The Monocled Mutineer’s early career at Blackwell Colliery

On the 100th anniversary of the death of Percy Toplis, I thought it appropriate to look into the connections he had to the local mining industry. Toplis, better known as the Monocled Mutineer, is a bit of a local celebrity for being an imposter, claiming to be an army officer, being mutineer, deserter and a criminal. With that fairly long list of wrongdoings, it is clear that Toplis was a ‘wrong ‘un’, as we’d say in Derbyshire. It is not known how real the character created by the media at the time, who viewed him as Britain’s most wanted man at the time, actually was. It is clear that he was a troubled soul from an early age.

Having been born to poor parents in Chesterfield who couldn’t afford to keep him, he was passed around family between the Mansfield and Alfreton/South Normanton area. The main guardians for him were his grandparents, who lived in South Normanton. It was here that he went to school and was known to get into trouble often for bullying other children. They cared for him until his first criminal conviction in 1908 for obtaining two suits under false pretences. It was then that his grandparents admitted that they didn’t know what to do with the boy. He was passed on to his Aunt Annie Webster, who lived in Colliery Row, Blackwell.


Photograph of Percy Toplis

His connections with Blackwell Colliery started when he left the school at South Normanton he’d been attending until he reached the age of 13. He then took up a blacksmith’s apprenticeship at Blackwell Colliery. An apprentice to a blacksmith was expected to learn the job for around four or five years until they were deemed qualified. Their job was an important one in the daily running of a colliery. They would help to create and maintain tools, mend machinery and shoe the pit ponies. However, the thoughts of a steady job appeared too much responsibility for Toplis and he didn’t enjoy the work at all. He seldom attended and was eventually caught skipping his night shift, in favour of spending a night in the pub at the Blackwell Arms. For this he was sacked and Toplis decided to become a wander, mainly in Scotland, and partaking in petty crime.

What happened to him following the outbreak of the First World War is widely known, so this post won’t go into the mutiny he was supposedly a part of or his various attempts of defrauding soldiers’ salaries or disguising himself as an officer, although I would recommend researching into that if you wish. Instead, I have tried to look at how Percy Toplis didn’t wish to conform to the Derbyshire tradition of working at a colliery, despite living in a time when it would have probably been expected of a boy growing up around many pits in the area around Alfreton, Blackwell and South Normanton. During Toplis’ lifetime, these places were built on the unity and pride that colliery working provided within a community built around this industry. Instead Toplis became famed for not conforming to any of society expectations, instead walking his own line at every given opportunity, no matter how wrong this was.

percy toplis

Headline from the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 09 June 1920

As we mark the anniversary of his death today, during a police shootout in Cumbria, after being recognised by a local constable, perhaps it is best to remember the charity given to him following his death. The Penrith Board of Guardians organised his burial in Christian ground at the Beacon Cemetery. There was opposition to this because of his many crimes but the Rev R H Law, Vicar of Christ Church, insisted upon a Christian burial, reminding others that Percy Toplis had been “violently removed from this life before he could be judged on earth.”


‘How he deluded hotel guests’, Dundee Courier, 8th June 1920

Eden District Council, Percy Toplis,

Emery, J., ‘Belonging, Memory and History in the North Nottinghamshire Coalfield’, Journal of Historical Geography, 59 (2018), pp. 77-89.

National Mining Museum, Skilled Colliery Craftsman,

Pixel Surgery, Percy Toplis Bothy, Tomintoul – The Enchanting Secret Behind the Monocled Mutineer, 17 March 2018,


Lockdown Stories: Working from Home

From earlier blog posts, you will have realised that I, like my colleagues at the Record Office, am working from home during this period of lockdown.

For me, in my modest cottage, this has taken some adjustment. Firstly, child number two, aged 21, arrived home from University with a friend in tow – both with the huge pressure of deadlines to meet for coursework, dissertations to complete and final exams to pass for their undergraduate degree courses. Hmmm, a puzzle to solve. Three adults into a small cottage has meant one of us in the basement bedroom (fondly known as the ‘dungeon’), one in the dining/sitting room (also referred to as the ‘yoga studio’) and me in the kitchen (near the food).

