Maritime Antiques: The Polar Light Fantastic

Published 17th April 2013

Amongst the entries for the forthcoming Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood Specialist Maritime Sale on 12th June 2013  at the Dowell Street saleroom (which is currently being prepared by the Maritime and Sporting Department) are several interesting 19th century magic lantern slides of a Polar Expedition.

The only way of recording the events of such a journey would have been through the journals and sketches of the men taking part. These provide a strong sense of the intense cold and environment endured by members of the expedition. However, the colours of the lantern slides provide a rare vision of what to a 19th century explorer, must have been an awe inspiring sight.

victorian polar expedition magic lantern slide

Victorian Polar Expedition Magic lantern slide

Simply entitled ‘Mid Winter Polar Region’, a lone figure dressed in furs and skins looks towards the slumbering ships, trapped in the pack ice under a starlight sky. The scene is given a slightly sinister feel as the sun tints the ice and masts of the ships with a reddish hue. The uneasy feeling increases when you consider the fate of Sir John Franklin’s Lost Expedition of 1845 in which all hands were lost after the ship became trapped in the ice of Victoria Strait, near King William Island.

 detail of polar expedition magic lantern slide

Detail of Polar Expedition Magic lantern slide

Another slide has two small figures on the foreshore, standing and taking in the expansive icy panorama under a colourful sky. Looking closely in the middle distance you can imagine the gasps of the Victorian ladies and Gentleman attending a lecture on the expedition as the mast of a ship can just be seen behind an iceberg.

Polar Expedition Magic lantern slide

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