Martin Carthy: Lord Franklin
Lord Franklin and his crew of 100 sailors set out on a brave quest for the North West Passage, and they never returned. That was all that was known for 12 years. That was time enough for Franklin to become a hero and the subject of a legend. And it was plenty of time to write a song about him.
My favorite version of the song is by Pentangle, but we have already heard from them this week. I had not been aware of Carthy’s version. He sets up a counter rhythm in his guitar part, and delivers the vocal in fine style, inhabiting the emotion of the song completely. But, on the original album release, Carthy had this to say about the song in his liner notes:
“Sir John Franklin set out with two ships, the “Erebus” and the “Terror”, on his second attempt to discover the North West Passage and was never heard of again. It was almost twelve years before the story of what had actually happened to the expedition was finally pieced together. After sailing round the island in the far north of Canada, the ships, predictably, became trapped in the ice; what was completely unexpected, however, was that the lime juice stored in barrels became useless and half the crews of both ships died of scurvy. Some of the others decided to strike across country for a mission station, but one by one they died on the journey. How they managed to die in country that was full of game where Eskimos had lived for generations is a mystery. The real tragedy was Franklin's blunder in not allowing for such a contingency: he had taken along beautiful tea-services, flags and dress uniforms for the celebrations when their mission was accomplished, instead of extra food supplies. Several rescue operations were mounted, one by Lady Franklin herself from the proceeds of public fund she started for that purpose, after the Admiralty had washed it hands of the whole affair, having itself failed in a rather desultory rescue attempt. The truth was actually discovered by an expedition in which the United States Navy took part.”