When you work with archive collections, sometimes you come across something that makes you stop in your tracks – a document that takes your hand and transports you through time to its author, making them so tangible, so real, that the intervening centuries vanish and you’d swear they were standing right next to you. That happened to me yesterday with a letter I came across, a perfectly ordinary letter from William Porden, the 18th century architect, to his daughter Eleanor Anne Porden.
The content is of course sweet, written by a caring father to his loving daughter, and the reference to smallpox inoculation only two years after it became available is certainly interesting. But what really got me was the handwriting: it is completely different to his normal joined-up style. Then I realised Eleanor would only have been five at the time, still learning to read and needing clear letters to decipher her father’s words. I write notes to my daughter in block capitals to spare her the agony of trying to decipher my atrocious handwriting – that two hundred and eighteen year gap suddenly feels very small indeed.
You may have seen in the news that a team from Canada believe they have discovered one of the ships from the lost Franklin expedition – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-29131757
Franklin was one of the outstanding explorers of the early 19th century, but it was the Admiral’s tragic end that earned him iconic status. As a young midshipman, Franklin served at Trafalgar. He then commanded a frigate in the seas around Greece between 1830 and 1833. Four years later, in 1837 Franklin was appointed Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), a post he held until 1843. His lasting reputation derives from his major expeditions to the Canadian Arctic in search of the North West Passage. He embarked on the third in May 1845. The last sighting of his ships was in July 1845. Relief expeditions were mounted, but by 1850 it was clear to everyone except his second wife Lady (Jane) Franklin (1792-1875) that the expedition was lost. She continued to raise funds to send out search parties until 1859 when proof was found of the deaths of Franklin and his party.
Derbyshire Record Office holds a good range of records relating to Franklin and his various expeditions, including papers relating to the many searches for the final expedition after 1845. The papers have come to the Record Office through Franklin’s daughter, Eleanor Isabella. Eleanor was the daughter of Franklin’s first wife Eleanor Anne Porden (died 1825), and the wife of Rev. John Philip Gell, of the Gell’s of Hopton Hall, near Wirksworth and Carsington.
D3311/112/2 Lady Franklin’s Final Search p1
D3311/112/2 Lady Franklin’s Final Search p2
D3311/219 Copies of Instructions to Captain Sir John Franklin in reference to the Arctic Expedition of 1845, 1848
D3311/95 ‘ Echo from the deep’ – Newspaper cutting from the Daily Express 14 Apr 1965 regarding discovery of Erebus or Terror – although it transpired that this was not one of the lost ships
Also in the collection;-
D3311/81 – An Account of a clairvoyant describing where to find Sir John Franklin and his ships, copied by E.J. Gell, 1849
D3311/51/1-4 Extract from Capt. Fitzjames’ letter to Mr Barrow regarding Sir John Franklin 1845; Extract from a letter from a Canadian missionary, Rev Father Tacke describing an expedition setting off to find Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition 1848
2 Notices of the expedition’s discovery and search 1849
Don’t miss out on your last chance to our current exhibition “The Attic Chest“. The online exhibition features early 19th century poems and general whimsy, edited by protofeminist Eleanor Anne Porden, and her father. View it at http://bit.ly/sDiDbI