The Gibsons of Scilly Have Been Photographing Shipwrecks Since 1869

From 1869 to 1997, four generations of the Gibson family captured over 200 shipwrecks in the treacherous waters around the Isles of Scilly — a small group of islands off the coast of Cornwall in southern England. Now the entire Gibsons of Scilly 1,000-negative archive is hitting the auction block at Sotheby’s London on November 12, where is it estimated to fetch between £100,000 and £150,000.

Patriarch, seaman, and pioneering shipwreck photojournalist John Gibson established his first photographic studio in Penzance in 1860 before returning to the Scillies and bringing his sons Alexander and Herbert into the family business in 1865. As brothers and business partners, they were very close. According to a Sotheby’s press release, “it is said that Alexander almost threw himself into Herbert’s grave at his funeral in 1937.” Two more Gibson men — James and Frank — carried on the tradition until Frank passed away last year.

“This is the greatest archive of the drama and mechanics of shipwreck we will ever see — a thousand images stretching over 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,” said Rex Cowan, a “shipwreck hunter and author.”

The Hansy, 1911

The Bay of Panama, 1891

The Minnehaha, 1874

The Seine, 1900

The Glenbervie, 1901

The Cita, 1997

James Gibson at work

— Ashton Cooper

(Photos: ©The Gibsons of Scilly; Courtesy Sotheby’s.)