"Till I read of your honourable notice you have taken, and intend taking, of my dear husband, in connection with Dr. Kane as a brother Freemason, I am ignorant that he could have any claim to that noble friend's sympathies, or to your particular regard, on the ground of fellowship in your mystic art. I could almost wish that it could be proved this was the only secret my dear husband ever preserved towards me, so unwilling am I to forego the distinction conferred on him, or to appear ungrateful for, or indifferent to, past or coming kindness."*
16 April 1786 - 11 June 1847
Naval officer and explorer, John Franklin entered the British Navy in October 1800, at the age of 14 and, over the course of his career, rose to the rank of captain and led three arctic expeditions, one to the mouth of the MacKenzie River.
In 1830 he became captain of HMS Rainbow, stationed in the eastern Mediterranean, then accepted appointment as lieutenant governor of the convict colony, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1837. He was back in England in June 1844.
His last Arctic expeditionwith 129 officers and mensailed from England on 19 May 1845, never to be seen alive again. The ship's log records Franklin's death on 11 June 1847. In 2014 the wreck of the Erebus was discovered in Queen Maud Gulf; two years later, the Terror was found near the island’s western coast.
The statement that Franklin was a freemason, often repeated in the popular press of the 1850s, was debunked by Lady Jane Franklin.*
A purple glass masonic seal was among the relics recovered, and is preserved in the National Maritime Museum. One of Franklin's officers or men was most likely a freemason, but who it was is unknown.
* Library and Museum of Freemasonry in London, clipping dated 1858, from Lady Jane Franklin to Kane Lodge No. 454, New York.
Painting of Sir John Franklin by Thomas Phillips (d. 1845).