt ice and heat water, perhaps for drinking purposes, perhaps to enable the men to wash and prepare for their journey.

There are difficulties with this view: Supunger seems to describe the place as much further north, near the tip of the island -- but, as Gross notes, he was only about seventeen at the time, and may have mistaken the long coast of Erebus bay for the northern coastline. Gross also doubts that Supunger had ever seen something like a white man's map.

A few years back Gross heard an interesting account from an Inuk in Gjoa Haven who described how his father told him about finding a "house of stone" a ways inland from Erebus Bay, one that answers in many respects to Supunger's description. This house was made with large, smooth stones, had a stone 'doorway,' and was built into the side of a natural ridge. It's possible that, despite the many searches closer along the coast, that somewhere a ways further inland this stone house still stands.

It's a possibility Tom is willing to stake his time and money on. And so, each summer, he returns to search again. I think we should all wish him luck.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Tale of of a Spoon (Part 2)

Picking up on our story: On his arrival in the Arctic in 1878, Frederick Schwatka  was unable to find any Netsilik who answered to Thomas F. Barry's description of the men who had brought him the Franklin spoon. The only Inuit who knew of this spoon declared that it had been given not to Barry, but to Captain Potter. Schwatka promptly dispatched his second-in-command, William Gilder, on a sledge journey to Repulse Bay to ask Potter himself, who declared that the spoon in question was missing, and that he suspected Barry had stolen it, later fabricating the story about Inuit witnesses. Many -- myself included -- have wondered why, since Barry was present at Repulse Bay when Gilder came to ask Potter about the spoon, they didn't confront him then. Apparently Barry wondered as well; when questioned by his employers on his return he gave the account above, denying categorically that he had stolen his spoon from Captain Potter.

This wasn't what got him into the most trouble, though. As part of his contract, he'd agreed to leave supplies and provisions at Depot Island near Camp Daly for Schwatka's return, but did not do so, an act of neglect which greatly irked Schwatka and his party, who were obliged to beg for supplies from another whaler in the vicinity. Barry tried to explain that, after giving additional supplies to Schwatka before his departure, and feeding two Inuit members of the party left in his care, there was very little bread left, and a much reduced amount of other provisions. He endeavored to reach his goal and leave these behind, but was unable due to adverse ice conditions; nevertheless he swore that he had not misappropriated them, and that the log of the "Eothen" would prove him right. That logbook, unfortunately, was still on the ship, which had returned to Hudson's Bay under another commander.

All this led to his condemnation and dismissal by his employers, and his storming out of the interview with the reporter from the Herald quoted above. His later fate is a mystery; although a man of the exact same name served as a tutor to several members of William Randolph Hearst's family in the 1880's, it's hard to imagine our choleric whaling captain was the same man. As to the logbook of the "Eothen," it's now at the New Bedford Whaling Museum; in an upcoming post, I'll tell whether this record vindicates Barry -- or not.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A tale of a Spoon (Part 1)

Everyone knows something about the expedition led by Frederick Schwatka to find reported documents left behind by Sir John Franklin's men. But few are aware that this expedition was, in fact, launched by a spoon -- or that the Inuit evidence given with this spoon pointed not to King William Island, but to another, much smaller island at the northwest tip of the Melville Peninsula. David Woodman gave these accounts a thorough examination in his second book, Strangers Among Us, but since then no one has followed up on the remarkable trail of clues that could -- just possibly -- lead to the remains of a band of Franklin survivors who almost -- almost -- got out.

The testimony was given to one Thomas F. Barry, at that time a second mate on a whaling ship wintering over near Repulse Bay (in one season) and Marble Island (on another), in 1872 and 1876, serving under Captain Edwin Potter. The Inuit told him of a cairn which was built atop a heavy stone, under which white men -- under the command of a stout man with three stripes on his sleeves -- had buried books and journal like the ones they'd seen him writing in. Barry, on both occasions, cross-examined the Inuit, in a manner that showed he was quite familiar with the pidgin version of Inuktitut commonly used with whalers. And, both times, he placed a chart in front of them and asked where they had seen these things -- and both groups of Inuit pointed to a spot near Cape Crozier on the coast of the Melville Peninsula were they'd seen a cairn, as well as to Cape Englefield and a spot just offshore from it where they said there was an island. They could not understand why this island was not on the white men's charts, but told that the party they had seen had perished there.

