The Franklin expeditions
In 1845, Sir John Franklin sailed north in command of the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition. Sent by the Admiralty, the two ships HMS Erebus (Franklin) and HMS Terror (commanded by Francis Crozier) were to search for a passage via Lancaster Sound in Canada's North West Territories. With provisions designed to last three years, the expedition sailed north in May 1845. In July 1845 whalers in Baffin Bay sighted Erebus and Terror. This was to be the last glimpse of the expedition had by Europeans. In the ensuing years both the British Admiralty and private individuals sent expeditions north in an attempt to discover their fate. During the course of these voyages the main facts regarding the route taken and the men's final fate was established. Francis McClintock, sailing in Lady Franklin's yacht Fox, brought back written conformation of the loss of the expedition when he returned with a document found at Prince William Island during the 1857-1859 search. The document recorded Franklin's death in 1847 and the direction the survivors had taken after abandoning the two ships. No survivors were ever found.
Jane Franklin (née Griffin) was the daughter of a wealthy silk weaver. She became friends with the Romantic poet Eleanor Anne Porden (1795-1825) who in 1823 married the Arctic explorer John Franklin after his return from the overland British Naval Exploring Expedition, 1819-1822 . John and Eleanor had one daughter, Eleanor Isabella (1824-1860). Eleanor Anne died during John's absence on a second overland expedition, 1825-1827. On his return from the Arctic, John renewed his acquaintance with the Griffin family and married Jane in November 1828. Knighted the following year, John served in the Mediterranean while Jane visited Europe, Syria, and North Africa. Between 1836-1843, Sir John, Jane, Eleanor Isabella, and John's niece Sophia Cracroft (1816-1892) resided in Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), where John served as Lieutenant Governor. During their stay there, Jane took a passionate interest in the social reform of the prisoners. Ever the keen traveller, Jane visited mainland Australia and New Zealand.
On his return to Britain, Sir John took command of the ill-fated British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1845-1848. When the expedition vanished in the Arctic, Jane, Lady Franklin took a leading part in the resulting 'Franklin Searches', writing to heads of state and other influential people in order to keep the missing expedition at the forefront of public interest.
Lady Franklin died in July 1875, thirty years after Sir John's last sighting, leaving behind a wealth of journals, correspondence, and papers relating to the searches and to her extensive personal travels. Her correspondence includes letters to American Presidents, Russian and French Empresses, Hawaiian Queens, and major figures in the British Navy.
Material relating to the Franklin searches, and the men who undertook them, form the bulk of the Arctic holdings of the Scott Polar Research Institute.
Top of page: Portrait of Lady Jane Franklin (1792-1875). Scott Polar Research Institute, Picture Library, reference P72/16/8/1c Illingworth collection.
Photograph copyright © Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge.
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