Monday, 7 June 2010

Englishmen on Ice 8 - Barrow's Last Throw

In 1845 John Barrow organised a new expedition to solve the mystery of the Northwest Passage...a sketch of the history of previous expeditions has made up recent posts in my 'Englishmen on Ice' series of blog entries. They set the scene, I hope. Now we come to the meat of it.

The 1845 Expedition, two ships refitted with icebreaking hulls (they hoped), steam engines and 5-years' supplies...the Erebus and Terror...(later the names given to the twin volcanoes at McMurdo Sound...where Scott of the Antarctic set off South) ...this expedition was the most lavish yet. Barrow asked James Ross to command. But he was forty-seven...he thought he was too old. So they gave it to Franklin...who was fifty nine.

Barrow wrote "Although Sir John Franklin had already reached an advanced period in life, and had but just been released from the harassing duties of a colonial governor [of Van Diemen's Land, the name then used for Tasmania]...he willingly renounced every enjoyment for the further advancement of his country's glory. He was of the opinion...that it would be an indelible disgrace to England were the flag of any other nation to precede her's through the Northwest Passage"

Actually...Franklin had been RECALLED from Tasmania with his tail between his legs and accusations of financial mismanagement ringing round his ears. He'd fallen out with Montagu, the colonial secretary, and sacked him...but Montagu was better connected than he was.

Mind you, Franklin had had his troubles out there in the penal colony...partly because his wife, Lady Jane, had been an activist for penal reform in a slightly myopic, dreamy way.

(She was an amazing woman, mind...first white woman to walk from Melbourne to Sydney...left her husband behind...Did that a lot later in their possibly tedious marriage...she went on solo walking tours in Syria, Egypt and company with a mysterious Lutheran pastor...but that's another story for another time perhaps).

This gossip is from Ken McGoogan's excellent biography "Lady Franklin's Revenge", and this is the transcript of Franklin's regular speech to arriving convicts as reported in the Hobart Times:

"Men, you have been sent here by the laws of your country as bad men; unfit to go at large; dangerous to the peace of society; dangerous to the security of property; you are all bad men, very bad men indeed. You are an extremely bad man. I cannot conceive of how any man could be so desperate, so depraved. How merciful her majesty was to spare your life. Hanging would have been too good for you! Sympathiser! Bad man! Very bad man!"

Hmm...Barrow maybe sent the wrong Franklin...

The Erebus and Terror with 129 men and the hopes of John Barrow on board set off for glory...they were spotted by a whaler off Greenland in July of 1845...and were never seen by white men again...

Next up on the blog is a letter from the John Murray Archive from Lady Jane Franklin to John Murray...and a bit of documentary insight, I think, into the human story behind all this.

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