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Lady Jane Franklin (1791–1875)

by Frances J. Woodward

This article was published:

Lady Jane Franklin, by William Paul Dowling, c1840

Lady Jane Franklin, by William Paul Dowling, c1840

State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001126073246

Jane Franklin (1791-1875), was born on 4 December 1791, the daughter of John Griffin, silk weaver, of London, and Mary, née Guillemard. In 1828 she married (as his second wife) John Franklin, who was appointed lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen's Land in 1836.

A woman of idealism and great mental activity, she was determined to assist in the creation of an 'infant nation' (her friend Dr Arnold's phrase) rather than to play the traditionally passive role of governor's lady in a convict colony. In this aim she succeeded. Through her efforts Tasmania became the intellectual centre of the Australian colonies during Franklin's term of office. Under her influence he founded in 1839 the society which became in 1848 the first Royal Society for the advancement of science outside Britain. In 1839 Lady Franklin bought 130 acres (53 ha) of land near Hobart Town for a botanical garden, to which she gave the name Ancanthe. Here a museum of natural history was built for her, on the model of a Greek temple, and to it the collections she had been forming in Government House were removed. They and the accompanying library were dispersed in 1853, and the miniature temple became a storehouse for apples, the cultivation of which had been one of Lady Franklin's interests.

Encouraged by Elizabeth Fry, to whom she sent detailed reports on Tasmanian conditions, Lady Franklin had attempted in 1841 to form a 'Tasmanian Ladies' Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners', but attacks in the colonial press forced the temporary abandonment of this project. It was revived in 1843 and received support from Dr Colin Browning, who after an unsuccessful candidacy for the governorship of Pentonville had come to Van Diemen's Land as surgeon of a convict ship. Meanwhile Lady Franklin had achieved a rather undesirable popularity among the convicts by her scheme for ridding the island of snakes by offering one shilling for every snake's head brought to her. It is said that she spent £600 in one season on this enterprise before being asked to abandon it in the interests of discipline.

Her greatest interest of all, 'my hobby of hobbies', as she called it, was the foundation of a state college. On the recommendation of Dr Arnold, John Philip Gell was appointed principal of this institution, to be known as Christ's College, and the foundation stone was laid on 7 November 1840. The deadlock produced by sectarian jealousies eventually led the Franklins to favour the idea that the college should be professedly Anglican, that being the denomination of the majority of the settlers, but this was not fulfilled until a second founding in 1846. When she left the colony in 1843 Lady Franklin made over 400 acres (162 ha) she had bought near Hobart for the benefit of any collegiate institution which might be founded with the bishop's approval within the next twenty years.

As early as 1839 Lady Franklin had established an agricultural settlement on the banks of the Huon, named Willingham after a brother of Sir John's. She interviewed personally all the applicants for the 100-acres (40 ha) allotments and maintained a close interest in their welfare.

Such growing-points as these in the life of the colony were constantly impeded by the unhappy state of its politics. The intrigues of the colonial secretary, John Montagu, and the colonial treasurer, Matthew Forster, both of the 'Arthurite' faction, were frequently reported to Lady Franklin by their secretaries, who begged her to inform the lieutenant-governor of them as they themselves were fearful of Arthurite revenge. It was inevitable therefore that she should be drawn into the political arena. Nevertheless it was she who tried to repair the breach between Franklin and Montagu made by the Coverdale case of 1841, and she whom Montagu requested to intervene on his behalf when Franklin suspended him early in 1842, after a series of articles vilifying the lieutenant-governor and his wife in the Van Diemen's Land Chronicle. Lord Stanley's disapproval of this action was among the reasons for Franklin's recall in 1843.

Lady Franklin was an indefatigable traveller. She was the first woman to climb Mount Wellington and to travel overland from Melbourne to Sydney and from Hobart to Macquarie Harbour. In her old age she visited the United States of America, Hawaii, Japan, and India. To win support for an Anglican mission to Hawaii, where she was concerned that British should replace American influence, she acted as hostess in her London home to Queen Emma of the Sandwich Islands. She is remembered above all for the search she organized from 1850 to 1857 for Sir John Franklin's lost Arctic expedition. When Leopold McClintock returned in 1859 in Lady Franklin's ship, the Fox, he brought the news that William Hobson, son of the first governor of New Zealand, had found relics of the expedition on the north-west coast of King William's Land which showed that Franklin had achieved his aim of discovering a North-West Passage. The efforts that had been made as a result of her own racking anxiety added enormously to geographical knowledge. It was said: 'What the nation would not do, a woman did'. She died in England on 18 July 1875. There were no children.

Select Bibliography

  • J. West, The History of Tasmania, vol 1 (Launceston, 1852), 228
  • K. Fitzpatrick, Sir John Franklin in Tasmania 1837-43 (Melb, 1949)
  • F. J. Woodward, Portrait of Jane (Lond, 1951)
  • Lefroy bequest (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)
  • Lady Franklin's Australian journals (Royal Society of Tasmania and National Library of Australia and State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Frances J. Woodward, 'Franklin, Lady Jane (1791–1875)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Lady Jane Franklin, by William Paul Dowling, c1840

Lady Jane Franklin, by William Paul Dowling, c1840

State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001126073246

Life Summary [details]


4 December, 1791
London, Middlesex, England


18 July, 1875 (aged 83)
London, Middlesex, England

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