Jane Franklin

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This article is about the wife of Sir John Franklin. For other people, see Jane Franklin (disambiguation).
Jane, Lady Franklin
Portrait by Amelie Romilly
Born Jane Griffin
(1791-12-04)4 December 1791
London, England
Died 18 July 1875(1875-07-18) (aged 83)
London, England
Spouse(s) Sir John Franklin (5 November 1828 – 11 June 1847) (his death)

Jane Franklin (née Griffin; 4 December 1791 – 18 July 1875), known as Lady Franklin after her husband's knighthood, was the second wife of the British explorer Sir John Franklin. During her husband's period as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land, she became known for her philanthropic work and her travels throughout south-eastern Australia. After John Franklin's disappearance, she sponsored or otherwise supported several expeditions to determine his fate.

Early life[edit]

Jane was the second daughter of John Griffin, a liveryman and later governor of the Goldsmith's Company, and his wife Jane Guillemard. There was Huguenot ancestry on both sides of her family. She was born in London, where she was raised with her sisters Frances and Mary at the family house, 21 Bedford Place,[1] just off Bedford Square. She was well educated, and her father being well-to-do had her education completed by much travel on the continent. Her portrait was chalked when she was 24 by Amelie Romilly at Geneva.

Marriage to John Franklin[edit]

As a young woman, Jane was strongly attracted to a London physician and scientist, Dr. Peter Mark Roget,[2] best known for publishing Roget's Thesaurus. She once said he was the only man who made her swoon, but nothing ever came of the relationship.

Jane had been a friend of John Franklin's first wife, the poet Eleanor Anne Porden, who died early in 1825. In 1828, he and Jane Griffin became engaged. They married on 5 November 1828, and in 1829 he was knighted. During the next three years she spent lengthy periods apart from her husband while he served in the Mediterranean. In 1836 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), disembarking from the immigrant ship Fairlie on 6 January 1837.

Relationship with the colonies of Australia[edit]

Lady Jane Franklin portrait, 1838

Lady Franklin at once began to take an interest in the colony and did a good deal of exploring along the southern and western coast. In 1839, she became the first European woman to travel overland between Port Phillip and Sydney. In April that year, she visited the new settlement at Melbourne, where she received an address signed by 63 of the leading citizens which referred to her "character for kindness, benevolence and charity". With her husband, she encouraged the founding of secondary schools for both boys and girls, including Christ's College.[3] In 1841, she visited South Australia and persuaded the governor, Colonel George Gawler, to set aside some ground overlooking Spencer Gulf for a monument to Matthew Flinders. This was set up later in the year. In 1842, she was the first European woman to travel overland from Hobart to Macquarie Harbour.[4][5]

She had much correspondence with Elizabeth Fry about the female convicts, and did what she could to ameliorate their lot. She was accused of using undue influence with her husband in his official acts but there is no evidence of this. When Franklin was recalled at the end of 1843, they went first to Melbourne by the schooner Flying Fish and then to England by way of New Zealand on board the barque Rajah.

In 1842 she commissioned a classical temple, and named it Ancanthe, 'blooming valley'. She intended the building to serve as a museum for Hobart, and left 400 acres (1.6 km2) in trust to ensure the continuance of what she hoped would become the focus of the colony's cultural aspirations. A century of apathy followed, with the museum used as an apple shed among other functions; but in 1949 it was made the home of the Art Society of Tasmania, who rescued the building.[6] It is now known as the Lady Franklin Gallery.

Following the disappearance of her husband[edit]

Lady Franklin's ʻahuʻula, a Hawaiian feather cape presented to her by King Kamehameha IV during her visit in 1861, Bishop Museum.

Her husband started on his last voyage in May 1845, and when it was realized that he must have come to disaster, Lady Franklin devoted herself for many years to trying to ascertain his fate. Until shortly before her own death, Lady Franklin travelled extensively, generally accompanied by her husband's niece Sophia Cracroft, who remained her secretary and companion until her death. Lady Franklin travelled to Out Stack in Shetland, the northernmost of the British isles, to get as close as she could to her missing husband.

Lady Franklin sponsored seven expeditions to find her husband or his records (two of which failed to reach the Arctic):

By means of sponsorship, use of influence and by offering sizeable rewards for information about him, she instigated or supported many other searches. Her efforts made the expedition's fate one of the most vexed questions of the decade. Ultimately evidence was found by Francis McClintock in 1859 that Sir John had died twelve years previously in 1847. Prior accounts had suggested that, in the end, the expedition had turned to cannibalism to survive, but Lady Franklin refused to believe these stories and poured scorn on explorer John Rae, who had in fact been the first person to return with definite news of her husband's fate.

