History of the 1845 Franklin Expedition and his lost ships her Majesty’s Ship Erebus and her Majesty’s Ship TerrorPublished Posted on | By TZTA News
October 1, 2014
On May 19, 1845, Her Majesty’s Ships (HMS) Erebus and HMS Terror of the Royal Navy departed Greenhithe, England, on a much-heralded Arctic expedition in search of a Northwest Passage. Under the command of Sir John Franklin, with Captain Francis Rawdon Crozier second in command, the expedition’s two ships set out with a total complement of 129 officers and men. HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were converted bomb vessels of 372 and 325 tons respectively, and both had already seen prior service in polar exploration, with the latter also having seen service during the War of 1812. They were stoutly-built and soundly reinforced for operation in the ice, equipped with novel auxiliary-steam screw propulsion systems, fitted expressly for the expedition, and lavishly provisioned for a voyage of up to three years. Sir John Franklin’s orders were to traverse the Passage and return to England without delay via the Pacific. The expedition was also expected to conduct a variety of zoological, botanical, magnetic, and geological surveys.
The last Europeans to have contact with HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were the crews of two whaling vessels, the Enterprise and the Prince of Wales. Conversations during this chance meeting in August 1845, between the Expedition leaders and the Captains of the whaling ships, indicated that Franklin was waiting for an opportunity to cross Baffin Bay to Lancaster Sound. However, after entering the eastern Arctic Archipelago later that season and enjoying initial success, the promising expedition soon began to falter. Indeed, except for some encounters with the Inuit, the crews of the vessels were never seen again.
The disappearance of the Franklin Expedition set off a massive search effort in the Arctic and the broad circumstances of the Expedition’s fate were not revealed until 1854 with John Rae’s expedition and then in 1859, when Sir Francis Leopold McClintock and Lieutenant William Hobson of the steam yacht Fox, a vessel privately chartered by the indomitable Lady Jane Franklin, found a sombre message left in a cairn on Victory Point, King William Island.
The message revealed that both ships had become trapped in ice in late 1846 and had remained so for approximately one and a half years. It indicated Franklin had died on June 11, 1847, while an additional 23 crew members had similarly perished under unknown circumstances. On April 22, 1848, the 105 remaining survivors deserted the ships and recorded their intention to proceed on foot in the direction of Back’s Fish River. The entire complement of sailors from both ships perished and HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were lost to the ice.
Since 2008, there have been six major Parks Canada-led searches for the lost Franklin Expedition ships, pain-stakingly covering many hundreds of square kilometres of the Arctic seabed.
In 1992, the Government of Canada declared the missing wrecks to be a national historic site. This designation came about as a result of their association with Franklin’s last expedition, and their role in the history of exploration of Canada’s North and the development of Canada as a nation.
Discovery of the HMS Erebus
On September 9, 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition had solved one of Canada’s greatest mysteries, with the discovery of one of the two ships belonging to the Franklin Expedition lost in 1846.
The discovery of the ship and artifacts, confirmed to be from the 1845 Franklin Expedition, was made possible with the use of Inuit traditional knowledge and modern technology. The southern strait was identified as a target search area as a direct result of 19th century Inuit oral testimony describing a shipwreck to the south of King William Island.
Since then, Parks Canada underwater archeologists – the first to lay eyes on the ship in nearly 170 years – conducted seven dives to the shipwreck over two intensive days of on-site investigation, which included taking diagnostic measurements, high-resolution photography, and high-definition video. Between dives, the Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s Canadian Hydrographic Service conducted multi-beam sonar to acquire very accurate measurements of the wreck.
Based on the research, the Parks Canada team has positively identified the ship as HMS Erebus.
A 1997 memorandum of understanding between Great Britain, as owner of HMS Erebus and Terror, and Canada, as the nation in whose waters they are believed to have been lost, assigns control over “site investigation, excavation, or recovery of either of the wrecks or their contents” to Canada, in the event of their discovery.
All the data and material gathered will be the subject of further, detailed research and investigation over the winter.
The Government of Canada’s partners for the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition included Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), the Royal Canadian Navy, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), Environment Canada, and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), as well as the Governments of Nunavut and Great Britain.
Private and non-profit partners included the Arctic Research Foundation (ARF), the Royal Canadian Geographical Society who additionally brought in The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, Shell Canada and One Ocean Expeditions (OOE) as partners.
There were a record number of ships (four) supporting the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition: the CCG’s Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Royal Canadian Navy’s Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Kingston, the ARF’s research vessel Martin Bergmann, and OOE’s One Ocean Voyager, as well as a number of smaller platform vessels.
Some of the leading technologies employed included the CSA’s RADARSAT-2 satellite imagery, high resolution multi-beam and side-scan sonar, Parks Canada’s remotely operated underwater vehicle and autonomous underwater vehicle and DRDC’s state-of-the-art autonomous underwater vehicle, Arctic Explorer, which was developed in collaboration with private-sector partners.