Regency Love: The Man Who Ate His Boots

“The ship, probably the Terror, was very neat and orderly, but the Inuit descended into the darkness of the hull with their seal-oil lamps, where they found a tall dead man in an inner cabin.” — The Guardian, 2009

Sir John Franklin

Sir John Franklin

After years of tantalizing clues found in the ice and stories told by indigenous Arctic people of men freezing to death, it appears that one of two ships from Sir John Franklin’s expedition to chart the Northwest Passage has finally been found.

Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) “the man who ate his boots” became a subject of interest to this blog for having married the Regency poet Eleanor Anne Porden. She was his first wife, urging him not to linger while she was dying of tuberculosis, but instead to follow his dreams on the sea.

She was spared the agony of his disappearance. That would be reserved for Sir Franklin’s second wife.

Jane Griffin (1791-1875) was a good friend of Eleanor’s and a part of Regency London’s scholarly set. She had no inclination of who her future husband might be, but one Dr. Peter Mark Roget had made quite an impression on her. He was, she once said, “the only man to make me swoon.”

In 1828 she married her friend’s widowed husband and soon after became Lady Franklin upon his knighthood. His travels took her to places as far away as Australia, arousing her keen interest in its colonies, particularly for the condition of female convicts who’d been transported there.

Lady Jane Franklin

Lady Jane Franklin

When Sir Franklin embarked on his ill-fated expedition to navigate icy Arctic waters, she supported him unreservedly. When he failed to return, she made certain no one would forget him. Because of her tireless effort to discover his fate, the charting of the Northwest Passage occurred a good deal sooner than it otherwise might have. She sponsored seven expeditions in all.

And now my burden it gives me pain
For my long-lost Franklin I would cross the main
Ten thousand pounds I would freely give
To know on earth, that my Franklin do live

Lady Franklin’s Lament

It was by land the answer was eventually determined. Scotsman John Rae, an Arctic explorer familiar with the Inuit and their territories, found definite evidence of Franklin’s demise. His report mentioned cannibalism, shocking Victorian society.

Lady Franklin refused to believe her husband had been a part of an act so heinous and so she turned her efforts toward the messenger bearing such bad news. She made certain no one would remember him.

The End in Sight by Turner

The End in Sight by Turner