The hidden talents of the Record Office team have been stirred… inspired by the Sir John Franklin story some of our staff members have specially recorded some traditional music to accompany our new online exhibition for Google Arts and Culture.
The tradition of singing, or chanting, of sea shanties and ballads aboard ships flourished during the 19th century. Long journeys at sea and repetitive hard work were alleviated by the singing of hauling and working songs, alongside tales of tragedy and loves lost documented in tunes and laments. ‘Handsome Molly’ is an old-time banjo and fiddle tune with a maritime theme, and this fantastic version has been recorded for us by ukulele player and singer Mark Psmith (our records manager!).
‘I wish I was in London Or some other seaport town I’d set my foot on a steamboat And sail the ocean round
While sailing around the ocean While sailing around the sea I think of Handsome Molly Wherever she may be’
Folk music has long taken inspiration from historical tales, and what better than a story that meets such a haunting end as that of Franklin and his crew. ‘Lady Franklin’s lament’ is a traditional folk ballad, which first appeared as a broadside ballad around 1850. It speaks from the perspective of a sailor on board a ship, who dreams about Lady Franklin and her plight to find her lost husband.
‘We were homeward bound one night on the deep Swinging in my hammock I fell asleep I dreamed a dream and I thought it true Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew
With a hundred seamen he sailed away To the frozen ocean in the month of May To seek a passage around the pole Where we poor sailors do sometimes go’
This version was recorded by folk singer and musician Ewan D Rodgers and features vocals and whistle playing by Clare (our assistant conservator!).
Three cheers! The brand new catalogue of our material relating to Sir John Franklin, his family and friends, can now be viewed on our online catalogue in collection D8760.
Archives Revealed funding and the help of volunteers has enabled us to catalogue in much greater detail than we normally would. This means there are now four times more catalogue entries than there were before! That’s a lot to browse through, so if you’d like to search the Franklin material instead, click on ‘Search our catalogue’, put ‘D8760*’ (don’t forget the asterisk at the end) into the ‘Reference number’ box, and then add your keywords into the ‘Any Text’ box at the top. You can also add a date range to narrow down your search.
Over 1000 letters have also been exported into a spreadsheet. If you are interested in Franklin, or just 19th century letters in general, the spreadsheet enables you to keyword search all the letters at once, or sort and filter them as you like. You can download this as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet here: Derbyshire Record Office D8760 letters with transcriptions.
Many thanks go to Neil Bettridge, our project archivist, and the volunteers who put so much hard work into this project. Although the cataloguing project has now technically finished, we still have volunteers transcribing the letters and will continue adding to and improving the catalogue with more transcriptions and indexing as we have the time.
There are lots more stories to tell from the collection so this won’t be the last you hear about Franklin from us! And don’t forget that you can also view some of the Franklin items and a couple of online exhibitions about them on Google Arts and Culture.
We’ve just archivally packaged a very touching group of items: dried flowers collected from the grave of Eleonar Gell (Sir John Franklin’s daughter) in Tredunnoc, Monmouthshire. They were mounted on black-edged card by her husband John Philip Gell for their seven children – Eleanor, Franklin, Philip, Mary, Henry, Alice and Lucy – and stored together in a blue cover.
The date on the cards is that of Eleanor’s funeral, a few days after her death on 30 August 1860 – she was 36.
The flowers are still in remarkable condition and to keep them that way we’ve placed each card in an archival polyester sleeve and then made a folder to store them in so we keep them out of light. We’ve then made another folder so we can keep the dried flowers together with the cover.
This memorial to a lost parent’s love should now be safe for at least another 160 years.
Our Discovering Franklin project to catalogue and preserve the archives relating to Sir John Franklin is nearly finished. Within the next couple of months we will be publishing the brand new and very detailed catalogue of the collection. We will also be launching online exhibitions and images for people to explore through an exciting new venture which we are tantalisingly keeping under wraps until we have a definite launch date.
Whilst you’ll have to wait a little longer for our Franklin material, do take a look at an amazing video which Parks Canada have just released giving an underwater tour of H.M.S. Terror, one of Franklin’s ships which disappeared in the Canadian Arctic nearly 175 years ago and was rediscovered in 2016.
Excitingly, their latest exploration shows that records of the expedition are likely to be sitting in the ships, waiting to be recovered. Just imagine being the archivist who gets to catalogue that material!
Here is a nice repair job I carried out on one of our Franklin letters, written by John Richardson to John Franklin in July 1823. It was a particularly satisfying one, as this letter originally had a missing corner piece, which amazingly our project archivist Neil had managed to find! After it had been matched up to its rightful home, I re-attached the piece using a wheat starch paste and spider tissue, and filled a hole with handmade repair paper. See the results below – it just goes to show how easy it is to lose information when paper becomes damaged, but luckily this time we could help!
It was most likely put together by Lady Jane Franklin herself, although we don’t know whether she gave it the rather fabulous title of ‘Arctic scraps’. It is full of newspaper cuttings, prints, and other material related to the efforts to find the missing expedition.
It also includes posters offering rewards for helping in the search: Lady Jane herself offered £3000 to whaling ships willing to take part and the UK government even offered £20,000. The National Archives has a handy currency converter, which tells us that this equates to approximately £240,500 and £1,6 million in today’s money!
We don’t have a £20,000 reward on offer, but we do have a selection of rewards for you to choose from if you donate to our crowdfunding campaign. And if you choose the Behind the Scenes Tour, we’ll even add in a cup of tea and some nice biscuits…
Within the collection of objects that we’ve called ‘Lady Jane’s Museum’ there are three beautiful fans which may have belonged to Lady Jane Franklin or to the Gell family from Hopton Hall. According to an expert at The Fan Museum in Greenwich, the oldest one dates from the seventeenth century:
In the earlier part of the seventeenth century the most commonly used fans were ‘fixed’ and consisted of feathers set into a handle. Later on in the century folded, hand-painted fans, such as the one above, gained in popularity; by the end of the century the folded fans had completely superseded the fixed ones.
Next is an early eighteenth century fan; by this time folding fans were very popular and were being made all over Europe and imported from the Far East:
The third fan dates from around 1805-1810 and is a brisé ivory fan. This type of fan consists only of decorative sticks, with no pleated fabric attached:
The sticks of brisé fans are usually intricately carved and held together with a ribbon which is either glued to each stick, or – as in this case- threaded through pierced openings. The carvings were meant to give the illusion of filigree or lace.
Our fabulous fans are in great condition considering their age and we’ll heed the Fan Museum’s advice by storing them closed in museum boxes. If you’d like to help us look after them, as well as the other objects in Lady Jane’s Museum, you can donate on our crowdfunding page or call our reception on 01629 538347.
A week and a half into our crowdfunding campaign we’ve already raised £565! Every little nudge that will get us closer to our £1000 goal is much appreciated.
Only a few days into our crowdfunding project and we’ve already reached nearly £200! A huge thank you to everyone who has supported us so far, and especially for the lovely comments you’ve left behind, such as:
‘Because the past is as important as the future.’
‘Real history is vital in the midst of meaningless memories. Support this venture for future generations.’