Estimated £500-800 but sold for £25,000 by Dominic Winter (20% buyer’s premium) on the second day of an April 10-11 sale, the journals were written on both sides of some 450 leaves in all and included a number of illustrations.
The journals were rather dampstained, frayed, browned and discoloured, but accomplished in a small but clear italic hand and obviously of a much greater attraction than at first realised.
Long naval career
Chimmo’s naval career began as a 13-year-old midshipman around the the time of the First Anglo-Chinese War (1839-42), or the First Opium War as it was commonly called.
In the first of Chimmo’s journals he joins HMS Cornwallis, a 74-gun, third-rate ship of line in the summer of 1841. He sets sail for the China Seas, where he took part in actions off Canton in the fleet commanded by Sir William Parker.
Chimmo’s journal, written up at a slightly later date, gives a vivid account of life on board ship.
As well as providing the expected details of weather and sailing conditions, along with copies of despatches and other documents, he provides details of officers and crew and daily life on the Cornwallis.
His subjects range from celebrations and drunkenness to floggings and shark catching, the sinking of piratical junks, meetings with other ships and sailing vessels, and, of course, the always welcome run ashore.
He is careful to note the deaths of officers and their causes, and he provides plenty of detail on local conflicts and events, among them the signing of the Treaty of Nanking aboard his ship in August 1842. Chimmo’s return to England came a little over two years later.
The second volume begins in December 1844 with Chimmo joining HMS Herald. A 28-gun, sixth-rate corvette that had seen service in the China seas in 1841-42, she had been converted to a survey ship and together with HMS Pandora conducted a survey off the coast of British Columbia after the Oregon boundary dispute with the United States.
Chimmo sailed from Sheerness in May 1845 and among many other places visited Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro, Valparaiso, the Galapagos, Panama, San Francisco and Acapulco.
This second volume ends in Panama in 1848.
On May 9, 1848 the Herald departed Panama and travelled through the Bering Strait in Arctic regions as part of an expedition searching for Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition and subsequently made three further voyages to the north.
In cataloguing the lot Chris Albury of Dominic Winter came to realise that there must have been a third volume, one covering those later years, but on consulting the consignor found that the journals relating to those voyages were so badly damaged that they had been thrown away some time ago.
Chimmo, who retired in 1873 with the rank of captain, did however publish an account of those Arctic voyages in Euryalus; Tales of the Sea, a Few Leaves from the Diary of a Midshipman (1860)*.
Conan Doyle hoaxed
A very different attraction in this part of the South Cerney sale comprised a dozen lots relating to that famous photographic hoax of 1917, the ‘Cottingley Fairies’.
Two young girls, 16-year-old Elsie Wright and her nine-year-old cousin, Frances Griffiths, made and photographed themselves with model fairies in a practical joke that many people somehow managed to convince themselves were genuine manifestations of a fairy world – Arthur Conan Doyle among them.
Six of the lots were sent to auction by Frances’ daughter, but were mostly unsold, and it was a scarce hand-coloured example of perhaps the most famous image, printed a few years later, that led the bidding. One of five versions of this image on offer, it sold at £11,000.
Less familiar, perhaps, is the hand coloured print of ‘Fairy with Posy’ in which Elsie features. It sold at £4000.
The most successful of the photographic lots in the Gloucestershire sale was a group of four albums relating to the work of the London Missionary Society and the creation of the Peking Union Medical College, circa 1907-15.
Containing some 290 images, mostly window mounted gelatine silver print snapshots of Peking people and places, the albums were valued at £1000-1500 but sold for £78,000 (see report on the News Digest pages of ATG No 2388).
Among the letters and documents offered was a Crown grant of land at Woodstock to a Richard of Dover, dating from 1247 and still bearing the substantial remains of a green wax ‘Great Seal’ of Henry III. It made £2500.
* Copies of Chimmo’s Euryalus… occasionally come to auction and that in the Franklin Brook-Hitching library sold for £4500 at Sotheby’s in 2014.