Cheyne's Motion Pictures

By Logan Zachary.  September 8, 2020.

Summary:  The identification of alternate versions of the earliest Franklin relics photography.  Topics include an unidentified relic, a possible Arctic butterfly, photos of McClintock, and a list of which alternates haven't been located.

Thank yous:    
Kenn Harper    
Alison Freebairn    
Russell Potter    
Alexa Price   

* * *    


A brass compass, a bead purse, blue-tinted sunglasses.  Scissors wrapped in paper with a human hair hidden inside.  The freshly-recovered Franklin relics of 1859, back in London and being photographed in “stereoview.”  When examined with special stereoviewer glasses, Victorian sleuths following the Franklin mystery could examine these twinned images in simulated 3D.

The man who photographed them was John Powles Cheyne, himself a veteran of three Franklin searches.  The location was the lost RUSI Museum in London (below).  During the winter of 1859, tens of thousands came to view this and a dozen other cases of new Franklin relics.  Among those relics, the lone paper record just recovered from Victory Point.

All this was made possible by Captain McClintock's expedition.  His was the first search party to reach the heart of the Arctic passage where Franklin, his men, and his two Royal Navy ships had vanished a decade earlier.  As evidence in the (still) unsolved deaths of 129 sailors, the relics were dragged hundreds of miles back to the lone search ship, the Fox.  Waiting for the ice to release them, McClintock had every relic aired and labelled, then packed away for the voyage home.

Back in London, display case #5 (seen above – and really just a drawer, note the handles)  was the most cluttered case in the exhibition.

It is so thick with relics that for 160 years, it has been hiding something highly unusual.

This is not a relic.

One way to show it doesn't belong is by process of elimination, identifying every other relic listed.

But even better:  I have a video of it moving.

It is alive.

This insect distinctly goes underneath an info card inside display case #5.  The movement underneath the white card is clear in two of the four frames of this gif.  It’s not a lens error or a print artifact: it is inside the case.  Its movement allows us to see a brief motion picture from the 1859 edition of Death In The Ice.

If you’re thinking of that classic footage of the galloping horse, used in documentaries about the dawn of motion pictures: that's from 1887 (Muybridge).  Cheyne’s ‘bug rolling around in a museum case’ here is an astonishing 28 years before that.  [This might qualify John Cheyne for some Guinness World Record – “earliest motion picture of insect life moving” perhaps.  Accidental chronophotography.]

By coincidence, the next relic down in the case is a pair of fine silver forceps, listed in an exhibition guide as, "such as naturalists use for seizing small insects."  Unusually here, the silver forceps with a new specimen have returned home, but the naturalist did not.

For more clues to the identity of this insect, I've listed some facts in Appendix 4.  I will take a guess here that we could be looking at the caterpillar stage of an Arctic moth or butterfly.  It could have hitchhiked back to London on the Fox, inside the canvas relic it's next to (a textile source of food).  It would be extraordinary for an Arctic butterfly to appear above the Franklin relics, something living returned from where so many had died.  Without a Dr. Goodsir there to recognize a species native to Nunavut, a museum attendant would likely have released it from a window out into London.

An example of an Arctic butterfly: Booth's sulphur, first noted on the 1829-33 John Ross expedition. (link to Wikipedia)

* * *  


Whatever its true identity, this critter tells us two startling new facts about Cheyne’s relic photography:

#1:  The Cheyne photos were evidently taken sequentially, not simultaneously.  This is a poor or primitive form of stereography – but fantastic for history.  I imagine then that Cheyne was using a camera with a single lens, manually moving the camera left/right in between photos.  This detail is critical because that sequential photography allows us to see movement.

#2:  Cheyne is taking more than one set of photos.  You’ll notice the bug gif is four frames long.  How is this possible, if a stereogram only has two photos?  While looking for a sharper image of the bug, I realized Kenn Harper's Cheyne set had its own unique exposures for Case #5.  This means that Cheyne was taking an alternate set of his stereograms, and – at least in this case – had published both sets.

It's the combination of these two unusual facts that give us an unintentional early motion picture – maybe just 10-20 years after this concept was first attempted in photography.  Daguerreotypists might take two exposures to have a backup, as with the Erebus officer photos by Beard.  Here with Cheyne’s stereography, we’re seeing four frames in a relatively quick sequence.

This is exciting not just for the wildlife.

As those familiar with the Cheyne slides may already be realizing:  Slide #14 is of Capt. McClintock, seated at a table with a few relics.  Hunt down alternate exposures for Slide #14, and we'd have a flicker of a motion picture of Francis Leopold McClintock himself.  He would be doing his best not to move – but whether or not we could detect movement, we'd know that we are seeing sequential shots through time of the famous Arctic explorer.

