Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Franklin's moccasin, part 2: family ties

Moccasin from Franklin, PRM 1997.19.27
What a story! This is a mystery, a romance, and a peek into early 19thC English intellectual families, all in one. For a recap on part 1, see here.

F. Griffin, it turns out, was Frances Griffin, older sister of Jane Griffin who married John Franklin. John Franklin’s first wife Eleanor Porden died just six days after he set out to sea in 1825 on this second Arctic expedition. She had been very ill for some time, and they said their goodbyes to each other before he left—and he went with her blessing.

When Franklin returned to England in September 1827, he began courting Jane Griffin, a friend of his late wife. They married in November 1828. Jane was 36, John was 42. This period of his life was the pinnacle of Franklin’s career: he was being lionized as ‘the Arctic hero,’ and was knighted in April 1829 and awarded an honorary DCL from Oxford. He must have been quite a catch for Jane, and she proved to be an extraordinary match for him.

If the moccasin was indeed given to Frances—Franklin’s soon-to-be sister-in-law—in 1827, then the gift was made almost immediately after Franklin’s return in September of that year, suggesting that his courtship was moving fairly quickly and that he was forming close relations with Jane’s family.

Frances had the moccasin in her possession for a year, at the most: she received it after Franklin returned to England in September 1827, and she gave the moccasin to Mr or Mrs Gilbert on the 23rd of November 1828, very soon after the marriage of Jane Griffin and John Franklin on 5 November 1828.

Looking closely at the label on the moccasin, I think it says ‘& by Miss Griffin given to Mrs Gilbert Nov’r 23rd 1828’. The ‘r’ in Mrs appears to be shaped identically to the ‘r’ on the line above in ‘Griffin’. The sign for the double s in Miss does not appear here; I think it is a single ‘s’ at the end of this word. So who was Mrs Gilbert?

The Griffins were related to the family of Davies Gilbert, a scientist and MP who was President of the Royal Society from 1827-30, around the time Frances Griffin was given the moccasin and John Franklin married her sister Jane. Jane and Frances’ mother, Jane (Jeanne Marie) Guillemard, was the sister-in-law of Davies Gilbert via Davies’ sister Mary Phillipa, who married John Lewis Guillemard, whose sister Jeanne Marie was Jane and Frances’ mother. Frances gave the moccasin to her aunt by marriage, ‘Mrs Gilbert’.

 ‘Mrs Gilbert’ was Mary Ann, who brought her surname and estates to her marriage: her husband Davies Giddy took her surname to inherit. She was interested in the welfare of the poor, and encouraged poor rural families to grow crops and livestock on unused land to feed themselves. She became a prominent member of the Labourers’ Friend Society, founded in 1830, and died in 1845.

In giving the moccasin to her aunt by marriage, Frances Griffin was showing us not only her family connections but also many intellectual and social connections. Frances Griffin married the geologist Ashurst Majendie and he, John Franklin, and Davies Gilbert all knew each other through the Geographical Society. John Lewis Guillemard, Frances’ maternal uncle, tutored Jane Griffin, and possibly Frances, at Tredrea, Mary Ann Gilbert’s house that she brought to her marriage to Davies Gilbert. Mary Ann Gilbert was also something of an intellectual and used her connections to further her work with the poor. This was an extraordinary family into which Franklin married.

After passing to Mary Ann Gilbert, the moccasin had another journey to make. Stay tuned….

Finding out who F. Griffin and Mr Gilbert were, and why the moccasin should pass between them, has been an exciting chase involving a fair bit of genealogy, emails to Australia, tracking down obscure historical publications about Sussex, Bonhams Auctioneers sale listings, and the ever-helpful Dictionary of National Biography. I would also like to thank Claire Warrior, curator at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, who also works on Franklin expedition objects, for initially pointing me in the direction of Davies Giddy Gilbert, and Professor David Miller of the University of New South Wales, who confirmed the connections between the Griffins and Davies Giddy Gilbert’s family.

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