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DECEMBER 4th

On this day in history in 1791, was born Jane Griffin.

Griffin was a pioneer and explorer who organised arctic expeditions, and continually sent out search parties to find her lost husband.

Jane Griffin was born on 4th December 1791, at London, the daughter of John and Mary Griffin, prosperous London silk traders of Huguenot descent. She was educated partly at home and partly at a Chelsea boarding school. The family travelled extensively at home and on the Continent, taking Jane with them whenever they could, developing in her a taste for travel and exploration.

In 1821, she was introduced to and became a close friend of the poetess, Eleanor Anne Porden, first wife of John Franklin, the explorer. Sadly Porden died in 1825, of tuberculosis, while her husband was exploring the Arctic. When John Franklin returned in 1827, and learned of the tragic death of his wife, he received solace from her many friends including Jane Griffin. The two became close, and in the following year were married. In 1829, Franklin received a knighthood from George IV, and Jane Griffin became Lady Franklin.

In 1830, her husband was given command of a frigate in the Mediterranean, where she had the opportunity to visit North Africa, Syria, and Asia Minor. In 1836, Sir John Franklin became lieutenant governor of Van Diemenís Land, now Tasmania, where Lady Franklin travelled extensively promoting the social and cultural life of the settlement. She also toured the mainland of Australia, becoming the first woman to undertake the journey from Melbourne to Sydney. Lady Franklin corresponded with the social reformer, Elizabeth Fry, who encouraged her to improve the conditions of the female convicts, transported to the colonies. She gained a reputation as a reformer, but also aroused suspicion that she was interfering in her husbandís work as lieutenant governor. Sadly her reforming zeal led to her enemies conniving to secure Sir Johnís dismissal from his position in 1844.

On his return to Britain, Sir John Franklin, now aged 60, received the command of a naval expedition to find a northwest passage in Canada. In May 1845, he sailed out on the Erebus, with 3 years supply of provisions. When, in 1848, the expedition had not returned, a search expedition was dispatched and when that failed to bring news, several more went out.

Lady Franklin personally took charge of the organization of the search expeditions. She outfitted five ships, mainly at her own expense, although she did accept contributions. Although she never took part in any of these expeditions, Lady Franklin took charge of preparation and scheduling. She soon became quite learned in the geography and conditions of the Arctic. In 1857, she sent the yacht Fox on a final search for survivors. Three years later, the captain returned with evidence of the expeditionís fate. Relics of the expedition and statements taken from the Eskimos seemed to show that Sir John had died in 1847. These expeditions, although they failed to achieve their objective, greatly increased our knowledge of the Arctic. Ironically the loss of Franklinís expedition achieved more for the exploration of the Arctic than its success would have done.

Having done her duty to her late lamented husband, Lady Franklin now devoted her exclusive attention to her enthusiasm for foreign travel. She and niece, Sophia visited in turn all the benefactors who had assisted with expeditions. They visited first New York, then Montreal, then Quebec and cruised up the Saguenay River to Ottawa. From there they visited Kingston, Toronto, Hamilton and then back to New York. From New York, they sailed for San Francisco by way of Cape Horn, and reached California in January 1861.They went north to British Columbia, travelling for part of the journey in a canoe paddled by 12 Indians. After returning to California, they returned home by way of the Sandwich Islands, Japan, and India.

In her final years, Lady Franklinís attention was devoted to the memory of her late husband. She installed a monument to him in Westminster Abbey, unveiled two weeks after her own death. The inscription includes the words Ďerected by Jane, his widow, who, after long waiting, and sending many in search of him, herself departed, to seek and to find him in the realms of light.í

Jane Griffin Franklin died on 18th July 1875, and was buried in London. [Kensal Green Cemetery, Harrow Road, London, W10 4RA]

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