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Sir John Franklin

In office
5 January 1837 – 21 August 1843
Preceded by George Arthur
Succeeded by Sir John Eardley-Wilmot, 1st Baronet

Born 16 April 1786(1786-04-16)
Spilsby, Lincolnshire, England
Died 11 June 1847 (aged 61)
near King William Island, Canada
Spouse(s) Eleanor Anne Porden & Griffin

Sir John Franklin, FRGS (16 April 1786 – 11 June 1847) was a British Royal Navy officer and Arctic explorer who mapped almost two thirds of the northern coastline of North America. Franklin also served as governor of Tasmania for several years. In his last expedition, he disappeared while attempting to chart and navigate a section of the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. The entire crew perished from starvation, hypothermia, tuberculosis, lead poisoning, scurvy and exposure before and after Franklin died and the expedition's icebound ships were abandoned in desperation.


Early life

Franklin was born in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, in 1786 and educated at King Edward VI Grammar School, Louth. John Franklin was the ninth of twelve children. One of his sisters was the mother of Emily Tennyson. Franklin's father initially opposed his son's interest in a career at sea. However, Franklin was determined and his father reluctantly allowed him to go on a trial voyage with a merchant ship. This hardened young Franklin's resolve, so at the age of 14 his father secured him a Royal Navy appointment on HMS Polyphemus. Franklin was later present at a number of historic voyages and naval battles. These included the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, an expedition to explore the coast of Australia on HMS Investigator with his uncle, Captain Matthew Flinders, a return to the Napoleonic Wars, serving aboard HMS Bellerophon at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and he was at the Battle of New Orleans.

He accompanied Captain Dance on The East India Company's ship the Earl Camden, frightening off Admiral Linois at the Battle of Pulo Aura in the mouth of the straits of Malacca 14 February 1804.

1819: Franklin's First expedition

Franklin was chosen to lead an expedition overland from Hudson Bay to chart the north coast of Canada eastwards from the mouth of the Coppermine River.[1] Between 1819 and 1822 he lost 11 of the 20 men in his party. Most died of starvation, but there was also at least one murder and suggestions of cannibalism. The survivors were forced to eat lichen and even attempted to eat their own leather boots. This gained Franklin the nickname of "the man who ate his boots".[2]

1823: Marriage and second Arctic expedition

In 1823, after returning to England, Franklin married the poet Eleanor Anne Porden. Their daughter, Eleanor Isabella, was born the following year. Eleanor (senior) died of tuberculosis in 1825, shortly after persuading her husband not to let her ill-health prevent him from setting off on another expedition to the Arctic. This expedition, a trip down the Mackenzie River to explore the shores of the Beaufort Sea, was better supplied and more successful than his last.

In 1828, he was knighted by George IV and in the same year married Jane Griffin, a friend of his first wife and a seasoned traveler who proved indomitable in the course of their life together.

1836: Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania)

Franklin was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land in 1836, but was removed from office in 1843. He did not endear himself with the local civil servants, who particularly disliked his humane ideals and his attempts to reform the Tasmanian penal colony. His wife, Lady Jane, was quite liberated for a woman of her day, known for "roughing it" to the extent that an expedition had to be mounted after she and Franklin became lost in the wild. Such exploits further distanced the couple from "proper" society, and may have contributed to Franklin's recall. Nevertheless, he was popular among the people of Tasmania. He is remembered by a significant landmark in the centre of Hobart—a statue of him dominates the park known as Franklin Square, which was the site of the original Government House. His wife worked to set up a university, a museum and botanical gardens. The village of Franklin, on the Huon River, is named in his honour, as is the Franklin River on the West Coast of Tasmania, one of the better known Tasmanian rivers due to the Franklin Dam controversy.[3][4]

1845 Northwest Passage expedition

Map of the probable routes taken by Erebus and Terror during Franklin's lost expedition.     Disko Bay (5) to Beechey Island, in 1845.     Around Cornwallis Island (1), in 1845.     Beechey Island down Peel Sound between Prince of Wales Island (2) and Somerset Island (3) and the Boothia Peninsula (4) to near King William Island in 1846. Disko Bay (5) is about 3,200 kilometres (2,000 mi) from the mouth of the Mackenzie River (6).