Therefore immediately after seeing the bug rolling in Case #5, I began a hunt for other Cheyne sets.  They are rare.  Of the few I've been able to examine, I have discovered alternate exposures for less than half of the fourteen slides.  Further, the rare alternates are mixed together in sets, meaning that each individual stereogram of a set must be examined for differences.

I have never yet found a third set of exposures for any slide.  A third set may not exist – it may be that Cheyne only took two stereograms of each scene.  But the possibility can never be entirely eliminated:  each Cheyne set found in an archive or private collection should be investigated, slide by slide.

* * *  


Slide #1 –

The standard Greenwich version.

Kenn Harper's alternate version.

The two juxtaposed:

The tablecloth is pushed back to disguise the crease.  The tea canister (back left) is raised for better viewing.  Brimstone matches come out of the stove, and that stove is given an additional info card.  The Hornby sextant’s info card is moved a bit higher.

This is much more than a bug.  These are changes so large, it’s surprising these alternate Cheynes have never been commented on before (by myself included; I've looked at these for years).  However, it's notable that the two most likely centers for Franklin research – Greenwich's NMM and Cambridge's SPRI – just happen to have identical sets.  That fact alone likely kept the secret.  And with every relic identical in the alternate here, two people could have a phone conversation about these without ever realizing they were looking at different photos.

Slide #3 –

In Slide #3, the Peglar Brush is moved off the centerline in between stereograms.

Slide #10 –

In Slide #10, another relic was once hiding behind the lip of the case.  I assume it was removed by Cheyne after the first stereogram, when he realized he could neither make it fully hidden nor fully visible.

It's highly possible someone will figure out what relic this was; it may be sitting at Greenwich today.  The shape somewhat resembles the handle of a snow knife, of which there are other examples in this display case.  Cheyne lists (accurately) seven knives being here in his guidebook, one of which is without a handle.  McClintock's Voyage of the Fox, however, is a little ambiguous about how many he brought back; he may have brought eight, depending on how you read it:  "Seven knives made by the natives out of materials obtained from the lost expedition, one knife without a handle..."

Just to the left of this relic looks like the line shadow of an info card; it disappears when the relic is removed.  If it is a card, it may be legible to someone who discovers a clearer Cheyne #10A to examine.

* * *  


By far the most changes happen in Slide #13 – The Fox.

The Fox was the lone ship that carried the McClintock expedition.  Many of the Franklin relics we have today – including the Victory Point Record – had just returned to London onboard her.  When Jane Franklin had purchased this ship to search for her husband, she cabled her success to Capt. McClintock in four stark words: “The Fox is mine.”   Upon his successful return, she offered an equally stark reward:  to gift him the ship outright (he politely refused).

At the end of The Voyage of the Fox, McClintock writes that on September 23th the Fox was, "taken into dock at Blackwall," at the East India Docks.  For those who have visited Greenwich, the Fox's masts here would have been just in sight from the windows of the Trafalgar Tavern, looking down the Thames.

The above gif is of the standard stereogram.  But Kenn Harper's Cheynes set has a rare alternate.

Here is the standard version juxtaposed with Kenn Harper's version:

Notice that the brick wall and buildings stay fixed while the ship moves.  The Fox bobs up and down due to the level of the water changing significantly in between stereograms.  [Someone who knows more about Thames level changes than I, please comment on this.]

And more than the water level is changing.  There are first three vessels, and then there are five.  Of the two that appear, one is blurred and close on the left, the other is half-concealed behind the Fox's stern.

After vessels and water levels, there are Victorians.

Viewing the standard Greenwich/Cambridge sets, one would see a lone unidentified man beside the Fox – in a black suit, top hat, and large beard.

But Kenn Harper's Cheynes set shows three men in that same position.  Two are dressed in lighter clothing.  Most interestingly, the man in the black suit here is not the same 'beard and top hat' man seen above.  This new black-suited man has no discernable beard, his hair is not obviously black, and he appears to be wearing a bowler hat.

I believe this man in the bowler hat may be the stereographer, John Powles Cheyne.  [article forthcoming - link here Logan]

You can make out that the man in the center raises his right arm in the first shot, then puts it behind his back for the second shot.  What was he gesturing at?

There was something moving in the men's field of view.

It's on the ship moored in front of the Fox, moving along the edge.  Because of its movement, it's quite blurred.  It appears to be a shaggy white dog.  It's possible the man in the center pointed at the dog as a source of movement, then put his hand back, as he realized it was too late to stop either the photo or the dog.

