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Bell from Sunken HMS Erebus Recovered

By MarEx 2014-11-07 09:57:00

Parks Canada has unveiled the ship's bell from the recently discovered Franklin Expedition shipwreck, HMS Erebus.

A ship's bell is generally considered the most iconic object that might come from a shipwreck. Not only is it a physical representation of a ship's identity but it is often romantically considered to be its ceremonial heart and soul, the sound by which all shipboard routine is regulated each day, whether signalling the advance of time each and every half hour, alerting the crew to the changing of the watch, maintaining contact within a squadron of fogbound ships, or ringing in the New Year. 

The ship's bell was recovered during dives and archaeological investigation by Parks Canada's underwater archaeology team in September. Since then, the bell has been undergoing conservation stabilization and additional research.

The bell is intact and generally in very good condition. There are two embossed markings on the artifact: a Royal Navy 'broad arrow' indicating property of the British Government, as well as the date '1845.' 

HMS Erebus, one of the two ships lost during Sir John's Franklin's expedition that left England in 1845, was first observed using side-scan sonar towed from the Parks Canada research vessel Investigator, following the finding on shore of two artifacts from the ship by Government of Nunavut archaeologists. The discovery was visually confirmed on September 7, 2014 using a remotely operated vehicle. 

The first dive on the wreck by Parks Canada underwater archaeologists was made on September 17. In total, seven dives were conducted on the shipwreck over two intensive days of on-site investigation. Archaeologists took diagnostic measurements, high-resolution photography, and high-definition video to document the site. 

The ship's bell from HMS Erebus was located during the very first dive on the site. When found, it lay on the upper deck, detached from its original mount. It was resting next to the ship's displaced windlass (a form of horizontal anchor winch), above which it was originally mounted. 

The ship's bell would have been used for marking the passage of time onboard the vessel. Like the chiming of a clock, the bell would have been struck every half hour both day and night to announce the march of time and to signal the changing of the crew's watches (shifts).

The bell is intact and generally in very good condition. No 'inscriptions' have been detected so far, but two embossed markings are evident on the artifact: a Royal Navy 'broad arrow' indicating property of the British Government, as well as the date '1845.' These markings were introduced when the bronze bell was first cast. HMS Erebus, and its consort HMS Terror, were both refitted before they left Greenhithe, England in 1845. 

After its recovery on the last dive of the September operations, the bell was documented before being carefully packaged for its transport to Ottawa. At all times it remained wet to minimize the risk of deterioration. Since its arrival at the Parks Canada archaeological conservation laboratory in Ottawa, the bell has been stabilized while undergoing additional research. Currently it is immersed in a bath of distilled water which is monitored daily to detect change in the chemistry of the bath water. This technique is used to detect conditions that could lead to deterioration of the artifact. The artifact is now ready to begin a lengthy conservation treatment that could take 18 months or longer. The end result of treatment will be a fully preserved artifact that will be the subject of further research and exhibition.