Exploration of the Arctic coastal mainland after Franklin's second Arctic expedition had left less than 500 kilometres (311 mi) of unexplored Arctic coastline. The British decided to send a well-equipped Arctic expedition to complete the charting of the Northwest Passage. After Sir James Ross declined an offer to command the expedition, an invitation was extended to Franklin, who accepted despite his age, 59. A younger man, Captain James Fitzjames, was given command of HMS Erebus and Franklin was named the expedition commander. Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier, who had commanded HMS Terror during the Ross 1841–44 Antarctic expedition, was appointed executive officer and commander of HMS Terror. Franklin was given command on 7 February 1845, and received official instructions on 5 May 1845.[5]

HMS Erebus at 370 long tons (380 t) and HMS Terror at 340 long tons (350 t) were sturdily built and were outfitted with recent inventions. These included steam engines from the London and Greenwich Railway that enabled the ships to make 4 knots (7.4 km/h) on their own power, a unique combined steam-based heating and distillation system for the comfort of the crew and to provide large quantities of fresh water for the engine's boilers, a mechanism that enabled the iron rudder and propeller to be drawn into iron wells to protect them from damage, ships' libraries of more than 1,000 books, and three years' worth of conventionally preserved or tinned preserved food supplies. Unfortunately, the latter was supplied from a cut-rate provisioner who was awarded the contract only a few months before the ships were to sail. Though his "patent process" was sound, the haste with which he had prepared thousands of cans of food led to sloppily-applied beads of solder on the cans' interior edges and allowed lead to leach into the food. Chosen by the Admiralty, most of the crew were Englishmen, many from the North of England with a small number of Irishmen and Scotsmen.

The Franklin Expedition set sail from Greenhithe, England, on the morning of 19 May 1845, with a crew of 24 officers and 110 men. The ships traveled north to Aberdeen for supplies. From Scotland, the ships sailed to Greenland with HMS Rattler and a transport ship, Barretto Junior. After misjudging the location of Whitefish Bay, Disko Island, Greenland, the expedition backtracked and finally harboured in that far north outpost to prepare for the rest of their voyage. Five crew members were discharged and sent home on the Rattler and Barretto Junior, reducing the ships' final crew size to 129. The expedition was last seen by Europeans on 26 July 1845, when Captain Dannett of the whaler Prince of Wales encountered Terror and Erebus moored to an iceberg in Lancaster Sound.

After two years and no word from the expedition, Franklin's wife urged the Admiralty to send a search party. Because the crew carried supplies for three years, the Admiralty waited another year before launching a search and offering a £20,000 reward for finding the expedition. The money and Franklin's fame led to many searches. At one point, ten British and two American ships, USS Advance and USS Rescue, headed for the Arctic. Eventually, more ships and men were lost looking for Franklin than in the expedition itself. Ballads such as "Lady Franklin's Lament", commemorating Lady Franklin's search for her lost husband, became popular.[6] In the summer of 1850, expeditions including three from England as well as one from the United States joined in the search. They converged off the east coast of Beechey Island, where the first relics of the Franklin expedition were found, including the gravesites of three Franklin Expedition crewmen.

Statue of John Franklin in his home town of Spilsby

In 1854, the Scottish explorer Dr. John Rae, while surveying the Boothia Peninsula for the Hudson's Bay Company, discovered the true fate of Franklin party from talking to Inuit hunters. He was told both ships had become icebound, the men had tried to reach safety on foot but had succumbed to cold and some had resorted to cannibalism.[7] Rae's report to the Admiralty was leaked to the press, which led to widespread revulsion in Victorian society, enraged Franklin's widow and condemned Rae to ignominy. Lady Franklin's efforts to eulogise her husband, with support from the British Establishment, led to a further 25 searches over the next four decades, none of which would add any further information of note.[7]

In the mid-1980s, Owen Beattie, a University of Alberta professor of anthropology, began a 10-year series of scientific studies known as the "1845–48 Franklin Expedition Forensic Anthropology Project", showing that the Beechey Island crew had most likely died of pneumonia[8] and perhaps tuberculosis.[9] Toxicological reports indicated that lead poisoning was also a possible factor.[10][11] In 1997, more than 140 years after Dr. Rae's report, his account was finally vindicated; blade cut marks on the bones of some of the crew found on King William Island strongly suggested that conditions had become so dire that some crew members resorted to cannibalism.[12] It appeared from these studies that a combination of bad weather, years locked in ice, disease including scurvy, poisoned food, botulism and starvation had killed everyone in the Franklin party.

