Sir John Franklin’s last expedition

It was on this day 175 years ago that Sir John Franklin and the crews of the H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror departed from the port of Greenhithe on the coast of Kent in their attempt to complete the fabled North West Passage. They set off in good spirits, in two purpose adapted ships proven to be up to the rigours of polar exploration and now fitted with the most modern equipment, supplied with 3 years’ worth of provisions and led by an experienced captain used to the demands of the harsh Arctic conditions. Although nobody would have taken the undertaking lightly, the general expectation was that it would ultimately prove successful.

Sir John Franklin

Sir John Franklin, portrait by Negelen, 1836         (DRO ref. D8760/F/LIB/8/1/4)

The new expedition had come in the wake of James Clark Ross’s largely successful voyages in the southern hemisphere (1839-1843), when the existence of the continent of Antarctica had been confirmed. Calls for a similar success up north were heeded by Sir John Barrow, the indefatigable Second Secretary of the Admiralty, who had revived the mission to find the North West Passage almost 30 years before. Due to retire soon at the tender age of 80, it would be a fitting finale to his career to dispatch the expedition which would make that final breakthrough, when, in his own words, “so little now remains to be done”. He got his wish, as the Admiralty approved the proposal in December 1844.

The next and most important step was to appoint the expedition’s leader. It has to be said that at this stage Sir John Franklin was by no means the obvious choice. This would have been James Clark Ross, a veteran of several Arctic voyages himself, and whose recent Antarctic success had earned him a knighthood. He had, however, recently married and promised his wife that he would not undertake any more perilous journeys. Also citing his own “old age” (he was then 44), he effectively ruled himself out of the game right from the start. There were other, younger candidates, though. Barrow himself had favoured James Fitzjames (32), something of a rising star but unfortunately lacking any experience in Arctic-type conditions.

Commander James Fitzjames

Lieutenant James Fitzjames, 16 May 1845    (DRO ref. D8760/F/LIB/8/1/5)

The First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Haddington, had also asked Ross’s second-in-command in the Antarctic expedition, Francis Crozier (48), whether he would be interested in the command. He was now an experienced captain whose career included extensive service in Arctic waters, so it was very logical to ask him, but his lack of confidence in his own leadership abilities made him decline the offer.

Captain Crozier

Captain Francis Crozier, 16 May 1845            (DRO ref. D8760/F/LIB/8/1/5)

So that left Sir John Franklin, and there can be no doubt that he was ever going to turn down any such offer to command. His niece Eliza Jupp, in her short biography of him, “A Brave Man And His Belongings”, published anonymously in 1874, reported that he was heard to say “he considered the post to be his birthright, as the senior Arctic explorer in England”. Like Barrow, it would be a fitting culmination to his career, having commanded one of the ships on the first Arctic expeditions back in 1818. In addition, he must have felt he had something to prove. He had returned home to England in June 1844 after a difficult and draining period as governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). Unable to navigate the muddy waters of vested interest and political wrangling rife in the colony, he had suffered what he regarded as the humiliation of recall to England before the end of his governorship by the Colonial Secretary, Lord Stanley. For 6 months his life was dominated by attempts to clear the perceived stain on his reputation. He failed to get the apology he wanted from Lord Stanley (who would only grudgingly acknowledge Franklin’s honest intentions), so he set about preparing, writing and publishing a pamphlet defending his actions and his honour, for which he enlisted the help of his wife, Lady Jane and his teenage daughter, Eleanor.

Eliza Jupp's 1845 memories

Eliza Jupp’s account of Franklin’s interview for the expedition and her memory of her last encounter with him    (DRO ref. D8760/F/LIB/5/10)

It would still take another couple of months for the higher echelons of the Admiralty to accept the appropriateness of Franklin’s appointment. His age and general physical condition (already characterised for many years as “stout”, he had lately become a good deal rounder) were not to be treated as irrelevancies. It was, however, the support of several of the leading Arctic explorers that helped to sway things his way. Franklin’s great friend, Sir John Richardson, in his capacity as a doctor, ruled him fit on health grounds; Sir Edward Parry agreed on his fitness for command, also adding that Franklin would “die of disappointment” if he did not get it; and most importantly, Sir James Clark Ross, who, when approached to reconsider reversing his own decision not to go, staunchly put forward Franklin’s case, somewhat ironically, given his own age excuse. The interview in February 1845 between Lord Haddington and Franklin went well, which included the celebrated exchange about age recorded by Eliza Jupp (inaccurately, as Franklin really only 58 at the time), and the matter was settled in Franklin’s favour.

