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1,000 Epic Shipwreck Photos Reveal The Dangerous History Of Life At Sea

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The sea has long captured the eye of photographers and painters, luring these curious voyagers to the open waters with its sublime beauty. With an ability to evoke both the epitome of tranquility and the peak of unfathomable danger, it's no wonder the ocean is one of the art world's most persistent muses.

Admittedly, it's difficult to accurately frame the dynamic intensity of a crashing wave, but one family of 19th century photojournalists stumbled upon an aspect of the sea that seems to encapsulate both the horror and natural awe we feel before it. For nearly 130 years, the Gibsons and their descendants documented the wrecks of over 200 ships, snapping an impressive 1,000 negatives of battered boats and the tragic passengers who traveled aboard them.

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The Socoa, Cagwith, Lizard, travelling from Stettin-San Francisco carrying cement. Courtesy Sotheby's.

Their images, shot near and around the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula of Great Britain, reveal the complex reality of seafarers dating as far back as 1869. John Gibson was the first of the family to enter into the trade, transforming from seaman to photographer -- an adventurous career change that reflected the romantic nature of photojournalism decades ago. His sons Herbert and Alexander and other relatives followed suit, using the newly introduced telegraph as a means of wiring their information to the world.

"This is the greatest archive of the drama and mechanics of shipwreck we will ever see," Rex Cowan, a shipwreck hunter and author, remarked in his writings. "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."

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The Suffolk, Lizard, 1886, a steamship carrying general cargo and cattle from Baltimore to London. Courtesy Sotheby's.

The Gibson archive is set to go up for auction at Sotheby's in London this fall, bringing the vintage photographs to the bidding block for a price of up to $240,000. Collected together with manuscript ledgers describing the terrible wrecks, the works are a slice of maritime history, exposing the treacherous stories of sailors and fisherman over 100 years ago.

Scroll through a preview of photographs below and let us know your thoughts on the Gibson archive in the comments.

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The T W Lawson, Annet, 1907, a seven masted Schooner from Philladelphia carrying barrels of oil. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

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The Paris, Lowlands Point, The Lizard, 1899, A French Liner travelling from New York to Plymouth with 300 passengers. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

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The Granite Slate, Porthcurno, 1895, a Yankee windjammer making for Swansea. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

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The Brinkburn, Maiden Bower, Isles of Scilly, 1898, carrying 9000 bales of cotton from Galveston to Le Havre. Courtesy of Sotheby's/

gran

The Granite Slate, Porthcurno, 1895, a Yankee windjammer making for Swansea. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

soc

The Socoa, Cagwith, Lizard, travelling from Stettin-San Francisco carrying cement. Courtesy Sotheby's.

suff

The Suffolk, Lizard, 1886, a steamship carrying general cargo and cattle from Baltimore to London. Courtesy Sotheby's.

brink

The Brinkburn, Maiden Bower, Isles of Scilly, 1898, carrying 9000 bales of cotton from Galveston to Le Havre. Courtesy of Sotheby's/

"Gibsons of Scilly" photographs are set for auction on November 12, 2013 at Sotheby's London.

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