In October 2009 Robert Grenier (a Senior Marine Archaeologist at Parks Canada) outlined recent discoveries of sheet metal and copper which have been recovered from 19th century Inuit hunting sites. Grenier firmly believes these pieces of metal once belonged to the 'Terror' and formed the protective plating of the ship's hull.

A quote from the British newspaper The Guardian states the following:

"After studying 19th-century Inuit oral testimony – which included eyewitness descriptions of starving, exhausted men staggering through the snow without condescending to ask local people how they survived in such a wilderness – he believes the 19th-century official accounts that all the surviving expedition members abandoned their ice-locked ships are wrong. He believes both ships drifted southwards, with at least two crew remaining until the final destruction of their vessels. One broke up, but Inuit hunters arriving at their summer hunting grounds reported discovering another ship floating in fresh ice in a cove.

"They're not very strong on location or date," Grenier said. "They have all the space and time in the world, but what they reported seems quite clear."

The ship, probably the Terror, was very neat and orderly, but the Inuit descended into the darkness of the hull with their seal-oil lamps, where they found a tall dead man in an inner cabin. Grenier believes it was there they recovered the copper, which was more valuable than gold to them, and tools including shears from the ship's workshop with which to work it. Hauntingly, they also reported that one of the masts was on fire. Grenier wonders if what they saw was the funnel from the galley still smoking from a meal cooked that morning, before the last of Franklin's men disappeared from history."

Historical legacy

Statue of John Franklin in London

For years after the loss of the Franklin party, the Victorian era media portrayed Franklin as a hero who led his men in the quest for the Northwest Passage. A statue of Franklin in his home town bears the somewhat false inscription stating "Sir John Franklin — Discoverer of the North West Passage". Statues of Franklin outside the Athenaeum in London and in Tasmania bear similar inscriptions. Although the expedition's fate, including the possibility of cannibalism, was widely reported and debated, Franklin's standing with the public was not diminished. The mystery surrounding Franklin's last expedition was the subject of a 2006 episode of the Nova television series Arctic Passage and a 2006 documentary "Franklin's Lost Expedition" on Discovery HD Theater. The expedition has inspired many artistic works including a famous ballad, Lady Franklin's Lament, a verse play by Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen, a children's book, a short story and essays by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, and several novels, and is referenced in Canadian musician Stan Rogers' ballad Northwest Passage. There is also a direct reference to John Franklin's ill-fated expedition in the Irish-American group Nightnoise's album Something of Time, specifically in a track titled "The Erebus and the Terror". Additionally in 2007, a fictional account of the expedition was authored by Dan Simmons titled The Terror, ISBN 978-0-316-01744-2.

The explorer was also remembered when one of Canada's Northwest Territories subdivisions was named the District of Franklin. Including the high Arctic islands, this jurisdiction was abolished when the Territories were divided in 1999.

He is the namesake for the R/V FRANKLIN, a research vessel built in Queensland. She currently flies the Swedish flag and serves in northern Europe.

The Franklin rose, developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, was named in his honour. [13]


