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No. 02, - John Franklin's Early Life & "The Battle at Trafalgar"

Back in England, and after spending some months with his family at Spilsby, Franklin was appointed to the HMS Bellerophon (Captain Loring) joining her on August 7th, 1804. The Bellerophon joined the Channel fleet which was keeping a watch on the French ports. Fear continued in Great Britain that Napoleon would get himself and his armies across the channel and invade Britain. So back and forth the fleet sailed in the channel, ready to blast anything that looked French.

It was in 1805 that the nineteen year old Franklin took part in the glorious Battle of Trafalgar. On October 21st, Nelson defeated the combined fleets of France and Spain; and the danger of any invasion of England rolled away like a dream. Franklin's ship, Bellerophon was in the thick of it. Many men were killed aboard the Bellerophon "out of forty seven men upon the quarter deck, of whom Franklin was one, all were either killed or wounded but seven."9 Franklin came through it all without a wound, though thereafter he was hard of hearing - A lifelong reminder of his time at the Battle of Trafalgar.

And, so it was, but only a young man, John Franklin was with his hero, the nation's hero, Horatio Nelson, at both the Battle at Copenhagen (1801) and the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). These were but two of the famous naval battles of the French Revolutionary Wars; and, in them all, the British Royal Navy enhanced its reputation.

For the next two years, Franklin continued to serve on the Bellerophon, when, on October 25th, 1807, he was appointed to the Bedford (Captain Walker). A recap is in order at this point: "It was but six years since he had entered the navy, a lad of fifteen, and before completing his twenty-first year he had smelt powder in two of the greatest naval battles of our history, explored a continent, suffered shipwreck ..."10

Franklin's father, who had placed his savings in the Spilsby Bank which had failed, lost all he had. In 1807, his father died. It is not likely, at any rate, that John had received much money from his family so to assist in his budding naval career; but it is for certain that he was left to get on after his father's death with the pittance he received as a midshipman. Nonetheless, in the succeeding years, his letters to his family (his mother died within a couple of years of his father's death) were "full of cheerful courage, and testify throughout to a deep filial affection ..."11

NEXT -- No. 03, "Franklin, Years Of Patrol"


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Peter Landry