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Franklin, Sir John (1786–1847)

John Franklin.
Library and Archives Canada C-001352

Born on April 16, 1786 at Spilsby, Lincolnshire, Franklin entered the Royal Navy and served at the battles of Copenhagen (1801), Trafalgar (1805), and New Orleans (1814). During a period of peace in 1801–03, he served under his cousin Matthew Flinders on the first circumnavigation of Australia. After the battle of Waterloo, when the Royal Navy began to use part of its huge fleet for exploration and mapping, Franklin was given his first command, of the brig Trent, in 1818 to attempt to reach the North Pole between Greenland and Spitzbergen. This led to his being ordered to map the northern coast of North America from the mouth of the Coppermine River to the east. His group, which included Dr. John Richardson and Lt. George Back, explored and surveyed the area, including what is northern Saskatchewan, in three hard years from 1819 to 1822. His second voyage (1824–27) surveyed the northern coast, from the mouth of the Mackenzie to the west. He was governor of Tasmania from 1836 to 1843. In 1845, the British government decided on a third expedition to attempt to find a navigable Northwest Passage. Franklin was assigned Erebus and Terror, two ships especially designed for polar exploration, which had been used by Ross for the exploration of the Antarctic. He sailed through the Bering Strait and was last seen in Lancaster Sound on July 26. When he failed to report, the Royal Navy sent out a number of unsuccessful rescue attempts from 1846 to 1857. A number of artifacts from the expedition have been found, including writings which tell of the hardships endured by the men. These include a journal recording Franklin’s death on June 11, 1847.

In accounts of Franklin’s voyages of exploration the last fatal, well-publicized failure tends to overshadow the earlier, successful voyages which provided a great deal of information about northern Canada.

Diane Secoy

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Further Reading

Beattie, O. and J. Geiger. 1987. Frozen in Time: Unlocking the Secrets of the Franklin Expedition. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books.
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