Crowdfunding campaign launched by Derbyshire County Council to help with Sir John Franklin archive collection

A crowdfunding campaign has been launched by Derbyshire County Council’s Record Office to raise £1,000 to be used towards packaging and photographing objects from the archive of fabled arctic explorer Sir John Franklin and his second wife Lady Jane Franklin.

By Liam Norcliffe
Wednesday, 19th June 2019, 1:33 pm
Derbyshire County Council.
Derbyshire County Council.

Sir John led the ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to discover the Northwest Passage, with the two ships setting off in 1845 with 129 men on board.

After two years of no contact many expeditions were sent out to find them but none of the crew were ever found alive and the exact reasons for their deaths remains a mystery.

The fate of the ships themselves was not discovered until Canadian archaeologists finally found the wrecks in 2014 and 2016.

Although Franklin spend much of his life abroad, his roots are in the East Midlands, as he was born in Spilsby, Lincolnshire and his only daughter Eleanor married into the Gell family of Hopton Hall, Derbyshire.

When the Gell family sold Hopton Hall they deposited their extensive family archive with the Derbyshire Record Office in Matlock, which included all the Franklin material.

Sir John’s archive includes letters, diaries, pictures, books and objects, including hundreds of letters relating to his two wives and his daughter.

Since last year Derbyshire Record Office staff, along with a number of volunteers, have been busy cataloguing the vast collection thanks to a £25,000 grant from Archives Revealed. They are also improving the packaging of the collection with a grant of just over £1,000 from the Pilgrim Trust, awarded via the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust.

Record Office staff are now working on a box of small objects, some of which Lady Jane Franklin had on display in her house. These include precious mementos that reminded her of the adventurous life the couple enjoyed.

By launching the crowdfunding campaign, Record Office staff are following in the footsteps of Lady Jane, who launched her own fundraising campaign back in 1850, appealing for money to fund missions to find the missing ships. As well as receiving hundreds of financial donations Lady Jane was also offered a boat to help in the search.

While Record Office staff are not looking for a boat, they are hoping for around £1,000 in donations which will be used to buy specialist display boxes and packaging so each object will be kept safe but also easy to display.

The money will also be used for professional photography so each of the items can be added to the Record Office’s online catalogue making it accessible for people to view across the world.

There is a lot of interest in Sir John Franklin in Canada and Australia, so the crowdfunding campaign gives people everywhere the opportunity to get involved and support the efforts to preserve the collection and make it more accessible.

Derbyshire County Council leader and cabinet member for strategic leadership, culture and tourism, Councillor Barry Lewis said: “We know there is global interest in Sir John Franklin and his expedition and we have already welcomed two grants to help with the cataloguing of the archive.

“As part of our enterprising council approach, staff at the Record Office have been thinking of ways to raise more funds to do the collection justice and bring it to a wider audience, and crowdfunding seems to fit the bill.

“It’s the modern day equivalent of how Lady Jane raised funds to search for the ships and we hope we will be as successful in raising money as she was all those years ago.”

A short film has been made by Derbyshire Record Office to highlight the crowdfunding campaign, showing some of the archive and telling the story behind the collection, and the crowdfunding page is now live and can be found at

The crowdfunding campaign runs until Friday, July 12.

People can find out more information by following the Derbyshire Record Office’s blog, where there are many posts relating to the Discovering Franklin project: