Eleanor Anne Porden (1795-1825)

  • The Two Wives of John Franklin Documents held in the John Murray Archive chart a correspondence spanning two wives, two John Murrays and one Arctic explorer. Isabel Sharp investigates. This article appears in 'Discover NLS' issue 12.

Like many residents of Edinburgh I was under the mistaken impression that only 'academics' and certain Edinburgh University students had access to the contents of the National Library of Scotland. Having no literature, history or research qualifications, but possessing an enquiring mind, I enthusiastically signed up to the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) course 'Researching Remarkable Women' as it offered an introduction into investigating the John Murray Archive.

Connections with John Murray

Each student had to choose a woman with a connection to John Murray. For me, this was a particularly difficult decision to make. Ever since I read a biography of Lady Jane Franklin, I have been fascinated by this intriguing character, and through learning of her exploits, the interest has extended to her husband, Sir John Franklin, the Arctic explorer, and his first wife, Eleanor Anne Porden.

When starting to explore the John Murray Archive I discovered that both women had corresponded with the publishers. My first idea - faced with two interesting women - was to conduct a simple 'compare and contrast' exercise.

I then realised the huge imbalance in the quantity of material available - little on Eleanor, and a whole library full of documents, letters and books on and by Jane and John Franklin, held in the Franklin Archives at the Scott Polar Research Institute Library at Cambridge University.

Two very different women

There was limited time available so I chose to concentrate on a few ideas and issues discovered in the letters written by Eleanor and Jane to John Murray II and III, respectively. I was struck by the practicalities of getting a work published, and by the many practices of string-pulling, spinning and manipulation of the press (especially by Jane) evidenced in the correspondence.

My short excursion into the John Murray Archive revealed two fascinating and very different, but clearly remarkable women. I must acknowledge the guidance and encouragement provided by the WEA tutor and the library staff. I wrote this article on my computer because something else I discovered during my research was that my handwriting could never compare with the copperplate style of Eleanor Anne Porden and Jane Griffin.



Born into the wealthy middle-class family of William Porden (a respected architect) and Mary Plowman, Eleanor was very well educated for a woman of her time, attending lectures on chemistry, geology, natural history and botany at the Royal Institution. At the age of 16 she wrote a lengthy romantic allegorical poem entitled 'The Veils Or The Triumph of Constancy'.

Father's vanity publishing

Correspondence with John Murray II regarding the publication of this work starts in 1815. At that time Eleanor was just about to turn 20. Tellingly, however, the first few letters come not from her, but from the pen of her father.

In his letters to Murray, William Porden carefully calculated how many pages would be required to accommodate the 5,220 verses of Eleanor's poem (estimating 24 lines per page). He noted that he would bear all costs as his daughter was an unpublished author. Today we might recognise this as an example of vanity publishing.

After publication William twice asked for the account to be sent, coming to regard the delay in a reply as an indication that his daughter's poem had not sold in great numbers. In his correspondence William acknowledged that not everyone would 'appreciate the ingenuity that cloathed (sic) such unmanageable materials in a poetical dress'. Subsequently he enclosed a draft for £84 and four shillings to cover the balance of the account.

Eleanor's letters to John Murray

In the following year Eleanor took up the letter writing herself. Initially her letters were formal, referring to herself in the third person: 'Miss Porden presents her compliments'. In one, she thanked Murray for securing a favourable review of her work in his 'Quarterly Review'. Over the course of her correspondence, Eleanor's tone became increasingly informal, as a kind of warmth slowly developed between her and the publisher. However, it was once again her father who wrote to Murray to submit Eleanor's collection of stories concerning the 'manners of different Countries - Arabia, Persia and India' (there is no evidence, however, that Eleanor ever left London).

Marriage to John Franklin

By 1821 Eleanor - then aged 26 - was dealing with John Murray's publication of her second epic work, 'Coeur de Lion'. But her correspondence was to end the following year. Her father died, and in 1823 she married John Franklin, the Arctic explorer, and inspiration for one of her short poems ('Arctic Expedition').