Archivist Becky dropped off a laptop, keyboard and mouse, which after 72 hours of quarantine were ready for use. With some assistance from the Derbyshire County Council IT department, I had already set up my personal PC and phone to allow limited access to the Record Office databases and communications system. Once switched over to the laptop and equipment Becky had dropped off, full access was enabled and I was ready to go.

The work task assigned to me has been a pleasure to work on, for which I feel extremely grateful.

The Miller Mundy family of Derbyshire has provided us with a true insight into their lives as landed gentry and politicians from the 1700s onwards. Based at Shipley, Markeaton and Walton, the family was extremely large and unravelling the different strands of this family has been challenging at times, particularly with their fondness for the names Edward, Frances/Francis, Godfrey, Robert, Nellie, Georgiana and Alfred, used in almost every generation. The astounding number of children born to each generation, with Edward Miller Mundy (1775-1834, son of Edward, father to Edward) fathering 13 children with his wife, Nellie, adding to the puzzle.

Aside from the family seat in Derbyshire, there is a long history of involvement in both local and national politics. Several members of the family became Members of Parliament, High Sheriffs and Magistrates. With so many children, it was usual for sons other than the first born heir to enter the military or church.

I have been transcribing letters from George Miller Mundy written to his Father, Edward Miller Mundy. George was in the navy, Captain of The Hydra, and wrote extensively about the Napoleonic War. George’s writing style is clear, and he is well educated, sometimes quoting Shakespeare, although not always entirely accurately. He writes of battles and strategies naming ships familiar to us, as well as naval officers such as Collingwood, Hardy and Nelson, the enemy Villeneuve and Napoloeon; politics as well as his feelings. Reading them transports me to another era.

It has become clear that in spite of the size of the family, there is a deep affection and respect for one another, which is very touching to read.

My working day is a stimulating break from being stuck at home baking, reading, learning Spanish and playing the Ukulele. As a part-timer, I work four hours per day over four days, which is ideal for this task. I have now rigged up a large monitor, discovered in child number one’s room (on a sabbatical and currently isolating in Panama). The large screen has helped considerably in trying to decipher the somewhat tricky handwriting. Zooming in on a big screen aids with seeing how letters are formed, leading to understanding specific words.

Generally, the internet connection has been very reliable for all three of us working. Today has been the first day of failing, which has made me realise how reliant we are on technology. I fear this lockdown would have been far more isolating without our Skype and zoom meetings with colleagues and friends. Working from home would have been a completely different story, and may have been nigh impossible in some cases.

Melanie's workstation


This image shows my home office set up in my kitchen; I am lucky to have enough space for a desk. The handwritten/highlighted notes show my first attempt to plot the Miller Mundy family structure! I choose to work with the radio on (Radio 4 or 6) as I like some background noise. This is not heard by the two students elsewhere in the house.

Not far from wherever I am, you will find my two dogs, Nora the Greyhound and Nelson, my Jack Russell. Nelson is 13, and when I named him as a nine week old puppy, I did not envisage I would be reading letters about Lord Nelson’s heroic actions, victories and demise.

So, here is ‘my’ Nelson.

Nelson the dog

Melanie Collier, Archives Assistant


Lockdown Stories: What work can we do without access to our collections?

Well the answer to that is quite a lot actually. One of the tasks that I have been given/been volunteered for (?), has been responding to the email enquiries that have been received by the office during this unusual time.

As you can imagine, the number of enquiries at the beginning of lockdown was quite small. I, along with most of the population, I would think, thought this situation would probably last a few weeks and everyone thought they could wait that long for any information they required. However, as time has gone on the enquiries have started to increase in number, and a few people have found that, even though we are all staying at home, there are some things that just cannot wait! Several of the enquiries are from people needing copies of documents for legal purposes and one enquiry was from someone who needed a copy of their baptism certificate for their wedding to take place in August. As all Record Office staff are working from home without access to the collections and all the finding aids, we are striving to reply to enquiries as fully as we possibly can under the circumstances, but I should stress that we are very far from business as usual. We have very limited access to the building currently, just for security purposes and to check, for example, the humidity levels to ensure the documents are stored in optimum conditions, especially during the incredibly sunny couple of months we’ve just experienced!

