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.

 

For World Book Day…

…a book about Arctic Explorers!  ‘The Icy North’ by Henry Harbour c.1904 contains biographies of Sir John Franklin and Fridtjof Nansen. It was part of a series published by Collins’ Clear Type Press, which included biographies of ‘the Lives of Men and Women who have achieved fame by the services they have rendered to their country or to mankind’ (other titles included ‘Peerless Women’ and ‘Old Sea Dogs’)

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‘Never did arctic explorers leave England fuller of hope, more confident of a speedy return, than Franklin and his companions on that May day in 1845’

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.

Early account of Sir John Franklin’s life uncovered

While in the process of cataloguing the Franklin archive, I came across two copies of a little book with the words “Sir John Franklin R.N.” on the front cover. Inside, it is entitled “A Brave Man and His Belongings; Being Some Passages in the Life of Sir John Franklin, F.R.S., K.C.H., &c, &c, First Discoverer of the North-West Passage”. The book was printed in 1874 by Samuel Taylor of Holborn, London. The text runs to 61 pages, with 5 pages of appendices comprising copies of two Valentine poems by his first wife and a brief account of the life and death of his daughter, both called Eleanor. It was compiled for, and dedicated to, Sir John Franklin’s grandchildren and great nephew and nieces. The author is not named.

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There are various copies of this book in circulation and some have been advertised for sale online. Most give the author’s name only as anonymous, but a few institutions have identified the author as a niece of the first Mrs Franklin. This is certainly true, as the author states that her aunt was Sir John’s first wife. She was Eleanor Anne Porden, who was the daughter of architect William Porden and his wife Mary. The Pordens had no less than ten children, but only two of them managed to survive into adulthood. They were Eleanor Anne and her elder sister Sarah Henrietta, who was married in 1805 to Joseph Kay, also an architect and William Porden’s assistant at the time. Joseph and Sarah are said to have had eight children of their own, two sons and six daughters.

In terms of the identity of the niece, she has been named in one source as Mary A. Kay. There certainly was a daughter called Mary Anne, born 9 February 1808, and her name does appear in the book as the recipient for one of the Valentine poems which appears in the appendix, but I think there is a much better candidate for the identity of the author, based on a passage near the end of the story. In the context of the ships H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror setting off under Franklin’s command from England on their tragic voyage to the Arctic, the author says how well she remembers the month of May 1845, as it was also the month when she got married. She tells us that her last recollection of Sir John was two days before she got married, at a social gathering organized by Lady Franklin for intimate friends before he set sail. He took her aside and expressed his regret at not being able to attend her wedding (where his daughter, Eleanor, would be a bridesmaid), as his presence would be required on board to attend to important business connected with the ships on the same day.

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This makes it extremely unlikely that it was Mary Anne Kay, as she had married Edward Nicholas Kendall, one of Sir John’s former lieutenants, in 1832. He unfortunately died in February 1845, so it is theoretically possible that she did re-marry three months later! We believe, however, that she did not in fact re-marry, as she was, according to the census of 1851, living in Kensington under her married name of Kendall with her two sons and two of her sisters. I was then able to check genealogical records and found a marriage for another of the sisters, Eliza Margaret Kay (1819-1897) who married Edward Basil Jupp at the parish church of St Giles in the Fields, Holborn, on 10 May 1845.

Although nobody could claim the book reveals anything new about Franklin and his career, it is an interesting little reminder of how he was seen by his family and relations. She wrote it for the sake of his grandchildren and his great nephews and nieces, who she says had been taught to revere his name, but that they had very little information on his character and history. She does not actually record much in the way of her own personal recollections, but she does remember when she was a very young girl and he was then married to her aunt, sitting on his knee and playing with the epaulettes on his uniform (she could not remember him ever being in anything other than his uniform). She also remembers that he looked very much like the portrait painted by Thomas Phillips and very much the same when in his 60th year as he had done in 1825-1830.The references to his character and conduct generally confirm the impression of him of a kind, affectionate, dignified and sincerely religious man, which even his critics would generally concede to be the case.

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She cites as her sources on the course of his life a “short paper” written by one of Franklin’s nieces, which she claims might have been dictated by his first wife, Eleanor, outlining his career up to 1822, and a brief memoir written by his friend Sir John Richardson in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. She also had access to the papers of the Kay family, and the book is notable for the number of examples of correspondence it contains involving Franklin, his first wife, his daughter and his in-laws, the Kays. It also contains the somewhat spurious document called “the Phrenological Character of Captain Franklin”, mentioned in the extract pictured above, of which I include a copy, as she did, for your amusement.

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Sir John Franklin’s signature

After the disappearance of Sir John Franklin in 1845 his wife, Lady Jane Franklin, was inundated with requests for copies of his signature. She responded by cutting out his signatures from letters he’d sent and posting these to the grateful collectors.  The damage this did is immediately obvious in this example, a letter Sir John wrote to his sister, Hannah Booth, in 1833:

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The severity of the damage however only becomes apparent when you view the letter on a light box:

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All the sharp cuts show where a knife went through the paper – we can’t be sure these slashes were made when the signature was removed, but as they don’t occur on any of the other letters it’s reasonable to assume the two are linked.

The letter has now been repaired and is ready for one of our volunteers to read.

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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?