|Administrative History||John Franklin was born in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, on 16 April 1786, the fifth son and ninth child of the twelve children of Willingham Franklin, a mercer and his wife, Hannah (nee Weekes). He joined the Royal Navy in 1800. His first ships was H.M.S. Polyphemus, on which he served as a midshipman, taking part in the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801. Franklin's second appointment was as a midshipman on the expedition to explore the coastlines of Australia in H.M.S. Investigator under the command of his relation Captain Matthew Flinders, who personally trained him in many of the the navigational skills. After a successful, if occasionally hazardous, expedition, during which the island of Australia was circumnavigated for the first time, Franklin was able to return to England, his next appointment being on H.M.S. Bellerophon, on which he saw action as a signal midshipman at the battle of Trafalgar on 21 Oct 1805. He continued his war duty until 1807, when he was transferred to H.M.S. Bedford, being promoted to lieutenant on 11 February 1808. The Bedford took part in the naval blockade of France, occasionally also being used for escort duty in the Atlantic. It was sent to take part in the Anglo-American War (1812-1814), and in September 1814 Franklin was wounded in the shoulder during a diversionary raid undertaken at New Orleans. With the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, Franklin, along with many other naval officers, was discharged on half pay. |
Franklin applied himself to getting appointed to exploration expeditions, firstly by improving his skills in naval surveying and then by approaching the famous botanist Sir Joseph Banks, a leading promoter of scientific endeavours and a fellow Lincolnshire man. Although unsuccessful in obtaining a berth on an expedition to the Congo, he was appointed instead to take part in 1818 in one of the two Arctic expeditions which the Second Secretary of the Admiralty, John Barrow, had successfully campaigned for to search for the North-West Passage, a navigable sea route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Franklin took command of the small brig H.M.S. Trent, under commander David Buchan in H.M.S. Dorothea, in the expedition which aimed to head directly north across the North Pole (the other expedition under Commander Ross with Lieutenant Parry hoped to travel via Baffin Bay over the North American contintental coastline). It was then still mistakenly believed that there was a warmer Polar Sea and that it was possible to break through immediate ice mass encountered. The ships returned when they found that the pack ice north-west of Spitsbergen formed an impenetrable barrier.
In spite of the North Pole expedition's predictable failure, Franklin was soon appointed to lead another Arctic expedition, this time travelling by land. The aim was to survey the coastline of the North American continent, travelling north along the Coppermine River. This first Arctic land expedition lasted three years (1819-1822) and was an almost unmitigated disaster, leading to the loss of 11 men's lives. A combination of inadequate preparation time, feuding between the two fur-trading companies supposed to provide support for it, the frequent absence of promised food supplies, and the absence of Inuit population in most northen areas, meant that members of the expedition frequently faced starvation. Franklin himself resorted at one stage to eating the leather of old moccasins, earning himself epithet of "The man who ate his boots". 11 men did in fact, die during the expedition, 9 of them from starvation. One man, Lieutenant Robert Hood was shot and murdered by Michel Terahoute, one of the "voyageurs" (French Canadians involved in the fur trade hired to transport equipment), who in turn was shot by Franklin's second-in-command, John Richardson.
Franklin finally returned to London in September 1822, reporting back to the Admiralty. He had been made a commander in his absence on 1 January 1821 and was promoted to the post of captain on 20 November 1822. He wrote up his account of the expedition, entitled "Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of The Polar Sea in the Years 1819, 1820, 1821 and 1822", which was published in 1823. Soon after his return he began to court in earnest Eleanor Anne Porden, a young poet to whom he had formed an attachment in 1819, after her poem "The Arctic Expeditions" published first came to his attention. They became engaged in the spring of 1823, and they were married at St Mary's Church, Marylebone, on 19 August 1823. The couple had a daughter, Eleanor Isabella (1824-1860), was born on 3 June 1824. The Admiralty had accepted Franklin's plans for another Arctic land expedition, so he was making busy making preparations for that during most of 1824. Unfortunately, his wife's health had been deteriorating fast since the birth of their daughter, and she died of tuberculosis on 22 February 1825, six days after he had left for his next expedition.
Franklin's second Arctic land expedition was undertaken on similar lines to that of his first, travelling north this time along the Mackenzie river to the North American coasts. This time it was much more successful, as the time spent on better preparations paid off. Although the expedition was not without incident, the coastlines were surveyed, with the expedition being split into two parties once the coast was reached, with Franklin travelling westwards and his second-in-command, again John Richardson, travelling east. The two parties met up to make the return journey home, which was completed in September 1827. He again wrote up an account of the expedition entitled "Narrative of a Second Expedition to the Shores of the Polar Sea, 1825, 1826, and 1827, which was published in 1828.
Following his return he formed another relationship with a friend of his dead wife called Jane Griffin, a strong, independently minded woman. They went on to marry at Stanmore, Middlesex on 5 November 1828. He received a knighthood on 29 April 1829, as well as other honours from the Société de Géographie de Paris and Oxford University. In 1830 he was given command of the frigate Rainbow, which was stationed in the Mediterranean to help support and bolster the newly liberated country of Greece. His mission, which lasted 3 years, was largely regarded as having been successful, and he received official recognition of his service, being given the Golden Cross of the Order of the Redeemer from the newly established King Otto of Greece and the Royal Hanoverian Order of the Guelph.