Unsurprisingly, many of the enquiries have been from people who have taken up or have decided to re-visit their family history and are trying to solve that elusive family connection. One of our researchers has even traced her family back to 1044 (a very unusual occurrence!).

House history has also proven to be very popular (unsurprising since we are all spending so much time there at the moment!). Fortunately, there are many online resources available to whet your appetite, until such times as we are able to access the collections at the office again.

Hopefully, the Research Guides we have been publishing on the blog are proving useful to both novice and experienced researchers.

One of the more unusual enquiries we have received was from someone trying to find out the place and date of death for an Arthur Rodgers, who was born in Derbyshire on February 18, 1885. Apparently, Arthur was a footballer for Nottingham Forest, and, later, Turin FC. Unfortunately, I had to refer the enquirer to the General Register Office, as I am sure many of you are already aware, Derbyshire Record Office doesn’t hold copies of birth or death certificates.

A lot of the enquiries have been from overseas researchers, one, for example, looking for the reason an ancestor was transported in the 19th century and another, looking much more recently, for their parents records at St Christopher’s Railway Servants Orphanage in Derby.

As you can see, I certainly haven’t been bored whilst locked away in my makeshift office (spare bedroom!). Responding to your enquiries has kept me intrigued, entertained and above all still in touch with our researchers. I look forward to continuing to try and assist with your research and, hopefully, in the not too distant future, once public health restrictions allow, to meeting you in person at the Record Office.

Anne Lawley, Assistant in Charge

A letter from Trafalgar

Part of a very moving collection of letters in the Miller Mundy collection (D517) from October and November 1805, George Miller Mundy wrote an account to his father just two days after the Battle of Trafalgar.  George was captain of HMS Hydra and spent many years patrolling the seas around Cadiz and Gibraltar, engaging in combat.  It is clear that Lord Nelson was very much admired and respected by his men, and his demise at Trafalgar was sorely felt, in spite of the tremendous victory.

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Letter from George Miller Mundy to his father, 1805 (D517 BOX a 3 part 2)

George writes about the day of the battle, and describes how Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Lord Nelson inspired his men to victory:

“One of the most characteristic circumstances of his conduct on the great day was a Telegraphic message to the fleet in general just as they were going into action. It was!

“England espects [sic] British Seamen will do their Duty, this Day”

what could have been more expressive and more exhilarating to men who looked to him as a father? Can you conceive any more to the purpose? The Captains of course turn’d their men up and read the short but nervous sentence to them. Imagine the unanimous response of

“We will do it”

and three lusty Cheers”

The letter continues to describe how Lord Nelson’s unique and inspired strategy repeatedly broke the French line of ships, demolishing the fleet of their enemy.  The cost was:

“the loss of Lord Nelson. A Frenchman shot him of the Fore tops thro’ his shoulder which lodg’d in his back, he liv’d some hours, and when Hardy went down & told him the Trinidad (the pride of Spain) had struck! & some others. He said, he was satisfied it was a victory, and almost immediately expir’d, so departed, this wonderful man.”

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Letter from George Miller Mundy to his father, 1805 (D517 BOX a 3 part 2)

History tells us that Nelson was recognised as a hero by the nation.  The monument, Nelson’s Column, in Trafalgar Square in London, has the inscription ‘England expects every man will do his Duty’ at it’s base, the same message described by George in his letter.

Melanie, Archives Assistant

Daniel Dakeyne: Genealogy 18th century style

As not all of us who are currently working from home can carry on with our ‘normal’ job (repairing documents requires access to the conservation studio), I have found myself copying old typed lists into spreadsheets, so they can be imported into our online catalogue. The archive of the Dakeyne family of Darley Dale (D9) was a joy to work on: it was one of the first collections to be deposited with the county council, way back in 1922 when the Record Office didn’t even exist yet!

