Born into a wealthy London family in late-eighteenth-century England, Jane Griffin enjoyed nothing like the opportunities available to men of her class. And yet she became a world traveller, ranging far off the beaten path of Grand-Tour Europe to explore Russia, Greece, the Holy Land and northern Africa. She rode a donkey into Nazareth, sailed a rat-infested boat up the Nile River, and, at age of seventy, circumnavigated the globe in rough sailing ships. Jane married Captain John Franklin at thirty-six. She helped him seize the opportunity of a lifetime - leadership of a Royal Navy expedition destined, supposedly, to solve the final riddle of the Northwest Passage. After Franklin disappeared into the Arctic, she badgered the Admiralty into dispatching dozens of ships to locate him; she financed voyages through public subscription, paid for others out of her own pocket, and inspired even the president of the United States to contribute to the search.
In 1854, when explorer John Rae returned from the Arctic with news that the final survivors of the Franklin expedition, while starving to death, had degenerated into cannibalism, Jane enlisted the celebrated Charles Dickens to repudiate him. She then sent Leopold McClintock to the area Rae had specified, and he brought back the evidence she sought, exonerating Franklin personally and opening the way to her creation of a legend.