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Sir John Franklin fonds (P242)

1818-1869. - 1 cm of textual records.

Administrative History - Biographical Sketch:

John Franklin was born on 16 April 1786 in Spilsby, England. He was the son of Willingham Franklin, a textile merchant, and Hannah Weekes. He joined the Royal Navy as a first-class volunteer in 1800 and in April 1801 took part in the Battle of Copenhagen. He set sail shortly after on the Investigator, bound for Australia and a voyage of exploration under Captain Flinders, an uncle by marriage. Returning to England in 1804, Franklin enlisted once more and joined the Bellerophon, which took part in the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805. Franklin was midshipman in charge of signals. In 1815, with the Napoleonic Wars drawing to an end and after a period of inactive service, he was discharged on half-pay and subsequently had a period of unemployment.

In 1818 he was hired for an expedition to the Arctic led by David Buchan. Franklin, as a lieutenant, was put in command of one of the two ships on the expedition, the Trent. The expedition lasted only six months because the Arctic ice forced Buchan to turn back for home. The following year the Admiralty organized two new expeditions, putting Franklin in charge of one (and William E. Parry in charge of the other). Its goal was to explore the northeast coast of North America eastward from the mouth of the Coppermine River. Franklin was to receive help on and provisions for his overland journey from fur-trading companies. He left England on 23 May 1819 and arrived at York Factory, in Hudson Bay, on 30 August. After wintering at Cumberland House (Saskatchewan), he returned to the north via Athabaska and Great Slave lakes in 1820. The expedition continued along the Yellowknife River, wintered at Fort Enterprise and the next spring again set out down the Coppermine River to the coast. The expedition, made up of only 20 men and two canoes, explored eastward, turning around at Turnagain Point. With their food and ammunition almost gone, the party - minus nine men who had died of starvation or the cold - barely made it back to Fort Enterprise. After spending one more winter in the North, Franklin returned to England in 1822. The expedition was a failure: little exploring had been done and several men had died. Nonetheless Franklin convinced the Admiralty to sponsor a second expedition of exploration. Arriving back in America in 1825, and after a winter spent at Fort Franklin, close to Great Bear Lake, the expedition got underway in June 1826, sailing down the Mackenzie River. At its mouth the party split into two: Franklin and George Back (who had also been on the first trip) went westward, while a group led by John Richardson explored east along the coast. Franklin made it as far as Return Reef and turned around, arriving back at Fort Franklin on 21 September after having explored 370 miles of uncharted coastline. Richardson was already back at the fort and writing an account of his own explorations.

Franklin returned to England in 1827 and was showered with honours; the Admiralty, however, would not let him command another expedition. Instead, Franklin was assigned to a ship on peacekeeping duty in the Mediterranean in 1830, then appointed lieutenant- governor of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania, Australia), a post he held from 1837 to 1843. Upon his return to England in 1844, the Admiralty requested that Franklin lead another expedition in search of the northwest passage. Despite his age - 58 - Franklin agreed, setting out on 19 May 1845 with two ships, the Erebus and Terror. Franklin was last seen on 26 July of that year, in Baffin Bay. Subsequently, the two ships and their men disappeared. Search parties, some funded by Lady Franklin herself, were organized. But of the 30 parties that set out, only four found traces of the ill-fated expedition. These traces revealed that, after spending the winter of 1845-1846 at Beechey Island, Franklin and his men headed south through Peel Sound and Franklin Strait. Upon arriving at Victoria Strait, close to King William Island, the ships got caught in the ice and could not advance. Franklin, it was later learned, died of a heart attack in June 1847. His ships remained caught in the ice despite the arrival of summer and, by April 1848, 21 men had died. The others decided to abandon the ships and set out on foot over the ice, but in their weakened state, they all succumbed to the cold, hunger or scurvy.

The tragic end to his expedition was one reason that Franklin's name went down in history as a hero of polar exploration. But Franklin is also credited with having mapped large sections of Canada's Arctic coastline and with the discovery, in tragic circumstances, of the famed northwest passage.

(Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.)

Scope and Content:

The Sir John Franklin fonds covers the career and family of Franklin. More specifically, it covers his Arctic expeditions, the men that took part, the provisions for the voyages, his period as lieutenant-governor of Tasmania and his departure for his final expedition in 1845. The fonds also contains information on his daughter, Eleanor, and his wife, Jane Franklin.

The fonds consists of handwritten documents, including several letters written by John Franklin, one of which was written prior to his departure on the final, 1845 expedition (probably one of the last he wrote during his life), as well as a letter written by his daughter, Eleanor, and two by his wife, Jane. The fonds also has a list of the men hired for one of his Arctic expeditions and a list of provisions sent to Montréal in preparation for his expedition of 1825.