Franklin, Sir John, 1786–1847, British explorer in N Canada whose disappearance caused a widespread search of the Arctic. Entering the navy in 1801, he fought in the battle of Trafalgar. On his first overland expedition (1819–22) in N Canada, his party crossed the barren grounds from Great Slave Lake to the Arctic coast at the mouth of the Coppermine River and explored eastward along the coast for c.175 mi (280 km). In his Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea (1823, repr. 1969), Franklin describes this journey. On his next expedition (1825–27), the party descended the Mackenzie River and surveyed another long stretch of the Arctic shoreline, westward to Return Reef (c.160 mi/260 km from Point Barrow, Alaska) and eastward to the mouth of the Coppermine. By way of the Coppermine he went to Great Bear Lake, where he built Fort Franklin (now Déline). Franklin's Narrative of a Second Expedition to the Shores of the Polar Sea (1828, repr. 1968) is an account of these feats. On both of these expeditions he was accompanied by Sir George Back. After serving (1836–43) as governor of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), Franklin set out in the Erebus and the Terror in 1845 to search for the Northwest Passage. When, three years later, no word from him had been received, there was dispatched the first of the more than 40 parties that in the following years were to search the Arctic for traces of the expedition. Although the geographical knowledge gained by the searchers was immense, no certain clues as to Franklin's fate were revealed until John Rae, in 1853–54, and Sir Francis McClintock, between 1857 and 1859, found evidence of the great arctic tragedy. The latter expedition, fitted by Lady Franklin, found records at Point Victory that established that Franklin's ships had been frozen in the ice between Victoria Island and King William Island. After his death in 1847, the survivors had abandoned ship in 1848 and had undertaken a journey southward over the frozen wastes of Boothia Peninsula toward civilization. Of the entire expedition of some 129 men, not one is known to have survived. Relics and documents of the Franklin party and of later search expeditions have been found as recently as 1960, and the quest for Franklin's diaries is still being continued.
See biographies of Franklin by A. H. Markham (1891) and H. D. Traill (1896); the life, diaries, and correspondence of his wife, Lady Franklin (ed. by W. F. Rawnsley, 1923); R. Collinson, Journal of HMS Enterprise on the Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin's Ships (1869, repr. 1976); P. Nantor, Arctic Breakthrough (1970); L. Neatby, The Search for Franklin (1970); A. Brandt, The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage (2010).