Sir John Franklin, from the collection of Russell A. Potter


Franklin in the Public Eye: 1818-1859

A Multimedia overview of the public fascination with

Sir John Franklin and the Arctic regions

Includes images from Panoramas, The Illustrated Press, popular engravings, daguerreotypes,

and documents illuminating the British and American obsession with Franklin's Fate.


Last Update: June 27, 2014

I. Newspaper Coverage of the Search for Franklin:

1. Engravings from the Illustrated London News published on October 13, 1849, just as public concern over Franklin's fate was beginning to rise to a fevered pitch.

2. Engravings made after Beard's daguerreotypes of the Franklin Expedition officers, as shown inGleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion for 18 October 1851.

3. NEW! Scenes of the Wreck of the Breadalbane off the coast of Beechey Island, Illustrated London News, Oct. 27, 1853.

4. An early American report on Dr. Rae's news about the final fate of Franklin, from the Albionfor October 28, 1854.

5. A strange account of rumors regarding Franklin's whereabouts printed in the Globe and Traveller in 1852 speaks of "Esquimaux vibrating" over the ice.

6. The debate in Household Words between Charles Dickens and Dr. John Rae about evidence of cannibalism among Franklin's men (1854-55)

7. Recovered by an American whaler after drifting unpiloted from the inland waters of the Arctic where it was abandoned, the ghost ship HMS Resolute was restored and presented to Queen Victoria by act of Congress; here you can see images of the ceremony from the Illustrated London News,27 December 1856.

8. A full set of the illustrations depicting the Second Grinnell Expedition commanded by Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Volume 1 Number 1, December 15, 1855.

9. NEW! A page containing wide variety of images of the relics recovered by M'Clintock in 1859.

10. NEW! The October 29, 1859 issue of Harper's Weekly reproduced a facsimile of the Victory Point Record on its cover, and covered M'Clintock's expedition in an article illustrated by a lurid representation of the skeletons found in the whaleboat.

11.  In 1863, a cover story in the Dollar Monthly Magazine demonstrated the continuing interest in the fate of Franklin.

12. NEW! In 1874, the Pandora sailed in the very last expedition dispatched by Lady Franklin, this time in search of any documents which might clear up the mystery of the expedition's last days. No records were found, but some dramatic photographs were taken, as shown in this engraving of a photographer atop the ice of Peel Sound, from the Illustrated London News of 30 October, 1875.

13.NEW! The Pandora expedition was also unusual in that both photographic and engraving materials were brought on board -- the ILN of 23 October featured woodcuts of several famous scenes at Beechey Island, said to be "drawn on wood in the Polar Regions"! Of especial interest is a scene of the famous Franklin graves, which seem to have multiplied -- we know that #4 is Thomas Morgan, but what about that fifth grave? Some years later, in 1881, a full-page engraving based on a sketch from Schwatka's search seems to show at least fourteen graves -- but where are these meant to be?


II. Panoramas, Dioramas, Optical Entertainments and other images related to Franklin and the search for Franklin.


1.NEW! Now with images from a scarce original handbill recently added to my collection: In 1819 at the original Panorama at Leicester Square in London, Henry Aston Barker presented a depiction of Franklin and Buchan's attempt to sail to the North Pole by way of the Spitzbergen Islands. This was the first Arctic Panorama of its era, which between 1819 and 1870 would see three large "fixed" circular panoramas of the subject and three dozen moving panoramas.

2. In 1850, H.C. Selous painted a Panorama of Sir James Clark Ross's attempt to locate traces of Franklin.  You can also read some reviews of this Panorama from the inimitable Punch -- one which compares the representation of the Aurora Borealis to bottles in a shop-window; the other of which complains of the "killing glitter of the stars" and declares the Arctic Panorama more terrifying than Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors!

3. Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, surgeon to the First Grinnell Expedition in search of Franklin, and commander of the Second Grinnell, inspired several Moving Panoramas of his own Arctic exploits, one of which was narrated by his comrade William Morton.  His exploits were also depicted in a series of glass Magic Lantern slides based on engravings from his books.  One of the most haunting of these images is here shown in its original 1854 printing,  an image made by J. Hamilton after a sketch by Kane himself, of the graves of three Franklin crewmembers buried on Beechey Island, along with a comparison of this image with the site as it looks today.

