The Ambitions of Jane Franklin
Victorian lady adventurer
What a woman! Intelligent, determined, burning to achieve in a period when women were meant to be wives and mothers at home. Jane Franklin wasn’t interested in anything women were meant to like: clothes, fashion, children, domesticity of any sort, other women, food, wine, embroidery, music, art, the lot. She was interested in reading, in politics and men, and gossip about them. Unable to achieve herself as a woman, she was determined to make her husband, explorer John Franklin, a success. She did so, against the odds though it was (he wanted to be a quiet country squire).
At her urging he accepted the post of governor of Van Diemen’s Land in 1837, and her adventures here formed the main part of the book. Determined to bring culture to this benighted place to make her husband’s rule look good, she encouraged science, art and education; built a Greek temple as a museum; tried to get rid of snakes; started a botanical garden; established an agricultural settlement in the Huon; attempted to make conditions more severe for convict women; adopted two Aboriginal children to see what happened when they were ‘civilised’ … a fascinating list. She also travelled widely, in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, New Zealand and all around Van Diemen’s Land.
In the tough political world of Van Diemen’s Land, Jane Franklin learnt valuable lessons which she put to good effect when her husband was later lost while searching for the North-West Passage. Despite his lack of success, she elevated him to be seen as a successful hero, memorialised in Westminster Abbey – and herself as the wife of this hero. A truly amazing woman.
This book won the National Biography Award in 2014.