Barry's testimony, given to the American Geographical Society, was sent on to the Admirality for evaluation. Both Sir Francis Leopold McClintock and Dr. John Rae cast doubt on the tale, both because they didn't think the pidgin Inuktitut used by Barry was adequate to understand the Inuit accounts fully, and (in Rae's case) because he himself had built a cairn inland from Cape Crozier, and believed this was the one in Barry's story. Indeed, Charles Francis Hall had also visited the spot, though due to deep snow and a lack of tools it isn't clear whether he would have been able to get down to the large rocks the Inuit told of. Rae also declared that Cape Englefield an unlikely place for any Franklin survivors to have journeyed, it being “the last place that any one in distress would think of going to with the object of obtaining assistance and succor.”

But he hadn't thought about the island. Indicated on modern maps as "Crown Prince Frederik Island" (a result of its rediscovery in 1922 by Peter Freuchen) it's actually a good deal more hospitable than its neighboring cape; the U.S. Hydrographic Office describes it as "mostly quite low, composed of sand and small stones," and it could readily have been seen as an ideal site for some kind of camp. But why, after all, would a Franklin party aim for, let alone reach, such a distant destination when all the testimony we have suggests they tried heading south, either to the Fish River or perhaps Repulse Bay?

I can think of one potential answer: since Francis Crozier had spent considerable time among the Inuit at Igloolik while on Parry's second expedition (1821-23), perhaps he would have considered heading in that direction. A camp at Crown Prince Frederik Island might have been meant only as a way-station, before it became a final resting place. This island, so far as I know, has never been searched for any trace of Franklin.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sacred from Every Eye But Mine: Sir John Franklin's Lost Journal (REPOST)

The talk about the possibility of recovering papers and logbooks from the wreck of HMS "Erebus" brings to mind the persistent hope of Franklin searchers over the years that some written documents may yet be found. The ships' log-books would certainly be of enormous value, and might well have been cached on land; more valuable still would be one of the officer's journals. As Ralph Lloyd-Jones recently observed, though, there would not have been any official logbook kept by Franklin himself -- for, altough the commander of the Expedition as a whole, he was not the captain of either vessel. And yet, as it happens, we do know that Sir John Franklin's kept his own personal journal -- in fact, we have a physical description of it from Lady Jane Franklin herself!

Writing on December 15, 1854 to James Anderson, who had been selected to lead a Hudson's Bay party down the Fish River to search the area where it seemed Dr. Rae's evidence pointed, Lady Franklin made two quite singular requests. The first, touchingly, was for a lock of her husband's hair, should his body be found:
I do not expect my dear husband to be amongst the survivors -- if you should meet with his corpse which I think will be found wherever the ships are found, I beg you to bring me his locks of hair ..,
Yet there was also another sort of lock, one which Lady Jane implored Andserson not to open:
I also entreat you to bring me sealed up and directed to myself all the letters you can find addressed to him or me which may be supposed to have been in his possession. I feel that my dear husband's private letters and papers ought to be sacred from every eye but mine ...you must not attribute to me a want of confidence in your honor as a gentleman, a man of conscience and feeling. In your hands these cherished relics will be safe,but I wish you to give strict injunctions to all under you to observe the same precautions ... I shall give £700 reward to whoever brings or forwards this packet ... My husband took with him a bound quarto memorandum book in which he was to write his private journal -- it had brass at the corners and a lock and key -- this also I desire to possess and it will meet with the reward.
The detailed description of this book is striking -- as is Lady Jane's request to Anderson that he return but not read this "private" journal. For understandable as her request was, it was also -- strictly speaking -- a violation of Royal Navy protocol. In Franklin's orders, in paragraph 22, he was given the customary command:
On your arrival in England you are immediately to repair to this office, in order to lay before us a full account of your proceedings ... taking care to demand from the officers, petty officers, and all other persons on board, the logs and journals they may have kept, which are to be sealed up, and you will issue similar directions to Captain Crozier and his officers. The said logs, journals, or other documents to be thereafter disposed of as we may think proper to determine.
Today, of course, these orders are long lapsed, and the British government has given permission for Canada to take possession of any artifacts found in the current search for the lost ships. If left on board one of the vessels, such written materials may yet have a further lease on life; at the low temperatures and low oxygen content of Arctic waters, they are even less susceptible to decay and damage than if they had been left on land. Articles of similar fragility -- playing cards from RMS Titanic, along with a remarkably-preserved bowler hat -- have been retrieved elsewhere. Whatever is found, I shall myself be on the lookout for a bound quarto volume, its corners tipped in brass, locked away with a lock whose service, once so dear to Lady Franklin's hopes, is now no longer needed.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