The popularity of the Franklins in the Australian colonies was such that when it was learned in 1852 that Lady Franklin was organising an expedition in search of her husband using the auxiliary steamship Isabel, subscriptions were taken up and those in Van Diemens Land alone totalled £1671 13/4.[7]

Although McClintock had found conclusive evidence that Sir John Franklin and his fellow expeditioners were dead, Lady Franklin remained convinced that their written records might remain buried in a cache in the Arctic. She provided moral and some financial support for some later expeditions that planned to seek the records, including those of William Parker Snow [8] and Charles Francis Hall [9] in the 1860s. Finally, in 1874 she joined forces with Allen Young to purchase and fit out the former steam gunboat HMS Pandora to undertake another expedition to the region around Prince of Wales Island. The expedition left London in June 1875, and returned in December, unsuccessful, as ice prevented her from passing west of the Franklin Strait.

Lady Franklin died in the interim, on 18 July 1875. At her funeral on 29 July, the pall-bearers included Captains McClintock, Collinson and Ommanney, R.N., while many other "Old Arctics" engaged in the Franklin searches were also in attendance. She was interred at Kensal Green Cemetery in the vault, and commemorated on a marble cross dedicated to her niece Sophia Cracroft.


Lady Franklin was a woman of unusual character and personality. Her determined efforts, in connection with which she spent a great deal of her own money to discover the fate of her husband, added much to the world's knowledge of the arctic regions. It was said: 'What the nation would not do, a woman did'. In addition, as one of the earliest women in Tasmania who had had the full benefit of education and cultural surroundings, she was both an example and a force, and set a new standard in ways of living to the more prosperous settlers who had passed the stage of merely struggling for a living.

Natural features named after her include Lady Franklin Bay, on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut; Lady Franklin Rock, an island in the Fraser River near Yale, British Columbia, named at the end of her visit there during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush; Lady Franklin Rock, near Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park in California; and Mount Lady Jane Franklin, a hill near Barnawartha in Northern Victoria, which she climbed on her trip from Port Phillip to Sydney in 1839.

Jane Franklin Hall, a residential college in Hobart, Tasmania, is named in her honour, as is the art gallery mentioned above. The ballad Lady Franklin's Lament commemorated her search for her lost husband.

Most of Lady Franklin's surviving papers are held by the Scott Polar Research Institute.

Awards and honors[edit]

  • Founder's Gold Medal, the Royal Geographical Society[10]

The biography "The Ambitions of Jane Franklin" by Tasmanian historian Alison Alexander won the 2014 National Biography Award.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Penn Club newsletter: Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  2. ^ McGoogan, Ken (2001). Fatal Passage: The Story of John Rae, the Arctic Hero Time Forgot. New York, NY: Carroll and Graf Publishers. p. 221. ISBN 0-7867-1156-6. 
  3. ^ Stevens, Catherine M. C. Haines with Helen M. (2001). International women in science : a biographical dictionary to 1950. Santa Barbara, Calif. [u.a.]: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1576070905. 
  4. ^ "SECOND EDITION.". Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899). Tas.: National Library of Australia. 26 March 1842. p. 5 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved 16 October 2014. 
  5. ^ "ADDRESS.". Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899). Tas.: National Library of Australia. 18 June 1842. p. 3 Edition: MORNING. Retrieved 16 October 2014. 
  6. ^ http://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/L/Lady%20Franklin%20Museum.htm
  7. ^ "LOCAL.". The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 - 1859). Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 27 October 1852. p. 3. Retrieved 5 August 2014. 
  8. ^ Trevelyan, Raleigh, A Pre-Raphaelite Circle, Chatto and Windus, 1978, ISBN 0-7011-1885-7
  9. ^ Chauncey C. Loomis, Weird and Tragic Shores: The Story of Charles Francis Hall, Explorer, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc, 1971.
  10. ^ Harper, Kenn (1 December 2006). "Taissumani: A Day in Arctic History Dec. 4, 1791, The Birth of Jane Griffin, the Future Lady Franklin". Nunatsiaq.com. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  11. ^ "Rivers run deep for lady of letters", The Australian, 5 August 2014, page 4

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]