Whatever the story, this dog (the 2nd helpful critter in this article) gives us the best estimate for the length of exposure for Cheyne's photographs.  If you try to mentally picture it, a dog walking along the edge of that ship would only move so fast, or, only so slow.  There's a realistic range of speed we can all imagine.  That speed plus the blur we see in these photos is how long Cheyne was exposing his slides for.  I would estimate it at longer than 1/25th of a second at the fastest trot, less than 1 second for the slowest walk.  [N.B. – this is for an outdoor exposure.]

* * *    


On the seventh Cheyne set I tracked down, I found alternate exposures of McClintock in Slide #14:  at the Tasmanian Archives, in Hobart.

At a glance, it's obvious the shotgun has moved – that these are new exposures.

From Kenn Harper's set.

From the Tasmanian Archives' set.

Kenn Harper's and Tasmania's sets combined:

Four photographs through time of Francis Leopold McClintock.  During the two stereograms he sits quite still, then between them he moves slightly.  It's a motion picture of someone trying not to move, with the added twist that – being stereography – even when he doesn't move, the camera will as Cheyne alters its perspective.

A leg moves to hold up the shotgun.  His pinky finger grabs the table’s edge.  The hand on his leg curls into a fist, then extends.  The white shirt cuffs visible in the Kenn Harper set disappear in the Tasmanian set.

The shotgun is not the only relic that changes position in between stereograms.  If you follow the chain of his watch from buttonhole down to vest pocket, you’ll notice the chain enters the pocket at a different point.  Which is to say: McClintock checked his watch in between stereograms.

If you watch his vest, it's tempting to say one can see his torso breathing.  But I'm cautious: these photos are difficult if not inherently impossible to line up properly, given that they are taken from different positions (observe the side of the table to see the perspective changing).  I lined them up for the bottom button of his vest, on the assumption that his seated position would change the least.

The most significant change we see is his face.  In this Tasmanian stereogram, he leans in more toward the table, his jacket opens out, and the tilt of his head changes.  It's a slightly more casual, relaxed expression.  Cheyne may have just chided him about checking the time.  Alternatively, McClintock may have been admiring the new gold chronometer his men had gifted him upon their return.

* * *    

This flicker of a motion picture is what I had hoped for from the day I saw the bug move in Case #5.  But after finding six sets in a row with identical McClintock exposures, I decided these alternates never existed.  And yet here they are – from Hobart, of all places.  Special thanks to Kenn Harper for providing equally good resolution of his own Cheyne set for this article (you can even see the ship's wheel in his Fox slide).

If you know of a Cheyne set I haven't seen, please write to me: if a 2nd set of McClintocks was this hard to find, nothing says a 3rd set of exposures can't be out there.  [Appendix 3 has a list of the sets I'm aware of.]

The End.
 – L.Z.  September 8, 2020.

* * *     

Appendix 1:  Other alternates, other stereograms

As a comparison, here's what a stereoscopic slide looks like when the images were captured simultaneously, not sequentially:

Lady Jane and Sophia Cracroft at Yosemite.

Carleton Watkins (American, 1829 - 1916)
Lady Franklin and Party on Moss Rock, below the Vernal Fall, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County., 
about 1861, Albumen silver print
8.8 × 17.7 cm (3 7/16 × 6 15/16 in.), 2002.53.12
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Lady Jane and Sophia Cracroft at Yosemite.  They are the two figures behind the central man in white; Sophia's face is obscured by branches, Jane's is framed by a white wimple.

Russell Potter discovered this photo in 2012 (link to his higher quality Eastman House photo).  It is the only known photo of these two pivotal Northwest Passage figures, who launched enough expeditions to qualify as their own nation-state in Arctic exploration.  Unlike Cheyne's stereography, the photos of this stereogram were taken simultaneously:  we see a frozen moment in time, without movement.

As a comparison, here's an example of what a "motion picture" of only two frames looks like:  the two James Fitzjames daguerreotypes in gif format.

[link to Fitzjames dags on Twitter]

In this manner, it's easier to observe his uniform fill out, or the way his grip on the cap changes, or how - I think - the wind has messed his hair up a bit in back (being on the water, Greenhithe is indeed gusty).  Oddest of all, the jacket cuff of the arm holding his cap gets pulled back.  Assuming someone told him to fix it, we could guess which dag was taken first.

I also attempted Des Voeux – which shows (for the first time, I think) that he didn't just open his jacket:  he actually has a different jacket on in his alternate daguerreotype.

[link to Des Voeux dags on Twitter]

Appendix 2:  Naming scheme

To facilitate future discussion, an A/B naming scheme for the alternate Cheyne stereograms.