There was not long left until the expedition was due to set off, about 10 weeks, and there was much to do – in a letter written to Reverend Philip Gell he mentions “how short a period has been given us for our equipments”. Franklin first made two key appointments, choosing the two younger rival candidates for his post: Francis Crozier was to take command of the ship he knew so well from his time in the Antarctic, H.M.S. Terror, and James Fitzjames, who was to be Franklin’s second-in-command on H.M.S. Erebus. Crews for the two ships were recruited, with Fitzjames being assigned the task of appointing all the junior officers. There was also great activity at the Woolwich dockyards, where hurried preparations were made to fit the state-of-the-art propeller, powered by a steam engine which also helped to provide the added bonus of central heating. Supplies and provisions were procured and loaded, including the controversial tin-canned food, which may, or may not, have contributed to the ultimate failure of the expedition. There was also the usual flurry of officials, dignitaries and visitors that seemed to accompany the preparations for any Arctic expedition. Much of the hullaballoo would, no doubt, have been irksome to Franklin, but there was one special social gathering, organised by his wife, when he got the chance say farewell to his friends and supporters like Parry, Ross and Barrow. It was also a chance for him to apologise to his niece Eliza Jupp for not being able to attend her wedding, which was due to take place just two days later.

White Hart Greenhithe

The White Hart Inn – Postcard sent by Richard Cyriax to Dr Henry Willingham Gell, 1935 (DRO ref. D8760/F/GHW/1/4)

On 12 May the ships were towed by tug-boats from Woolwich 9 miles down the river to Greenhithe, where the last of the supplies, including scientific equipment, were to be loaded. Franklin stayed at the White Hart Inn, something which would be later commemorated when the inn was re-named the “Sir John Franklin”. This was a period when there was a more intimate atmosphere, and family members could spend the last few days together before departure. In a letter to his prospective son-in-law, John Philip Gell, he records that his wife Lady Jane, daughter Eleanor and niece Sophy Cracroft had remained with him in Greenhithe for a few days so that they could say the last farewells. They got the chance to see his cabin, and Eleanor and Sophy even helped to arrange his books (the ship as a whole was stocked with a veritable library of books to help stave off the men’s boredom). They also got the chance to meet and get to know his officers and find out that “theirs hearts were in the right place as respects the objects of the Expedition”. He goes on to add that these conversations soothed their minds and “broke the sorrow” they felt at his going, which “they bore … with a very proper spirit”. It was also at Greenhithe that the extraordinary daguerreotype photographs of Franklin and his officers were taken, arranged by Lady Jane Franklin with the photographer William Beard, which would go on to become iconic images of the expedition.

D3311 32 3_00001

First page of letter from Sir John Franklin to prospective son-in-law John Philip Gell,                     23 May 1845         (DRO ref. D8760/F/GJP/1/1/1)

On the day before setting off a service of divine worship was held on board ship. Franklin led the service, speaking eloquently and with feeling, greatly impressing his new young officers in the process. Then, the day of final departure arrived. A good omen was observed, when a dove was seen to land on one of the masts and stay there for a while, a symbol of good news and peace. When it comes to omens, however, a bleaker one had unwittingly been provided by Lady Jane Franklin earlier. Seeing Sir John taking a nap, she had solicitously lain a home-made Union Jack flag over him to keep him warm. Waking up, he was somewhat alarmed to find this had happened, as it was common practice in the Royal Navy to use the Union Jack as a shroud before burial at sea. It is highly likely that he would, indeed, have been lain out in a similar way for real after his death over two years later on 11 June 1847. His final resting place is not known.


Sir John Franklin, 16 May 1845, suffering from influenza before leaving for the Arctic (DRO ref. D8760/F/LIB/8/1/5)

To find out more about the fate of the expedition, take a look at our online Google Arts and Culture exhibition, The Last Voyage of Sir John Franklin.

“He shall be happy to facilitate an interview with you whenever it may be convenient to both parties”

There is something endearingly Romantic about the fact that the Arctic explorer John Franklin came to meet his first wife, the poet Eleanor Anne Porden, through the medium of poetry. It was not the traditional Valentine poem that either of them caught the other’s attention. In some senses it would not have been unexpected if Eleanor had written one as a way of introducing herself to him, as she was an inveterate writer of Valentines, usually for safe consumption within the circles of her own family and literary friends. No, the poem which brought them together was the poem Eleanor wrote with the rather prosaic title “The Arctic Expeditions”.

Arctic Expeditions

ref D8760/F/FEP/4/5

Following the announcement early in January 1818 by the Admiralty that ships were being sent to find the legendary North West Passage, it became quite the fashionable thing to do to take a trip out to Deptford to visit the ships and to be shown around by accommodating naval officers. It was certainly something that Eleanor Porden and her friends did. On 30 March 1818, to be precise they were shown around the H.M.S. Isabella and H.M.S. Alexander, which were commanded by John Ross and William Edward Parry, respectively. She did not actually go on board the H.M.S. Trent, the ship due to be captained by Franklin. Coincidentally enough, Jane Griffin, the woman who would go on to be Franklin’s formidable second wife, better known as Lady Jane Franklin, had also undertaken a similar outing to Deptford the week before without actually meeting him either.