The archive mainly relates to Daniel Dakeyne, who was born on 29 April 1763 and lived at Holt House in Darley Dale until his death in 1806, aged 43. He was a lawyer, banker and an antiquary, who amassed a great deal of documents and information intending to write a topographical and genealogical history of Derbyshire. This ambition was never realised, but he has left us with fascinating glimpses into how genealogical research was carried out in the 18th century. For instance, on the 20 November 1792 he writes:

“I applied to the Librarian of the British Museum for a reading order…he could not do it except I brought with me a recommendation from some gentleman of reputation & respectability…”

Fortunately he had no trouble in finding a suitable friend:

“I then immediately applied to Mr Balgay for a letter of recommendation…& by 5 o’clock in the evening I was in possession of a reading order”


He even tells us when the British Museum opening hours were:

“…the time of reading is five days a week from 11 o’clock in the forenoon till 3 in the after.”

time of reading

Researchers in the 18th century clearly faced similar problems to their modern counterparts, whether it be reading old handwriting…

“the whole day in Doctor’s Commons and found the following wills which I read with great difficulty being in very old character & in Latin”


…or the expense of getting access to collections, in this case the Duchy of Lancaster:

“…the most minute research is charged 10/6 which must for every opening of a book be repeated…” (That’s £41 in today’s money!)


There is also every researcher’s greatest fear, written in a PS on a letter from 1792:

“Preserve this letter lest I should lose my notes by any accident.”


Dakeyne didn’t do all his research himself – he had some help from Samuel Ayscough (possibly the same Librarian of the British Museum?), who showed his appreciation for an unusual form of payment in 1794:

“A pheasant & a brace of remarkably fine hares is a reward by far greater than any little assistances or civilities I may have showed to you could merit.”


And all of us at the Record Office echo Ayscough’s sentiments that:

“To render the researches of others more easy, was it not part of the duty of my situation, I should find it my inclination…”


The original typed list from the 1960’s has now been copied into a spreadsheet and all the extra detail about the collection will appear on our online catalogue soon.


Staffordshire History Centre – have your say

Followers and customers of Derbyshire Record Office may be interested in the following notice from Staffordshire Archives:

Staffordshire Archives and Heritage and the William Salt Library are working in partnership to create and deliver the new Staffordshire History Centre, with its associated learning, outreach and engagement activities. The Project will transform the way the public engage with our services, our collections and create an exciting new educational visitor experience.

We are currently in the Development Phase of the project, kindly supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Please follow the link below for further information about the “History at the Heart of the Community: The Staffordshire History Centre” Project:

It would really help us if you spent 10 minutes filling out this survey on the Audience Surveys website – we need your opinions to inform our Stage 2 application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund.  The survey has been developed in partnership with the Audience Agency and will run until 21 June 2020.

Stay connected, get creative and keep learning

Over the past few years the record office has been working with our friends at Junction Arts, the Chesterfield-based arts charity, on the project The Art of Letter Writing. The project celebrates the unique relationships we make with each other by writing and receiving letters, using historical letters from the record office’s collection, the participants’ own letters from home, and the art of illuminated letters.

D5430 76 23 excerpt

Excerpt from a letter written by Elizabeth Winchester, lady’s maid at Chatsworth House (D5430/76/23)

Usually a hands-on project, whilst we’re all socially distancing, the project has been specially adapted to go online. So what better time than now to connect with family and friends? The project is also connecting people with more vulnerable and isolated members of our community by offering people the chance to connect through letter writing. It might even be the start of a friendship that lasts beyond the lockdown!

For more information on the project and details of how to get involved see the Junction Arts website. If you do get involved, we’d love to hear how you got on.


Connecting families and creating history during COVID-19 and beyond

‘History Begins at Home’ is a new national campaign which aims to connect people through conversations about history and to capture and then share these conversations, memories and stories through the campaign’s Facebook page and Twitter.