Not that her marriage was intended to signify the end of her publishing career. Indeed, when Franklin proposed to her, Eleanor made her acceptance conditional on his agreement that she could continue her poetry. In a letter written to Franklin six months before their wedding, she states:

'It was the pleasure of Heaven to bestow those talents on me, and it was my father's pride to cultivate them to the utmost of his power. I should therefore be guilty of a double dereliction of duty in abandoning their exercise.'

Eleanor's death and Franklin's remarriage

Ten months after their marriage Eleanor gave birth to a daughter. Childbirth accelerated the advance of her already existing tuberculosis, and on 22 February 1825, aged just 29, Eleanor died. Three years later Franklin married Jane Griffin - a friend of Eleanor's. But the second Mrs Franklin was very different from the first. She was mature, confident, ambitious and - some might say - manipulative.



Jane Griffin (1791-1875)

Jane was the second child of John Griffin and Mary Guillemard, and when she was four her mother died, leaving her father to raise his three daughters alone. John Griffin was a wealthy goldsmith and silk merchant, and instilled in Jane a love of travel.

Intrepid traveller and writer

Indeed, by the time of her marriage to John Franklin, Jane had already toured extensively in Britain, Europe, Scandinavia and Russia - and had scaled some sizeable mountains. From the age of 17 she kept journals covering a wide range of topics. The millions of words written in her diaries constitute the largest personal archive in the Cambridge University centre for research into both polar regions, the Scott Polar Research Institute. As far as can be discerned, Jane did not write of her travels with a view to publication, and John Murray did not directly publish any of her work.

This makes her correspondence with John Murray III even more intriguing. Within the John Murray Archive there resides 22 years' worth of correspondence between Jane and Murray (covering the years 1845 to 1867). The first letters date from the period in which she and Franklin returned from five years in Van Diemen?s Land (now Tasmania). A number of letters are sent thanking Murray for books received, some of which were clearly gifts ('your much kind liberality... The teachers of the library in Van Diemen's Land will I am sure appreciate.')

Assertive dealings with Murray

While Eleanor's relationship with the famous publishers had gradually warmed over time, Jane and her husband were more assertive in their dealings with Murray. In one instance, Jane attempted to introduce Murray to a protégé of her acquaintance whom she wished to see published. She followed up her overture a few months later by politely informing the publisher 'Mr Chapeau is submitting his work to another publisher,' explaining that John Murray's editor had attempted to make changes to the text that Chapeau was unhappy with. This patronage worked both ways, however, as a letter from Franklin indicates that Murray had previously requested a midshipman place for his nephew on Franklin's ship.

Mourning the death of John Franklin

John Franklin perished in the Arctic in 1847, although written confirmation of this was not discovered until 1859. Jane refused to publicly accept the inevitability of the loss of the expedition for nearly a decade - even when the Admiralty removed Sir John and his crew from their books in early 1854. She had gradually assumed mourning clothes in the early 50s but reverted to more colourful attire in defiance of the Admiralty in 1854. Still, from 1850, Jane's letters were written on black-bordered paper.

She devoted the rest of her life - and considerable energies - to funding expeditions to find her husband's body. She even attempted to rewrite history to prove that before he died her husband had discovered the elusive Northwest Passage, a fabled route through the Arctic sea that avoided the dangerous journey around Cape Horn.

John Murray published some accounts of the various search parties, and also many of the fundraising and publicity pamphlets. However, Jane scrutinised and corrected any material that she felt presented her husband in an unflattering light.

Travels in later life

Until almost her dying day Jane fought for the memory of her heroic husband - raising huge amounts of money and public sympathy. Jane and her niece, Sophia Cracroft, continued their extensive world travels including a global circumnavigation travelling westwards when she was in her 70s. Lady Jane Franklin would eventually complete her travels at home on 18 July 1875, when she died aged 83.

To find out more about learning from the John Murray Archive with NLS's outreach programme, visit www.nls.uk/jma/learning.



Read on with NLS

  • Correspondence and papers in the John Murray Archive [National Library of Scotland shelfmarks: ACC.1264/ folder 21 and MSS.42236-42238]
  • 'The Life, Diaries and Correspondence of Lady Jane Franklin' [National Library of Scotland shelfmark: S.138.d, Wordie.784]


Read the full Discover NLS issue 12 (PDF: 27 pages; 1.6 MB).

Discover NLS

Speak me