Her visit to the ships inspired Eleanor so much that on returning home to London she immediately wrote a poem expressing her own personal interest in the Arctic regions and her hopes for the success of the expeditions. Just as she had done in the poem which first brought her to public attention in 1815, “The Veils”, which displayed her extensive knowledge of scientific matters, she added extra information in the form of foot-notes, on various related topics such as the existence of a Christian colony on Greenland, icebergs and the Magnetic North Pole. Although Eleanor states in her preface, somewhat disingenuously I think, that it was “not originally intended for the public eye”, the work was soon published by John Murray, who later went on to publish Franklin’s own accounts of his two Arctic land expeditions.

We know that the couple first got to know each other through a mutual acquaintance, Dr Thomson. There are two letters which show that they would have dined with Dr Thomson on Tuesday 5 January 1819 had a note from him setting up such a dinner not arrived late with Franklin. In the first letter sent on the 6th (document reference D8760/F/FSJ/1/14/1) Franklin makes it clear he would have much rather have spent his time making the acquaintance of a lady who expressed such an interest in the expeditions instead of being at the party he had actually ended up going to. The lady is not named there, but it is definitely Eleanor he is writing about, referring to her as “arranging and preparing her Poem”, being with the voyagers in spirit.


Letter from John Franklin to Dr Thomson Jan 1819                           ref D8760/F/FSJ/1/14/1           Note that he spelled the surname Thompson, so it was obviously not a close acquaintance

Confirmation is provided by the second letter, which gives the other side of the story. The letter (reference D8760/F/FEP/1/8/14) is written by Louisa Thomson to Eleanor Porden on the Thursday, enclosing Franklin’s letter as proof that it was not the fault of Doctor T. that Franklin was deprived of the pleasure of her company; she goes on to add that he is certain to make another voyage to the Polar regions and will be happy to “facilitate an interview” with her.


Letter from Louisa Thomson to Eleanor Anne Porden Jan 1819 ref D8760/F/FEP/1/8/14

Franklin had also added in his letter that he would be pleased to provide her with “any information respecting the circumstances or incidents of the voyage which may assist her views”. He did actually get round to doing this in writing, as he set down his “observations” on the poem, making comments on particular topics directly referencing the numbered lines as they appeared in print. This particular paper is held under reference number D8760/F/FSJ/2/1/2. In addition we also have the “observations” made on the “observations”, written by Eleanor’s father, William Porden (D8760/F/FSJ/2/1/3).

We have been able to find out a little bit about this Dr Thomson. We know from letters in the collection that Dr Thomson was the physician who regularly attended on Eleanor, who had never been in particularly good health since her childhood. His name also crops up on a number of occasions in the correspondence between Eleanor and Franklin. When she dying of tuberculosis in February 1825, Dr Thomson was one of the doctors present to help her through her final days, and his name makes its way into more family letters later on. We were able to find more information on him in our research once we had found the inscription on his grave memorial in Tunbridge Wells churchyard in Kent, which had originally been set up for his wife Louisa, who had died on 26 April 1844. The inscription names him as Thomas Thomson.

Thomas (1775-1853) enjoyed a distinguished career as a doctor in the army during most of the Napoleonic Wars. Details of his career can be found in “Wellington’s Men Remembered Volume 2” by Janet and David Bromley, which records the memorial inscriptions of soldiers who served in the Peninsular War and Waterloo and which is available to see online. One intriguing piece of information recorded in it was that he had been present at New Orleans during the war in North America (1814-1815). New Orleans was where John Franklin had gallantly fought during a diversionary raid and been wounded in the shoulder. This led me to think somewhat fancifully that Thomson may have been the one to actually tend to Franklin’s wound, and this was how a friendship began. Unfortunately, I suspect that the truth is likely to be more prosaic: Thomson was by then a deputy inspector of hospitals and might not have been so closely involved with the actual treatment of patients.

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars Thomson decided to pursue a medical career outside the army. Ironically enough, he graduated as a doctor in February 1816 in Paris, capital of the country which he had been fighting for almost twenty years. Back in England he was admitted to the College of Physicians in 1817, in which year he also married his cousin Louisa. He then sought to set up a practice in the fashionable Hanover Square area of London, where he soon made the acquaintance of the Porden family of Berners Street. He would go on to be appointed Inspector of Hospitals and retired to Tunbridge Wells, where he died on 4 August 1853.

After that initial set back for the proposed meeting of Eleanor Porden and John Franklin, it obviously take place not too long afterwards, although exactly when is not known – it would be nice to think it was actually Valentine’s Day! It seems they formed an instant liking for each other: a friend of hers is said to have seen at that first meeting which way the wind was blowing. However mutual the attraction, nothing was done to put their relationship on more than a “just good friends” footing before Franklin set off on his first and somewhat infamous Arctic expedition on May 1819.

