My latest project is a book featuring the correspondence between between the Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin and Eleanor Anne Porden, the romantic poet who was his fiancée for much of the period covered by the letters and who later became his wife.
I wrote a biography of Franklin (Deadly Winter) quite a few years ago and I’ve never quite got him out of my system! The letters between them always struck me as a fascinating glimpse into the past, and an insight into a relationship that almost foundered on religious grounds (he was a gentle man but a much stricter Christian then she) and was doomed to be a tragically brief one (she had tuberculosis even before they met, although she didn’t seem to face up to the diagnosis till near the end).
I had read that Eleanor was one of “numerous” children, all of whom died in infancy
except Eleanor and one sister. I also knew her father, William Porden, was an eminent architect – so it was quite poignant to discover in the genealogical records that he had named his first son William Mason Stonehewer Porden. What pride, hopes and dreams he must have invested in the boy!
But as was so common in the early nineteenth century, sickness ran through the family. Poor William Mason Stonehewer died when he was just two years old, and his father’s aspirations for his boy went unfulfilled.