LORD  FRANKLIN
~ The Song And The Story ~

John Renbourn very much likes this song; he has sung it solo and also with the group Pentangle. Paul Clayton, the sea shanty singer, sings it unaccompanied. Both Nic Jones and Martin Carthy have sung and played it. The only female singer I have singing it is Jo Freya.
The Plight of Lord Franklin and the Efforts of Lady Franklin
WRITTEN BY CHRISTOPHER HUDSON and printed in the UK "Daily Mail" newspaper of May 15 1999

When the Queen officially opened the National Maritime Museum last week, she walked through a place of snow, ice and howling Arctic winds.

As she did, she saw the most haunting of all the exhibits in the section dealing with Britain's Arctic explorers - a smudged sheet of paper, which provides the only first-hand testimony to the most tragic mystery in the history of Arctic exploration.


Scribbled in its margin are the words `April 25; 1848, HM Ships Terror and Erebus were deserted on April 22, five leagues NWW of this, having been beset since September 12, 1846. The officers and crew consisting of 105 souls under command of Captain F R. M. Crozier landed here. Sir John Franklin died on June 11, 1847, and the total loss by deaths in the expedition has been, to this date, nine officers and 15 men.'

The message is signed by the captains of the two ice-locked vessels. On the top right-hand corner are scribbled the words `...and start back tomorrow 26th for Back's Fish River'. That is the last that was heard of the expedition.

Franklin was one of the most dogged and heroic of all the mariners who set out to discover the fabled northern passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Intrepid Elizabethan sea captains such as Martin Frobisher and Henry Hudson had sought a north-west passage as a shortcut to China and the legendary Spice Islands to give England a crucial trading advantage over its old enemy Spain.

Two Centuries later, when men such as Sir John Ross and Sir William Parry voyaged on the same quest, the motive was no longer trade but patriotic pride.

Britain had sought so long, and ventured so far into the polar wilderness, mapping uncharted gulfs and straits, that it was unthinkable the Admiralty should admit defeat.

Yet the person who more than anyone else was responsible for finally proving the sea-link across the top of Canada from east to west was a woman,


Jane Franklin. In her indomitable belief that her husband was still alive, long after all others had given up hope, Lady Franklin campaigned for one expedition after another to be sent in search of him. And she financed no fewer than four Arctic expeditions of her own, the last of which, by Lieutenant FL. McClintock in 1857, hit upon the final clue to navigating the North-West Passage.

When John Franklin met his future wife in 1824, Jane Griffin was 33, beautiful, talented and longing for a husband. Unfortunately Franklin was already married, to one of Jane's friends, Elizabeth Pordern. Elizabeth died of tuberculosis in 1825, one week after bravely seeing Franklin off on his second expedition to the Arctic. Their only child, Eleanor was eight months old.

On his return, Franklin brought Jane and her family reindeer tongues, and showed them a headland in Alaska he had christened Point Griffin. Jane was overwhelmed, no other suitor could court her with such exotic placenames. Within three years, Point Griffin would be joined on the charts by a Cape Jane Franklin.

By the time they married, in 1828, John Franklin was 41 and acclaimed as one of the great explorers of his age. The son of a Lincolnshire shopkeeper he had fought with Nelson at Trafalgar During his first two Arctic expeditions, journeying under appalling conditions, he had helped survey 1,100 miles of the northern coastline of the Canadian mainland and shown it to be navigable.

Jane herself was no mean traveller. She journeyed by herself through North Africa and the Middle East, to places seldom visited by women. When Franklin was made governor of Tasmania, she accompanied him to the island colony and worked to set up a college, a museum and botanical gardens.

A dispute with the colonial secretary in Tasmania led to Franklin's recall to London. He was 58; his career lay in ruins.

Then the Admiralty came to his rescue. With the help of lobbying by Jane and testimonies by fellow explorers (`If you don't let him go, he will die of disappointment,' wrote his old comrade William Parry), Sir John Franklin was given command over the largest expedition ever formed to `solve the puzzle of three centuries' and find the North-West Passage.

The ships sailed in May 1845. Hopes were high. Only 900 miles separated Melville Island, which Parry had reached in 1820, from the Bering Straits, and most of that was known to be open sea.

Franklin's instructions were to sail the northern route as far as the charts would take him and then `towards Bering Strait in as straight a line as is permitted by ice or any unknown land'.

