Franklin, Jane (1792–1875)

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Franklin, Jane (1792–1875)

English social reformer and traveler who gained international fame for her relentless efforts to locate and rescue her husband's ill-fated Arctic expedition. Name variations: Lady Jane Franklin. Born Jane Griffin in 1792 (some sources cite 1791) in Spitalfields, England; died at Phillimore Gardens, her London home, on July 18, 1875; daughter of John Griffin (a silk-weaving magnate) and Mary Guillemard (Griffin); educated at a boarding school in Chelsea; married Sir John Franklin (an explorer), 1828; children: none.

After marriage, traveled and lived in Van Diemen's Land and New Zealand (1828–33); was the first woman to travel overland from Melbourne to Sydney in Australia (1829); financed five vessels to the Arctic to search for her husband's expedition (1850–57); awarded the Founder's Gold Medal from the Royal Geographical Society (1860).

Jane Franklin was an incurably restless woman who traveled extensively and recorded voluminous notes on everything she observed—first with her father, later with explorer-husband John Franklin, and finally as a solitary adventurer. Belying the stereotype of the Victorian woman of means, parlors, and needlework, she took ocean voyages, climbed mountains, visited dignitaries, and sponsored exploratory expeditions. Though she married late, she loved her husband and fought until her death to assure his reputation in the history of Arctic exploration.

Jane Griffin was born in 1792 at Spital-fields, England. She was the third of four children of John Griffin of Bedford Place, a magnate in the silk-weaving industry and a liveryman in the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, and Mary Guillemard Griffin who died in 1795 when Jane was three years old. The children's early upbringing was provided by a Miss Peltrau, the daughter of John Griffin's housekeeper. When Jane's only brother John died in 1804, Jane and her two sisters were sent to Miss Van den Enden's small boarding school in Chelsea for the proper education of young ladies of their class. Jane was an intelligent child who excelled in reading, memorization and arithmetic. Though well-behaved, she was by nature a mischievous and romantic young lady.

At age 17, Jane wrote her name on the inside cover of her first daybook and added, "A Journal of a Visit to Oxford, in June, 1809." Although none of her work was published during her lifetime, she would be a voluminous writer who recorded her extensive travels and adventures, leaving behind over 200 travel diaries and nearly 2,000 letters. Her writing is extremely neat despite the fact that she sometimes squeezed 40 lines onto a single page and often wrote sideways around the margins. With her father, she traveled extensively in England and Europe while noting everything in her journals—every monument, church, plaque, tombstone, historic object, landscape, industry, geographic location, and travel distance.

During her late teens, Jane established a schedule for enriching her mind through almost continuous study. In one three-year period, she read nearly 300 books on religion, travel, education and various other subjects. She also pursued a multitude of activities of educational value. She attended lectures at the Royal Institution, visited Vauxhall Gardens, was a member of the Book Society, visited Newgate Prison, and regularly attended British and Foreign School Society meetings. A serious-minded young woman, Jane Griffin had no time to devote to needlework, society balls or novels, which she considered to be frivolous. Her incessant intellectual growth continued to expand during her travels with her father.

On November 5, 1828, Jane married Captain John Franklin (1786–1847), the Arctic explorer. She had been friends with John and his first wife Eleanor Franklin, who died in 1825 while her husband was in the Arctic. Shortly after his return to England, the world-renowned explorer had presented Jane with exotic gifts from his explorations. They fell in love and the 36-year-old Jane became the wife of the 42-year-old John. Their adventurous natures made them kindred spirits. During the period of their engagement, Jane had traveled to Russia with her father and written to John that she would never wear a conjugal ring as a badge of slavery nor be a wretched wife who obliged her husband as a sense of duty. Other than their spirit of adventure, Jane was the opposite of her placid, sober and humorless husband. Unlike his wife, he wrote an unimaginative prose and communicated his experiences in an almost apologetic style. Even in appearance they seemed an odd couple. He was short, bald and portly while Jane was a tiny, blue-eyed beauty with a lovely complexion.

John, who had served in the navy at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) and the Battle of New Orleans (1814), had subsequently been on three expeditions to the Arctic region. His last overland expedition (1825–27) had added over 1,200 miles of new knowledge about the Arctic coastline and earned him a knighthood in 1829. Following their marriage, the Franklins lived in the Mediterranean where he was assigned peacetime duties as commander of the H.M.S. Rainbow.

Franklin spent the years in the Mediterranean traveling through Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Syria and the Holy Land. She described in her journals being in an earthquake in the Greek Isles, bandit attacks in Arabia, crossing the Nile River during a hurricane, and observing a revolution in Spain. When Sir John returned to England in 1833, Lady Jane was in Alexandria preparing for a trip up the Nile River. On her advice, John met with Sir James Graham, first lord of the admiralty, to request a new naval command. Since nothing was available, Jane joined John in England so that they could continue to pressure the authorities for a meaningful appointment.

Jane Franklin believed that another Arctic expedition was much more preferable to an assignment to a ship or station. Since there was talk of reviving the search for the Northwest Passage, the couple concluded that John should seek command of an expedition for that ultimate prize. The Admiralty, which had supported two unsuccessful Arctic expeditions, was forced into a hiatus in Arctic exploration due to economic restraints. Deeply disappointed, John accepted an appointment as governor of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), a colonial island near Australia.