HMS "Erebus"

It was -- and is -- a storied vessel. Her Majesty's Ship "Erebus," a 372-ton bomb ketch, designed by Sir Henry Peake, constructed at Pembroke dockyard and already a veteran of James Clark Ross's Antarctic voyage before she became Sir John Franklin's flagship for his 1845 expedition in search of the long-sought Northwest Passage, a voyage from which neither he not any of his 128 men would ever return -- and now, she is found, recovered, re-seen, and ready to tell all manner of stories we can hardly yet conceive -- certainly a cause of celebration. So far, Parks Canada has only released a few tantalizing tidbits of what must be a substantial amount of video and still images from the two days of diving on the wreck that they managed before the end of this year's season -- there's some debate over whether they will (or should) release more all at once, or deal it out in dribs and drabs.

Whichever they choose, it's clear that it will take many years of patient work before this vessel gives up all her secrets. And, in the meantime, we should not forget about the many Franklin searchers and researchers of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, without whose persistence and passion the renewed search might have never captured public interest, or borne such fruitful results: Dave Woodman, Louie Kamookak, Dorothy Eber, Barry Ranford, Margaret Bertulli, Anne Keenleyside, John Harrington, Andrew Gregg, Ron Rust, Peter Wadhams, Maria Pia Casarini, Owen Beattie and John Geiger, Wayne Davidson, William Battersby, Peter Carney, and many others who have sought for traces of Franklin on land and sea (ice), probed through Inuit testimony, searched Admiralty records, and puzzled over ships' plans. Indeed if -- in the face of cutbacks and layoffs that have severely reduced the Canadian government's ranks of experts in archaeology, conservation, materials science, and other areas, this list of dedicated amateurs might come in handy.

NB: The illustration for this post is a curious one -- J.M.W. Turner's "Hurrah for the Whaler Erebus, Another Fish!," exhibited in 1841-- Turner, apparently had been commissioned to provide illustrations for an account of James Clark Ross's Antarctic voyages, but the commission fell through. Tuner, not wanting either to abandon the work or risk the ire of the publishers, re-worked and re-titled them, turning HMS "Erebus" into a whaling vessel! The engraving after Turner's original is by Robert Brandard.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Sunken Pompeii

