Captain Sherard Osborn's masterpiece / by Thea Augustina

I thought I would give you a few excerpts from Captain Sherard Osborn's book: Instead of only telling you about it.

The title of the book is, "The Career, Late Voyage, and Fate of Captain Sir John Franklin", which covers his early navy career, a little bit of his early arctic explorations, his stint as Governor in Tasmania, the 1845 arctic expedition, and then the aftermath, with a special section about Lady Franklin, too.

Franklin's first marriage was to Eleanor Porden, who died during one of his earlier arctic expeditions. They had only been married for 2 years and she was quite sick when he left:

"She seemed largely to have partaken of the enterprising spirit of her husband, and when, within two short year (1825), Franklin stood by her side and held in his hand the summons of his country to proceed upon another Arctic Expedition, and with his heart overflowing with sorrow and pride, told her how sad the conflict between love for her and duty to his country and profession, noble Eleanor Porden thought not of self, though she knew the hand of death was already pressing her down to the land of long rest and silence, and that no more in this world would she meet her beloved husband. Forgetting self, she urged him bravely on to the fulfillment of the task his God and country had assigned him; and, with her health and faltering hands, worked a flag which was to spread to the winds, and think of her at the moment when she proudly hoped he would reach the polar sea, that great stop towards the Northwest Passage- the guerdon for which England's naval chivalry then longed, and which this noble woman felt assured her beloved husband must one day win." (p. 25-26)

A classic! The wife, supportive, strong, yet on her deathbed, but ever so steadfast in her faith in her husband.

But he returns and after a few years, Marries again! Osborn makes an excuse for this:

"Three years after the death of his first wife Eleanor, Franklin married Jane Griffin, and it is singular to observe how well Franklin placed his affections upon two women who, each in their sphere of action, stand forth as charming instances of the British matron. Eleanor Franklin dying, knowing that she never more may see the man she loves, urges him on to the execution of his duty, and enables Franklin to lay down, by his discoveries in Arctic America, the foundation upon which he is hereafter to erect his own titled to immortality in this world, - and Jane Franklin... seventeen years subsequently, no only supports her heroic husband…but when,,, the secret of his success was hidden from mortal ken, owing to the self-sacrifice of those martyrs to science, she... steadfastly, earnestly laboured for eleven long years, sacrificing health and patrimony to learn the history of her husband's fate; and in spite of many failures…worked out the great object of her woman's faith and love- That he indeed, John Franklin, had not lived, laboured, or died in vain." (p. 27-28)

I thought I should also add the few sections that Osborn clearly imagined: Franklin's ships were last seen by two whaling ships off the coast of Greenland heading up towards Lancaster Sound (they were in Baffin's Bay). After this sighting, they left no message in any cairn as their their whereabouts, at least none that has been found. Except the Victory Point Record that had two messages: the first an 'all is well' written in 1846, and then an 'all is hell' message written in 1848. This is how we know the exact date of Sir John Franklin's death is from this message. But nothing more about their scientific calculations, etc. :

"...They cannot now advance in that direction, for it is a hopeless block of heavey floes; but Wellington Channal is open, and smiles and sparkles in blue and sunlit waves, as if luring them to the northwest. Why not try a north-about passage round the Parry Islands? Urges Fitzjames. Franklin agrees with him that anything is better than delay, and at any rate they determine to explore is, and ascertain whither it led." (p. 46-47)

Later on in Osborn's retelling, he comes to the part where Franklin has died, the men are at a loss because the ships are iced in:

"oh! Mourn him not, seaman and brother Englishmen! Unless ye can point to a more honourable end or a nobler grave. Like another Moses, he fell when his work was accomplished, with the long object of his life in view. Franklin, the discovered of the North-west Passage, had his Pisgah, and so long as his countrymen shall hold dear disinterested devotion and gallant perseverance in a good cause, so long shall they point to the career and fate of this gallant sailor" (p. 73).

And then the crewmembers abandon the ships and take to land, King William Island, pulling two huge sailboats (their makeshift sledges) behind them full of miscellanious things. And as Osborn repeatedly tells us, enough for forty days but that is all. Fitzjames is Commander Fitzjames of the 'Erebus', who strangely enough is elevated to 'Captain' by the Royal Navy while he is stuck (or rather dead) in the arctic:

"...and he (Fitzjames) strive hard, by kind and cheering words, to impart new courage to many a drooping heart…. They must quit the ships or die; and, if they must die, is it not better that they should do so making a last gallant struggle for life? – at any rate, they can leave their bleaching skeletons as a monument upon Cape Herschel, of having successfully done their duty." (p 76)

The next section of the book is loosely devotes to Lady Franklin and then to the various search parties and their expertise but he ends this previous chapter on these words:

"We will now briefly relate how a woman's devote loved, and a generous nation's sympathy, at last cleared up the mystery which once hung over the voyage…and secured to Franklin and his followers the honour for which they died- that of being the First Discoverers of the North-West Passage." (p 85)

This basically sealed the deal: Franklin was the 'discoverer' of the passage, which made him an icon.

Osborn ends on these final words, as many of the account I've read do:

"As those men fell in their last sad struggle to reach home, their prayer must have been that their country men might learn how nobly their accomplished the task they had voluntarily undertaken. That prayer has been granted. As long as Britain exists, or our language is spoken, so long will it be remembered and related the glorious fate of the crews of the Erebus and Terror, and how nobly they died in the execution of their duty to their Queen and country". (p 111)

On a different note, a question was asked of me last night about what happened to the ships after they went into the arctic? Good question! Many of the ships that were part of the Franklin search & rescue parties were used over and over again, recycled. The two ships Franklin had used, the 'Erebus' and 'Terror' were also the ones that had gone with John Ross to the Antarctic! These two Franklin ships have never been found of course. But most ships passed through multiple hands and were refitted depending on what type of voyage it was taking- trade ship, arctic expedition ship, etc.. Like our airplanes: just because they take one voyage doesn't put them into retirement. I don't know a lot on this subject so can't give you too much more information. But I will look into it-