G. Julian Harney & the 1857 Franklin Search

I’m currently working on a project for my NYU Digital Humanities summer fellowship to illuminate the connections and stories behind the list of subscribers to the Fox expedition of 1857. This has meant going through the publicly available list included in McClintock’s narrative of the expedition and trying to figure out as much biographical information as I can for each donor.

For many of the 250+ names this is quite difficult, either because the full name isn’t included or they have a very common name, but nevertheless I’m managing to make some really interesting discoveries as I work my way through the list.

Today I was working on the midsection of the alphabetical list when I made it through the G’s and to the H’s and discovered that a “Julian Harney Esq.” had collected £50 (nearly £4,000 in today’s money) from subscribers in Jersey. I dutifully Googled him and discovered to my astonishment that he was a militant Chartist associated with Marx and Engels and the struggle for universal suffrage. Wow! What a guy! And definitely quite distant from the usual stuffy conservative Tory personalities you might associate with the Franklin expedition and its imperialist bent.

G. Julian Harney, Esq.

I needed to know more, but the subscribers list merely had the name. Because I happened to be researching at the British Library today, I did a quick search in their archive and discovered to my delight that they in fact not only held his papers, but letters from Lady Franklin dating from the time of the search period! I slammed that order button and quickly made my way to the Manuscripts room to view the letters.

Transcribing them, they were mainly extensive thank-you notes from Lady Franklin in response to Harney’s collection of money to fund the expedition from citizens of Jersey. At the time he was the editor of the Jersey Independent newspaper, having settled there in the early 1850s after meeting with resident French socialists in exile.

Though the Appeal which you have seen in the Times has does not proceed from myself, who am prepared to spend the whole of my capitol on this last effort, yet I am nonetheless grateful, but only the more so, for the generous feeling on the part of my friends which has prompted it, + I am deeply sensible of the noble manner in which it has been responded to – Not the least acceptable in the list are the small contributions coming from those in the higher classes who have but little to spare, Tho’ anxious to show their sympathy, or from the humbler ranks with whom the unknown fate of their countrymen is I know every where a subject of never dying interest […]

Lady Franklin, June 9 1857

“The unknown fate of their countrymen” in the letter excerpted above reminded me that there were, of course, some Franklin Expedition connections to Jersey. Henry T.D. Le Vesconte was descended from a Jersey family and left money in his will to his Le Feuvre cousins, who were also descended from an old Jersey family although based in England. I also recalled reading in Aisling’s excellent Little Family research page that the Little family had moved to St. Helier, Jersey in the 1840s, and that Edward’s brother James Cornelius Little, a Navy purser, had attended a Franklin Search related meeting there.¹

Even with this in mind, I was absolutely shocked to read in Lady Jane’s next letter to Harney, a scribbled postscript containing an explicit reference to Lieutenant Little:

It has always given me great satisfaction to see Mr. Little’s name at the head of the list of subscribers. Captn Little of the “Terror” was known to + valued by my dear husband + myself even before he was attached to the expedition.

Lady Franklin, August 15 1857



Ages ago I had idly speculated that Edward Little might have met the Franklins in Hobart when his ship HMS Vindictive, under Captain John Toup Nicolas, stopped there in November 1841. In a letter to her sister, Lady Franklin recorded a visit to the Vindictive including an observation of gunnery exercises as well as a “dejeuner which lasted until night.” I assumed her husband had also been included in that visit, and that they would have socialized with the first lieutenant and perhaps recalled him when it came time to staff the expedition, but I had absolutely no proof. UNTIL NOW!

The letters ended there, and I immediately dashed over to the library computer to chase this further via the British Newspaper Archive (which you can get for free at the BL)!

Julian Harney was clearly extremely invested in the Franklin Search. After corresponding with Lady Franklin in spring and early summer of 1857, receiving her thanks for his interest in helping with the search, he spun up a Franklin Search Fund committee based in Jersey, of which he was the Honorary Secretary and quite possibly the main moving force. In the article recapping the first meeting of the Committee (Jersey Independent of June 27), of which Aisling had first noticed brother Little in attendance at, Harney gives quite an impassioned speech encouraging donations to the fund:

This article also mentions Le Vesconte, in the recorded speech by one John Hammond, Esq.:

The record of this committee meeting ends with a note that J. Cornelius Little has donated the sum of £10 to the initial fund, which would be worth about £790 today.

Subscriptions were collected throughout the summer up until the end of July. In the Independent of July 25, we see some Misses Le Feuvres mentioned, though I’m not sure if they include the Henrietta Le Feuvre mentioned in Le Vesconte’s will or if they are merely distant relations:

In the issue dated August 1, the Committee (clearly Harney) harangues the people of Jersey for not donating a amount worthy of “the honour of Jersey” to be sent on to Lady Franklin, exclusive of “Mr. Little’s munificent contribution”:

All’s well that ends well, though, as this guilt trip seems to have worked, and by August 19th they had remitted £50 directly to Lady Franklin and dissolved the committee:

J.C. Little’s contribution of £10 was by far the most donated to any individual from Jersey, but definitely not the most generous on the overall subscribers list, which is stacked with lords and ladies and big names—however the winner there is in fact another FE officer relative, as Lieutenant Fairholme’s mother (formerly the Hon. Caroline Forbes, daughter of the 18th Lord Forbes) donated a staggering £150 (nearly £12,000 today).

Some questions remain as to G. Julian Harney’s involvement with the Franklin search. His interest in the expedition might be said to precede the Jersey fund: during his tenure as editor of the radical Chartist newspaper Northern Star from 1845-50, coverage of the expedition was not uncommon. But how closely did he know J.C. Little, if at all? Was he at least part of the impetus to spin up the committee? Hopefully I’ll find out out more when I get my hands on a copy of his collected letters next week from the BL.

But overall it’s really incredible that the guy who ran the newspaper that published the first English translation of the Communist Manifesto² was a passionate Franklin head! He’s just like us fr!!!!!!!!

¹ Bonus J.C. Little fact courtesy of Aisling’s research: A few years after this, he was convicted on the charge of “indecent behavior,” which was a broad legal euphemism not infrequently used during this era to describe illegal homosexual encounters – see Upchurch, 2009

² This translation opened with the line “A frightful hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe.”

2 Comments on “G. Julian Harney & the 1857 Franklin Search

  1. All very interesting. Lady Franklin nee Griffin visited Jersey in July 1826 and left an account of it
    (in the Scott Polar Research Institute). She married Sir John Franklin in 1828; but I do not think this has any connection with the enthusiastic Jersey response to Harney’s appeal for the 1857 expedition. Philip Stevens

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