Next Saturday, one of the many silent faces watching the coronation of King Charles III will be that of Sir John Franklin.
His bust in Westminster Abbey commemorates the total loss of his 1845 expedition in search of the Northwest Passage, in which two Royal Navy ships and all 129 men vanished into the frozen Arctic.
A fragment of this historic tragedy is coming back to visit him on May 6: the Diamond Jubilee State Coach due to transport Charles III to the Abbey contains an actual relic from Franklin’s lost expedition.
The interior is inlaid with pieces of illustrious history: polished slices taken from St. Paul’s Cathedral, Florence Nightingale’s dress, Sir Isaac Newton’s apple tree, etc. Among these, in a top row position, is a wooden square marked “Franklin Expedition 1845.”
This is just one of more than 100 pieces of Commonwealth history painstakingly collected by Australian craftsman Jim Frecklington, who built the coach for Queen Elizabeth II to mark her Diamond Jubilee.
Frecklington lived and worked in Qausuittuq (Resolute Bay), Nunavut for several summers in the early 1970s. This imbued him with a deep respect for communities in the North, and also for the 19th century sailors who sailed there looking for a Northwest Passage.
“I’ve always been very interested in those very brave men that went up into the Arctic, like Franklin and Crozier, and after working at Resolute Bay I really understood what a challenging environment it is, and had an appreciation for the courage they must have shown,” he says. “I wanted to honour this bravery by including something from the Arctic in the coach I was building.”
Frecklington approached the Government of Nunavut for its help with the project. The then Director of Heritage Douglas Stenton, who still leads Nunavut’s archaeological study of the Franklin Expedition today, received the call.
Having considered the proposal, the Government of Nunavut offered a fragment of a barrel that had been recovered from Beechey Island.
“I was absolutely delighted when colleagues in Nunavut were able to contribute an artefact from Franklin’s camp at Beechey Island,” says Frecklington.