  1. ^ "Dictionary of Canadian Biography online - Sir john Franklin". Retrieved 2008-11-30. 
  2. ^ Franklin John, Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea Volume 2, 3rd Edition Page 279, (Online) [1]
  3. ^ Serle, Percival. "Franklin, John (1786 – 1847)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Project Gutenberg Australia. Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  4. ^ Kathleen, Fitzpatrick (1966). "Franklin, Sir John (1786 - 1847)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  5. ^ Gibson, F.R.G.S., William (June 1937). "Sir John Franklin's Last Voyage: A brief history of the Franklin expedition and the outline of the researches which established the facts of its tragic outcome". The Beaver: 48. 
  6. ^ M'Clintock, Francis L. (1860). The Voyage of the 'Fox' in the Arctic Seas. A Narrative of the Discovery of the Fate of Sir John Franklin and His Companions. Boston: Ticknor and Fields. pp. 336. 
  7. ^ a b McGoogan, Ken (2002). Fatal Passage: The True Story of John Rae, the Arctic Hero Time Forgot. New York: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0-7867-0993-6. 
  8. ^ Amy, Roger; Bhatnagar, Rakesh, Damkjar, Eric, Beattie, Owen (1986-07-15). "The last Franklin Expedition: report of a postmortem examination of a crew member". Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) 135: 115–117. 
  9. ^ Notman, Derek N.H.; Anderson, Lawrence, Beattie, Owen B., Amy, Roger (1987). "Arctic Paleoradiology: Portable Radiographic Examination of Two Frozen Sailors from the Franklin Expedition (1845-48)" (PDF). American Journal of Roentgenology (AJR) (American Roentgen Ray Society) 149: 347–350. ISSN 0361-803X. 
  10. ^ Kowall, Walter; Beattie, Owen B., Baadsgaard, Halfdan (1990-01-25). "Did solder kill Franklin's men?". Nature 343 (6256): 319–320. doi:10.1038/343319b0. 
  11. ^ Kowall, W.A.; Krahn, P.M., Beattie, O. B. (Received:1988-06-29). "Lead Levels in Human Tissues from the Franklin Forensic Project". International Journal Environmental Analytical Chemistry (Gordon and Breach Science Publishers) 35: 119–126. doi:10.1080/03067318908028385. 
  12. ^ Keenleyside, Anne; Bertulli, Margaret, Fricke, Henry C. (1997). "The Final Days of the Franklin Expedition: New Skeletal Evidence" (PDF). Arctic (The Arctic Institute of North America) 50 (1): 36–46. ISSN: ISSN 0004-0843.,+v.+50,+no.++1,+Mar.+1997,*?COMMANDSEARCH. 
  13. ^ Franklin rose



  • Franklin Saga Deaths: A Mystery Solved? National Geographic Magazine, Vol 178, No 3, Sep 1990.
  • Beardsley, Martyn. Deadly Winter.
  • Beattie, Owen, and Geiger, John (1989). Frozen in Time: Unlocking the Secrets of the Franklin Expedition. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books. ISBN 0-88833-303-X.
  • Beattie, Owen and Geiger, John (2004). Frozen In Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition (Revised edition)
  • Berton, Pierre The Arctic Grail.
  • Coleman, E. C. (2006). The Royal Navy in Polar Exploration, Franklin to Scott.
  • Coleman, E. C. (2006). The Royal Navy in Polar Exploration, Frobisher to Ross. ISBN 0-7524-3660-0.
  • Cookman, Scott (2001). Ice Blink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin's Lost Polar Expedition. ISBN 0-4714-0420-9
  • Hutchinson, Gillian (2009) "Searching for Franklin and the Northwest Passage". ISBN 978-0948065842.
  • Owen Beatle and John Geiger (1992) "Buried in ice: The mystery of a lost arctic expedition" ISBN 0-590-43849-2
  • Lambert, Andrew (2009) Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Navigation. ISBN 9780571231607.
  • McGoogan, Ken Fatal Passage.
  • McGoogan, Ken Lady Franklin's Revenge.
  • Mirsky, Jeannette (1970). To the Arctic!: The Story of Northern Exploration from Earliest Times. ISBN 0-226-53179-1.
  • Murray, David. (2004). The Arctic Fox - Francis Leopold McClintock, Discoverer of the fate of Franklin. Cork: The Collins Press, ISBN 1-55002-523-6.
  • NOVA - Arctic Passage Part 1 - Prisoners of the Ice (TV documentary). See also program transcript.
  • Payton, Brian (2009) The Ice Passage ISBN 978-0-385-66532-2
  • Poulsom, Neville W. & Myres, J. A. L. (2000). British polar exploration and research : a historical and medallic record with biographies, 1818-1999 . London: Savannah.
  • Stefánsson, Vilhjálmur (1938). Unsolved Mysteries of the Arctic.
  • Woodman, David C. Unraveling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony.



External links

Further reading

  • Alexander, Alison (editor) (2005)The Companion to Tasmanian HistoryCentre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart. ISBN 186295223X.
  • Robson, L.L. (1983) A history of Tasmania. Volume 1. Van Diemen's Land from the earliest times to 1855Melbourne, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195543645
Government offices
Preceded by
George Arthur
Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land
Succeeded by
Sir John Eardley-Wilmot

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