Sir John Franklin – a Rear Admiral’s adventure

29 September 2011

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St James Spilsby (3)

Who are Lincolnshire’s most notable sons and daughters? Isaac Newton? Margaret Thatcher? Matthew Flinders? Alfred Tennyson, Queen Victoria’s poet laureate? What about Tennyson’s uncle by marriage, Rear Admiral Sir John Franklin, does he deserve a place on this esteemed list? Arguably, Franklin is most famous for perishing in 1847 whilst attempting to chart the Canadian Arctic’s Northwest Passage. Franklin and his crew set off on this quest in 1845, but in 1846 the two ships under the Rear Admiral’s command became frozen in the icy waters around Canada’s King William Island. Their crews never sailed again. When news of his demise eventually reached Britain the Victorian public hailed Franklin a hero.

We in Lincolnshire love a tale of adventure (who doesn’t?), and Franklin’s quest to chart the Northwest Passage is as captivating to us now as it was in Queen Victoria’s day. Spilsby, the Lincolnshire town that gave the world Sir John, boasts a statue in his honour. And in the town’s beautiful and ancient church of St James, we find the Franklin memorial, which features a superb portrait of Sir John, sculpted by Richard Westmacott. Franklin’s final resting place has never been located, so it is this memorial that is perhaps our most affecting connection to a man who died attempting to discover more of our world. So, yes, he certainly belongs on the list of Lincolnshire’s greats!

As well as the Franklin memorial, St James contains the stunning Willoughby family memorials, dating from the 14th to 16th centuries.

Posted by Ben Stoker, Lincolnshire Open Churches Officer

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