Captain Sir John Franklin was the Captain of the HMS Erebus and the leader of the failed Franklin Expedition. A British Royal Navy Officer and Arctic explorer, Sir John was a devout Christian and servant of the Empire, with his loyalty to both being the driving forces of his life. As an officer Sir John was well liked by many, however his past failures, namely his failed arctic expedition and his dismissal from the governorship of Van Diemen's Land, have led many of his colleagues to lose respect for him, something Sir John seeks to rectify by successfully navigating the Northwest Passage.
Sir John's past is slowly revealed through flashbacks and conversations between the crew. Sometime before the Franklin Expedition, Sir John had led a prior expedition to the Arctic on foot. The expedition however ended in failure, with numerous men dying from starvation or the cold and Sir John himself only surviving by eating his shoes and scraps of wildlife. Despite this failure however he was appointed to the governorship of Van Diemen's Land. Later however he was dismissed from office, allegedly due to a rival "playing politics" against him. Following his dismissal Sir John lived in disgrace and failed to achieve in notable posts until he was offered leadership of the latest expedition to the Arctic. Surprised and thankful to be offered this position due to his age (Sir John was 59 years old when he was offered leadership) Sir John viewed the expedition as his last chance at redemption and towards reestablishing a good reputation. Thus Sir John sought to succeed by any cost necessary, as the success of the expedition was his only chance to rebuild his reputation.
Sir John lived with his wife and niece, acting as a father to her. This caused him to develop a strained relationship with fellow arctic explorer Captain Francis Crozier who was courting Sir John's niece but whose propositions had been turned down repeatedly. At one point Sir John, at a family dinner, commented on how Crozier (being an Irishman) was unfit for marrying into their family. This comment was overheard by Crozier himself, who exchanged a stare with Sir John before leaving his manor.
Despite the expedition's initial success, Sir John soon encounters numerous challenges. A crewman mysteriously falls ill and dies and Erebus's propeller is damaged by the ice, halving its maximum speed. Later the ship itself, north of King William Island, faces a massive "pack" of icebergs ahead of them. Faced with this huge sheet of ice, Sir John's second-in-command, Captain Crozier, suggests their best chance is to go back the way they came and head around the eastern shore of King William Island. This would require abandoning Erebus, however as the ship's damaged engine would not be able to get it out of the "pack" before the ocean froze for winter. Appalled at the idea of abandoning his flagship Sir John refuses Crozier's plan, instead declaring they will continue sailing west along the northern shore of King William Island in an attempt to get around it before winter.
As the ships sailed deeper into the thick ice, the crew struggles to continue breaking the ice in front of the ship, using all the technological advancements at their disposal, such as explosives. While the strain of the ice on the ship and crew are evident, Sir John remains confident that God will see them through. He awakens on the seventh day however to find that the ships are stuck in solid ice, with nothing but icy plains surrounding them on all sides, the ships having failed to get out of the "pack" before the ocean froze for winter. Sir John quickly instructs his officers to prepare the ship for winter and to rephrase their current dilemma as a chance for adventure to the men. After doing this, he gazes across the ice at Crozier on Terror as the full gravity of his situation settles in.
Encounter with the TuunbaqEdit
After their first winter on the ice Sir John sends men out in all directions hoping to find open water the ships can try to make for. As the search parties come back with no sign of water however Captain Crozier asks permission from Sir John to send men out to seek help and rescue, as the amount of time to safely get men back to Canada is limited by winter's approach. Sir John refuses Crozier's request, claiming it is defeatist and premature and that the expedition has not yet failed. When Crozier presses Sir John that if they spend another winter there help must already be on the way by spring Sir John snaps at Crozier, claiming that he secretly wants the expedition to fail and insults him on many levels, from his anti-social personality to his poor work ethic to his alcoholism.
A search party later returns with a wounded Inuit man and his daughter. The search party claims to have encountered a bear (the Tuunbaq), which killed one of their party, a Lieutenant Gore. The party also accidentally shot the Inuit man whilst searching for the bear, and despite their best attempts the man dies of his wound. Sir John orders the man to be dumped down a "firehole" (a hole in the ice used as access for fresh water) despite some objections. Sir John decides to set a trap for the bear, and has a company of marines set up a camouflaged camp next to a large amount of strung up rats. After the trap has been set Sir John pays the marines a visit and even poses for a photo with them to raise their morale.
When one marine suggests Sir John should be there when the bear is killed and another even suggests Sir John could be the one to make the killing shot, Sir John agrees to wait with them for a while. His wait is short however as the Tuunbaq attacks and rips a man straight out of the tent, tossing his decapitated head and body back to the marines. As the men continue firing at the Tuunbaq Sir John, horrified and stunned, makes his way back to the ships, calling for help. The men on the ships, hearing both the gunshots and Sir John's calls, send out a rescue party led by Erebus's second-in-command James Fitzjames. However Sir John, only seconds from rescue, is caught and attacked by the Tuunbaq, which carries him, dangling upside down to the firehole he earlier ordered the dead Inuit dumped in. The Tuunbaq tosses him to the edge of the hole, where he realizes to his shock that it has ripped off his right leg above the knee. He watches in horror and fear as the Tuunbaq approaches him; it shoves him into the hole where he falls onto the hot pot of coals used to prevent the hole from freezing up. The coals hold him up and burn him for a few seconds before the rope snaps under his weight and he plunges to his death in the icy depths below.
After recovering Sir John's severed leg, the crew put it in a coffin, being the only part of his body recoverable. Commander Fitzjames interrupted Crozier's rescue plans to demand that one day of rest be granted to the men in order to mourn Sir John. A funeral was later held for Sir John, where Captain Crozier read the moving eulogy Sir John had written himself for Lieutenant Gore. Following the eulogy he was given a seven gun salute by the Royal Marine Contingent on board.
Sir John, as a devout Christian and loyal British subject, was very well liked by his companions. However his previous failures had lost him their respect, and this caused him to believe that his last arctic expedition would be his final chance at glory and redemption. This influenced his decisions during the expedition itself, as often Sir John would refuse to delay or halt the expedition even if it was the safer option. This led him to make the fateful decision that stranded both ships in the ice, as Sir John, rather than reverse course and spend the winter in a Canadian harbor (which would delay the expedition) made the risky decision to continue forward and hope to get through the ice before the winter froze it solid, a decision which later resulted in both ships getting stuck. When presented with the option to send men to get help, Sir John also refused, as this would mean admitting his expedition was a failure. Sir John's refusal to admit the expedition was failing led him to place emphasis on trivial matters over important matters of safety, such as when rather than sending men to get help he instead dedicated himself to writing a eulogy for a dead crewman.
Sir John's dedication to his religion also led to him making some foolhardy decisions. His faith that God would see him through often led him to make irrational choices based on the belief that God would help him succeed no matter what. This often led him to comment that God would help him or his crew when faced with difficulty. For example, when Sir John and Commander Fitzjames heard the strain the ice was putting on the ship Sir John reassured Fitzjames they would succeed and commented that "Our loving father will see us through, whatever morning brings."
- Currently the whereabouts of Sir John's body is unknown.
- One of Sir john's medals, the engraved butt of a pistol, four spoons and five forks are the only remains that have currently been found of him.