Sir John Franklin

This intrepid navigator was born at Spilsby, in Lincolnshire, in the year 1786. In 1800, he went as a midshipman, on board the Polyphemus; and, in 1802, proceeded with Captain Flinders, to New Holland, in the Investigator, from which vessel, on its arrival at Port Jackson, in July, 1803, he was removed, as supernumerary master's-mate, to the Porpoise storeship, and was shortly afterwards wrecked on a coral reef. He then joined the Bellerophon, in which he was engaged at the battle of Trafalgar; and, some time after, was appointed an acting lieutenant of the Bed ford, in which he accompanied the royal family of Portugal from Lisbon to South America; and, returning to Europe, assisted at the blockade of Flushing, where he continued till 1814, when the Bedford was ordered out as part of the expedition against New Orleans, where he greatly distinguished himself by his skill and valor. In 1815, he was made first lieutenant of the Forth; and, in January, 1818, was appointed to the command of the Trent brig, then about to accompany Captain Buchan on a voyage to Spitzbergen; and, on his return, he offered to undertake a journey to the North Pole, from the shores of the former, by traveling in sledge-boats across the ice.

In the early part of 1819, he was selected to head an expedition, over land, from Hudson's Bay, to the Arctic Ocean; and having embarked at Gravesend, on the 23d of May, arrived at the former place on the 30th of August; and, on the 9th of September, began to ascend the streams between York Factory and Cumberland House, a journey of six hundred and ninety miles, which he performed in about six weeks, having been nearly killed by an accident, which he thus relates In the afternoon, whilst on my way to superintend the operations of the men, I had the misfortune to slip from the summit of a rock into the river, betwixt two of the falls. My attempts to regain the bank were, for a time, ineffectual, owing to the rocks within my reach having been worn smooth by the action of the water; but, after I had been carried a considerable distance down the stream, I caught hold of a willow, by which I held until two gentlemen came in a boat to my assistance.' From Cumberland House he proceeded along the snow, to Fort Chepywan, where he arrived on the 26th of March, 1820, after having walked eight hundred and fifty-seven miles, with a weight on his ancles, the whole distance, of nearly three pounds; and in the course of which, he describes the cold to have been so severe, that the tea froze in the tin pots before it could be raised to the mouth, and even a mixture of spirits and water became thick by congelation.' On the 29th of July, he arrived at Fort Providence, whence he proceeded to the Yellow Knife River, and directed his course towards the Polar Sea, through a country never before visited by a European; wintering, on his way thither, at Fort Enterprise, near the head of the Copper Mine River, where he remained, in a hut built by the Canadians, till the end of June, 1821; during which time, he wrote great part of his journal, and in which year he was made a commander.

On the 7th of July, he reached the westerly part of the Copper Mine River; a few days afterwards, traversed the Copper Mountains, and pitchlug his tent beneath them, sent forward: in advance, his two Esquimaux interpreters, to inform their countrymen of his approach, and of the object of his expedition. After reconnoitering the mouth of the Copper Mine River, and giving to one of the neighboring promontories the name of Cape Hearne, he embarked in a canoe, on the 21st of July, and 'commenced the navigation of the Arctic Ocean, with a voyage before him of not less than one thousand two hundred geographical miles; Fort Churchill, on the western shore of Hudson's Bay, being the nearest spot at which he could hope to meet with a civilized being.' The tempestuous weather, however, the shortness of his provisions, and the fears of the Canadians, who were unwilling to proceed further, compelled him to land at Cape Flinders. Hence he proceeded along the coast to Point Turnagain, now called the Duke of York's Archipelago; and having carried his researches so far as 'to favor the opinion of those who contend for the practicability of a north-west passage,' he, on the 25th of August, terminated his survey of the coast, at the mouth of Hood's River, where he left, in a box, an account of his proceedings, for the information of Captain Parry, who was then exploring the Arctic Sea in an easterly direction.

On the 31st of August, Captain Franklin, having broken up his canoes to make smaller ones, commenced his return to Fort Chepywan, where he arrived in July, 1822, after one of the most appalling and disastrous journeys ever recorded. During the time it occupied, his principal food was tripe de roche, leather, and boiled bones; three of his companions died of cold and hunger, and two were murdered, and devoured unconsciously by the remainder. The nights, in addition to the danger attending them from the frequency of the wolves, were so chilly, that the tents of himself and his party were, every morning, surrounded with snow to the height of three or four feet; and the blankets that covered their bed SO hardened with frost that it was with difficulty they could be folded. Several times Captain Franklin fainted from fatigue, and the ice on which he kept continually falling, prevented him from traveling at the rate of more than two or three miles per day; often had he to wade up to his waist through water, where the temperature was scarcely above the freezing point; and, on one occasion, he was upset in his canoe, and only prevented, by clinging to a rock, from being dashed to pieces in the cataracts of the rapids. The following extract from his journal, will give some idea of the sufferings he endured: - 'A partridge being shot, the feathers were torn off, it was held to the fire a few minutes, and then divided into six portions. I and my companions ravenously devoured our shares, as it was the first morsel of flesh either of us had tasted for thirty-one days; unless, indeed, the small gristly particles which we found occasionally adhering to the pounded bones may be termed flesh.' The delivery of Captain Franklin and his party from the death with which hunger, fatigue, and disease daily threatened them, was owing to the assistance of some Indian hunters, who came to them in their last stage of despair. They treated us,' says the captain, with the utmost tenderness, gave us their snow-shoes, and walked without any themselves, keeping by our sides that they might lift us when we fell. They prepared our encampment, cooked for us, and fed us as if we had been children: evincing humanity that would have done honor to the most civilized people.'

