FRANKLIN, Jane, Lady, letters, autographs, documents, manuscripts

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'There may be a few straggling survivors ...'

FRANKLIN, Jane, Lady (1792-1875). Traveller and promoter of Arctic exploration. Widow of Sir John.
Fine long Autograph Letter Signed to Lady Richardson (third wife of Sir John Richardson, 1787-1865), 4 closely-written pages 8vo on black-edged paper, 162 Albany Street, 15 November 1854. Written in the aftermath of the loss of John Franklin and his expedition to the NW Passage, thanking her for her sympathy, speculating on a recent report by (Sir John) Rae, and mentioning a reconciliation with her stepdaughter.

A detailed letter, thanking Lady Richardson for her support and sympathy, accepting the likelihood that her husband had not survived, and expressing regret that they had not sent search parties earlier. Lady Franklin discusses Rae's recent report to the Admiralty that had been subsequently published in the Times a few weeks earlier.

'... Few people I find accept the dogmatic conclusions of Dr Rae that this was the only retreating party, that not a single survivor can any where exist, & that the ships are crushed - a few evenings ago at the Geographical Society after he had expressed his implicit trust in the Esquimaux report, many cross examining questions were put & he admitted that his Esqx. interpreter like all his fellows could be depended upon to speak to the truth only when his own interests were not concerned to do otherwise. ...'

The Arctic explorer and surgeon John Rae (1813-1893) had joined an initial search with Franklin's close friend Sir John Richardson during 1848-9 to discover the fate of the missing party. Rae returned to England in 1840, admitting the task was too taxing for his age, and paying generous tribute to Richardson's efforts in his book 'An Arctic Searching Expedition'. Richardson's later expedition through the Hudson's Bay Company relied on reports and artefacts collected from local Eskimos, who had claimed that the surviving men had abandoned the ships and attempted to travel to safety by land from King William Island but had starved to death in the attempt. Rae had recently returned to England and submitted his report to the Admiralty; his speculations published in the Times that the survivors may have had to resort to cannibalism were received with great hostility, not least from Lady Franklin.

'... You will be happy to learn that within the last few days, a reunion has been affected between Eleanor & Mr Gell & myself. For 2 years & a half that this sad estrangement has lasted, there has never been but one insuperable barrier to such a reconciliation, which a word on their part, a word which I have intreated & besought them to grant me, would have removed. I could not dispense with the ?satisfaction of dishonorable and false imputations ... [and] would have been base & hypocritical on both sides - my 3 kind friends Sir Francis Beaufort, Sir Rbt Inglis & Mr Mackintosh who have been lately indefatiguable in trying to bring us together, felt with me on this point - they did not even attempt to persuade me that it was unreasonable, or asking too much, or that it could in any way be dispensed with - but it was to no purpose. The same answer was always given that they could not repoen discussions on the point - & it was not till a few days ago when Mr Mackintosh was fortunate enough to find Mr Gell alone, that he seized the opportunity to move him, in Eleanor's absence to act on his better feelings & Mr M. did not leave him till he was able to bring me back a letter which was all I cd desire. ... You will well imagine that I lost not a moment to tell him the comfort his note had given me & we have all 3 met several times since. God grant this peace may be lasting & end in the love & esteem which were once so wholly his - but I tremble for the future lest the claims they make on my just rights in which my husbands honor is involved shd be pressed to a crisis. ...'

Lady Franklin had never had a close relationship with Sir John's daughter Eleanor, the child of his first marriage. Following Eleanor's engagement, outright hostility broke out between them when Lady Franklin refused to release money due on her father's death, insisting that after his disappearance her husband's fate was still uncertain.

It appears from this letter that Jane Franklin had become reconciled to the idea that her husband has not survived, but she is still determined to discover further evidence of the circumstances that led to his fate.

'... Every body seems to think there may be a few straggling survivors domiciled with the Esquimos, and if it were certainly not so, yet to collect the last records, perhaps wishes of the departed & give decent burial to some of them is a mission which can be the only fitting close of the tragic drama. ...'

The recent discoveries of the ships Erebus and Terror at the bottom of the Arctic ocean in near pristine condition, in September 2014 and 2016 respectively, have prompted researchers to challenge the accepted history behind the mystery of their disappearance, even speculating that perhaps some of the survivors later re-boarded the ships in an attempt to sail home. However, Rae's conjecture about possible cannibalism among the survivors has proved valid, with evidence of cut marks found on bones discovered on King William Island.

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