Eleanor Anne Porden, Flaxman portrait

Portrait of Eleanor Anne Porden by Mary Ann Flaxman          Hopton Hall sale catalogue 1989

It would be three years and more before he returned home to England in October 1822. Franklin wasted little time in renewing their acquaintance. On the ship home he had written a letter informing her he had named a group of small islands off the north Canadian coast after the Porden family. She had to write back telling him that her father, William Porden, had died only a few weeks before. I do wonder whether her father’s death did play a part in the marriage eventually taking place. He had been her constant support as she grew up, encouraging her in her education and literary pursuits in a way very few fathers would have done at that period in history. Perhaps the re-appearance so soon after his death of a kind, considerate and good natured older man offered hope of a reassuring future for her.


William Porden                 ref D8760/F/LIB/8/3/1


As it happened, it might have been easier for Franklin if the father had still been alive, as Porden had approved of the naval officer and might have been a valuable ally in his courtship, helping him to avoid the mistakes he made in his courtship. As far as we are aware, Franklin had never had any experience in matters of the heart before, and he seems to have been particularly maladroit in his attentions to her during the next few anxious months. Behaving awkwardly in her presence at times and thoughtlessly saying things that really upset her almost ruined his chances. There was indeed much mutual misunderstanding on a number of issues, such as his apparent resistance to Eleanor’s literary ambitions and their views on religious observance and practice. These misunderstandings, however, were largely overcome, mainly because Franklin was prepared to back down. They got engaged in the spring and were married on 19 August 1823.

Sir John Franklin 1823

Sir John Franklin in 1823            ref D8760/F/LIB/8/1/1

Unfortunately, there was no happy-ever-after ending, as we know. The marriage itself seems to have been a happy one, made complete by the birth of a daughter, Eleanor Isabella. In June 1824. The letters are affectionate and show no sign of tension between them. The only blight on their relationship was the ever increasing signs of ill health caused by her tuberculosis. Franklin famously was not there on the day she died, 22 February 1825, as he was on his way to North America to lead his second Arctic land expedition. He had vacillated about whether he should stay or not, but she was the one who really took the decision, telling him he needed to go and set in motion everything he had been preparing for during the last year. It is tempting to wonder how different things might have been had she not died.

Discovering Franklin: a talk on Wednesday 31 July

Neil Bettridge, Archivist for the Discovering Franklin Project, will be giving a talk on the explorer Sir John Franklin  at the Derbyshire Record Office on Wednesday 31st July at 2.00pm. Franklin’s life was an extraordinary one by any standards, and Neil will be attempting to do justice to it, illustrating it with many visual images of documents from the Gell collection held by Derbyshire Record Office.

discovering franklin

In addition to Franklin himself, there will be more than passing references to the important ladies in his life; his first wife, Eleanor, a gifted poet, who died tragically young , and his second wife, Lady Jane Franklin, a formidably driven woman, who did everything possible to defend her husband’s reputation against all comers.

Eleanor Anne Porden

Eleanor Anne Porden, later to become the first wife of Sir John Franklin

Jane Franklin 1816

Jane Griffin, later to be Lady Jane Franklin, drawn by Amelie Romilly while on holiday in Geneva in 1816

Although the talk will be free, booking is still essential due to space limitations. You can book at  Eventsbrite booking or telephone us on 01629 538347.

Sir John Franklin’s loss

At 7 p.m. on 22 April 1825 the Arctic explorer John Franklin received the tragic news of the death of his first wife Eleanor. He was then at Penetanguishene on the shore of Lake Huron, now in  the province of Ontario, Canada, as he was making his way on his second land Arctic expedition. We know all this because it was recorded in the last letter he ever wrote to his wife. He had written to inform her of his safe arrival, his impressions of the area, his wish that she could have been by his side and his hopes of hearing of her continued improvement. He also about the flag she has made for him, which was “snug in the Box and will not be displayed ’till we get into a more northern region”. He  tells her that Mr Back [George Back] and the men have arrived, after which comes the simple line:

7PM The distressing intelligence of my dearest wifes death has just reached me                 John Franklin

John Franklin letter on news of wife's death 2

In a letter started on the same day to his sister-in-law Mrs Kay, he adds that he actually received news of the death from the newspaper.

When John Franklin wrote these letters, it was exactly two months since Eleanor had passed away, just before 12 o’clock in the evening of the 22nd February. His wife had been ill for a year or so with tuberculosis, and by early February 1825 there was every indication that she would soon be dead. For most of that year Franklin had been deep in preparation for his second land expedition. His first one in 1819-1822 had been little more than an unmitigated disaster; a few geographical and scientific discoveries, but at huge human cost, with the deaths of 10 men, including two who had been shot dead amid starvation, despair and almost endless misery. This had been partly due to his being continually let down by those people tasked with providing him with the right supplies in the right places at the right times. In spite of this, he had still wanted to try a similar mission, which the Admiralty sanctioned, impressed by what seemed to be his heroic leadership in incredibly trying circumstances.

