Exhibition: Franklin’s People

The latest exhibition on display at the record office throws light on some of the most important people in life of Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, each with their own fascinating story.

There are his two wives, the poetic Eleanor, who died tragically young, and the formidable Jane, Lady Franklin, one of the celebrities of the Victorian age. There is also his daughter Eleanor, together with her clergyman husband John Philip Gell and their talented children.

There are also his friends and colleagues, noted explorers in their own right, such as Sir Edward Parry, Sir John Ross and Sir Leopold McClintock and John Rae, as well as people who briefly but spectacularly crossed his path such as the native North American known as Miss Green Stockings.

Items on display include (possibly) one of the last letters written by John Franklin, dated 6 July 1845.  Franklin and his expedition were last seen by Europeans only a few weeks later, on 26 July, after which they were never heard of again.

Visit us to see this and many more items associated with this fascinating individual and his incredible story.

This free exhibition runs from 23rd May –  13th September.

Derbyshire Record Office

New St

Matlock

DE4 3FE

 

 

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.

 

 

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

Happy Valentine’s Day!

A treat from our Franklin collection: the Valentine poem Eleanor Porden wrote in 1823 for her fiancé, John Franklin. We’re very lucky to have two versions – here’s the original draft:

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And here is the letter she sent him on 14 February 1823, with her handwriting ‘disguised’:

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The symbols on the letter (presumably purporting to be Inuit) tie in with the mention of Coppermine River, the river in North Canada John Franklin had traveled down during his Coppermine Expedition of 1819 to 1822.  Eleanor seems to be writing as if she is an Inuit woman – our project archivist has been delving deeper into the background to this poem and will reveal all soon…

 

 

 

Kalli’s last letter

Within the Franklin collection is a box of objects: precious mementos Lady Jane Franklin displayed in her house, reminders of the adventurous lives she and her husband, Sir John Franklin, had led.  Included are two letters and small drawings, bundled together in a wrapper which says: Remains of Kalierua.

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This refers to Erasmus Augustine Kallihirua, also known as Kalli, an Inuit from north-western Greenland who helped in the search for Sir John Franklin. In 1850 he joined the ship of Captain Erasmus Ommanney when it was in Cape York, Greenland, and worked as his guide and translator during his expedition to find Franklin’s ships. Kalli stayed with the ship as it traveled back to England, where he was sent to St Augustine’s College in Canterbury to train as a missionary.  During his time in England Kalli must have met Sir John’s daughter Eleanor, who was by then Mrs Eleanor Gell, as he sent her at least two letters and three small drawings. We don’t know how many other letters Kalli sent to Eleanor, but someone has written on the one dated October 3rd 1855 ‘Kali’s last letter from St John’s Newfoundland’.

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Kalli died on 14 June 1856 in St John’s, Newfoundland, having caught a chill while swimming. He was only twenty-four years old. A more detailed account of Kalli’s life is on the website of the Nunatsiaq News.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Introducing William Porden…

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Portrait of William Porden (D3311/5/1)

Just before Christmas I flicked through a couple of diaries written in the period 1793-1820. I love reading diaries and letters. Through them, I feel like I know the people who wrote them; they become familiar friends and their world, even if 200 years old, seems as real as our own.

I thought I would share some of the diary entries in this blog, partly just because I like them (a good enough reason in itself – that’s partly what this blog is for), but also because their author, William Porden, is a Hull man and so we can do our bit to celebrate Hull’s status as City of Culture 2017.

So firstly, a quick explanation about the man himself.  In his first diary and commonplace book, he notes family events, but interestingly, it looks as if he didn’t know the date of his own birth.  He records himself thus:

W Porden son of Thomas & Hannah Porden of Kingston upon Hull was Baptised January the 29th 1755 as St Mary’s Church and it is supposed his Birth was sometime in December preceding.

An eminent architect of his day, he lived in London and his most famous surviving building is the riding school and stables at the Brighton Pavilion, built 1803-1808, which is now the Brighton Dome Concert Hall.

Brighton Pavilion Stables

Brighton Pavilion Stables

If you’re wondering why on earth his papers are held at Derbyshire Record Office, it’s because William Porden’s daughter, Eleanor Anne Porden (1795-1825), was the first wife of Sir John Franklin (1786-1847), who famously led a disastrous voyage of Arctic exploration along the Northwest Passage in 1845 (you’ll find more blog posts about this here).  Their daughter, Eleanor Isabella Franklin, married into the Gell family of Hopton Hall, Derbyshire, and so her mother’s and maternal grandfather’s papers came with her into the family and now form part of our Gell collection D3311 – it all makes sense in a way!

William Porden didn’t use his diaries to record his everyday life, but begins his diary in May 1793:

If every man would treasure the Observation, which he makes in his Journey through life and Register the remarks of others he would soon collect an abundance of knowledge and preserve the means of amusing many a future hour. I have often made this remark and I have often resolved to put the matter in execution nay I have frequently begun to do so; but idleness and want of perseverance has rendered it of little effect.  I again resolve to do so and I now again begin to register what has occurred during a Journey of three or four days.  I dare not flatter myself that I shall be more steady than I have been – but I will try – Whatever may be the end I shall consider all that is got as gain.

I confess to also being guilty of occasional idleness and want of perseverance in my blog posts, and may also not be more steady than I have been – but I, too, will try.  In the next post, we journey with Mr Porden on the London to Guildford stage…

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

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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