> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Lord Franklin
> Martin Carthy > Songs > Lord Franklin
> Nic Jones > Songs > Lord Franklin

Lady Franklin's Lament / Lord Franklin

[ Roud 487 ; Master title: Lady Franklin's Lament ; Laws K9 ; G/D 1:16 ; Henry H815 ; Ballad Index LK09 ; Old Songs LadyFranklin ; Bodleian Roud 487 ; trad.]

This ballad about the fate of Lord Franklin, who perished on the search for the North West Passage, was recorded in 1956 by A.L. Lloyd for his, Ewan MacColl's and Harry H. Corbett's album The Singing Sailor. He was accompanied by Alf Edwards on concertina. This track has been reissued on his and Ewan MacColl's albums Row Bullies Row, Singing Sailors (Wattle Records) and Off to Sea Once More (Stinson Records), and on the compilation Sailors' Songs & Sea Shanties.

Lord Franklin was also sung by Martin Carthy in 1966 on his Second Album; this was reissued on the Martin Carthy anthologies A Collection and The Carthy Chronicles. Carthy commented in his original record's sleeve notes:

Sir John Franklin set out with two ships, the “Erebus” and the “Terror”, on his second attempt to discover the North West Passage and was never heard of again. It was almost twelve years before the story of what had actually happened to the expedition was finally pieced together. After sailing round the island in the far north of Canada, the ships, predictably, became trapped in the ice; what was completely unexpected, however, was that the lime juice stored in barrels became useless and half the crews of both ships died of scurvy. Some of the others decided to strike across country for a mission station, but one by one they died on the journey. How they managed to die in country that was full of game where Eskimos had lived for generations is a mystery. The real tragedy was Franklin's blunder in not allowing for such a contingency: he had taken along beautiful tea-services, flags and dress uniforms for the celebrations when their mission was accomplished, instead of extra food supplies. Several rescue operations were mounted, one by Lady Franklin herself from the proceeds of public fund she started for that purpose, after the Admiralty had washed it hands of the whole affair, having itself failed in a rather desultory rescue attempt. The truth was actually discovered by an expedition in which the United States Navy took part.

Bob Dylan learned Lord Franklin from Martin Carthy and based his song Bob Dylan's Dream on it.

Jon Raven sang Lord Franklyn on the 1968 Broadside album The Halliard : Jon Raven.

Louis Killen recorded Lord Franklin in 1968 for his 1973 LP Sea Chanteys. and in 1995 for his CD Sailors, Ships & Chanteys. He also sang it in 2003 on the anthology Song Links: A Celebration of English Traditional Songs and Their Australian Variants. The corresponding Australian variant The Loss of Bob Mahoney was sung by Danny Spooner.

Pentangle sang Lord Franklin in 1970 on their Transatlantic album Cruel Sister.

Derek Sarjeant and Hazel King sang Lord Franklin in 1978 on their album English & Scottish Folksongs and Ballads.

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang Lord Franklin in 1978 on his album Ballad Singer.

Nic Jones sang Lord Franklin live in Italy in 1981. This recording was included in 1998 on his CD In Search of Nic Jones. He noted:

I’ve always considered this to be a classic among folk songs and I first came across it during my days with The Halliard. It wasn't a song I used to do and I can’t actually remember singing it, so it was quite a surprise to me when I first heard the tape. It was recorded when I was in Italy doing some concerts that Paolo Nuti had arranged for me in 1981. Regrettably, I only have very vague memories of the time just before my argument with a brick lorry, but Julia assures me I had a great time over there.

Cyril Tawney sang Lady Franklin's Lament on his 1990 Neptune Tapes cassette Sailor's Delight.

