Sir John Franklin was an officer in the English ‘Royal Navy’ and an Arctic explorer. Several of his expeditions led to the discovery of many uncharted regions along the Canadian coast. Franklin is best remembered for his heroic expedition in search of the ‘Northwest Passage,’ which connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This was his final expedition, from which he never returned. Franklin was fascinated by the ocean from a very early age. His father, sensing his interest, sent him on a trial voyage aboard a merchant ship. Franklin loved sailing, and he launched his career as a voyager. He also participated in several naval engagements. Franklin’s first expedition, led by Captain Matthew Flinders, entailed the mapping of the Australian coastline. Franklin’s first expedition in which he played a leading role involved charting the north coast of Canada. After a string of successful expeditions, Franklin rose to prominence. Both King George IV and King William IV knighted him. Franklin was Tasmania’s lieutenant governor for a limited period. After the conclusion of his time in Tasmania, Franklin was again recruited for expeditions. Franklin and his crew embarked on two ships, equipped with the most advanced technology of the time, to discover the ‘Northwest Passage.’ After a year at sea, the ships became frozen in ice. The crew members attempted to return to safety, but they all perished, including Franklin. Franklin is remembered as a savior who sacrificed his life in order to make an important discovery.
Youth and Early Life
John Franklin was born in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, on April 16, 1786. His father, a merchant whose progenitors were country gentlemen, was Willingham Franklin, and his mother, Hannah Weekes, was the daughter of a farmer. Franklin was the ninth of his parents’ 12 offspring. One of his brothers served as a judge, while the other joined the ‘East India Company.’
Franklin attended ‘King Edward VI Grammar School.’ Although his father desired for him to become a clergyman or a merchant, Franklin was interested in sea travel. Thus, at the age of 12, Franklin’s father sent him on a merchant ship trial voyage. Following the voyage, Franklin was confident in his career choice. In March 1800, Franklin’s father secured for him a position in the Royal Navy aboard the HMS Polyphemus.
Franklin served as a volunteer of the highest rank and took part in the Battle of Copenhagen. Later, he participated in an expedition to the Australian coast aboard the ‘HMS Investigator.’ His uncle, Captain Matthew Flinders, was the vessel’s captain. Franklin also participated in the Battles of Trafalgar and New Orleans.
John Franklin’s Career
John Franklin’s first expedition as a commander began in 1819. It was a land expedition from Hudson Bay to map the Canadian north coast from the Coppermine River estuary. Franklin fell into the Hayes River during the course of the expedition and was rescued by his crew. The expedition continued until 1822, and eleven of the twenty team members perished due to starvation.
Franklin conducted his second Canadian exploration in 1825. His objective was to reach the entrance of the Mackenzie River. From the Mackenzie, the group was to divide in half. Franklin was to travel westward from the Mackenzie to meet Frederick William Beechey, another sailor. Another group, commanded by John Richardson, was to travel to the Coppermine from the east.
Franklin became the second European to reach the Mackenzie River’s estuary on August 16, 1825. To commemorate his triumph, he erected a flagpole and buried letters for other sailors. One more year of westward travel brought him to Point Barrow, which is now in Alaska. Franklin was compelled to abandon the expedition after discovering the frozen river. On August 16, 1826, Franklin concluded his expedition and returned home. This exploration yielded a wealth of knowledge about the northwest coast of North America.
John Franklin was acclaimed as a hero after his successful expeditions. On April 29, 1829, King George IV knighted him. The French ‘Société de Géographie’ awarded him its first gold medal. King William IV appointed Franklin a “Knight Commander of the Royal Guelphic Order” in January 1836.
Franklin was appointed lieutenant governor of Van Diemen’s Land, a portion of modern-day Tasmania, in 1836. He attempted to implement substantial social reforms. Franklin is still remembered in Tasmania, and his statue in ‘Franklin Square’ is one of the most notable landmarks in Hobart, the state capital. The town of Franklin and the Franklin River are memorials to his accomplishments. He was stationed in Tasmania until 1843. Franklin was not reappointed and returned to Britain shortly thereafter.
After Franklin’s return from Tasmania, the ‘Admiralty’ recommitted to charting the ‘Northwest Passage’ connecting the Atlantic and Pacific. Approximately 500 kilometers of the coastline were uncharted at the time. Despite being 59 years old, Franklin was chosen to command this expedition. Two vessels, the ‘HMS Erebus’ and the ‘HMS Terror,’ were chosen for this mission. As these vessels were outfitted with advanced steam engines and cutting-edge technology, it was anticipated that the expedition would be successful.
Franklin and his crew departed the United States on 19 May 1845 to chart the ‘Northwest Passage.’ The ships carried three years’ worth of provisions. The ships were last observed by a European whaling vessel on July 26, 1845, when they were anchored to an iceberg. After this, none of the crew members were seen alive again.
On the basis of subsequent evidence, it was believed that Franklin’s expedition halted in the summer of 1846 when the ships became trapped in ice off King William Island. A note discovered subsequently confirmed that John Franklin died on June 11, 1847, of unknown causes. Unknown is the location of his grave. The entire company perished during the expedition. Several factors, including starvation, hypothermia, botulism, and lead poisoning, contributed to the fatalities.
Personal History and Legacy
John Franklin had two wives. In 1823, he married the poet Eleanor Anne Porden. Their daughter’s name was Eleanor Isabella. Franklin’s first wife died of tuberculosis in 1825. Franklin married Jane Griffin, an acquaintance of his first wife, in November 1828. She was a formidable woman who played a pivotal role in his life.
Lady Franklin labored diligently to establish a university and a museum when her husband was the governor of Tasmania. Additionally, she created a botanical garden in Hobart. Lady Franklin urged the ‘Admiralty’ to dispatch a search party two years after Franklin left for the ‘Northwest Passage expedition. Her search for her missing spouse was immortalized in ballads such as ‘Lady Franklin’s Lament.’
In 1854, Dr. John Rae, an explorer, discovered the true fate of Franklin’s expedition. According to his report, severe circumstances compelled some crew members to engage in cannibalism. This report infuriated Lady Franklin, who dispatched additional search teams to safeguard her husband’s honor.
More than a century later, in 1997, it was confirmed that Dr. Rae’s allegations about cannibalism at Franklin’s party were accurate. The blade-cut markings on the crew members’ bones indicated cannibalism. There was evidence that bones were broken and boiled.
John Franklin is regarded as a champion for leading a perilous Arctic expedition. The inscription on a statue of Franklin in his birthplace reads “Sir John Franklin – Discoverer of the North West Passage.” Several geographical names bear his name in tribute. He has been honored with the naming of islands in Tasmania, Antarctica, and Greenland.
Estimated Net Worth
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During the ‘Coppermine Expedition’ of 1819, the survivors were compelled to consume numerous indigestible items, including their own leather footwear. Thus, Franklin acquired the nickname “the man who ate his boots.”
The remains of the ‘HMS Erebus were unearthed in 2014, and those of the ‘HMS Terror’ were discovered in 2016.