Image © Parks Canada 2014
Upon its arrival in Britain in 1856, the HMS "Resolute" -- a ship that had searched for Sir John Franklin, only to be trapped in the ice itself, and abandoned in the Arctic -- there was a profound feeling of awe and admiration. For, against all odds, the ship had freed herself from her icy death-trap and drifted unpiloted into the Davis Strait, where itshewas boarded and brought back to port by a passing whaler. As a gift to her Majesty, the US Congress ordered the ship restored to her original condition, and this work was done with such care and thoroughness that accounts in the press compared it to a "floating Pompeii":
As regards the arrangement of the furniture and the situation of each particular article in the captain's cabin, they were put into the same state as that in which they were when the crew forsook the ship. In fact, the ship is—so to express it— a floating Pompeii, and everything comes to light just as it was left. Captain Kellet’s epaulets are lying in a tin box on the table. Lieut. Pim’s musical box occupies its old place on the top of a "what not." The "logs" of the various officers are in their respective recesses on the bookshelves. The portmanteau containing the officers’ greatcoats is thrown heedlessly on a chair. On the wall hangs the picture of a ballet girl pirouetting—still for ever pirouetting on the tips of her toes—and, as if in mockery of domestic comfort, a little kettle that should be singing songs "full of family glee," does nothing of the kind, but sits upon a tireless stove as cold as a stone and as silent.
That these objects were still present on board the "Resolute" when she was found would seem to indicate a typical state of affairs when an ice-bound vessel was abandoned in an orderly manner, down to the music-boxes, epaulet-cases, and a picture on the wall. It's particularly interesting to see that the officers' logs or journals were still on the shelves -- we can only hope that the same was the case when the Franklin ship was abandoned.

Indeed, although in some cases these "restored" items had in fact been replaced, the ship was in extraordinary shape when Captain Budington first found it adrift, and went on board:
The ship was found not to have sustained any very material damage. The ropes, indeed, were hard, and inflexible as chains; the rigging was stiff, and crackled at the touch; the tanks in the hold had burst, the iron work was rusted, the paint was discoloured with bilge water, and the topmast and topgallant mast were shattered, but the hull had escaped unscathed, and the ship was not hurt in any vital part. There were three or four feet of water in the hold, but she had not sprung a leak. The cordage was coiled in neat little circles on the deek, after the fashion of English seamen, and the sails were frozen to such stiffness as to resemble sheets of tin. Several thousand pounds of guupowder were found on board, somewhat deteriorated in quality, yet good enough for such purposes as firing salutes. Some of the scientific instruments were injured by exposure and rust; but others were in excellent condition.For a year and four months no human foot had trod the deck of this phantom ship, yet, amid those savage solitudes, where man there was none, and might never be, the pilot's wheel made a stern proclamation, for around it were inscribed in letters of brass the immortal words, "England expects that every man will do his duty."
One can imagine that this indeed was the condition of the Franklin vessel prior to its sinking, and those items not of interest to the Inuit, such as books and written materials, would likely have been left just as they were.

If the "Resolute," then, was a "floating Pompeii," there's reason to hope that the Franklin ship may prove to be a sunken one, revealing much not only about the events after the initial abandonment in 1848, but of everyday life on board.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Was evidence of the Franklin ship found in 1965?

With all the celebration which has quite rightly attended the extraordinary discovery of one of Sir John Franklin's ships by the Victoria Strait expedition, those of us still stuck in our armchairs have, quite naturally, returned to our reading and research with renewed spirits. And it was while digging about in this manner that my fellow Franklin blogger Andrés Paredes Salvador stumbled upon an old, torn clipping at the website of the Derbyshire Record Office, home to a large collection of Franklin materials. The clipping, from April 14th 1965, was headlined "ECHO FROM THE DEEP: Wreck May End Riddle of Arctic Adventure." It seemed, from the remaining bit of the article, that two Canadian naval officers, D.J. Kidd and B.F. Ackerman thought they had found the site of one of Franklin's ships. Was such a thing even distantly possible? Why had no one heard of Kidd or Ackerman? What was the result of their claim?

It took me some time to find any details of their claim, and when I did, it was in an unusual place -- a digitized copy of The War Cry, the official magazine of the Salvation Army. Astonishingly, these men had done their own research, and had -- as have Woodman and other modern searchers -- identified the area near O'Reilly Island as the likely site of one wreck. They then persuaded Dr. E.F. Roots of the Polar Shelf staff in Cambridge Bay that it was worth trying a magnetometer search, looking, as would Woodman nearly 30 years later, for the magnetic signature of the ship's ex-railway engine. They identified a target, described as "250 feet off the east shore of the south end of a small unnamed island which lies one mile north of the northern tip of O'Reilly Island," and seemed to have a high level of confidence that this was the ship they sought.

