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In later life she too travelled the world with Sir John Franklin's niece Sophia Cracroft (1816-92) as her companion.

Visiting Hawaii, then known as the Sandwich Islands, in 1861 they were royally entertained: received by King Kamehameha IV (1834-63) and escorted by his aide de camp. The visit is recorded in The Victorian Visitors by L. Korn, published by the University of Hawaii Press in 1958.

Two of the gifts the 'Victorian visitors' brought back emerged for sale at  Semley Auctioneers in Shaftesbury, Dorset, on November 8.

It was following a visit to the Queen Dowager (Queen Kalama, widow of King Kamehameha III) on May 27, 1861, that Miss Cracroft recorded in her diary: She expressed herself most kindly to my Aunt, and presented us each with a feather necklace worn only by High Chiefesses.

 The necklace she described was a 19in (48cm) lei hulu manu  and the vibrant feathers those plucked from the indigenous yellow and black honeycreeper known as the 'o'o bird.

While feathers for lei hula came from a variety of birds, these golden hues were the preserve of the nobility, with the mere possession of feathers by commoners strictly forbidden.

Exinct Species

Typically the 'o'o - named for their distinctive call - were captured at the beginning of the moulting season by specially trained hereditary bird catchers, when the wing tufts used in courtship were loose and could be easily removed before setting the bird free. However, the arrival in Hawaii of the musket, disease and alien species saw the 'o'o become extinct by the 1930s.

Spectacular Hawaiian feather garments survive in many museum collections - such as the famous yellow cloak of Kamehameha I in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, estimated to have taken the reigns of eight monarchs and the feathers of 80,000 birds to complete. But rarity and fragility dictate that few come on the market.

Lady Franklin's lei hula came for sale in Dorset from the estate of Miss Frances J. Woodward (1922-2014) - a Bletchley Park decoder during the Second World War who in 1951 published the biography Portrait of Jane: A Life of Lady Jane Franklin.

A Meiji lacquer box discovered among her effects contained both the necklace and photographs of Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma (1836-85).

Letters of provenance were signed L.L. Lefroy for Louisa Langlois Lefroy (1863-1954), a Franklin heir whose father, George Benjamin Austen Lefroy (a grand nephew of Jane Austen), had married Sophia Cracroft's younger sister Emma. It is assumed Frances Woodward had acquired them in the course of her research.

The Franklin lei was given an estimate of £5000-10,000, although the auctioneers were aware a similar royal feather necklace sold at Bonhams New York in May 2010 for $33,550 (including premium).*

With its illustrious Franklin provenance this example did even better. There was interest from Hawaii but the winning bidder at £30,000 (plus 19.5% buyer's premium) was a US collector.


The same buyer bid £6000 to secure the pair of ambrotype portrait photographs. Each housed in a black gutta percha case decorated with a view of the Washington Monument in Richmond, Virginia, a diary entry by Miss Cracroft dated Monday, May 27th (1861), records they were a gift on their farewell visit to the king and queen: He shewed my Aunt some tapa cloth and fine matting he has got for her and says he has some more things, including his and the Queen's portraits.

The estimate for these was £1000-2000.

The Japanese lacquer box with hiramaki-e and takamaki-e decoration that had contained both Hawaiian artefacts had itself possibly been acquired by Lady Franklin during an onward voyage to Japan. Also part of the sale, it sold at £380.


* That the 'o'o bird is now extinct - and its feathers now legal to trade in the US - is key to the commercial fortunes of Hawaiian garments. Works of art that include the feathers of currently endangered species - such as a Plains Indian war bonnet made with eagle feathers - cannot be commercially traded in the USA.