Monday, 7 June 2010

Englishmen on Ice Part Nine - It's not my fault! Second Arctic Treasure

To put this document in context, I feel I need to refer you back to previous entries...but in brief, the story was this. In 1845, Sir John Franklin, in a bid to save his political career, had agreed to lead a last attempt to find the mythical trade route around the top of America known in the nineteenth century as the Northwest Passage. His ships disappeared, and it became a matter of national pride to rescue Franklin and his 129 men in two ships.

It's all rather reminiscent of the "betrayal" of Gordon in Khartoum years later...a gallant Englishman abandoned by his country in the desert...but with beastly Esqimaux as opposed to whirling dervishes...

Anyway, here is Lady Jane Franklin, writing to her husband's publisher, John Murray III, with her husband already eight years missing. Known as the English Penelope, she was imagined by the public to be an archtype of loyal, patient womanhood, but I think if you read between the lines of this, she is responding to her own guilt. To the thought in her own mind that she pushed her dopey, overweight, over-aged husband into this, to overcome the disgrace of what had happened to his abortive career as Lt Governor in Van Diemen's Land, or Tasmania: though she says, it is not for her

“to judge whether Sir John lost any of the prestige attached to his name by his administration of the affairs of Van Dieman’s Land… What I am concerned with as his wife…is to deny that he was influenced by any other motive in accepting the command of the Arctic expedition that that which had moved him on a former occasion"

The lady doth protest too much...She was no shrinking violet according to her recent biographer Ken McGoogan. She was one of those intrepid Victorian ladies...went all the way round the world in her eighties, she did...And from previous experience, one might conclude that she had never been all that reluctant to see the back of Hubby.

Having read some of his speeches to newly arrived convicts in Tasmania, I can see why. (see earlier blog - part eight)

Anyway, this letter gives an insight into the complexity of their relationship, as well as her public role as Penelope to his Odysseus, which makes this my second Arctic treasure. Next time...a use of a letter of John Franklin's rather different to this blog, I hope...A medium using a letter of Franklin's to talk to him "on the other side".

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