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Sir John Franklin

The famous Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin has a memorial in St John the Evangelist's chapel in Westminster Abbey. He was born on 16th April 1786, the ninth child of Willingham Franklin. His brother Willingham attended Westminster School and became a judge in Madras.

John joined the Royal Navy and sailed under the command of his cousin Matthew Flinders to Australia and later travelled to China. Franklin was present at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and in 1819 commanded an expedition to determine the latitudes and longitudes of the northern part of Canada and chart its coast. Returning to England he married the poet Eleanor Anne Porden in 1823. But she died a few years later and his second wife, Jane Griffin, accompanied her husband on his travels in Australasia. For several years he was Governor of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania). In 1845 he set off on a voyage to discover the north-west passage a navigable route from the Atlantic to the Pacific from which he never returned.

Dr John Rae, explorer based in Canada, found out about the fate of the expedition. But definite evidence of Franklin's death was not found until 1859 when Admiral Sir Leopold McClintock led a successful expedition to Canada and found papers in the ice that showed that Franklin died on 11th June 1847 and his crew had all perished from cold and starvation.

The wrecks of Franklin's ships HMS Erebus and Terror were discovered in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

Memorial

Lady Franklin erected the memorial to her husband which consists of a white marble bust with FRANKLIN inscribed on the base, within a niche of alabaster. A relief carving of a ship trapped in ice is shown below, with quotes from the ancient hymn called Benedicite:

O YE FROST AND COLD, O YE ICE AND SNOW BLESS YE THE LORD: PRAISE HIM AND MAGNIFY HIM FOR EVER.

The monument is by Matthew Noble and Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote the following verse especially for it:

NOT HERE: THE WHITE NORTH HAS THY BONES; AND THOU, HEROIC SAILOR-SOUL, ART PASSING ON THINE HAPPIER VOYAGE NOW TOWARD NO EARTHLY POLE.

On the left and right sides of the memorial are the inscriptions:

TO THE MEMORY OF SIR JOHN FRANKLIN, BORN APRIL 16. 1786, AT SPILSBY, LINCOLNSHIRE, DIED JUNE 11. 1847, OFF POINT VICTORY IN THE FROZEN OCEAN. THE BELOVED CHIEF OF THE GALLANT CREWS WHO PERISHED WITH HIM IN COMPLETING THE DISCOVERY OF THE NORTH-WEST PASSAGE.
THIS MONUMENT WAS ERECTED BY JANE, HIS WIDOW, WHO, AFTER LONG WAITING, AND SENDING MANY IN SEARCH OF HIM, HERSELF DEPARTED, TO SEEK AND FIND HIM IN THE REALMS OF LIGHT, JULY 18.1875, AGED 83 YEARS.

Sir Leopold McClintock has a rectangular memorial. Dr John Rae has a floor stone.

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004 - entries for Franklin and his two wives

Born

16th April 1786

Died

11th June 1847

Memorial

1st July 1875

Field

Explorer

Location

St John the Evangelist

Memorial Type

Bust

Material Type

Marble; alabaster

Sir John Franklin
Sir John Franklin by W. Wright

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sir John Franklin
Sir John Franklin bust

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2019 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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The biggest challenge we face is actually time – getting all our work done alongside the daily routine of the Abbey as a working church, visitor attraction and home to 1,000 years of history.

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