Cheyne 1A is before the tablecloth crease has been tidied up, with the info card obscuring the sextant;
Cheyne 1B is after the tablecloth is pushed back, the tea canister is raised up, and the info card is moved above the sextant.

Cheyne 3A is with the Peglar brush still over the centerline, its card obscuring part of the comb;
Cheyne 3B is after the brush has been pushed back into the Peglar half of the case.

Cheyne 5A is with the bug higher up, under the note card;
Cheyne 5B is with the bug lower down the case, out in the open.

Cheyne 10A is with the obscured relic peeking over the side;
Cheyne 10B is with that relic removed from the case.

Cheyne 13A is with three vessels, one man standing beside the Fox;
Cheyne 13B is with five vessels, three men standing beside the Fox.

Cheyne 14A is with the shotgun pointing to the left;
Cheyne 14B is with the shotgun pointing to the right.
[This last one is arbitrary, as I can find no indication here of which stereogram may have come first.  Therefore I am moving the shotgun clockwise in time, as though it were the hand of a clock.]

It's possible Cheyne #4 has an alternate, which is whether or not the background sheet is perfectly still or blurred from moving.  Greenwich's has the blur, but I'd like to see it elsewhere (or in higher resolution) to be certain it's not a photographic flaw.

Appendix 3:  Known Cheyne sets

The rarest Pokémon card is currently the #14A (McClintock with gun pointing at 11 o'clock), which only the Tasmanian Archive holds.

The 2nd rarest card is #13B (The Fox with 3 men), which only Kenn Harper and John W. Lentz hold.

The holy grail would be to find a third set of exposures for #14.

These are the Cheyne sets I am currently aware of (if you know of more, please contact me):

Kenn Harper Collection
     1A,  3A,  5B,  10B,  13B,   14B
Tasmania Archives, Jack Thwaites Collection
              3B,  5A,  10A,  13A,  14A
Greenwich, National Maritime Museum
     1B,  3A,  5A,  10A,  13A,  14B
Cambridge, Scott Polar Research Institute
     1B,  3A,  5A,  10A,  13A,  14B
Doug Wamsley Collection
[Anonymous collection]
     1A,  3B,           10B
John W. Lentz Collection
                                           13B,  14B
Aquila Books set of 9 currently for sale (link)
     1A,  3B,  5B,  10B.

Appendix 4:  On the bug in Case #5

The insect is next to a piece of canvas (AAA2245), which was possibly rolled up protecting the glass bottles seen with it – a great place to hide.  The textile may have been a source of food for the insect.

We can gauge its size by comparing measurements to the known relics around it.  I would estimated it around ¾ of an inch in length; that is the width of the relic it rolls down to touch, Sealing Wax (AAA2182).

Rather than using legs, it seems to be moving by flexing its entire body – albeit not in a proper caterpillar movement, but in a sideways roll.

How did it get in there?  McClintock specifically says the relics on board the Fox (still in Bellot Strait) were “aired, exhibited to the crew, labelled, and packed away” on July 23rd of 1859.  The Fox docked at London two months later (Sept 23 at Blackwall).  Three weeks after that, the relics were in glass cases awaiting the public opening at the RUSI Museum exhibit (Oct 17, London Daily News).

And when exactly did Cheyne's photography occur?  I haven't seen anyone else estimate this, nor been able to narrow it down myself.  At most, it could be any time between late October 1859 to Spring 1860 (when advertisements for the Cheyne slides first appear in newspapers).  Late October is the most likely.

It could be an English butterfly/moth/insect; that narrows the growth time (from egg to this size) considerably.  However, it’s hard to imagine the relics having been given any other outdoor exhibition after Bellot Strait.  And at least most of the time at the museum, these cases were sealed under glass (the newspapers disagree about this a bit in late October, though).  [To observe a glass covering and how tightly it was fitted, see Cheyne #2 (Ensign), the only case photographed with the glass covering in place.]

Perhaps some expert might sift these facts and the four photos into a proper discussion narrowing down what this might be.  For the purposes of this article, the most important detail is simply that it moves.

Appendix 5:  On Cheyne’s photography

The individual photographs in Cheyne’s stereograms are cut to various shapes.  Sets are either uniformly cut like the first example here (4 rounded corners), or, like a mix of the next two (train tunnels - flat top or round top).

There seems to be no correlation between shape cut and the alternate exposures.