His ships were the Erebus (370 tons) and the Terror (340 tons), which was commanded by Captain Crozier. Their decks had been specially strengthened to withstand the crushing power of ice, and each had screw propellers powered by a dismantled railway steam engine of 20 horsepower.

They had handpicked crews 129 officers and men, in total enough supplies, from Fortnum & Mason, to last them up to three and-a- half years, and a library of 2,900 books.

In July 1845, a whaler passed them off the coast of Greenland. But two years passed with no more word of the expedition. In 1847, Jane Franklin began lobbying for rescue expeditions, writing to the Prime Minister, the Emperor of France, the Tsar of Russia and the President of the U.S. It was a campaign that would last 13 years.

In 1848, the Admiralty dispatched three relief expeditions to look for the Erebus and Terror. One, under the celebrated Arctic explorer Sir James Ross, went up the coast of Greenland to approach from the east. Another sailed around Cape Horn and up the west coast of America to approach via the Bering Strait. The third approached from the south, travelling up Canada's McKenzie river to cover the coastline.

There was no reason to suspect the worst. Other expeditions had been trapped in ice for two years or more. Between them, the three expeditions covered a 1,600-mile sweep of the Arctic from east to west leaving messages. Ross caught foxes and fastened copper collars round their necks which gave the position of his ships and supply dumps. Nothing was found. It was as if Franklin, his two ships and his men had vanished off the face of the earth.

Jane wrote letters, which would be brought back to her time and again by failed relief missions. `My dearest love, may it be the will of God if you are not restored to us earlier that you should open this letter and that it may glove you comfort in all your trials...' She told him about the revolutions. of 1848, the London gossip and about his daughter's marriage to a school teacher.

Meanwhile, she drew the U.S. President's attention to the reward of 20,000 pounds, a considerable sum in her day, offered to any ship that brought help to the missing expedition - to which she added 3,000 pounds of her own.

In 1850 an Act of Congress was passed allowing the U.S. Navy to take over an expedition to search for Franklin, so great was the international interest in his disappearance.

Most of Jane's fortune was spent raising money for expeditions or financing her own. Eventually she moved out of her home into rented rooms: Her perseverance should have paid off, in 1850 the climactic year for the search, no fewer than six expeditions were in the Polar regions at the same time; comprising 15 ships and 500 men. The trouble was that not any of them to date had reached the regions where Sir John Franklin's expedition had been commissioned to go.

It was an extraordinary oversight. Lady Franklin pestered the Admiralty about it.

Part of the trouble was that the one man who happened to suggest the right place to look - southwards around the mouth of Back's Fish

River which Franklin knew of old and his men tried to reach - was a cantankerous old explorer called Dr King whom the Admiralty and Jane disbelieved.

Jane consulted clairvoyants. In Londonderry, the ghost of a girl named Weasey Coppin who had died of a fever aged four, regularly reappeared to write predictions on her family's drawing-room wall.

Questioned about the missing explorers, Weasey's apparition vanished, an Arctic scene appeared on the floor and then, apparently, on the opposite wall in large round letters, the words: `Erebus and Terror Sir John Franklin, Lancaster Sound, Prince Regent Inlet, Point Victory, Victoria Channel.' Meanwhile, the 1850 expeditions, wintering near each other in the backwaters of the North-West Passage tried communicating with Franklin by rockets and balloons. In the summer of i851, the site of his first winter base was found, with three graves, a stone observatory, a garden with poppies and a pair of cashmere gloves laid out to dry. No other clues were found. Even the Eskimos knew nothing.

The Admiralty's last expedition sent out in 1852 -this time to search not only for Franklin but for a rescue expedition that had disappeared. That expedition was found, days before splitting up on desperate rescue errands; and one of its leaders, Robert McClure, claimed the long-standing prize for discovering the North-West Passage, though he had not navigated it.

Not until 1854 was anything learned of Franklin's fate, and then it came at second-hand from Eskimo sources: They told a trader Dr John Rae that a party of about 40 white men were seen dragging a boat near the north shore of King William island (an island half the size of Wales above the mouth of the Great Fish River). They were gaunt and purchased seal meat from the natives.

Later that season, Eskimos discovered 35 bodies to the northwest of the Great Fish River. Some were in a tent; others huddled under a boat capsized for shelter. An officer had a telescope strapped over his shoulders; his double-barrelled gun lay beneath him. In their hunger according to the Eskimos, they had resorted to cannibalism. The loot they sold to John Rae included silver spoons and forks and a silver plate engraved `Sir John Franklin K.C.H.'.