Having turned down the governorship of Antigua, and with no immediate prospect of further Arctic expeditions, Franklin accepted the offer to become the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania). Setting off from England in August 1836 with his wife, now known as Lady Franklin, his daughter and a couple of his relatives, Mary Franklin and Sophy Cracroft, he arrived on Van Diemen's Land, in January 1837, where he remained in post for another six years. His governorship is usually regarded as an unsuccessful one, as his lack of administrative experience and his inability to satisfy the competing demands of interested parties meant that he struggled to exert real control and implement progressive reforms. The Colonial Office in England largely regarded Van Diemen's only as a penal colony, and resisted any socially progressive measures. The administration on the island itself had been under the control of a self-serving and venal faction of colonial officials centred around the previous Lieutenant Governor George Arthur, and was now led by the Colonial Secretary, John Montagu, who largely obstructed whatever initiatives Franklin took. The free population of the island had aspirations for more self-government and social reform, which by and large Franklin largely tried to satisfy but not with the speed or success the colonists hoped for. Following the final suspension of John Montagu as Colonial Secretary by Franklin in Jan 1841 , a campaign was mounted by Montagu on his return to England to discredit Franklin, which resulted in his recall by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Stanley, and his replacement as Lieutennat Governor by Sir Eardley Wilmot. The Franklins left Hobart in Novemer 1843 and arrived in England in June 1844.
Immediately following his return he began writing up a pamphlet defending his conduct as Lieutenant Governorship of Van Diemen's Land. During his absence further exploration and mapping had taken place of the North American coastline, and it was felt that one last sailing expedition would achieve the final link in the search for the North West Passage. As the likeliest candidate to be leader, Sir James Clark Ross, had ruled himself out, he and several other fellow Arctice explorers lobbied for Franklin to be be appointed. In spite of Admiralty misgivings about his age, in Febuary 1845, Franklin was appointed leader of an Arctic expedition made up of two specially strengthened ships which had already been successfully used for the Antarctic expedition of Sir James Ross, H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror, the latter being captained by Francis Crozier. With the last steam engine technology, use of propellers and enough supplies to last for three year, there was every expectation that it would be successful. The expedition set off from England on 19 May 1845. The ships and their crews, totalling 129 men, were last seen by whalers in Baffin Bay on 26 July 1845.
After a couple of years, the absence of news about the expedition started to raise concerns. From 1848 onwards, several search expeditions were sent out by the Admiralty to look for Franklin, the ships and their crews. Lady Jane Franklin was highly active in campaigning, not only for the Admiralty to continue sending expeditions, but also to lobby American benefactors to organise expeditions, as well as to raise funds and subscriptions to help her finance her own expeditions. Most of these achieved very little in their search for Franklin. Still unaware of Franklin's fate, the Admiralty promoted him to Rear-Admiral in October 1852. The Admiralty effectively considered him dead, as well as his 128 fellow explorers, when they were taken off the naval pay-roll on 31 March 1854. Later in 1854 John Rae came back from an overland expedition with the first news news on the fate of the Franklin expedition, the finding of several artefacts and relics among the local Inuit population and the reporting of Inuit testimony on starving white men travelling overland to find safety and on the discovery of several bodies, with evidence of cannibalism having taken place among the men. Although the reports of cannibalism were largely dismissed by people back in England at the time, scientific analysis has only recently established that it did take place. An expedition led by Leopold McClintock and financed by Lady Franklin finally provided in 1859 the only written evidence on what had happened; Sir John Franklin had died on 11 June 1847, while the ships were locked in by ice of King William Island, and in May 1848 the remaining men decided to leave the ships and try to make their way on foot to safety, travelling south to get to the Back River. The wreck of H.M.S. Erebus was only found in 2014, while that of H.M.S. Terror was found in 2016. The burial place of Franklin is still not yet known.
Reference works consulted about Sir John Franklin and his life and times (including those about his second wife Jane, Lady Franklin):
"Deadly Winter: The Life of Sir John Franklin" by Martyn Beardsley, published by Chatham Publishing, 2002:
"The Life of Sir John Franklin" by H.B Traill, published by John Murray, 1896:
"The Fate of Franklin" by Roderic Owen, published by Hutchinson, 1978
"Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Exploration" by Andrew Lambert, published by Faber and Faber Ltd, 2010 (paperback):
"Erebus: the Story of a Ship" by Michael Palin, published by Hutchinson, 2018:
"The Man Who Ate His Boots: Sir John Franklin and the Tragic History of the Northwest Passage" by Anthony Brandt, published by Jonathan Cape, 2011:
"A Brave Man and His Belongings: Being Some Passages in the Life of Sir John Franklin R.N.", [by Eliza Margaret Jupp], privately published, 1874
"Sir John Franklin in Tasmania" by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, published by Melbourne University Press, 1949:
"The Ambitions of Jane Franklin: Victorian Lady Adventurer" by Alison Alexander, published Allen and Unwin, 2016 (paperback):
"Lady Franklin's Revenge" by Ken McGoogan (paperback):
Proof copy of "Portrait of Jane: A Life of Lady Franklin", by Frances J. Woodward, later published by Hodder and Stoughton, 1951.