JANE, LADY FRANKLIN (1792-1875) AND SOPHIA CRACROFT (1816-1892). - A kau, kauila, kou, koala and ebony box, by Christian or Johann LaFrenz, Honolulu, circa 21 April-16 May 1861, rectangular, the body and hinged lid with convex ebony borders, the cover with inlaid rectangle of four woods applied with a silver shield, engraved 'Miss Cracroft/Honolulu/1861', the front panel with ebony escutcheon, the interior lined with sandalwood, with brass lock, hinges and elevation catch (some restoration, catch defective). 212mm. high x 390mm. wide x 315mm. deep. Provenance: Sophia Cracroft (1816-1892, gift from Robert Wylie).
A RARE SURVIVAL: A HIGH QUALITY BOX EXECUTED ALMOST ENTIRELY OF NATIVE WOODS IN HAWAII BY THE CABINETMAKERS WHO MADE THE 'FIRST THRONE OF THE HAWAIIAN MONARCHY' (Jenkins). Initially commissioned by the niece of Sir John Franklin but then presented to her by Robert Crichton Wyllie, minister of Foreign Affairs to the King of Hawaii, Kamehameha IV. Sophia (Sophy) Cracroft was the niece of Sir John Franklin, and had accompanied Lady Franklin and Sir John when he was appointed Governor of Van Dieman's Land in 1836. Sophy became 'as a daughter' (DNB) to Lady Franklin, and later took an active part in her aunt's campaign to establish what had happened to her husband's final expedition. 'After the ordeal of the search Lady Franklin disdained the expected retirement. With Sophy Cracroft, who had become as experienced a traveller and keeper of the record as herself, she travelled extensively ... She was received with deference in America, Japan, India, and elsewhere. She had an audience with Pope Pius IX, "having ascertained that there would be no nonsense about it - no kneeling I mean", recorded Miss Cracroft ... She discussed Arctic research with the Emperor of Brazil, met Brigham Young at Salt Lake City, and befriended Queen Emma of Hawaii. She hoped, through Murchison, to persuade Queen Victoria to stand as godmother (with herself as proxy) to Queen Emma's son, with the aim of asserting British influence and thus thwarting American and French designs on the islands. Although the child died before the elaborate ceremony planned could take place, the friendship persisted, and in 1865 Lady Franklin arranged for Queen Emma, now childless and a widow, to visit Britain.' (DNB).
Sophy kept a journal of their visit to Hawaii which lasted from 21 April to 25 June 1861. In the entry for Monday 20 May she notes that the day started with a visit to the Palace to give a present to the young Prince of Hawaii ('He is a sweet little fellow and not in the least spoiled'). The entry continues 'On leaving the palace, we went to see some boxes of native wood called koa, which we had ordered to be made, and which Mr. Wylie now tells us he is going to present to us. We had given our own dimensions - my Aunt's for a large box, mine smaller (can be put on a table), both to be lined with sandalwood, for which these islands are famous, though the supply is now nearly worked out, as it is only the old wood which gives the perfume. We found two beautifully made boxes - highly polished, inlaid with other native woods, with plates on which our names are engraved. They have been described in the local newspapers, and numbers of people have been to see them'.
The Pacific Commercial Advertiser for 16 May 1861, carries the following report 'A Memento of Hawaii: We strolled in to Mr. Lafrenz's [sic.] shop a day or two since, to see some specimens of domestic cabinet ware, recently made by him. They consisted of two chests manufactured by order of Mr. Wyllie, out of our native woods, and are intended as presents from His Excellency to Lady Franklin and to her niece Miss Cracroft. The larger of the two is about the size of a No.2 camphor trunk, and is made of koa, edged with ebony wood. The lid is tastefully decorated with various kinds of wood, and in the center is a square of black ebony inlaid, inwhich are bronze and pearl designs, with a small silver plate on which is inscribed "Lady Franklin, Honolulu, 1861." The inside of the chest is lined with sandal-wood, which emits a most pleasant odor ... The second chest, intended for Miss Cracroft, is ... finished in the same style. We give the varieties of wood used: kau, kauila, kou, koala, sandal-wood and black ebony; all native woods except the last, which is from Ascension Island. As a specimen of cabinet ware, we have no fear of its being surpassed by the native products of any country that may undertake to rival it'.
Christian LaFrenz, a 27-year-old native of Holstein in Germay, arrived in Honolulu in 1844. He was the third of a group of early German-born cabinetmakers to set up shop in Honolulu - preceeded only by Louis Marsten (in 1837) and Johann Voss (in 1838). By May 1845, LaFrenz's brother Johann had joined him and the firm of C.F. LaFrenz & Co were advertising for business. From an early date they received commissions from the Hawaiian royal family: in 1846 they made an 'inlaid sewing box for presentation to the queen of Denmark' (Jenkins) and in 1847 they were asked 'to design and construct the first throne of the Hawaiian monarchy' (Jenkins). There was some sort of split between the brothers in 1850, as Johann left the company and Christian went into partnership with Wilhelm Fischer. In the same year, Johann continued the tradition of executing royal commissions by making 'a royal presentation gift from Kamehameha III to Queen Victoria' (Jenkins). Queen Victoria was evidently delighted with resulting table, and Robert Wylie was informed that she intended that it be included in the Great Exhibition of 1851. The partnership between Christian and Fischer was not a great success and Fischer went his own way in December 1854 - firstly with another partner and then on his own under his own name. Confusingly, Jenkins reports that both LaFrenz brothers 'set sail from Hawaii' in 1854 with the implication that they did not return, but the newspaper report for May 1861 (see above) is quite definite that the present box was made by 'Mr. Lafrenz' in Honolulu and was on view in his shop. Circumstantial evidence perhaps suggests that Johann Lafrenz is the more likely of the two brothers to have made the present box but further research is needed to confirm this.
Alfons L. Korn, The Victorian Visitors. An Account of the Hawaiian kingdom, 1861-1866, including the Journal Letters of Sophia Cracroft, Honolulu, 1958, pp.103-4, 170-171, 323-324.
Irving Jenkins, Hawaiian furniture and Hawaii's cabinetmakers, 1820-1940, Honolulu, 1983, pp.105-114 (section on 'C.F. LaFrenz and Company').