Discovering Franklin

We have an exciting new project beginning on Monday 1 October.  Funded by Archives Revealed, our Discovering Franklin project will create a detailed catalogue of the papers of Sir John Franklin (1786-1847); his first wife, Eleanor Porden (1795-1825) and her father William Porden (1750-1822); his second wife, Jane Griffin (1791-1875) – more usually known as Lady Jane Franklin; and his daughter Eleanor (1824-1860).

Barry Lewis looking at Franklin material

Leader of Derbyshire County Council, Councillor Barry Lewis, and some of the Franklin papers

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you will probably have heard these names before: we’ve blogged about them quite a few times!

If you’re not familiar with Sir John Franklin’s story, in 1845 he led two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, up to the Canadian Arctic to discover the Northwest Passage.  The quest to find the Northwest Passage was the Victorian equivalent of the race to put a man on the moon.  Enormous efforts were made to be sure that the British would be the first to find the Northwest Passage and control a potential new trade route to the Americas.

Franklin docs - daguerrotypes

Photographs taken of the officers, just before the expedition set off in May 1845

The crew wrote home for the last time when they stopped off in Greenland… after which they disappeared.  It wasn’t until the late 1850s that the fate of the 129 crewmen was known – they had all perished, although the exact cause of their deaths remains a mystery.  There were, however, tales of starvation and cannibalism which horrified people back home – and were speedily quashed.  The ships themselves remained lost until very recently, when they were discovered by Canadian archaeologists in 2014 and 2016.  Excavations continue each summer to discover their secrets.

Franklin docs - last letter 3

One of Sir John Franklin’s last letters, written June 1845 from Whale Fish Islands, Greenland

The Franklin papers we have at Derbyshire Record Office have never been properly catalogued but are full of fascinating documents that deserve to be much more accessible to the many people who are interested in Franklin, polar exploration and much more.

Here’s just one example: a little book of hymns that Eleanor sent to her father with Sir James Ross, who led the first expedition to find Franklin in 1848.  By then her father was already dead, although of course no one knew this.  Ross’s expedition was blocked by ice at Somerset Island and so he had to return the book to Eleanor without bringing her the good news she must have been hoping for.  This little package, lovingly prepared by Eleanor and kept safe by Sir James Ross, has been all the way to the Arctic Circle and back.

Package sent to Franklin from Eleanor

Book of hymns sent by Eleanor to her father Sir John Franklin with Sir James Ross’s expedition

There are many more poignant stories captured in these papers.  We will be detailing our discoveries in this blog, of course, but if you use Twitter you can follow more immediate updates there at @FranklinArchive.  And if you’d like to find out more about the Franklin expedition, there are lots of books, TV programmes and films about it… why not start by borrowing a book from your local library?

 

 

A father’s letter

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.

D3311 2 2 front

D3311 2 2 back

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.

 

Sir John Franklin: Fabled Arctic ship found

You may have seen in the news that a team from Canada believe they have discovered one of the ships from the lost Franklin expeditionhttp://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.

Lady Franklin's Final Search p1

D3311/112/2 Lady Franklin’s Final Search p1

Lady Franklin's Final Search p2

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

D3311/219 Copies of Instructions to Captain Sir John Franklin in reference to the Arctic Expedition of 1845, 1848

DSCF0358

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