This was proof enough for the Admiralty. It had spent, in today's money, more than 3 million on relief missions; it would spend no more. But Lady Franklin refused to give up on the basis of second hand stories from Eskimos. Nothing had been found; nothing had been brought back, not a body not a document. She bought a 177 ton pleasure steamer called the Fox and had it refitted for a final attempt.

Everyone wanted to help her Officers and men petitioned to join the expedition; some chivalrously gave their services for free. The Admiralty, through unofficial channels, provided men, equipment and supplies. Queen Victoria showed anxious interest. The expedition, under Captain MeClintock, sailed in 1857, established a base near Franklin's first winter base, and the next year sent out fast sledging parties.

These met with more success. Eskimos bartered silver plate and buttons, and described the fate of the Erebus and Terror - how one ship had sunk and the other had been cast ashore. Then, in April 1859, one of McClintock's officers discovered a metal box under a cairn, just where the little Londonderry ghost had foreseen - at Victory Point; on the north-west coast of King William Island overlooking Uictoria Strait.

It contained the message now on display at the National Maritime Museum, which finally confirmed the fate of the expedition 12 years earlier. When MeClintock went to Victory Point he found, not far away, a small boat mounted on a sledge. Two skeletons were in it, together with 401b of chocolate, quantities of clothing, guns books, handkerchiefs, sponges, combs, saws and 26 pieces of silver plate.

Sir John Franklin had come come to within 100 miles of open water and the end of the quest; the unsolved enigmas of her husband's expedition still remain as fascinating and disturbing as ever.

How did such a well-supplied and well-prepared expedition come to grief so rapidly? Why did they abandon the ships when there were still supplies left, dragging with them on what would be a very long journey such bizarre items as heavy cooking stoves, 4ft of iron lightning rod, silk handkerchiefs and hollow, brass curtain rods? Why were the two skeletons that McClintock found in the boat surrounded by food and carrying primed muskets as if waiting. for someone or something?

In 1984, when two of Franklin's men were exhumed from the permafrost, almost perfectly preserved, a post-mortem was carried out which found very high levels of lead poisoning in their bodies. Franklin's expedition was one of the first to rely heavily on tinned food as a back-up to fresh supplies. Canning was then in its infancy, but the Admiralty, for all the Fortnum & Mason delicacies on board, accepted the cheapest supplier's quote for basic provisions and tins were sealed with cheap solder containing large amounts of lead.

Some evidence exists that Franklin's crew understood what was poisoning them. At Franklin's first winter base McClintock found a huge pile of empty tins, and conjectured that Franklin may have been given bad provisions. The combination of scurvy (bound to have affected the crews after two years at sea) and lead-infected food could have driven men insane.

Not until late in the l9th century was it known that lead poisoning could cause `brain symptoms'. If some of the canned food was inedible, starvation would have set in long before the three-year limit of their supplies.

After the second winter locked in ice, groups of men would have set off from the Erebus and the Terror into the unknown. One o1d Eskimo woman told McClintock that many of the white men had dropped and died as they walked. Some had been buried; some had not.

There is no doubt that, in their madness and hunger, 'many were driven to cannibalism. Dr Rae wrote in his report that `from the mutilated state of many of the corpses, and the contents of the kettles, it is evident that our miserable countrymen had been driven to the last resource..

Many in Britain refused to believe it, Jane Franklin and Charles Dickens among them. But a 1992 expedition, which uncovered the skeletons of at least 11 people on King William Island, found that at least 90 of the 400 bones analysed had cut marks made with a knife possibly one of the knives on show at Greenwich. Eating the bodies may well have hastened the deaths of those who fed on them, because the lead would have been concentrated in their flesh. A jacket button found at the site confirmed that officers must have joined in the cannibalism, too.

Lady Franklin lived on for 20 years, revered in her widowhood, which many compared to Queen Victoria's after the death of Albert. Lady Franklin had hoped to write the epitaph to the monument to her husband which was erected in Westminster Abbey, but the words would not come, and she handed the task to the poet laureate, Alfred Tennyson.

By the time it was unveiled, in 1875, Lady Franklin was dead. Dean Stanley added an inscription to the left of it which read "Erected by his widow, who, after long waiting and sending many in search of him, herself departed to seek and to find him in the realm of light".


The Man Himself


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