I know from talking with Dave Woodman over the years how tough it is to use a magnetometer survey in this way -- he in his own searches identified numerous targets, discovering, when he examined them with side-scan sonar, that they were, alas, just natural features. He mentions the 1965 search in his Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Evidence, on page 267.

Still, with the claimed site so close to this year's find, one wonders: could these two forgotten men have actually found the site of the ship or some part of it 49 years ago? They also reported finding a spike marked with the "broad arrow" near the site -- which apparently led to the "nameless" island being named "Nail Island" -- along with wood chips and shavings, which could suggest that these were from Inuit re-purposing of wood from the ships. Dr. Roots himself came to believe that their finding was just a natural feature, and the initial excitement soon died down.

UPDATE: I wrote to Dave Woodman, and he told me that, indeed, he'd followed up on this report during his own magnetometer survey:
They in actual fact were following up an earlier area magnetometer survey by Canadian geologists that had identified a large discrete anomaly in the area (without any knowledge of Franklin history). The large anomaly, I believe, was one of those we relocated in our 2002 magnetometer survey and labelled by Brad Nelson (our expert) as "enormous." It was, in his opinion, about 1000 times too powerful to have been caused by a Franklin ship (hence discoverable using 1960s technology).The water depth was, if I remember, much too shallow to allow for the wreck (the hull would have been visible - so not in accord with the Inuit testimony) and was very close to O'Reilly Island (so not germane to where the wreck was actually found - further north).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Photographs from the Bottom of the Sea

One of the most fascinating aspects of the discovery of one of Sir John Franklin's ships is the possibility that they may contain photographic images made by the ship's officers during their ill-fated Arctic sojourn. And yet, although we know that the Franklin expedition had brought along a camera apparatus, one might well ask whether there's any likelihood that the images made with it would, even if recovered, would be intact after more than one hundred and sixty years under water.

The good news is that there's precent for this. The image above, from a 2014 article by Steve Roach in Coin World, shows two Ambrotypes from the wreck of the SS "Central America," a side-wheel steamer that sank in 1857 off the Carolina coast. Although mostly known for its treasures of gold and silver, the wreck has also yielded many touching reminders of the human loss that attending its sinking, these images most poignant among them. Various articles on the wreck mention the recovery of both Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes, although I've been unable to locate any images of the former. By 1857, the Daguerreotype would have been "old" technology, and probably far less common -- finding one in an 1857 wreck would be like finding an original iPhone in a car crash today -- unlikely, but certainly not impossible.

The survival status of such an image would also be very dependent on the technology. Ambrotypes are glass plates, with the image on the interior side of the glass, backed with black paper (the image is negative but appears positive -- in the UK they're sometimes referred to a "collodion positives." Since the collodion emulsion is inside the keep-case, such an image would be somewhat protected from water damage, and that's what we see in the image above; even though the decorative paper of the case has eroded away, the images seem intact.

For a Daguerreotype, though, the odds of survival might well be steeper. They consist of a sensitized copper plate which has been coated with silver and polished to a mirror-like sheen; the silver is sensitized and developed with vapors, and resides on an extraordinarily thin later atop the silver. If you see an original, it still looks like a mirror when viewed straight-on; the image only appears at an angle. As surviving examples show, it's a fragile format; thoughtless attempts to "clean" a Daguerreotype with a cloth have led to irreparable damage.

In commercial use, Daguerreotypes were placed in a  keep-case with a securely fastened glass plate as a cover -- but would Franklin's men have followed this procedure? The officer most closely associated with the apparatus was Goodsir, who as Assistant Surgeon and naturalist might also have found mollusks more interesting than men -- I'm not sure that dramatic finds such as those in Andrée's camera are likely. And lastly, as Goodsir was serving aboard HMS "Erebus," if the wreck turns out to be the "Terror" then materials associated with him probably aren't going to be found anyway.

But still, one can always dream ...