4. Kane was, on his return in 1855, a sainted hero,  and images of him and his men were widely distributed.  One of the most famous was taken by Matthew Brady, later to find fame as the premier photographer of the Civil War; this portrait was distributed on a CDV of Kane (carte de visite), which could be obtained for five dollars (then quite a sum) from Kane's publisher.

5. The death of Dr. Kane in 1857 occasioned a tremendous public outpouring of grief; his funeral train was longer than any in the century except Lincoln's.

6. NEW! The Reverend Dr. Scoresby, whose views on the ice conditions in the Davis Straits was the genesis of Barrow's Arctic plans, gave a lecture in 1855 on the fate of Franklin, illustrated by a vast collection of Esquimaux and other arifacts assembled by Barrow's son.

7. The Inuit guide "Hans Heindrick" was involved with several Franklin search expeditions from Kane's onward. Here you can see an engraving based on a photograph of Hans, as it was reproduced in the Illustrated London News on 4 December, 1875

8. The Illustrated London News made a habit of carrying features on the Franklin expedition and its aftermath throughout the 1850's and early 1860's. Yet it was not until Schwatka's much later expedition that the ILN itself became the subject of its illustrations; this remarkable full-page illustration shows Schwatka showing an issue of the ILN to a group of Inuit (note that a Native American Indian/First Nations person appears to be its subject).

9. One of the Schwatka party's more remarkable discoveries was of the grave of Lieutenant John Irvingm identified by means of a medallion found near the gravesite on King William Island. Schwatka brought Irving's remains back with him, and they were re-interred with great ceremony in Edinburgh, with a full military escort, and Irving's brother in attendance. Here you can see the Illustrated London News's depiction of the Re-interment of the body of Lieut. John Irving.

10. NEW! Lieutenant John P. Cheyne, himself an Arctic veteran, took up the showman's art, producing a set of stereoview slides of the Franklin Relics brought back by M'Clintock in 1859. In the 1870's, after his retirement from the Royal Navy, he travelled extesively on the lantern circuit, showing slides of his own and others' Arctic exploits in hopes of rasing money for a planned polar expedition by balloon! Images from Cheyne's lecture tour are now on our site, courtesy of Doug Wamsely.

11. One of the more frequently neglected aspects of the Victorian fascination with optical entertainments is the Microphotograph, invented by John Benjamin Dancer.  Dancer's images, mounted on glass microscope slides, were visible only under intense magnification; among his subjects was an image of Stephen Pearce's painting of the Arctic Council debating where best to search for Sir John Franklin (thanks to Dan Weinstock for providing these images).

12. J.M.W. Turner painted a series of studies of the Erebus and Terror as possible illustrations for James Ross's Antarctic narrative.  Alas, the pubisher and the artist had a falling out, and these paintings are now very little known.  Retitled (and possibly reworked) as whaling subjects, these paintings offer the great artist's vision of HMS Erebus.  Under the rather ungainly title "Hurrah for the Whaler Erebus, Another Fish!" here is one of Turner's images, reproduced from a popular engraving in my collection.


III. Literary Texts related to the Franklin Disaster

1. For an overview of Franklin and the Arctic as they have sappeared in or inspired literary texts, see my online bibliography of the Franklin fascination.

2. Have a look at some of the many songs and ballads about Sir John Franklin, with links to performers and recordings.


IV. Clues from History: Documents that might help solve the mystery of Franklin's disappearance.

1. Charles Francis Hall was perhaps the most dogged of Franklin searchers; the Inuit testimony he collected is the greatest resource we have in terms of retracing the last extremities of the Franklin expedition.  Drop by my page on Hall (still underconstruction), or see some of the Inuit testimony collected by Hall and others.

2. Have a look at Arrowsmith's chart of King William Land and environs -- the error- and surmise-filled map to disaster that helped Franklin get lost.

3. Goldner's patented tinned meats, supplied to the expedition, have been fingered as the culprit -- read a report from the Admiralty into some cases of Goldner's meat, some which were so putrid that the examiners had to rush from the roome when they were opened.

NOTE: All texts, images, and views expressed on this site are the responsibility of Russell A. Potter, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rhode Island College. All images on this site are reproduced from my own collections, or by permission of the image owners or copyright holders, if any. Comments to: