Two letters from Sir John Franklin (1786-1847)
John Franklin was an English admiral and explorer who led the infamous ‘Franklin expedition’ (c. 1845-1848) in search of a Northwest Passage through Canada. This ill-fated expedition resulted in the death of all 129 crew members and officers on board the two military-grade rocket vessels, ironically named the Erebus and the Terror. Despite efforts from the British navy to retrieve the lost crew and vessels, the exact circumstances of their perishing remain mysterious.
I have recently cataloged two handwritten letters from Sir John Franklin, both of which include machine-searchable transcriptions through our Digital Library.
This undated letter was written from Franklin to Rev. Henry Michell Wagner, a very influential clergyman of the Church of England. In this short letter, Franklin is very apologetic about forgetting to invite Wagner to visit with Franklin and his wife, whom he refers to as “Lady Franklin”.
This letter comes with a typewritten transcript of the original document, which is scribed in the hand of Franklin. He sent this letter on the 13th of September 1834 from 5 Orchard Street, Portman Square, over a decade before his fateful expedition. The note is about a book, the Life of Scott, that the recipient (likely the name at the bottom of the document: E. H. Locker Esq.) had sent to Franklin.
The full title of the published book is Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, by John Gibson Lockhart, first published in 1837. According to the date of the letter, Franklin must have had a copy of Scott’s autobiographical manuscript version, “Memoir of the Early Life of Sir Walter Scott, Written by Himself”, which was completed in 1826. The autobiographical version describes the Scottish author’s ancestry, upbringing, and life up to the age of 22. Franklin describes the affinity he felt towards the renowned historian, poet, and playwright, particularly in the context of the recent death of Franklin’s brother.
The James Wheeler Collection consists of books and items related to the Arctic and Antarctic regions in all aspects – history, travel, voyages, adventure, natural history, science, etc. These items were collected and generously donated by James Wheeler, MD. Only a selection of items are digitized.
Check out the digital exhibit featuring materials from the James Wheeler Collection, curated by Rebecca Oviedo “That Fairyland of Ice”: Polar Exploration in Mind and Memory.
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