Jo Freya sang Lord Franklin in 1992 on her Saydisc album Traditional Songs of England. The liner notes commented:

Sir John Franklin set out to Arctic waters with two ships, the Erebus and the Terror on his second attempt to discover the North West passage. The hope was that this would provide a short sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and had been at the forefront of Arctic exploration for centuries. Lord Franklin’s expedition, like many before and after, failed when their ships became trapped in the ice. Although the area was teeming with wildlife none of the crew survived the cruel polar winter. This was partly due to their barrels of lime juice becoming useless and half of the party died of scurvy with the rest weakened and ill. Their attempts to strike out across land for a mission station failed and one by one the rest of the crew died. Several rescue expeditions were mounted, one by Lady Franklin herself from the proceeds of a public fund, but it was twelve years before the truth of the tragedy was known.

Éilís Kennedy's sang Lord Franklin in 2001 on her album Time to Sail.

Artisan sang Lady Franklin's Lament in 2001 on the Fellside anthology of unaccompanied English traditional songs, Voices in Harmony.

David Jones sang Lady Franklin's Lament in 2002 on the Revels' CD Homeward Bound.

Tom and Barbara Brown sang Franklin in 2014 on their WildGoose album of songs collected by Cecil Sharp in Minehead, Somerset, from Captains Lewis and Vickery, Just Another Day. They commented in their liner notes:

Following the loss of Lord Franklin's 1945 exploratory voyage to find the north-west passage, a campaign was led by Franklin's widow, to try to get the government to mount an expedition to find out what happened. Part of that campaign was a long broadside written in 1850 by George Boker, of which fragments remained in the tradition. Here is Vickery's delightfully abbreviated version with the text slightly tidied up.

Hannah Sanders sang Lord Franklin in 2015 on her CD Charms Against Sorrow.

Andy Turner sang Lord Franklin as the 21 November 2015 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Jim Moray sang Lord Franklin in 2016 on his CD Upcetera. He commented in his sleeve notes:

Learned from versions sung my Martin Carthy and Nic Jones. Lady Franklin funded several search expeditions to look for her husband and his crew, and this is possibly the first charity single. The sum of ten thousand pounds mentioned in the final verse was the reward for successfully finding a north-west passage trade route.

John Smith sang Lord Franklin in 2018 on his CD Hummingbird.


Both A.L. Lloyd's and Nic Jones's versions are very similar in wording to Martin Carthy's version listed below. Nic Jones left out the third verse and repeated the first verse at the end.

Martin Carthy sings Lord Franklin Sam Henry, Songs of the People
(from Digital Tradition)

It was homeward bound one night on the deep,
Swinging in my hammock I fell asleep.
I dreamed a dream and I thought it true
Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew.

We were homeward bound all in the deep,
Alone in my hammock I fell asleep.
And I dreamt a dream that I thought was true
Concerning Franklin and his bold crew.

With a hundred seamen he sailed away
To the frozen ocean in the month of May
To seek that passage around the pole
Where we poor sailors do sometimes go.

Through cruel hardships these men did go
His ship on mountains of ice was drove
Where the Eskimo in his skin canoe
Was the only one who ever came through

As I was musing on yon foreign shore
I heard a lady and she did deplore.
She wept aloud and to me did say,
Oh, my loving husband, he stops long away.

It is seven long years since three ships of fame
Caused my dear husband to cross the main,
And a hundred seamen of courage stout
A northwest passage for to find out.

They sail-ed east and they sail-ed west
To find their passage they knew not best.
Ten thousand pounds would I freely give
If I only knew if my husband lived.

There is Captain Parry of high renown,
There is Captain Hoggs of Seamore town,
There is Captain Ross and many more,
I'm afraid they are lost on some foreign shore.

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

In Baffin's Bay where the whale fish blows
The fate of Franklin no one knows
I am afraid he is lost on yon foreign shore
Where he left his home to return no more.

And now my burden it gives me pain,
For my long lost Franklin I'd cross the main.
Ten thousand pounds would I freely give
To know on earth that my Franklin do live.

Acknowledgements and Links

See also Just Another Tune's study Bob Dylan's Dream & Lady Franklin's Lament.

The Fate of Franklin website

Martin Carthy's version transcribed by Garry Gillard.