The idea behind the campaign is to encourage family members of different generations to connect or re-connect by discovering previously unknown facts or family stories, sharing memories, experiences and expertise, and then capturing these conversations and findings for the future.

Gary Tuson, County Archivist at Norfolk Record Office and Campaign Lead at History Begins at Home, comments: “COVID-19 has created all sorts of challenges such as separation, isolation, hardship, the need for resilience, the power of community and the desire to help one another. History Begins at Home is the perfect antidote during this period when people can’t visit their family members due to the current restrictions. It’s a fun way to pass some time together on the phone, via FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsApp or other apps. And, with so much emphasis on mental health and well-being during the lockdown, the campaign is an ideal way for people to engage with the recommended ‘5 ways to well-being’: Connect, Give, Be active, Take Notice and Keep Learning.”

Gary adds: “The campaign will initially focus on the past within families, with the goal of sparking discussions around aspects of childhood and adulthood across the generations, such as toys, food, precious things and memories. Each week, we’ll focus on a different theme about the past and encourage people to start a conversation about it, engage in an activity relating to it and then record something about it and, if they like, share what they’ve found out on our Facebook page and Twitter

Getting involved in History Begins at Home is easy – start off by asking a relative for one of their old recipes and share it, find and share a picture of a family member’s favourite childhood toy, an old love letter (or a new one), or ask them about a funny, incredible, interesting, remarkable or obscure story or memory from their past. Who knows what you might discover!

This week being Mental Health Awareness week, its even more important to stay connected. The record office is supporting the History Begins at Home project via Twitter, follow us at @FranklinArchive. This week we have memories of favourite toys!

Take a look and join the conversation on Facebook at:


and on Twitter:





Collection spotlight: Cooper’s Corsets

If you’re interested in fashion, take a look at the archive of corset makers Richard Cooper and Company (Ashbourne) Ltd.  The catalogue for this lovely little collection has just had a major refresh which has improved the descriptions and arrangement to make it much easier to delve into.

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Richard Cooper ‘Top Labels’ scrap book (D4984/F/3/1)

Richard Cooper and Company (Ashbourne) Ltd started in the 1850s as ‘stay makers’ (the term ‘corset’ didn’t come into common use until later in the 19th century).  The business proved so profitable that in addition to the company’s main site in Ashbourne there were factories in Uttoxeter and Derby, and from the 1950s, Buxton.

Corsets are often thought of as torture devices which squashed women’s internal organs and caused them to be constantly fainting.  No doubt a small minority of women did tight-lace their garments to harmful degrees in pursuit of a tiny waist, but for the majority a well-fitted corset was a comfortable and supportive garment.  It was an essential item of clothing worn by women of all classes, from working women to the well-to-do; our female ancestors managed to wear corsets whilst pregnant, doing physical labour and playing sports, without any ill effects.

Sadly, we have very little from the early days of the firm and only one Victorian corset pattern survives.  This is somewhat unusual as it was drawn in pencil onto some calico, the fabric was sewn into a kind of book, labelled and posted to the Uttoxeter factory.  The postmark helpfully dates it to May 1889.

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Part of Richard Cooper 1889 corset pattern (D4984/D/1/1)

There are a number of pattern books from the 1920s to the 1960s with drawings and specifications of the various designs of girdles, brassieres, corsets, corselettes, wraparounds and suspender belts, mostly sold under the trade name ‘Excelsior’.  The collection also includes some lovely marketing material from the 1940s onwards.

Excelsior 1

Excelsior illustrated price list (D4984/F/6/1/3)

Excelsior 2

Excelsior girdles and suspender belts (D4984/F/6/1/5)

Coopers was a major employer in Ashbourne and for anyone interested in the workers, a few staff records survive, including a register of ‘young persons under the age of 18’ employed at the factory between 1895 and 1900.

Sadly, changes in fashion meant that the market for girdles and corsets dwindled towards the end of the 20th century and the factory closed in the 1980s.  The archive, however, means that although Richard Cooper and Company may be gone, it is not forgotten.  You can browse the full collection on our online catalogue.

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.

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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.