Left/Right sequencing:
The dog walking along the ship’s edge in Cheyne #13B suggests that the right side photograph was exposed first, then the left photo.  And, assuming the bug is rolling downhill not uphill in case #5, then Cheyne #5B has that same chronological sequencing:  first right, then left.  However I don’t think much weight should be put on this.  For instance, even if those sequences are both correct, it’s still possible Cheyne was using a Right/Left/Left/Right sequence to expose a scene’s two stereograms (as opposed to R/L/R/L) since that would save him one movement of the camera/tripod for each scene.  Therefore this detail is likely to remain unknowable.

Was Cheyne using a mechanical camera/lens shift, or moving the entire tripod?  One lens or two?  One slide exposed half at a time, or two physically separate slides exposed?  The only firm conclusion I can draw is what the bug and the dog tell us:  that each photo of a stereogram was exposed not at once but in sequence.

One can observe the dog’s distance of movement between #13B's left/right photos and see that very, very little time passed between the two exposures.  That at least suggests a single lens mechanical shift, over a more fiddly tripod shift.  Cheyne was getting to that 2nd exposure quite fast.

One detail in search of a conclusion:  in general, when there is light leaking into the frames, it almost always appears on the outer edges of the finished stereogram (ie, the left side of the left photo will be too bright, and the right side of the right photo will be too bright).  Perhaps an expert on Victorian stereography would recognize that detail and be able to infer more about Cheyne’s camera rig from it.

Presumably Cheyne was taking a backup stereogram in case the first one turned out poorly.  But then why did he publish both – especially considering that one was often inferior?  [e.g., #1A scene being sloppy, #10 having an unlisted relic]  My guess would be that using two may have sped up his reproduction process.

Appendix 6:  Miscellaneous notes 

From my above section The Fox (& Hound):
...[Jane] cabled her success to Capt. McClintock in four stark words: “The Fox is mine.”   Upon his successful return, she offered an equally stark reward:  to gift him the ship outright (he politely refused).
"The Fox is mine" is quoted from McClintock's expedition book The Voyage of the Fox:
I immediately applied to the Admiralty for leave of absence to complete the Franklin search ; and on the 23rd received at Dublin the telegraphic message from Lady Franklin: "Your leave is granted; the 'Fox' is mine; the refit will commence immediately." She had already purchased the screw-yacht 'Fox,' of 177 tons burthen, and now placed her, together with the necessary funds, at my disposal.
McClintock's refusal of her offer (which I hope Jane wrote as, "The Fox is yours") is printed in various newspaper articles in late 1859.  Here The Atlas (5 Nov 1859) is quoting from "a Dublin paper":
…we are now authorized to state that although Lady Franklin did, in the kindest and most generous manner, press upon Captain M’Clintock the acceptance of the “Fox”, both before his departure and since his return home, yet from the first he positively declined to accept this munificent gift from a lady who has already expended so much…

From my above section Alive In The Relics:
...The location was the old RUSI Museum in London.  During the winter of 1859, tens of thousands came to view this and a dozen other cases of new Franklin relics.
I found these figures while compiling the RUSI Acquisitions List (link), in the notes from a RUSI meeting on March 3rd, 1860 (RUSI Journal  Volume 3, page x):
The Arctic Relics
36. After the return of Captain McClintock from his voyage in search of Sir John Franklin and his Comrades, the Board of Admiralty, at the request of Lady Franklin, forwarded for exhibition in the Institution the various relics of that expedition.  The Council, recognising the great interest which had existed for so many years as to the fate of Sir John Franklin and his Crew, willingly appropriated a room for that purpose.  For eleven weeks the public were admitted to inspect the relics, and no less than 23,600 persons during that time visited the Institution.
This description makes it sound like the exhibition closed after 11 weeks – presumably early January 1860.  However, I continued to find references to the new Franklin relics being on display at the RUSI at least as far forward as the summer of 1860.  I can't yet explain this discrepancy.

It's interesting to think that, in what was primarily a stereography project, Cheyne somewhat inadvertently gave us an excellent photographic record of a temporary museum exhibit.  I was thinking it could be the earliest photographic record of a temporary exhibit in history – but, that honor should go to the photography of the Crystal Palace exhibition.  Still, Cheyne's thoroughness goes well beyond those:  he got almost every single item in the exhibition, excepting a few items outside the cases (such as canoe paddles, bows, etc).  We don't even have such a record of the display cases at Greenwich's Death In The Ice – from just three years ago.  As for the Franklin relics, they weren't photographed again until appearing distantly in the background of one 1891 shot – and then not again until 1927, when two appeared buried in the clutter of the RUSI Museum crypt (link).

* * *     

This is Part 2 in a series revolving around Cheyne’s relic photography.

 – L.Z.  September 8, 2020.