Alison Alexander has won the 2014 National Biography Award for The Ambitions of Jane Franklin. Alexander beat out some stiff competition in the form Gideon Haigh’s On Warne, Sheila Fitzpatrick’s A Spy in the Archives, Exit Wounds: One Australian’s War on Terror by John Cantwell & Greg Bearup, Kitty’s War by Janet Butler and Steve Bisley’s Stillways.
The Award was established to encourage the highest standards of writing in the fields of biography and autobiography and to promote public interest in these genres. The Award’s growth and success recognises and reflects the continuing interest in stories about ordinary people with extraordinary lives.
The Ambitions of Jane Franklin
by Alison Alexander
A genius at publicity before the term existed, Jane Franklin was a celebrity in the mid-19th century. This is her remarkable life, including her extensive travels, her years in Tasmania as the governor’s wife, and her very public battle to save husband, the Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, from accusations of cannibalism.
In a period when most ladies sat at home with their embroidery, Jane Franklin achieved fame throughout the western world, and was probably the best travelled woman of her day. Alison Alexander traces the life of this inimitable woman, from her birth in late 18th century London, her marriage at the ripe age of 36 years to Sir John Franklin, to her many trips to far-flung locations, including Russia, the Holy Land, northern Africa, America and Australia.
Once Jane Franklin married, her original ambition – to live life to the full – was joined by an equally ardent desire to make her kind and mild husband a success. Arriving in Tasmania in 1837 when Sir John became governor, she swept like a whirlwind through the colony: attempting to rid the island of snakes; establishing a scientific society and the Hobart regatta; adopting an Aboriginal girl, and sending a kangaroo to Queen Victoria. She continued her intrepid travels, becoming the first white woman to travel overland from Melbourne to Sydney.
When her husband disappeared in the Arctic on an expedition to discover the Northwest Passage, she badgered the Admiralty, the public and even the President of the United States to fund trips to locate him, and then defended his reputation when remains of the expedition were located, and there were claims of cannibalism. Single-handedly, she turned him from a failure into one of England’s noblest heroes. She continued travelling well into her 70s and died at age 84, refusing to take her medicine to the last.
About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
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