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    Jane Franklin

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

    001      |      Vol_XV-0301                                                                                                                  

    (Anne Frazer)


            Jane Lady Franklin (1792-1875) second wife of Sir John Franklin,

    was born Jane Griffin, daughter of John Griffin and Jane Guillemard, both

    parents of Huguenot descent.

            Left motherless at the age of four, Jane Griffin and her sisters,

    Mary, later Lady Simpkinson, and Frances, who married Ashhurst Majendie,

    were brought up in the house of their wealthy father at 21 Bedford Place,

    London, by Miss Peltreau, a governess who performed the duties of hostess

    and chaperone. Jane, who became her father's constant companion, started

    traveling with him at an early age and from 1815 kept voluminous diaries of

    their wanderings in France, Italy, and Switzerland. These diaries were

    written in a minute but legible hand, 42 lines of fine writing to an octavo

    page. At her express wish they were never published but extracts from them

    may be found in her Life, Diaries and Correspondence, edited by her husband's

    grandnephew, Willingham Franklin Rownsley: (Erskine MacDonald, London.)

            Jane Griffin's first interest in the Arctic was awakened when Dr. Peter

    Mark Roget (complier of the Thesaurus ) took her in March 1818 to Deptford

    to look over the Dorothea and Trent by the ship's young commander,

    Lieutenant John Franklin, then about to see his first arctic service. This

    expedition returned in the autumn of the same year and between that period

    and Franklin's land exploration of 1825 a friendship was formed between the

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    EA-Biog. Frazer: Jane Franklin

    the Griffins and the Franklins. In her Home Journal of 1825 Jane writes

    of her interest in the plans of the expedition and of her close friendship

    with Franklin's wife, Eleanor Porden. An invalid since the birth of her

    only child and namesake, Eleanor died five days after her husband's de–

    parture on his second expedition.

            Immediately after the sailing of the expedition Jane and her father

    left England on their customary travels. They were again in England when

    Franklin returned after an absence of two and a half years and the friend–

    ship was renewed. In 1828 the Griffins went to Russia; there Captain Frank–

    lin joined them and he and Jane became engaged. Upon their return to

    England their marriage took place on November 5, 1828.

            The following year Franklin was knighted and in 1830 he was appointed

    to command the frigate Rainbow in the Mediterranean service. Jane, over

    eager for change and travel, followed him from port to port and during his

    long periods of sea duty traveled extensively by herself. In 1834 Franklin

    returned to England but his wife was at that time making a voyage up the Nile

    and did not rejoin him until the following year. Their correspondence during

    this period was voluminous and much of it has been preserved. In 1837

    Sir John was appointed Governor of Van Dieman's Land, Tasmania. This period

    of six and a half years sep pe nt at Government House was the nearest approach

    to domesticity that Lady Franklin had ever known, or ever was to know.

            No years in Jane Franklin's life could be stagnant and these compara–

    tively circumscribed ones were filled by her endless activities. She made

    extensive explorations of the country, accompanying botanists and ornitholo–

    gists, she mapped out schemes for a more progressive system of education,

    and was active in introducing measures for the improvement of woman convicts

    in the colony.

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    EA-Bi o g. Frazer: Jane Franklin

            Sir John was relieved of his post in 1844 and upon his return to

    England was offered the command of an expedition to search for the North–

    west Passage. Lady Franklin, by nature an explorer, welcomed this command

    for her husband, watching the preparations for the expedition and analyzing

    the proposed course with a keen and trained intelligence. Franklin sailed

    on May 19, 1845, on the Erebus , accompanied by the Terror. The ships were

    equipped for three years but there seems to have been a general idea that

    they might return in one year. Franklin's last letter to his wife, 16 pages,

    was written as he was approaching the coast of Greenland. The rest is silence.

            Immediately after the sailing, Lady Franklin's started on her travels,

    taking with her Franklin's daughter Eleanor. Their voyage ended in the United

    States and there Lady Franklin began to worry, as no news had been received

    from the expedition. She was immediately aware that a relief expedition was

    imperative and, though she could have been in no doubt that the Admiralty

    would send one out, it was typical of her quick and encompassing mind that

    before she sailed for home she unerringly touched the chords that would enlist

    the sympathy and generosity of prominent Americans in the forthcoming search.

            From the time the first relief expedition went out in 1848, Lady Franklin

    was dedicated to the search of for her husband, and when all hope of his

    survival was gone, to solving the mystery of the lost expedition. She was

    strongly of the belief that Franklin had turned southward from Lancaster

    Sound, but (unlike the Admiralty) she held her mind open to all possibilities.

