In Praise Of… Frances J. Woodward

No.1 in an occasional series where love is bestowed upon a Franklin searcher – or a Franklin researcher – who doesn’t get enough of it. Today: Frances J. Woodward.

As usual, I was looking for something else when I found it: a story about the sale at auction of an item once belonging to Lady Jane Franklin, found among the effects of the late Frances J. Woodward, her first biographer.

Woodward’s Portrait of Jane: A Life of Lady Franklin is one of my favourite Franklin-related books. I consult it regularly, and often have to tear myself away from it when I’ve found the reference I need. To my shame, I’d never given the author much thought. The book was published way back in 1951 and I’d assumed she was long dead.

But this story told me that not only had Frances J Woodward died relatively recently, in 2014, but also that she had served as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

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Easy money: the theft of Franklin relics in 1878

Nobody noticed the break-in at first. But when the cleaners came in to dust the room and they realised that some priceless relics were no longer in their display case, the museum staff went into a frenzy.

It was 23rd October 1878 at the Royal Naval Museum in Greenwich, and some of the Franklin relics were missing.

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John Barrow Junior, the quiet hero of the search for Franklin

The Arctic Council planning a search for Sir John Franklin, by Stephen Pearce, oil on canvas,
1851, 46 1/4 in. x 72 1/8 in. (1175 mm x 1833 mm)
Bequeathed by one of the sitters, John Barrow, 1899, Primary Collection, NPG 120

(John Barrow Junior is standing fifth from left, between James Clark Ross and Edward Sabine.)

He was “the father confessor for so many officers in Arctic service”, the person they poured their hearts out to in confidential letters before, during and after their expeditions in search of the Franklin Expedition.

He was the man who protected their interests and checked in on their families while the searchers were risking their lives in the Arctic, acts of kindness that were never forgotten.

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“The ghastly truth dawned upon me that it was three graves that I at last stood beside”

One of the most annoying things in my life as a Robert Anstruther Goodsir researcher is the man’s infuriating reluctance to put his real name on many of the articles he wrote. But he’s out there if you know where and how to look.

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