Sir John Franklin


Sir John Franklin, Morden H. Long, published by The Ryerson Press, 1930

The recent discovery of both HMS Erebus and more recently, HMS Terror, the two ships of the failed Franklin Expedition 0f 1845-47, has finally solved the 170-year-old mystery as to the final resting place of both the Terror and the Erebus. But what of Franklin and his men? That mystery has yet to be solved.

Sir John Franklin, by Morden H. Long, was published by The Ryerson Press in 1930. It is part of The Ryerson Canadian History Readers series. In this brief biography, only 28 pages in length, Long explores the life of John Franklin, 1786-1847.  While countless books, films, plays, poems have been created over the years, this brief treatise on the life of Franklin was meant for Canadian schools and is written in an entertaining, engaging yet factual tone.

The book begins with the unveiling of a monument to Franklin by  his wife, Lady Franklin, at Westminster Abbey in 1875. This simple act was the culmination of no less than thirty-eight rescue missions sent by the government or private parties to determine the fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew.

Franklin first went to sea in 1800. Though his father had wanted him to become a clergyman, young Franklin had been determined to become a sailor from his first sight of the North Sea at the age of ten. He was not to be denied and was assigned to the fighting ship H.M.S Polyphemus as mid-shipman at the age of fifteen. In 1801 he served with Nelson in the Baltic and engaged in the “the most terrible” battles. Although a competent mid-shipman and fierce combatant, Franklin instinctively turned to the work of exploration once the wars were over. He soon shipped out on the Investigator to map the entire seaboard of Australia. There he learned the art of map-making from Captain Flinders, a distinguished explorer.


Erebus and Terror (Copyright Mary Evans Picture Library 10006874/MEP)

Back in England in 1804, Franklin was soon aboard the H.M.S. Bellerophon where he participated in the Battle of Trafalgar. By 1814, Franklin had turned his ambitions again to exploration and he joined an expedition on board the Trent pressing north to Spitzbergen, Norway where they had eyes on the North Pole. While caught in the Arctic ice pack, Franklin showed great bravery and resourcefulness by managing to ward off the grinding ice by protecting the hull of his ship using walrus hide and thick hemp ropes lashed to the side of the vessel. The accompanying ship, Dorothea, however, did not fair as well and Franklin was bound to return home to England accompanying the sister ship.

Franklin participated in numerous overland expeditions in the Canadian northwest between 1819 and 1822, to meet up with other expeditions travelling through the Arctic Ocean. Franklin and his men endured great hardship, famine and near starvation before eventually making it back to England. After an absence of three-and-a-half years, Franklin set foot once again on English soil. For his achievements, Franklin was promoted to the rank of captain and made a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was also given command of his own expedition which would take him again to the Arctic Ocean.

In this next expedition, in 1825-27, two parties set out to map the Arctic coastline, one led by John Richardson from the mouth of the Mackenzie eastward; the other, led by Franklin, from the mouth of the Coppermine westward. They were to rendezvous and return to England on the Blossom which was to sail in from the Bering Sea. In the spring of 1825, Franklin and his men met up with an old travel companion, George Back, who had made provisions on Great Slave Lake in a camp that Back had named Fort Franklin. During the winter of 1826, Franklin wrote that his men played a variety of winter sport, much like hockey. In fact, Fort Franklin, claimed to be one of the birthplaces of the modern game of hockey. Fort Franklin was renamed Déline, Nunavut in 1993.

By August 18, 1826, Franklin and his team had traced 374 miles of the coastline to the west of the Coppermine but were forced to turn back due to winter closing in. Richardson, on the other hand, had been able to trace nearly 900 miles of the coast eastward from the Mackenzie hoping to meet up with Franklin. Not until a year after his return to England did Franklin realize he and Richardson had been a mere 160 miles apart by August 23, one week after Franklin had abandoned his trek due to bad weather.

This latest expedition, however, was seen as an incredible boon to scientific knowledge and resulted in copious honours bestowed upon John Franklin. He was knighted in 1829 and received an honorary degree from Oxford University. Franklin spent the next eighteen years at sea, six-and-a-half as Governor of Tasmania. In September 1828, he married Jane Griffen, the future Lady Franklin. But , still, he yearned for the “white North.”

By 1844, the Admiralty was considering another Arctic expedition. Franklin, backed by The Royal Society, was appointed its commander. The two ships, Erebus commanded by Franklin and Terror, commanded by Captain Crozier, were equipped with strengthened hulls and engines with screw propellers in addition to sails. Each had a complement of sixty-seven officers and men and was stocked with provisions for three years.

The expedition set sail May 24, 1845. On July 26, they encountered a whaler in Melville Bay and except for a band of wandering Inuit, these were the last humans to see the officers and crew of this fateful expedition.

Sir John Franklin died June 11, 1847. Only traces of the remaining crew have been uncovered since then until the discovery 0f Erebus off King William Island, in 2014, and Terror in 2016. Monuments erected in Franklin’s honour depict the burial of the commander by his crew among the hummocks of the Polar packthat vast and wandering grave.


Morden Heaton Long, 1886-1965, was Professor of History at the University of Alberta. He was born in Brantford, Ontario and was educated at Woodstock College and obtained his B.A. in 1908 from McMaster University. He was Rhodes Scholar for Ontario, 1909-1912, and received his B.A. in Honours School of Modern History from Oxford in 1912 and an M.A. from Oxford in 1923. He taught history at Victoria High School in Edmonton, Alberta in 1913 and lectured at University of Alberta, becoming a full professor in 1935 and head of History in 1946. Morden Long was a member of the Historical Sites and Monuments Board and was chair of the Geographic Board of Alberta. He was also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Morden Long died in Edmonton in 1965.


About The Ryerson Press Archive

My name is Clive Powell. I worked for McGraw-Hill Ryerson for 35 years. Recently I was asked to find a home for 3000 publications that represent the Ryerson Press Archive. I am happy to share my discoveries.
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