Canada Confirms HMS Terror Find

While diving, Parks Canada underwater archaeologists continue the process to identify the wreck. Here, we see the ship's belaying pins still in place on the port side. They would have been used to fasten the ship's ropes. These belaying pins seem to be id

By MarEx 2016-09-26 19:32:19

Canada confirmed on Monday it has found the wreck of HMS Terror, the second of two British ships lost in the disastrous Franklin Arctic voyage of 1845, and said the government will work closely with northern aboriginals on ownership of the artifacts.

Parks Canada, a federal agency, said in a statement it will work on "joint ownership" of the wreckage from the journey through Canada's Northwest Passage.

Britain's Guardian newspaper reported earlier this month that the Arctic Research Foundation, a private group participating in the search effort, had found the ship in pristine condition at the bottom of a bay.

Sir John Franklin and his 128-member crew on the Terror and HMS Erebus all died after the vessels became stuck in ice during a search for the fabled Arctic passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The fate of the ships remained one of the great mysteries in Canadian history for almost 170 years until a team found the wreck of the Erebus in September 2014.

The expedition has become part of Canadian folklore, in part because of the crew's appalling fate. Tales handed down from the Inuit people describe cannibalism among the desperate seamen.

Parks Canada underwater archaeologists were able to observe the wreck’s excellent condition. They found many elements still in their original location such as the ship’s wheel, on the upper deck, astern of the skylight of the captain’s cabin.

Amazingly, a captain’s cabin window at the ship’s stern is still in place. During these dives, the weather conditions were bad with poor underwater visibility in Terror Bay. However, by comparing solid archaeological data to an extensive research archive, the Parks Canada's Underwater Archaeology Team was able to confirm that the wreck is indeed HMS Terror.

The archaeological validation was based on a side-scan sonar survey and three dives on the wreck. A multi-beam echosounder was used to complete an additional survey of the wreck site. The dives took place during difficult weather conditions and through poor visibility. The wreck’s upper deck is heavily covered by silt and marine life. Nevertheless, the divers were able to observe a number of features that were typical or unique to 19th century British polar exploration ships and the wreck has a number of design specifications that were common to both HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, including three masts, iron bow sheathings and a double-wheeled helm. There are no wrecks other than HMS Erebus with these features in the region.

Comparing this solid archaeological data to an extensive research archive that includes ship plans of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team was able to confirm that the wreck is HMS Terror. The scans showed the well preserved wreck has and features matching the historic records for HMS Terror, including:  the configuration of the bowsprit (the spar extending from the ship’s bow);  placement of the ship’s helm;  the boarding port;  and deck scuppers (holes on the side of the ship to allow drainage) which differ from HMS Erebus.

Parks Canada will determine ownership in conjunction with the Inuit aboriginals in the northernmost Canadian territory of Nunavut and unnamed "government organizations," the agency said, without giving details.

HMS Terror’s History

HMS Terror was built over a period of two years at the Davy shipyard in Topsham, England. At 31 meters (101.7 feet) along the length of its deck, it was the slightly smaller in comparison to HMS Erebus

This 325-ton Vesuvius-class Royal Navy bomb vessel had all the firepower its volcanic namesake would suggest. Armed with two mortars and ten cannons, Terror was launched in June of 1813 and saw its first notable service at the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore, Maryland in 1814. 

Twenty-two years after the War of 1812, Terror was refitted as an Arctic discovery ship. Bomb vessels were ideal for such missions because of their strong internal framework designed to withstand mortar recoil recommended them for navigation among pack ice and icebergs; typically they were further strengthened with the addition of special interior and exterior reinforcing and hull protection. Other Arctic discovery ships used by the Royal Navy in the first half of the 19th century, including HMS Erebus, HMS Fury and HMS Hecla, were originally bomb vessels as well.

From 1836 to 1837, Terror was commanded by Captain George Back during an exploratory voyage to Hudson Bay. The ship was trapped by ice for months and badly damaged but, miraculously, managed to make its way back to England safely. The ship made its first voyage with HMS Erebus in 1839. For that voyage, the two ships were led by Captain James Clark Ross on a four-year expedition to the Antarctic. Commander (later Captain) Francis Crozier served as second-in-command and captain of Terror. Though overshadowed by Mt. Erebus, a larger and more active neighbor, Ross named a dormant volcano on Ross Island in the Antarctic after Terror.

Upon its return from Ross’s expedition, Terror was refitted and reassigned to Sir John Franklin, upgraded with double planking and sheet iron. The ship had the latest technology including an internal heating system, and a freshwater ice-melter built into the galley stove to supply drinking water. 

Although built as a sailing ship, Terror was provided with steam power. A 20-ton locomotive engine had its wheels removed and was installed to power the ship’s screw propeller. The screw propeller could be retracted into the hull to prevent damage by ice. This technology had never been employed on an Arctic discovery ship before.

The ship was packed with three years’ worth of supplies that included over 30,000 kg of flour, 14,000 kg of salt beef and pork, 2,000 kg of lemon juice to prevent scurvy, almost 500 liters of wine for the sick, thousands of kilograms of chocolate and dozens of other provisions. There were wolf skin blankets, candles, soap, and tobacco. 

For entertainment, the crew had access to an extensive library of over 1,500 books that included religious books and novels (from Shakespeare to the latest by Charles Dickens) as well as musical instruments. Erebus and Terror each had a player piano with 50 different selections including hymns. 

Like many of the Arctic expeditions, Franklin’s crew had instructions to conduct research on geology, botany, zoology and magnetism, and carried a suite of scientific equipment. To record observations and discoveries, the crew had the latest technology in the form of a daguerreotype camera.

Captain Francis Crozier, who had commanded Terror on Ross’s expedition, would do so again as second-in-command to Sir John Franklin. Trapped in the unforgiving ice of what is now the Canadian Arctic, Crozier (along with James Fitzjames) would go on to pen the last written record of the expedition’s grisly fate, discovered many years later by McClintock’s 1857 recovery mission.