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Jane Franklin: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Jane Franklin

(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

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.

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

EA-Biog. Frazer: Jane Franklin

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

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

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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