Royal Wedding lace

Going through the box of objects in our Franklin Archive, I’ve come across a piece of lace, sewn on to a pink piece of fabric. There is a dried flower sewn on to both as well.

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In very neat writing it claims to be a Piece of hangings of the Princess of Wales boudoir, St George Chapel, March 10 1863.

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The Princess of Wales in question was Alexandra of Denmark, but on that date she’d only just received the title, as this was her wedding day.  On 10 March 1863 Alexandra married the eldest son of Queen Victoria, Albert, the Prince of Wales, who would become King Edward VII in 1901. It was the first royal wedding to take place at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle; there have been many more there since, most notably recently the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

The inscription is similar to those on other objects which belonged to Lady Jane Franklin, so it’s fair to assume this was also part of her private museum. The big question is: did she attend the wedding or was the lace given to her by someone who did? We know she was definitely in England at the time, but haven’t been able to place her at the wedding yet – do let us know if you have a list of royal wedding guests from 1863 lying around…

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.

 

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?