Van Diemen's Land in 1836 was a dumping ground for English convicts and impoverished settlers. Franklin earned the good will of the inhabitants for her private benevolence and support of her husband's public policies. She campaigned for improved conditions for the convicts and poor emigrants. She formed commissions to examine conditions and treatment of aborigines, female convicts, and prostitutes. Her actions resulted in an avalanche of criticism from the colonial aristocracy. Her failure to follow the conventional role of a governor's wife also created dissatisfaction in official circles. Somewhat blunted in her humanitarian efforts, Franklin began to travel extensively as an outlet for her restless nature. She was the first woman to climb Mount Wellington, a mountain of over 4,000 feet near Hobart. In April 1839, she became the first woman to travel the overland Australian route from Melbourne to Sydney. On a visit to New Zealand in 1841, she studied Maori language and customs. Her room at Government House in Van Diemen's Land looked like a museum with her collections of fossils, geological specimens, stuffed birds, and aboriginal weapons obtained during her journeys.

Franklin, Eleanor (1795–1825)

English poet. ame variations: Mrs. Eleanor Anne Franklin. Born Eleanor Anne Porden in July 1795; died on February 22, 1825; married John Franklin (afterwards Sir), in 1823.

Eleanor Franklin was a poet and invalid and a magnet to London's literary society. Her major work was the epic Coeur de Lion, written in 1822. The following year, she married the explorer John Franklin.

The Franklins' six years in Van Diemen's Land were not happy. They did not fit into the conservative, snobbish clique of British public servants. The bureaucrats considered John Franklin to be a weak, inept, inexperienced governor with a liberal reform-minded mentality. They despised Jane Franklin's activism and considered her to be a meddling power behind her husband's throne. In 1841, the Franklins and Captain John Montagu, his colonial secretary, became such enemies that they hardly spoke to one another. After an open act of insubordination, John suspended Montagu. With the support of the Tasmanian press, Montagu took his anger back to London where he utilized his connections

to eventually have John removed as governor. Although personally popular with the general public, the Franklins sailed for England on January 12, 1844.

Sir John felt that his honor had been stained, but he had virtually no success in reclaiming his official reputation in England. In reality, he was still a hero for his Arctic exploits with the general public. He, however, felt that he must do something daring to relieve his demoralization from the Van Dieman's Land experience. Jane convinced him to again appeal to the Admiralty for an appointment for Arctic exploration. Although John was 58 years old, Lord Haddington, first lord of the admiralty, decided to give him command of 138 handpicked sailors for a major Arctic expedition.

The instructions from the Admiralty were that he should go through Lancaster Sound and Barrow Strait until he reached Cape Walker, north of Prince of Wales Island, then proceed on a course directly towards the Bering Strait as far as ice or land presently unknown would permit. Sir John was given two vessels, the 370-ton Erebus under his command and the 326-ton Terror under Captain Francis Rawdon Crozier. Both vessels were veterans of Arctic exploration and, in addition to their three masts, were the first polar vessels equipped with emergency screw-steam power engines. Their commissary contained provisions for three years. There was tinned mutton, pork, chocolate, condiments, biscuits and spirits. The vessels, almost like floating palaces, even contained silverware, crystal, a barrel organ, and a library of nearly 3,000 volumes. Jane Franklin embroidered a silk Union Jack flag for him to place at the Arctic Circle. When she playfully tossed it over his face as he napped, a startled John reminded her that the flag was placed over a corpse who died on duty.

Westminster Abbey">

This monument was erected by Jane, his widow, who after long waiting and sending many in search of him, herself departed to seek and to find him in the Realms of Light.

—Second Inscription on Franklin Memorial, Westminster Abbey

Sir John's expedition sailed from London on May 18, 1845. The ships were last sighted by a Scottish whaling vessel in Upper Baffin Bay, west of Greenland, at the entrance of Lancaster Sound on July 25. There was little concern when nothing was heard of John at the end of the 1846 sailing season in the Arctic. He himself had warned his superiors that he expected to be out of touch for at least two years. When no word came in 1847, however, both Lady Franklin and the Admiralty began to worry. The Admiralty launched a massive rescue search in 1848. Three vessels were sent to the eastern Arctic, three more ships advanced eastward from the Bering Sea, and an overland expedition was sent to the Canadian Arctic coast. Although the expeditions failed to find any trace of John, they spurred new and greater efforts to locate the lost explorers. The Admiralty offered a reward of £20,000 and Lady Franklin added £3,000 to the sum. She also financed a supply of coal and provisions that were marked and placed on the coast of Lancaster Sound for the use of the missing explorers.

In 1849, she appealed for rescue efforts to U.S. President Zachary Taylor, Russian Tsar Nicholas I, French Emperor Napoleon III and British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston. While international public and private expeditions searched for the explorers, Lady Franklin waited in hope that they were still alive. She had dispatched letters to John with each expedition. Publicly, she continued to discuss issues such as popery and to distribute anti-chartist pamphlets.

