Franklin Square and Sir John and Lady Franklin

6/6//2019

There have been recent calls for the re-naming of Franklin Square in Hobart which was dedicated to Sir John Franklin, with his statue contained in the grounds. It may be well worth to inspect Sir John and Lady Franklin’s time in Tasmania and understand why the park’s name should remain.

Sir John has been remembered world-wide more for his Arctic exploration rather than his colonial administration of Van Diemen’s Land.

He died in 1847 while exploring the vast, icy expanse and 129 fellow travellers died with him.  The exact date and cause of his death has puzzled scientists and historians for years.

Franklin was born in 1786 in Lincolnshire, England.  Before beginning his exploration in earnest in 1845 he had already led an amazing life. Between 1819 and 1825 Franklin set off in several expeditions to the Arctic Ocean and returned to England with valuable geographical and scientific knowledge.

In 1836 he was appointed Lt. Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, arriving in January 1837 with his wife, Lady Jane, both of whom were well educated and well travelled.  Upon arrival in Launceston they were received by the citizens and were accompanied to Hobart, it was reported, by “300 horsemen.”

His eight year term of the penal colony was that of an able administrator with a humane outlook.  He clashed many times with his colonial secretary, John Montagu, over the issue of land speculation.  The controversy would reach London.

Another very interesting episode in Franklin’s life was to do with bushranger, Martin Cash.  Martin with two comrades, Kavanah and Jones together with Bessie (politely referred as Mrs Cash) were held up in their fort at Mt Dromedary. Knowing the military were out to find them, they sent Bessie to Hobart Town for safety.  Bessie was subsequently arrested which made Martin furious.  As a consequence he wrote the following letter to Sir John Franklin:

’If Mrs Cash is not released forthwith and properly remunerated we will, in the first instance, visit Government House and beginning with Sir John administer a wholesome lesson in the shape of a sound flogging.’’

Bessie was indeed released, but not because of the threat.  Her release lured Martin into Hobart Town, as planned, where he was recognised and after an enormous and dramatic chase, was captured, ending his bushranging career.

The Franklins left in 1845, his wife exhorted him to seek further glory and he set his mind to explore the Arctic wastes. The fabled North-West Passage across the top of Canada had been sought for centuries and Britain had taken a major interest in its discovery.

In 1845 the British government despatched Franklin, in command of the Erubus and Terror, in another search.  In July he reached Walefish Island in Davis Strait. He was never seen again and it was not until 1847 that serious apprehension began to be entertained regarding the fate of the expedition.

For the next 14 years, 40 expeditions were sent to determine the fate of the Franklin party. In 1860 the expedition of Captain Charles Hall learned of several particulars concerning the Franklin death.

He found a small boat off King William Island near Cape Crozier, containing two skeletons and a pathetic baggage of soil handkerchiefs and silver teaspoons engraved with Franklin’s crest.  Both Franklin’s vessels had been trapped in ice and eventually sunk.  The explorers and crew managed to disembark in time taking supplies and a large row boat.

What followed is a story of heroism and self sacrifice, but also illogical behaviour. When leaving the sinking vessels the survivors took hundreds of bibles and hymnals and office furniture, placing them in the row boat only to drag them across the ice for more than 1600km. Certainly, the cruelty of exposure took its toll.  Scientists believe after visiting the sites and a thorough investigation, concluded that lead poisoning could have caused their illogical behaviour.

Franklin’s wife, died in 1875 in London, a few days before the unveiling of a memorial to her husband in Westminster Abbey.

Lady Franklin was a promoter of the arts.  In 1839 she purchased 410 acres of land at Lenah Valley (then called Kangaroo Valley) and began to plan a Museum for the display of Sculpture, Natural History and Painting.  It seems an odd place to build at the time so far away of the capital, Hobart Town.  She wrote to her sister in England, Mrs Mary Simkinson of the Museum which she described as “a pretty little design of Greek proportions with one or two rooms.”

The actual museum site was chosen in 1841 and was officially opened with its library in October 1843. It was unfortunate that Lady Franklin had little time to enjoy her accomplishment as the Franklins left the island soon after.  The property was called Ancanthe, a Greek word meaning a “vale of flowers”. Care of it passed to the Governors of Queens College until 1938 when it was transferred to the Hobart City Council. In 1947 it was leased to the Art Society of Tasmania, who still cares for the building.

The Museum and park is located in the most wonderful of places.  It is surrounded by natural bushland with Mount Wellington beyond.  It is an oasis in a rapidly urbanised area, bringing tranquillity and beauty and a link to the past.

The Franklins played an immensely important part in our history.  It is noticed that 78 per cent of responses to The Mercury wanted no name change to the park.  I hope, on this occasion, the majority’s wish will be honoured.


Categories: In the news