Birthday: April 16, 1786
Died At Age: 61
Sun Sign: Aries
Also Known As: Sir John Franklin
Born in: Spilsby
Famous as: Explorer
Spouse/Ex-: Jane Franklin, Eleanor Anne Porden
father: Willingham Franklin
mother: Hannah Weekes
children: Eleanor Isabella Franklin
Died on: June 11, 1847
Who was John Franklin?
Sir John Franklin was an English ‘Royal Navy’ officer and an explorer of the Arctic. He conducted several expeditions, which led to the discovery of many unseen areas on the Canadian coast. Franklin is best remembered for his heroic expedition in search of the ‘Northwest Passage,’ connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. This was his last expedition, and he never returned from the trip. From a very young age, Franklin was fascinated by the sea. Sensing his interest, his father sent him on a trial voyage in a merchant ship. Franklin thoroughly enjoyed sailing, and his career as a voyager began. He was also part of several battles at sea. Franklin’s earliest expedition involved mapping of the coast of Australia, under the leadership of Captain Matthew Flinders. An expedition to chart the north coast of Canada was the first expedition in which Franklin played a lead role. After a few successful expeditions, Franklin became very popular. He was knighted by King George IV and King William IV. Franklin served as the lieutenant governor of Tasmania for a brief period. After his tenure in Tasmania ended, Franklin was again called for expeditions. Armed with the latest technologies of the time, Franklin and his crew set out on two ships to discover the ‘Northwest Passage.’ After a year of sailing, the ships got trapped in ice. The crew members tried to get back to safety, but all of them, including Franklin, perished on the way. Franklin is remembered as a hero who gave up his life for a historic discovery.
Childhood & Early Life
John Franklin was born on April 16, 1786, in Spilsby, Lincolnshire. His father, Willingham Franklin, was a merchant whose ancestors were country gentlemen, and his mother, Hannah Weekes, was the daughter of a farmer. Franklin was the ninth of the 12 children of his parents. One of his brothers was a judge and another joined the ‘East India Company.’
Franklin attended the ‘King Edward VI Grammar School.’ Although his father wanted Franklin to become either a clergyman or a businessman, Franklin was interested in going on voyages at sea. Thus, at the age of 12, Franklin’s father sent him on a trial voyage in a merchant ship. After the trip, Franklin was sure about his career choice.
In March 1800, Franklin’s father secured a ‘Royal Navy’ appointment for him on the ‘HMS Polyphemus.’ Franklin served as a first-class volunteer and participated in the Battle of Copenhagen. Later, he was part of an expedition to the coast of Australia on the ‘HMS Investigator.’ The vessel was commanded by his uncle, Captain Matthew Flinders. Franklin also fought in the Battle of Trafalgar and the Battle of New Orleans.
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In 1819, John Franklin started his first expedition as a leader. It was an overland expedition from Hudson Bay to chart the north coast of Canada from the mouth of the Coppermine. During the course of the expedition, Franklin fell into the Hayes and was rescued by his team members. The expedition lasted till 1822, and of the 20 members of the team, 11 died of starvation.
In 1825, Franklin went on his second Canadian exploration. His goal was to travel to the mouth of the Mackenzie. From the Mackenzie, the party was to split into two. Franklin was to travel westward from the Mackenzie, to meet another sailor, Frederick William Beechey. Another group, led by John Richardson, was to travel eastward, till the Coppermine.
On August 16, 1825, Franklin became the second European to travel to the mouth of the Mackenzie. He erected a flagpole to celebrate his victory, and buried letters for other sailors. He traveled westward for one more year and reached ‘Point Barrow,’ which is currently in Alaska. On finding the river frozen, Franklin was forced to give up the exploration. On August 16, 1826, Franklin ended his exploration and traveled back home. This exploration provided a lot of information about the northwest rim of the North American coastline.
Following his successful expeditions, John Franklin was hailed as a hero. On April 29, 1829, he was knighted by King George IV. He was awarded the first gold medal of the ‘Société de Géographie’ of France. In January 1836, Franklin was made the ‘Knight Commander of the Royal Guelphic Order’ by King William IV.
In 1836, Franklin was appointed as the lieutenant governor of Van Diemen’s Land, part of present-day Tasmania. He tried to bring about significant social reforms. Franklin is still remembered in Tasmania, and his statue at ‘Franklin Square’ is one of the significant landmarks in Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. The village of Franklin and the Franklin River are tributes to his work. He served in Tasmania till 1843. Franklin was not re-appointed and soon returned to Britain.
After Franklin’s return from Tasmania, the ‘Admiralty’ planned renewed efforts to chart the ‘Northwest Passage’ connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific. Only around five hundred kilometers of the coastline was unexplored at the time. Although Franklin was 59 years old, he was selected to lead this expedition. Two ships, the ‘HMS Erebus’ and the ‘HMS Terror,’ were selected for this purpose. As these ships were equipped with advanced steam engines and modern technology, it was hoped that the expedition would be successfully completed.
On May 19, 1845, Franklin and his crew left the country to chart the ‘Northwest Passage.’ The ships carried provisions for three years. The ships were last spotted on July 26, 1845, by a European whaling ship, when they were moored to an iceberg. None of the crew members were seen alive after this.
Based on later evidences, it was believed that Franklin’s expedition had come to a standstill in the summer of 1846, when the ships were trapped in ice, off King William Island. A note found later confirmed that John Franklin had died of unknown causes, on June 11, 1847. The location of his grave is unknown. All the crew members perished in the expedition. The deaths were caused due to several factors such as starvation, hypothermia, botulism, and lead poisoning.
Personal Life & Legacy
John Franklin had married twice. In 1823, he married Eleanor Anne Porden, who was a poet. They had a daughter, Eleanor Isabella. In 1825, Franklin’s first wife died of tuberculosis.
In November 1828, Franklin married Jane Griffin, a friend of his first wife. She was a strong lady who played a major role in his life. When Franklin was the governor of Tasmania, Lady Franklin worked hard to set up a university and a museum. She also constructed a botanical garden in Hobart.
Two years after Franklin left for the ‘Northwest Passage’ expedition, Lady Franklin urged the ‘Admiralty’ to send a search party. Her search for her lost husband became popular through ballads such as ‘Lady Franklin’s Lament.’
In 1854, explorer Dr. John Rae discovered the true fate of Franklin’s party. According to his report, dire situations had forced some of the crew members to resort to cannibalism. This report enraged Lady Franklin, and she tried to protect her husband’s dignity by sending more search teams.
In 1997, more than a century later, Dr. Rae’s reports about cannibalism in Franklin’s party were confirmed. The blade-cut marks on the bones of the crew showed that cannibalism was present. There were evidences suggesting breaking and boiling of bones.
John Franklin is considered a hero who led a dangerous Arctic exploration. A statue of Franklin in his hometown has an inscription that reads “Sir John Franklin – Discoverer of the North West Passage.” He was commemorated by several geographical names. There are islands in Tasmania, Antarctica, and Greenland that have been named after him.
In the ‘Coppermine Expedition’ of 1819, the survivors were forced to eat several inedible items, including their own leather boots. This earned Franklin the nickname of “the man who ate his boots.”
In 2014, the remains of the ‘HMS Erebus’ were discovered, and in 2016, the remains of the ‘HMS Terror’ were found.