Jane Franklin was committed in every way to finding her husband. She visited seaports to encourage whalers heading for Baffin Bay to carry extra provisions for the lost expedition. The Admiralty, somewhat tardy after its early response, finally launched more expeditions and even sought help from the Hudson's Bay Company. Franklin had used her own funds to send out the Isabel in 1852, but it found nothing. Another expedition financed by her was the Prince Albert under the command of Captain Charles C. Forsyth. This expedition brought back news that one of Franklin's camps on Beechey Island had been discovered.

In 1854, Dr. John Rae of the Hudson's Bay expedition found traces of Sir John's expedition at Boothia Peninsula. This encouraged Lady Franklin to outfit and dispatch the Fox under Sir Francis Leopold McClintock. He sailed in 1857 and in two severe Arctic winters discovered written accounts left behind by the lost expedition ten years earlier. When McClintock brought the documents back to her, she learned that her husband and some members of the expedition had died in June 1847. The notes described a successful first year before the Erebus and Terror were permanently beset by ice near King William's Island. John died on June 11, but, mysteriously, his body had never been found. In April 1848, Crozier and the 105 survivors abandoned their base and supplies in an effort to reach the Hudson's Bay Company posts over 1,000 miles away. In time, over 30 bodies would be found in the wastelands northwest of the Back River. None of John Franklin's expedition ever left the Arctic.

While waiting for McClintock's return, a restless Jane Franklin traveled by boat and train through France, Greece, the Crimea, and North Africa. In Athens, she had an audience with the queen of Greece (Amalie of Oldenburg ). Franklin was resting for her health in a Pyrenees mountain resort when word reached her that McClintock had come back from the Arctic. She returned to England and the admiration of her nation because she had always maintained that her husband, unfailingly obedient to orders, would be found in the exact area searched by McClintock. In her way, she was as stubborn and consistent as John had been. The expedition relics were displayed before massive crowds in London. Working behind the scenes, Franklin obtained an award of £5,000 for the crew of the Fox, but she declined a reimbursement for the funds she had expended on the expeditions. Queen Victoria invested McClintock with a knighthood and the Royal Geographical Society awarded its Patron's Gold Medal to him.

Based on the information in the notes discovered by McClintock, Lady Franklin established that before his death, her husband had proven the existence of the Northwest Passage between Victoria Strait and Bering Strait. For her support of polar exploration and the tireless efforts to solve the disappearance of her husband's expedition, the Royal Geographic Society awarded Lady Franklin with the Founder's Gold Medal in 1860. She was the first woman ever to be honored with that prestigious award.

Franklin continued her travels, perhaps as solace for the tragic loss of her husband, perhaps because of her natural curiosity and love of adventure. In the fall of 1860, she visited the United States, Canada, Brazil, Patagonia, and Chile. She then spent two years in Hawaii, Japan, China, Singapore, Penang, and India. On this trip, she met Brigham Young in Salt Lake City, had an audience with King Kamehameha IV in Hawaii, climbed the column of Kutb-Minar near Delhi, and had "Lady Franklin Pass" named for her in the gold fields of British Columbia. After attending the dedication of a monument honoring her husband at Waterloo Place in London, she was off to France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Dalmatia, and Germany. She had an audience with Pope Paul IX and attended the Paris Exhibition of 1867. Still another trip to India was followed by visits to Northwest Africa and the Canary Islands before returning to London in 1869. Her later travels were limited to visits to Europe.

Her last years were spent in perpetuating the reputation of her husband. Shortly before her death in 1875, she arranged for a Carrara marble statue to be placed in Westminster Abbey, proclaiming her husband as the discoverer of the Northwest Passage. The epitaph at the base of the statue was written by the Franklins' friend, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, poet laureate of England. A second inscription paid homage to Jane Franklin's love and devotion to her husband. Jane Franklin died at her Phillimore Gardens home in London on July 18, 1875, at the age of 83.


Franklin, Jane. A Letter to Viscount Palmerston, K.G. London: James Ridgway, 1857.

Gell, Edith Mary. John Franklin's Bride. London: John Murray, 1930.

Rawnsley, Willingham Franklin. The Life, Diaries and Correspondence of Jane Lady Franklin. London: MacDonald, 1923.

Woodward, Francis. Portrait of Jane: A Life of Lady Franklin. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1951.

suggested reading:

Berton, Pierre. The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818–1909. NY: Viking, 1988.

Cyriax, Richard J. Sir John Franklin's Last Arctic Expedition: A Chapter in the History of the Royal Navy. London: Methuen, 1939.

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Sir John Franklin in Tasmania, 1837–1843. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1949.

Neatby, Leslie H. The Search for Franklin. London: Barker, 1970.

Rasky, Frank. The North Pole or Bust. Toronto: Mc-Graw-Hill Ryerson, 1977.

Wright, Noel. Quest for Franklin. London: Heinemann, 1959.


Journals of Lady Jane Franklin are located in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England; Sir John Franklin's Papers are located in the National Maritime Museum, London, England.

Phillip E. Koerper , Professor of History, Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama

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Franklin, Jane (1792–1875)

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