    In addition to the £20,000 prize offered by the Admiralty, she offered

    £ 3,000 for any helpful clues and appealed personally to the captains of

    the whaling fleets that went out each year from Scotland to Baffin Bay,

    urging them to keep a lookout for traces of the ships and to question the

    Eskimos of the region. As the sailing directions of the first relief

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    expedition, commanded by Sir John Ross, omitted Prince Regent Inlet as

    a possible route, Lady Franklin equipped at her own expense the Prince

    , captained by William Kennedy, to search in that direction. She

    was unfortunate that, in this venture and the later one when she was

    largely responsible for equipping the Phoenix (Captain E. A. Inglefield),

    neither of her captains proved himself as an explorer.

            During the long period of the Franklin search, which lasted from

    1848 to 1855, when the last expedition (American, commanded by Kane and

    backed by Grinnell) had returned, Lady Franklin had been tireless in her

    interest and in her generous appreciation of all efforts in behalf of the

    search. But in 1855 all government efforts stopped when it was obvious that

    the expedition was lost and there could be no survivors; the Admiralty was


            At this point Lady Franklin took over; from her personal funds aug–

    mented by public subscriptions (chiefly from arctic men devoted to her or to her husband) she purchased and equipped the Fox , a screw yacht, and

    offered the command to Leopold McClintock whose arctic work she had watched

    and in whom she had unlimited confidence. McClintock followed down Prince

    Regent Inlet, navigated Bellot Strait, and on the western coast of King

    William Island found the documents and the remains of the lost Franklin


            It is typical of Lady Franklin that, during this period as well as the

    earlier ones of the Franklin search, once the expeditions had departed she

    embarked on her endless travels. Eleanor, her stepdaughter, having married,

    she was accompanied by Sophia Cracroft, Franklin's niece. There were a

    few parts of the civilized globe that she did not visit — the west coast

    of America, Japan, the Sandwich Island, Honolulu, Valpraiso; she was

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    EA-Biog. Frazer: Jane Franklin

    incessantly restless and displayed a marked indifference to her comfort

    and her health. She had to such an extent the nature and understanding

    of an explorer that she could never sit at home and wait for news, knowing

    that news might be endlessly delayed but would eventually reach her.

            Lady Franklin was still absent from England when McClintock, in the

    Fox , returned in September of 1859 with the relice of Sir John's expedi–

    tion and the record of its fate. She had no need to be present at the

    homecoming of the Fox . Her commander, in whom she had reposed complete

    confidence, returned with a successfully completed mission. The news was

    relayed to her and she returned home to tender her thanks and appreciation

    to McClintock.

            In 1860 Lady Franklin was awarded the Founders' Medal of the Royal

    Geographical Society in recognition of her services and was from then on an

    honored guest at all their meetings.

            This closing of the record for the long search did not bring to a close

    Lady Franklin's activities; her indomitable spirit still urged her on to

    incessant travel. Loyal and grateful as she always was to those who had

    helped and befriended her, she visited Grinnell (backer of the American

    expeditions) in New York, and made contact with Captain Kennedy of the

    Phoenix in Baltimore. Her v oyages took her again to the west coast of the

    United States, to Alaska, to Japan and Honolulu and to the southern continent

    of America. Her travels were prodigious for her age and era; the discomforts

    she suffered wore out two devoted maids, but Lady Franklin displayed a

    Spartan indifference to hardship.

            In 1873 she returned to England for the wedding of Sir John's grand–

    daughter, Eleanor. Her long voyages were now done with, but her interest

    in exploration remained as keen as ever and she was active with advice and

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    EA-Biog. Frazer: Jane Franklin

    financial help for the outfitting of the Pandora, equipped and commanded

    by her old friend Sir Allen Young of the Fox, to search for the Northwest

    Passage — the compass of her interest again pointing to the North.

            Lady Franklin died at the age of 83 on July 18, 1875.

            Tribute was paid to her by the explorers of the Franklin searches,

    whose endeavors she had so generously appreciated, but it remained for

    Dean Stanley and her step-grandson, Philip Lyttleton Gell, to pronounce

    the last words upon her. The young descendant of her husband wrote:

    "She possessed the explorer's talent; she knew where she wanted to go and

    she got there." An excellent summation. Dean Stanley's words for the

    unveiling of the Franklin memorial at Westminster readhed deeper:

    "... erected by his widow who, after long waiting and sending many in

    search of him, herself departed to seek and find him in the realms of light."


    Life, Diaries and Correspondence of Jane Lady Franklin , edited by

    Willingham Franklin Rawnsley: Erskine MacDonald, London, 1923. Life of Sir Leopold McClintock , by Sir Clements Markham, London, 1909. Narrative of the Discovery of the Fate of Sir John Franklin , by Leopold

    McClintock, London, 1859.


    Anne Frazer

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