FRANKLIN, Sir John (1786-1847)


FRANKLIN, Sir John (1786-1847)
fifth governor of Tasmania and arctic explorer
was born at Spilsby, Lincolnshire, England, on 15 April 1786. He was the fifth son of Willingham Franklin, was educated at the grammar school at Louth, in the autumn of 1800 became a first-class volunteer on H.M.S. Polyphemus, and fought at the battle of Copenhagen at the end of the following March. In July he joined the Investigator and sailed under Captain Flinders (q.v.) to the south seas. He was cast away on the Porpoise, went to Canton and returned to England on the Earl Camden in 1804. He joined the Bellerophon, fought at the battle of Trafalgar as a signal midshipman, and was one of the comparatively few men on that vessel who escaped without a wound. After some years of patrol work Franklin, now a lieutenant, fought in actions near New Orleans in the United States in December 1814 and January 1815. After the peace Franklin spent three years in England and in 1818 sailed as commander of the Trent in an expedition to the arctic regions. In 1819 in connexion with another expedition under Captain Ross and Lieutenant Parry, Franklin was instructed to make an overland journey from the north-western shore of Hudson's Bay and if possible meet Parry as he voyaged westward from the northern end of Baffin's Bay. It was three and a half years before Franklin returned to England. The account of this wonderful journey will be found in Franklin's Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea in the Years 1819, 20, 21 and 22, published in three volumes in 1823. During his absence he had been promoted to the rank of commander and after his return he was made a post-captain and elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1823 preparations for another expedition were made which was to approach the Arctic Ocean by way of the Mackenzie River. It did not start until February 1825 and occupied two years and seven months. Franklin reached England on 26 September 1827 and published in 1828 his Narrative of a Second Expedition to the Shores of the Polar Sea. The geographical and scientific reports of this expedition were of great value.
Franklin had married in August 1823, Eleanor Anne Porden, who died on 22 February 1825, leaving him an infant daughter. In 1828 he became engaged to Jane Griffin and they were married on 5 November. In the spring of 1829 he was knighted and in the same year received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from the university of Oxford. He declined the offer of commissioner of the Australian Company in New South Wales at a salary of £2000 a year as he felt it might injure his future prospects in the service. On 23 August 1830 he was given the command of H.M.S. Rainbow and saw three years service in the Mediterranean. In April 1836 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Tasmania.
Franklin arrived in Tasmania on 6 January 1837. In the 12 years of Arthur's (q.v.) administration there had been much progress. The population had reached 40,000 and revenue and trade had increased enormously. But Arthur had not been popular and, though he had his admirers, a great many people felt aggrieved by his actions. Two of his nephews, John Montagu (q.v.), colonial secretary, and Matthew Forster, chief police magistrate, held very important positions at Hobart and when Franklin, as was only courteous, made complimentary references to the work of Arthur it was felt by many people that he had allied himself with the "Arthur faction". His private secretary, Captain Alexander Maconochie (q.v.) had strong views on the management of convicts, and on these being made public they were taken as a reflection on the judicial administration of the colony. Franklin felt obliged to dismiss his assistant. Thus early Franklin, a kindly and humane man, found himself involved in the jealousies and strong feelings that make life difficult for the governors of small communities. There was also a virulent press which did not hesitate to interfere with the privacies of domestic life or to make the most insulting charges. Franklin showed good sense in connexion with the founding of a high school at Hobart, resisting Dr Arnold of Rugby's suggestion that the principal should be appointed turn and turn about from the Anglican and Presbyterian communions. "Might it not be better," said Franklin, "to make learning and character the sole qualifications?"
During Franklin's period there was much inquiry being made into the convict system. Franklin believed that the assignment system if properly controlled would work well, but this system was abolished and he loyally endeavoured to have the new regulations carried out. But the changing of these regulations affected the economic life of the colony and other troubles arose because a period of high prices for grain and live stock had led to extravagant speculation in land. There were difficulties too, in the absence of direct taxation, in squaring the finances of the colony. Franklin did his best, but unfortunately came into conflict with the colonial secretary, John Montagu, a man of ability with a much more subtle mind than Franklin's. At last the governor dismissed Montagu who went to England and so succeeded in impressing his side of the case on the colonial authorities that, though Montagu was not reinstated, Franklin was recalled. He did not receive the dispatch recalling him until 21 August 1843, four days after his successor had arrived. Lord Stanley's readiness to accept the unconfirmed statements of Montagu showed little evidence of good judgment, and generally Franklin was treated with discourtesy and ingratitude. He left Tasmania on 3 November 1843, and on arriving in England endeavoured vainly to persuade Stanley to take a more lust view of his case. He published privately in 1845 Narrative of Some Passages in the History of Van Diemen's Land During the Last Three Years of Sir John Franklin's Administration of its Government, which sets out in detail his account of his relations with Montagu.
Franklin left England on his last voyage to the arctic regions in May 1845, and his last letter to Lady Franklin was written from Whalefish Island on 1 July. His ships were seen and spoken with by a whaler on 26 July but it was several years before the actual fate of the explorers became known. Franklin died on 11 June 1847. Many expeditions were sent to search for or ascertain the fate of the members of the expedition, at first officially, and afterwards by Lady Franklin alone. A document dated 25 April 1848 was found, which gave the date of Franklin's death, and stated the total loss by death had been nine officers and 15 men. It is probable that the remaining members of the expedition died in the winter of that year. In addition to Lady Franklin, who is noticed separately, Franklin was survived by the daughter by his first marriage. Monuments to his memory are at Spilsby, Waterloo Place, London, in Westminster Abbey and at Hobart.
Franklin was a man of medium height, in middle life very heavily built. His personality was attractive, he had the bluff straight-forward honesty associated with sailors, great courage and fortitude and a simple piety and humanity which endeared him to all his associates and made him one of the great explorers of all time. As a governor he showed sound judgment and conscientiousness, and had an invaluable influence on the education of the colonists. However, though undoubtedly popular, he had not a nature that could cope successfully with people less honest and less disinterested than himself. In the changing conditions of Tasmania, slowly emerging from a convict settlement to a constitutional colony, it was necessary that a man should have more finesse and subtlety to be completely successful as a governor.
H. D. Traill, The Life of Sir John Franklin, R.N.; A. H. Markham, Life of Sir John Franklin; Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XXV, pp. 213-26; J. Fenton, A History of Tasmania; R. J. Cyriax, Sir John Franklin's Last Arctic Expedition.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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