Lord Franklin (Lady Greys Lament)


Broadside Ballad (available in the Bodliean Library, Oxford) - arranged by Graham Dodsworth

play mp3 of Convict's Lament

Thought to be written by Franklin's wife or at least commissioned by her, it tells of Franklin's failed mission to find the elusive North West Passage around the North Pole which was never found because it never existed. Sometimes the survival of pioneers depended on the existence of a theoretical geographic feature that didn't exist, this is perhaps the best example of the concept..



Originally titled Lady Franklin's Lament, Lord Franklin is a ballad to be found on a broadsheet in the Bodleian Library dated 1852 where in the first verse the writer meets Lady Jane who laments the disappearance of her husband.
Sir John Franklin was Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemans Land during one of it's most difficult colonial transition periods. Van Diemans Land later became the Australian state of Tasmania. In 1845 Franklin sailed to the Arctic to find the North West Passage only to disappear, seemingly without trace for well over 100 years, along with two ships and all crew members. Dr John Rae of the Hudson's Bay Company published a report in 1859, for which he was ridiculed for reporting from Inuits that the crews had abandonned the ice-bound ships to make their way across the ice and being too proud to learn eskimo methods of survival, resorted to cannibalism. Later, perhaps contextually, a cairn was found during one of the many search voyages commissioned by Lady Jane Franklin, stating that Franklin had died on the 11th of June 1847, on board ship (therefore seemingly innocent of any cannibalism). None other than Charles Dickins launched a public attack on Dr Rae for his assertions. It wasn't until over 130 years later, in the 1980s & 90s, that exhumations of the expeditioners corpses proved that Rae's version was the indisputable truth, with cut marks on ninety-two bones being consistent with cannibalism. Forensic pathologists also determined that among other fates, they were affected by lead poisoning from a machine they used to distill sea ice into fresh water (not from solder on the tinned food). Although Franklin was perhaps in sight of the North West Passage and declared to have found it before he died, nearer to the truth appears to be that the voyages sent in search of Franklin, and the data they collected, is what led to confirmation of the famous North West Passage.
For more information than you ever thought possible about Franklin, the following website provides a reading list - http://franklinsghost.blogspot.com.au/2009_06_01_archive.html

The ill-fated ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, led by Sir John Franklin to find the Northwest Passage became trapped in thick Arctic ice and all 129 crew members died.

2014 September 9th
Franklin's Ship HMS Erebus found by sonar in the Queen Maud Gulf, along the central Arctic coastline, identified and images taken.

2016 September 12th
HMS Terror, the accommpanying Royal Navy ship that set out in 1845 was found in 'Terror' bay.
on the ill-fated quest led by Sir John Franklin to find the Northwest Passage to Asia. The ships became trapped in thick Arctic ice and all 129 crew members died.





The tune of this song was first printed in 1933 by Harvard University Press in a publication by Elizabeth Bristol Greenleaf titled Ballads and Sea Songs of Newfoundland (songs collected with Grace Yarrow Mansfield in 1929) and is the same as that used by Bob Dylan for 'Bob Dylan's Dream', which also uses Lord Franklin as its source for some of the lyrics such as 'I dreamed a dream and thought it true' as well as 'and now my burden do give me pain'.
Dylan leans on tradition for other songs such as 'Girl of the North Country' from 'Elphin Knight', better known as the ballad, 'Scarborough Fair' heard by Dylan and Paul Simon at a dinner party in England where Davey Graham and Martin Carthy were also in attendance. 'Scarborough Fair' has a similar story, where Martin Carthy's version/arrangement was made famous, but not necessarily acknowledged by Simon & Garfunkel.
A decade or three later Dylan also used a tune for an arrangment of 'Jim Jones of Botany Bay', a traditional song he found in the UK. However although the song does have a traditional tune, the tune he collected was actually written by Mic Slocum, formerly of the (Melbourne) Bushwackers and The Sundowners. Most of the lyrics of Jim Jones was featured in the Movie 'The Hateful Eight' just before they stupidly or deliberately smash an antique Martin Guitar.
play song
download lyrics of Convict's Lament

This version: 2016-05-21

Homeward bound one night on the deep.
Slung in my hammock I fell asleep.
I dreamed a dream and thought it true.
Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew.

With a hundred seamen he sailed away.
To the frozen ocean in the month of may.
To find a passage around the pole.
Where we poor sailors must sometime go.

Through cruel hardships they made their sail.
On mountains of ice and snow their ship was frail.
The eskimo in his skin canoe
Was the only one who ever came through.

In Baffins Bay where the whale fish do blow.
The fate of Franklin no man may know.
The fate of Franklin, no tongue can tell.
If with his seamen, Lord Franklin do dwell.

And now my burden, it gives me pain,
To find my Franklin I would cross the main.
Ten thousand pounds would I freely give
to find on earth my Franklin do live.

Slung in my hummock, I fell asleep.

vocal & guitar - Graham Dodsworth