He had, therefore, done everything he could possibly do to make sure the disaster was not repeated, by thoroughly preparing the way and putting in as much as groundwork as possible. It would actually prove to be work which did produce results, as his second expedition certainly did not end the same way as the first. It was not without its hardships and privations and even deaths, and if it did not quite achieve all he would have wanted to, there is certainly no sense that it failed because of any lack of planning on his part.

His year of preparations had coincided with a period of family bliss, with the birth of his adored daughter Eleanor in June 1824. In spite of his wife’s periods of illness, there is no doubt that the marriage was remarkably happy for both of them, somewhat surprising in the light of their different characters and the occasionally awkward period of their engagement. As it became increasingly apparent how poor her health was in the New Year of 1825, it was a real dilemma for Franklin as to what he should do: to stay with his wife or go ahead with the expedition as planned . As it turned out, it was Eleanor who made the decision for him. She insisted that it was his mission to go and nothing must stop him.

He, therefore, set sail on his expedition from Liverpool on 16th February. Although her  death had seemed imminent, he continued to write to her, as though she might still in fact be alive. There are four comparatively light-hearted letters which he wrote to her; the first started on board ship in New York on 1st March, with updates on the 7th, 14th and 15th March: the second in New York on 22nd to 24th March; the third written on 26th March in Albany, the capital of New York State, 150 miles north on the Hudson River, up which he was travelling -this last letter was definitely sent, as it arrived at their home address of 55 Devonshire Street, Portland Place, London, with a postmark for 10 May 1825. The fourth and final letter on 22 April we have encountered above.

Back at 55 Devonshire Street, in his absence in late February 1825, Eleanor was being nursed by assorted family members. Her older sister Sarah Henrietta Kay was there, as was John’s sister, Hannah Booth, down from her home in Ingoldmells in Lincolnshire. Also present was Hannah’s daughter, Mary, who would later go on to marry John’s great friend and fellow expedition member, Dr. John Richardson. They sent joint letters to him, reporting  on the situation back at Devonshire Street. The first letter was written not long after Franklin had left her, reporting that she was in a slightly better state, greatly composed and sleeping comfortably; Eleanor had been talking about him and had made the telling remark that she was thankful that he had gone; Dr Thomson called and pronounced that he found her infinitely better than expected. It is not dated, but the letter is postmarked 14 February 1825, having been sent care of Thomas Langton, esquire, Liverpool. Another letter dated 17 February was sent by the same route, and it had even more encouraging news from another doctor, Sir Henry Halford. His words are directly quoted at the start.

“I do not think Mrs Franklin out of danger by any means, but I have no hesitation in saying that she is less ill than she was, and that my hopes of her ultimate recovery are much higher than they were               Henry Halford”

Henry Halford on Eleanor Anne Franklin

It is clear he did receive this news of a more positive development from the letter written to Mrs Kay on 22 April. He had obviously been hoping for further letters from Hannah and Mrs Kay on her continued improvement and was frustrated that the post from Liverpool seemed to have been delayed. Unfortunately, any brief hopes that might have been raised were soon dashed.

On 25 February sister Hannah wrote to inform him of the death of his wife. She did not stint from telling him that her sufferings had been very great in the final days until shortly before her actual death, “the violent restlessness and shortness of breath continued without interruption, but she had not such horrifying feelings as when you saw her, nor had she ever so violent a struggle as that night we witnessed on the sofa”. Her end was apparently calm and composed, although neither Hannah and Sarah were actually there when the final breath was drawn. The doctor confirmed in his post mortem the following day that Eleanor had died of tuberculosis, and she was buried on 1st March.



Lady Jane Franklin; an International Woman

Jane Franklin 1816

Jane Griffin, later to be Lady Jane Franklin, drawn by Amelie Romilly while on holiday in Geneva in 1816

Lady Jane Franklin has been described as “probably the most travelled woman of her time” by her biographer Alison Alexander. Saying anybody is the “most” anything is fraught with danger, as there is always the possibility that some alternative, better qualified candidate appears. It is wise, therefore, to add the word “probably” to such a statement. In this particular case, however, I do wonder whether such caution may be necessary, as Jane Franklin travelled often and extensively, even well into her seventies, going to every continent except Antarctica.

I think it was a combination of a keen, enquiring mind, a “tom-boy” spirit of independence and the encouragement of the men in her life that helped to contribute to her wanderlust. Her father, John Griffin, who made his fortune in silk weaving, loved to travel, and took the opportunity to go with the family to the European continent for a couple of years, once it became safe to do so following the initial overthrow of Napoleon in 1814. Her uncle John Guillemard also encouraged her to think beyond the limitations imposed on a girl’s education at that time, and she cultivated interest in many subjects, such as science (like Franklin’s first wife, Eleanor, she attended Royal Society lectures) and languages (she learned French, Spanish and German).

It was, however, her marriage in 1828 to the Arctic explorer John Franklin that allowed her to really extend her horizons. Once he was given command of H.M.S. Rainbow, which undertook a tour of duty in the Mediterranean in the early 1830s, Lady Franklin took the opportunity to travel all around it. In one of his letters to his daughter Eleanor, he explains that he had not heard from “Mama” for a couple of months but that he expected she would have arrived in Smyrna or Constantinople (both in present day Turkey). She also travelled to Spain, northern Africa (including Morocco and Egypt), Palestine, Syria and Greece. Franklin never seemed to mind that she was often away when she could have been with him, accepting it as totally natural and indeed rather taking pride in her adventurous spirit.

Excerpt on Lady Jane's travelling from Sir John's letter

Letter from Sir John Franklin to her daughter Eleanor, 1832, on not having heard from Mama for over two months.

The appointment of Franklin as Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, later known as Tasmania, added another dimension to her travels. She accompanied him on his exploratory tours of the island, through often extremely difficult terrain. In some ways she seemed to revel in having to overcome obstacles and problems; the harder the challenge, the more she enjoyed it. Getting lost in the Bush or losing a wheel on a carriage did not faze her a bit. In 1840-1841, she took an extended trip to the southern part of Australia and then over to New Zealand, totally independent of her husband.

After Franklin’s recall to England, he managed to get himself appointed as commander of another Arctic expedition, which set off in 1845. Not long afterwards Jane set off on an expedition of her own, first taking her step-daughter Eleanor to visit France and then on to the West Indies and the United States of America. It might seem odd in light of what happened to Franklin’s expedition that she went on her travels, but there really was no need for her to stay. He and his crews were expected to be away for at least a winter or even two, and there was no expectation that anything untoward would happen to them in the meantime. It was only in 1847 that she and other people started to worry at the lack of news from the Arctic. She began publicly to urge the Admiralty to undertake search expeditions, and over the next few years her profile rose to such a degree that she became one of the most famous women in the 19th century world.

The image of her as a British Penelope waiting patiently for the return of her Odysseus-like husband does her something of a disservice, as she was not in any way patient and did rather more than just weave a tapestry during the day and unpick it all during the night. She campaigned vociferously and successfully for the Admiralty to send out ships to look for Franklin, his crews and their ships, which they did, albeit somewhat begrudgingly at times. She was also prepared to put up money herself to fund expeditions of her own (4 of them between 1850 and 1853) and got a wealthy American, Henry Grinnell, to fund another one as well.

The final confirmation of Franklin’s death (the discovery by Captain McClintock of the Victory Point note in 1859) did mean that Lady Jane stayed at home to grieve. In 1860 she sailed to America to stay with her benefactor, Henry Grinnell, in New York. She moved on to Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, up to California, then over to the Sandwich Islands, now Hawaii, moving from there on to Japan, China and India, before returning home to England after two years away. During these travels she had celebrity status wherever she went, an example of which was that hoteliers would often waive payment for her staying with them.

Letter on Jane Franklin's African trip

Lady Franklin’s letter to her step-daughter, 1831, on her experiences in Tetuan, Morocco

By this time she was now aged 70, but it did not prevent her from travelling again, first to Spain in 1864-1865, and then onto India before returning via the Suez Canal, 3 years before it was officially opened! After being in London for the unveiling of a statue to Sir John, off she went again, first on a rather more prosaic sight-seeing trip to France, Switzerland and Italy, then off more adventurously to India, before travelling on to Spain the Canary Islands and north west Africa, all between 1867 and 1869. The early 1870s saw more journeys to America (including Alaska), Spain, France and Portugal. Once she had reached the grand old age of 80, her globe trotting days came to an end. She died on 18 July 1875, aged 83.


Miss Green Stockings

Eleanor Porden’s Valentine poem, which was posted by my colleague Lien earlier today, in which Eleanor imagines herself as a young native American girl, does go somewhat beyond the  usual ‘Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue’ school of poetry. It suggests a young woman deserted by a faithless lover: though “the Night of the Grave” closes in on her, she still yearns for one who has calmly and cruelly left her; he will most likely fall for one of his own kind, one of “the daughters of Albion”, with their blue eyes and blond hair; the very thought of it causes emotions of vengeance and rage in her, but, no matter, if he returns, all will be well; she will gather together any “dainties” or animals he might want to eat, and the elements will no longer be against him, and even the ice will be swept from his path. All very Romantic with a capital R.

The circumstances surrounding the subject of the poem, however, have a darker side to them in reality. The poem has been called ‘The Miss Green Stockings’ poem, and it was named after a real person. She was known as Green Stockings after the way she dressed, and she was the daughter of an old “Copper Indian” guide, Keskarrah. They were among a party of native people, with whom Franklin and his fellow Arctic land expedition members spent several months during the winter of 1820-1821 at Fort Enterprise. This was an encampment built for Franklin and his party at the junction of Yellow Knife River and Coppermine River in north east Canada to see out the harsh winter conditions.

