William Jones (1826-1901)

Written by Rebecca Moreton and Rob David

Occupations: Explorer and Polar Sledge Driver

William Jones  Born in Ruabon (near Llangollen), Denbighshire in 1826, the son of William Jones and Margaret Jenkins.  Jones lived in Ulverston between 1860 and 1862. 

Nothing is known for certain about his early life.  In 1857 he sailed with Captain Francis Leopold McClintock (1819-1907) aboard Fox [1857-59], on one of the many search voyages to find Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) and his vessels HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.  McClintock used dogs to supplement the more usual man-hauling of sledges, and Jones who had possibly learnt his dog handling skills as an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, was responsible for those dogs alongside two Inuit from west Greenland.  During the winter of 1858-9 it appears that he was one of the four expedition members who discovered the cairn at Point Victory on King William Island which contained the message that provided conclusive proof of what had happened to the expedition.  While sledging he discovered a flint and steel for striking a light, a relic of Franklin’s expedition, which was later given to the Royal Naval Museum at Greenwich.  

After the return of Fox to England in 1859 Jones married and came to live in Ulverston, probably in 1860.  He resided in Hart Street with his twenty year-old wife Mary, who was originally from London, and their young son who had been named John Franklin - a tribute one assumes to the commander of the original expedition. In 1861 Jones was employed in Ulverston as an iron merchant’s clerk.  At the same time he also acted as one of Ulverston’s honorary ‘lighthouse keepers’. This meant he was responsible for taking care of the Hoad Monument, the memorial to Sir John Barrow (1764-1848), which is so conspicuous on the approach to the town. As keeper, he also accompanied visitors to the monument, including Sir John Franklin’s widow, his second wife Lady Jane Franklin (1792-1875) and her niece Sophia Cracroft, in 1860.  His participation in the Fox expedition would no doubt have been of particular interest to Lady Jane.   Inside the monument there is a plaque listing the keepers which includes William Jones and references his involvement in the search expedition: ‘William Jones, late Arctic Yacht “Fox” 1860-1862’. While keeper, a local newspaper reported that he became stranded in the monument for three days due to a painful knee and that he went without drink or company throughout that time. One wonders whether his adventures aboard Fox provided good training and experience for such an isolating and difficult experience!  A few weeks later he gave those in the town an insight into his time as part of the search expedition. During a lecture at the infant school he told of many aspects of the expedition, from the preparation of the ship, to the locations visited en-route, and of the relics found from Franklin’s earlier expedition.  Although he was clearly an accomplished dog driver, he was not an accomplished speaker, as the report of the lecture lamented that he did not speak loudly enough, and few could hear what he had to say!

At some point in the early 1860s (possibly in 1862 when he ceased to be keeper of the Hoad Monument), the family moved to London, initially living near the Strand, and by 1871 living near the Tower of London. By this time John Franklin Jones had been joined by three sisters (Lydia b.1861; Marian b.1865; Ada b.1869) and a brother (William T. b.1869).  William was a sack merchant’s clerk.  There is no further information about William Jones’s later life, but he appears to have died before the 1901 census when Mary is referred to as a widow.  At that time his son, John Franklin Jones, clearly not inspired by the person after whom he was named, was employed as a railway clerk!

Sources: F.L. McClintock, The Voyage of the ‘Fox’ in the Arctic Seas (London, 1859); C. Holland. Arctic Exploration and Development c.500BC to 1915: An Encyclopaedia (New York, 1994); R. David, ‘Building “That Best Monument”: Memorialising Sir John Barrow at Ulverston’, Transactions of the cumbrland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, CW3, Vol VIII (2008), 189-206;  R. David. In Search of Arctic Wonders: Cumbria and the Arctic in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Kendal, 2013); Ulverston Mirror, (2 June 1860); Soulby’s Ulverston Advertiser, (4 Oct 1860); 1861 Census; 1871 Census, 1901 Census.