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Archive Reference / Library Class No.D8760/F/FEP
TitleRecords of Eleanor Anne Porden, first wife of Sir John Franklin
DescriptionThe records of Eleanor Anne Porden passed to her daughter Eleanor Isabella, who married John Philip Gell in 1849. On the death of Eleanor Isabella in 1860, they became the property of John Philip Gell, who died in 1898. They would have then come into the possession of their son, Philip Lyttelton Gell, who inherited Hopton Hall in the 1920s.

The records include Eleanor Porden's correspondence and travel jounals, and papers relating to her death. The bulk of the material consists of manuscript and published poetry written by Eleanor Porden, and in particular the volumes of the 'Attic Chest', a manuscript journal of the writings of the Pordens' literary circle.
Extent208 items and 4 bundles
RepositoryDerbyshire Record Office
Archive CreatorEleanor Anne Porden, later Eleanor Franklin (1795-1825)
Gell family of Hopton Hall, Wirksworth
Administrative HistoryEleanor Anne Porden was born on 14 July 1795, the younger of the two surviving children of William Porden, a distinguished architect, designer of Eaton Hall, Cheshire, and of the Rotunda at Brighton, and his wife, Mary, née Plowman. Eleanor was educated privately and under the immediate direction of her father, and was not confined to a conventional female curriculum but was encouraged to read widely on many different subjects. She was fluent in French and studied Greek and Latin. She took a keen interest in architecture, history, literature, and the sciences in general. From the age of nine she regularly attended lectures given by Humphry Davy, James Edward Smith, and other leading society scientists on chemistry, geology, natural history, and botany at the fashionable Royal Institution in Albemarle Street.

She formed a particularly strong bond with her father, who encouraged his daughter's talents in the field of poetry. When Eleanor became a teenager in 1808, the two of them together formed a literary circle with like-minded family friends and acquaintances, which became known as the Attic Society. From December 1808 regular meetings of the society were held, at which poems and verses submitted by members were read out aloud. These verses were gathered together, one for for each meeting, in booklets entitled The Attic Chest. These meetings were held for almost 10 years. With help from her father, Eleanor took on the editorship of the Attic Chest and contributed many verses herself.

She made her name as a poet with the publication in 1815 of "The Veils, or, The Triumph of Constancy", a long, erudite poem written when she was sixteen, an allegory on the acquisition of scientific knowledge. The poem was well received critically, especially in France, where she was elected a member of the Institut de Paris. Other poems followed, "The Arctic Expeditions" (1818) and "Coeur de Lion, or, The Third Crusade" (1822), as well as occasional shorter pieces, including an ode on the coronation of George IV, who had earlier employed her father for buildings in Brighton.

Although she had an older sister, Sarah Henrietta, the difference in ages was almost 10 years. After Sarah Henrietta married in 1805, it fell to Eleanor to be the one to nurse her mother, who was an invalid for fourteen years until her death in 1819. Although she was intellectually gifted, she was also practical minded, being able to undertake all the domestic arts expected of women at that time. In spite of her nursing duties, Eleanor did travel with her father to the continent on a couple of occasions, in 1816 and 1818. She was not by nature a particularly gregarious person and was quite shy and reserved in public, but in January 1819 she met another shy and reserved person, John Franklin. He had been one of the commanders of the 1818 Arctic expeditions ships, which she had visited prior to their departure, as was the fashionable thing to do at the time, and about which she had written a poem, which was soon published. After his return late in 1818, Franklin had got to see the poem, been impressed by it and arranged to meet its author through mutual friends, the Thomsons. It was apparent early on that they sonn formed a strong attachment to each other, but when Franklin left three months later to go on his first Arctic land expedition, they were only good friends with no stronger declarations of feeling having been made.

When Franklin returned to England late in 1822, both of them realised that his absence had not lessened the affection they felt for each other. Eleanor's father had seemingly approved of Franklin, but had died only a month before Franklin returned. The two young people formed a closer bond and after a few months became engaged to marry. In spite of their strong affection and attraction to each other, the period of engagement was not without its problems, as the lively, intelligent and independently-minded Eleanor came up against the rather formal, old-fashioned and prudish side of Franklin's character. There were issues over his seemingly initial reluctance to let her to continue with her literary pursuits and the differences in their religious outlooks and opinions, but they were able to resolve these differences, largely because he was prepared to give ground and provide reassurance about her concerns.

On 6 August 1823 Eleanor Porden married John Franklin at St Mary's Church in Marylebone, London. They set up home at 55 Devonshire Street, coincidentally the same house she was born in. On 3 June 1824 a daughter was born, christened Eleanor Isabella. Franklin's wife had not always been in good health for many years, being particularly troubled by a persistently bad cough since childhood. Following the birth of her daughter, she became increasingly weaker in health. By the end of the year it had become apparent that she was unlikely to survive, probably suffering from tuberculosis, or consumption as it was more commonly know then. Franklin had been preparing to undertake his second Arctic land expedition, which was due to leave in February 1825. After much soul-searching and after being told by Eleanor not to abandon his expedition for her sake, he left England for the north on 16 Feb 1825. She died at home on 22 February 1825. At the post mortem it was confirmed that she had indeed been suffering from tuberculosis.
Related MaterialPublications relating to Eleanor Anne Porden:
- Barbara Bryant, 'A portrait by Richard Westall of the poet Eleanor Porden', in The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 166, No. 1453, April 2024, pp. 358-367. Aavailable in Local Studies, LS/File 759.

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Related Names
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Porden; Eleanor Anne (1795-1825); poet and first wife of explorer Sir John Franklin
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