On his arrival in England, Captain Franklin was made a post-captain; he married, in August, 1823, the daughter of William Penden, Esq., architect of the king's stables at Brighton; and, at the end of the same year, submitted to Lord Bathurst a plan for an expedition over-land to the mouth of the Mackenzie River, and thence, by sea, to the north-western extremity of America; with the combined object, also, of surveying the coast between the Mackenzie and Copper Mine Rivers; ' an expedition which he was permitted to superintend, upon his showing to government, that 'in the proposed course, similar dangers to those of the former over-land expedition were not to be apprehended.'

Accordingly, on the 16th of February, 1825, he embarked at Liverpool, having undergone a severe struggle between the feelings of affection and a sense of duty,' in taking leave of his wife, whose death, then hourly expected, took place six days after his departure. On the 29th of June he arrived at the Methye River, and, in the following August, at the left bank of the Mackenzie, whence he proceeded to the mouth of that river, and, shortly after, found salt water; in commemoration of which, he landed on an island which he had discovered, and hoisted on a pole a silk union-jack, sewed and given him by his wife, under the express injunction that it was not to be unfurled before the expedition reached the sea.' On leaving this island, which he called Garry's, and where he had deposited, beneath a signal-pole, a letter for Captain Parry, he commenced his ascent of the Great Bear Lake River, on the banks of which he remained till the summer of 1826, when, in spite of many dangers and obstacles, he proceeded to about half-way between Mackenzie River and Icy Cape, in latitude 70 deg. 26 min. N., and longitude 148 deg. 52 min. W.; at which point he calculated he could not with safety proceed further. His feelings at being compelled to return, he thus expresses in his journal: It was with no ordinary pain that I could now bring myself even to think of relinquishing the great object of my ambition, and of disappointing the flattering confidence that had been reposed in my exertions. But I had higher duties to perform than the gratification of my own feelings and a mature consideration of all things, forced me to the conclusion that we had reached that point, beyond which perseverance would be rashness, and the best efforts must be fruitless.'

On the 1st of September, 1827, Captain Franklin arrived at Liverpool, from New York, where he had received every mark of attention both public and private and, in the same year, he was presented by the Geographical Society of Paris, with their annual gold medal, value twelve hundred francs, and also elected a corresponding member of that institution. In November, 1828, he married a second time in the following year had the honor of knighthood conferred upon him, and also the degree of D. C. L. by the University of Oxford; and, in 1830, he was appointed commander of the Rainbow. In both expeditions to the Arctic Sea, Captain Franklin was accompanied by Dr. Richardson, a journal of whose discoveries is appended to the former's second narrative, which, as well as that containing an account of his first voyage, combines the most intense interest with the most valuable information, and is written with great spirit, elegance, and accuracy. In the course of his perilous journey, by sea and land, Captain Franklin evinced a contempt of personal danger in the pursuit of his enterprise, and a degree of kind-heartedness to, and consideration for, those who accompanied him, that has rendered him equally the pride of his friends, and an honor to his country.

On the 19th of May, 1845, Sir John sailed from England in search of the North West Passage. He had two vessels, the Erebus and Terror; the crews, officers, and men numbered one hundred and thirty-eight. On the 26th of July, sixty-eight days afterwards, they were seen by a whale ship, moored to an iceberg near the centre of Baffin's Bay. No special anxiety was entertained respecting them until the beginning of 1848, for Franklin had intimated that the voyage would probably continue for three years, and that they might be the first to announce their own return. But as month after month passed away without any tidings, an anxious and painful sympathy sprung up in the public mind, and the British government determined that a search for the missing vessels should be made, in three different quarters, by three separate expeditions fitted out for that purpose.

One quarter, the region known as Boothia, was beyond the scope of these expeditions, and Lady Franklin determined to organize an expedition to explore that region. She appropriated all the means under her control, and a subscription supplied the deficiency. The Prince Albert, a vessel of ninety tons burthen, was fitted out at Aberdeen, and Captain Forsyth, of the Royal Navy, offered his gratuitous services as commander. At about the same time, Mr. Henry Grinnell, a wealthy merchant of New York, fitted out, at his own cost, two vessels, - the Advance and the Rescue, - and dispatched them to the Arctic Seas to aid in the search for Sir John. An exceedingly interesting narrative of the voyage has been published by Dr. Kane, the surgeon, naturalist and journalist of the expedition.

Time passed on, and all the vessels of the various expeditions returned to port without any tidings of the lost ones. In May, 1853, Mr. Grinnell again fitted out the Advance for the purpose of continuing the search, if necessary, for two years. She had a company of seventeen persons, under the command of Dr. Kane. She has been absent for over two years, and fears are entertained for the safety of her noble commander and his brave companions.

Subsequent to the departure of the Advance, the fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew was ascertained. They had perished of hunger and hardships, in attempting to reach the settlements of the Hudson's Bay Company, by an overland journey from the Arctic Seas. Relics of the ill-starred voyagers were discovered by some agents of the company in the possession of the Esquimaux Indians. These relics consisted of philosophical instruments, watches, rings, spoons, etc., bearing the initials of Sir John and his companions. These had been picked up by the Indians at the place where the navigators had so miserably perished.