Keskarrah and Green Stockings, from John Franklin’s “A Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea”, published 1823

Franklin, in his published account of the expedition “A Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea”, went so far as to call Green Stockings fascinating, and records that she was considered a great beauty by her tribe. She was described by him as being an “object of contest” between her countrymen, and although she was under the age of sixteen, she had already belonged to two husbands. She was, however, not only an “object of contest” with her own countrymen but also with members of Franklin’s own expedition. Two of his midshipmen, Robert Hood and George Back, fell in love with her, and the competition between them to gain her affections was so intense that they would have fought a duel over her, had not another of the expedition members, John Hebburn, sensibly removed the charges from their guns. When Back volunteered to go on a trip to another fort to gather more supplies, it gave Hood the opportunity to take Green Stockings into his bed, which he duly took. The information on the love rivalry does come not from Franklin himself, unsurprisingly, but from the later reminiscences of Hebburn.

Robert Hood was himself the person responsible for providing the image we have of her. Artistic skills were valued on such voyages of discovery to record the landscapes, fauna, flaura and peoples of the places they went to. Both Back and Hood used much of their time to sketch and draw. Several of both men’s drawings ended up as plates to illustrate Franklin’s “A Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea” when it was published after his return. A number of the native people encountered on their travels ended up being depicted in it, including Green Stockings, whose portrayal was said by Franklin to be accurate.

When the expedition set off again to carry out its mission of exploration and mapping, it ultimately ended in tragedy, with the loss of 11 lives (out of a total of 20 men). Starvation was the primary cause for most of the deaths. Food was in desperately short supply in the harsh Arctic conditions, and men were forced to resort to the most desperate of measures. Tripe de roche (lichen) was the order of the day, which did provide some nutrition in spite of its being literally difficult to stomach, and people also ate the leather of old moccasins, shoes made from the skins of deer or moose, for the same reason. Franklin himself did, of course, become known as The Man Who Ate His Shoes.

Robert Hood was one of those to die, but his end was actually much more violent one. He was shot in the head on 21 October 1821 by Michel Terohaute, one of the expedition’s French ‘voyageurs’ (boatmen employed to transport goods and people). He was avenged soon enough by the expedition’s surgeon, John Richardson, who took the earliest opportunity available to summarily shoot Terohaute dead. He strongly suspected him of not only having caused Hood’s death but also possibly those of other members of the party who might or might not have been cannibalised. Hood had been in a wretched state of health at the time of his death, so it is likely that he would not have survived for much longer. He died without knowing that Green Stockings had been delivered of a daughter by him.

Silhouette of Robert Hood

As appeared in a later edition of Franklin’s “A Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea”, edition published 1829

There would be an ironic twist in the tale. George Back would return to the Arctic on several more expeditions. In the spring of 1834 he was in command of another land expedition, which, as it was making its way north, he came across a group of native North Americans. Among them he recognised the familiar figure of Green Stockings. When he called out her name, she laughed back and said she was an old woman (she would still have been in her late twenties and regarded as a great beauty). It now became the turn of Hood’s love-rival to take the opportunity to draw Green Stockings, who was pleased to sit for him.


As appeared in a later edition of Franklin’s “A Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea”, edition published 1829

Early account of Sir John Franklin’s life uncovered

While in the process of cataloguing the Franklin archive, I came across two copies of a little book with the words “Sir John Franklin R.N.” on the front cover. Inside, it is entitled “A Brave Man and His Belongings; Being Some Passages in the Life of Sir John Franklin, F.R.S., K.C.H., &c, &c, First Discoverer of the North-West Passage”. The book was printed in 1874 by Samuel Taylor of Holborn, London. The text runs to 61 pages, with 5 pages of appendices comprising copies of two Valentine poems by his first wife and a brief account of the life and death of his daughter, both called Eleanor. It was compiled for, and dedicated to, Sir John Franklin’s grandchildren and great nephew and nieces. The author is not named.

A Brave Man cover.PNG      A Brave Man title.PNG

There are various copies of this book in circulation and some have been advertised for sale online. Most give the author’s name only as anonymous, but a few institutions have identified the author as a niece of the first Mrs Franklin. This is certainly true, as the author states that her aunt was Sir John’s first wife. She was Eleanor Anne Porden, who was the daughter of architect William Porden and his wife Mary. The Pordens had no less than ten children, but only two of them managed to survive into adulthood. They were Eleanor Anne and her elder sister Sarah Henrietta, who was married in 1805 to Joseph Kay, also an architect and William Porden’s assistant at the time. Joseph and Sarah are said to have had eight children of their own, two sons and six daughters.

