ALS of the British Royal Navy Officer and Arctic Explorer who Perished with his Crew Charting the Northwest Passage

Signed by John Franklin

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Item: 20837
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FRANKLIN, SIR JOHN. (1786-1847). British Royal Navy officer and Arctic explorer who perished with his crew in an attempt to chart the Northwest Passage. ALS. (“John Franklin”). 1p. Small 4to. (Trimmed). Melville Hospital, Chatham, February 4, 1834. To Mrs. Hunter [?].

I find that I have two disengaged days which I propose spending with you & Miss Cracroft and shall take my chance of finding you at home tomorrow. I shall be set down at the heath and walk to Bexley. I had intended spending these two days at Tunbridge Wells but if I did I know not when I may have the pleasure of seeing you.

I came here to form the acquaintance of my new niece and am much pleased with her. She has put off with her husband to London on their return to Finsbury. I write in haste as ladies are waiting for me. Kind regards to Miss Cracroft…”


Sir John Franklin

Born in Lincolnshire, the ninth of 12 children, Franklin took an early interest in the sea, and at the age of 14, his father could secure him an appointment with the Royal Navy. Franklin’s early naval career included participation in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar aboard the HMS Bellerophon and at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

Between 1819 and 1825, Franklin completed three Arctic expeditions, traveling overland and attempting to locate the Northwest Passage. Among his crew on the Coppermine Expedition of 1819-1822 was Royal Navy surgeon John Richardson with whom he surveyed 1,878 miles of unknown coast. The hardships they endured together were “transformative, and the basis of both intense religious conviction and fraternal friendship…. Indeed, in 1822 they wrote the manuscript of Journey to the Polar Sea together in London,” (Intimacies of Violence in the Settler Colony: Economies of Dispossession Around the Pacific Rim, ed. Edmonds & Nettelbeck). At the time of our letter, Richardson was attached to Melville Hospital whence our letter was penned and his bond to Franklin only strengthened over time, when, in 1833, he married Franklin’s niece, Mary Booth, his third wife. The couple named their first son after Franklin.

In 1828, Franklin married Jane Griffin, a friend of his late wife, but his subsequent service in the Mediterranean necessitated prolonged absences from home. In 1837, he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), and lived there with his wife and niece, Sophia Cracroft (1816-1892), the daughter of his sister Isabella.

In 1844, Franklin left Tasmania setting out to travel through a previously un-navigated portion of the Northwest Passage. The 59-year-old veteran Arctic explorer assembled a crew and two ships that became icebound in the Canadian Arctic. The fate of Franklin and his 128-man crew, last sighted at Lancaster Sound near Baffin Island in July 1845, was shrouded in mystery until May 1859, when skeletons were discovered by Leopold McClintock.

Crew of the HMS Terror, stuck in the ice, salvaging lifeboats and provisions


Between 1850-1857, Franklin’s wife, an accomplished traveler and explorer, outfitted five search teams to locate Franklin and his men, whom many believed were still alive. The public came to regard Franklin as a hero and became captivated by his widow’s efforts to find him. Lady Franklin was assisted by both Richardson and Cracroft – the latter accompanied her on an 1870 journey to the United States to promote an American expedition to the North Pole as well as trips to Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, South America, China, Japan, India, and Europe. Cracroft is said to have lost her sight while transcribing Lady Franklin’s diaries and writing her biography.

Tunbridge Wells was a fashionable resort town located to the south of Bexleyheath, which, at the time of our letter, was a rural area south of London. It would later gain prominence as the site of William Morris’ Red House.

Rather heavily folded and creased. Trimmed with a repaired fold tear; otherwise in good condition and scarce.

ALS of the British Royal Navy Officer and Arctic Explorer who Perished with his Crew Charting the Northwest Passage

Signed by John Franklin

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