In terms of the identity of the niece, she has been named in one source as Mary A. Kay. There certainly was a daughter called Mary Anne, born 9 February 1808, and her name does appear in the book as the recipient for one of the Valentine poems which appears in the appendix, but I think there is a much better candidate for the identity of the author, based on a passage near the end of the story. In the context of the ships H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror setting off under Franklin’s command from England on their tragic voyage to the Arctic, the author says how well she remembers the month of May 1845, as it was also the month when she got married. She tells us that her last recollection of Sir John was two days before she got married, at a social gathering organized by Lady Franklin for intimate friends before he set sail. He took her aside and expressed his regret at not being able to attend her wedding (where his daughter, Eleanor, would be a bridesmaid), as his presence would be required on board to attend to important business connected with the ships on the same day.

A Brave Man May 1845 episode.PNG

This makes it extremely unlikely that it was Mary Anne Kay, as she had married Edward Nicholas Kendall, one of Sir John’s former lieutenants, in 1832. He unfortunately died in February 1845, so it is theoretically possible that she did re-marry three months later! We believe, however, that she did not in fact re-marry, as she was, according to the census of 1851, living in Kensington under her married name of Kendall with her two sons and two of her sisters. I was then able to check genealogical records and found a marriage for another of the sisters, Eliza Margaret Kay (1819-1897) who married Edward Basil Jupp at the parish church of St Giles in the Fields, Holborn, on 10 May 1845.

Although nobody could claim the book reveals anything new about Franklin and his career, it is an interesting little reminder of how he was seen by his family and relations. She wrote it for the sake of his grandchildren and his great nephews and nieces, who she says had been taught to revere his name, but that they had very little information on his character and history. She does not actually record much in the way of her own personal recollections, but she does remember when she was a very young girl and he was then married to her aunt, sitting on his knee and playing with the epaulettes on his uniform (she could not remember him ever being in anything other than his uniform). She also remembers that he looked very much like the portrait painted by Thomas Phillips and very much the same when in his 60th year as he had done in 1825-1830.The references to his character and conduct generally confirm the impression of him of a kind, affectionate, dignified and sincerely religious man, which even his critics would generally concede to be the case.

A Brave Man painting reference.PNG

She cites as her sources on the course of his life a “short paper” written by one of Franklin’s nieces, which she claims might have been dictated by his first wife, Eleanor, outlining his career up to 1822, and a brief memoir written by his friend Sir John Richardson in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. She also had access to the papers of the Kay family, and the book is notable for the number of examples of correspondence it contains involving Franklin, his first wife, his daughter and his in-laws, the Kays. It also contains the somewhat spurious document called “the Phrenological Character of Captain Franklin”, mentioned in the extract pictured above, of which I include a copy, as she did, for your amusement.

A Brave Man phrenological charcater.PNG



Believe It or Not?

In the summer of 1826 Sir George Crewe, 8th Baronet, and his wife, Lady Jane Crewe, took an extended trip in North Wales. While visiting the town of Conway (or Conwy, to be more accurate linguistically), they took in the parish church there. Although they thought there was little worthy of attention in it, Lady Jane’s journal does record one gravestone that did impress them.

“We were particularly struck with one bearing the following inscription, “Here lyeth the body of Nicholas Hookes of Conway, Gent, who was the 41st child of his Father Wm. Hookes Esqre by Alice his wife, & father of 27 children, who died the 20th day of March 1637.”

It should be noted that Sir George and Lady Jane went on to produce only the paltry 8 children.

Jane Crewe journal extract D2375/M/44/10

Jane Crewe journal extract D2375/M/44/10

Jane Crewe Journal D2375/M/44/10

Jane Crewe Journal D2375/M/44/10


Art and the Harpur Crewes exhibition

One of the things that have become quite noticeable from cataloguing the Harpur Crewe collection has been the artistic inclinations of quite a few members of the family. It first became apparent in the number of sketchbooks and individual examples of drawing that kept cropping up, so I decided to look into what other arty material was to be found among the records.

Sir George Crewe, the 8th baronet (1795-1844), in particular, revealed himself to be an enthusiastic amateur when it came to sketching. Though a busy and conscientious public administrator, he evidently took the opportunity in his moments of leisure to indulge himself in his drawing or painting of the natural world. The love of this type of activity passed down to his grandchildren, including Richard Fynderne Harpur Crewe (1880-1921) who continued to sketch ships, man and boy, and who also experimented in photographing images of the natural and man-made world, whether it be stupendous mountain scenery or the latest technological breakthroughs (cars, planes, airships).

The family also showed a distinct love of music, with several manuscript copy books of scores of pieces they liked. The most conspicuous example of this love was the commission given by Sir Henry Harpur, the 7th baronet (1763-1819), to Joseph Haydn, the most famous composer of the day, to compose a couple of marches for the Derbyshire Yeomanry in 1794.

To give you a taste of what can be seen, here are some of the images which didn’t make into the exhibition.

Harpur Crewe Exhibition_00016a
Harpur Crewe Exhibition_00011
Harpur Crewe Exhibition_00018a