The Discovery of the HMS Terror: Second Ship from Franklin Expedition Found

Bryan Mailloux - 2T Mechatronics
Posted on: September 25, 2016

The recorded history of Canada is rather short, compared to the Old World. We don’t have medieval castles dotting the horizon, or 2000-year-old ruins under our cities. The roots of our history are not yet very deep. And yet, it is astonishing how much has been lost to the sands of time. We regularly continue to dig up artifacts that had disappeared long ago, each one giving us more and more insight into the lives and culture of the people who preceded us.

Just this month, a relic of the past was found in the depths of the Arctic Ocean. The shipwreck of the HMS Terror, one of the two ships that embarked on John Franklin’s doomed expedition to find the Northwest Passage, was found in the coincidentally-named Terror Bay on September 3. Researchers from the Arctic Research Foundation, led by Adrian Schimnowski, found the wreck after receiving a tip-off from Sammy Kogvik, an Inuk ranger, and Gjoa Haven, Nunavut local. He described the mast of a ship he had seen while on a fishing trip with his uncle six years prior, and from there, finding the shipwreck was straight sailing for the researchers.

This new find comes almost exactly two years after the discovery of Franklin’s other lost ship, the HMS Erebus. Since that time, the wreck of the Erebus has been explored by divers who have been recovering items such as medicine bottles, ceramic plates, and one of the ship’s cannons. Artifacts from the expedition, however, have been recovered ever since 1848, only five years after the expedition set out from England. These include a note saying that by June 1847 Franklin was dead, the graves of three crew members who appeared to have been suffering from lead poisoning, and bones with knife marks on them, which researchers believe indicate that the men had resorted to cannibalism.

Franklin’s expedition was one of a long line of expeditions meant to navigate through the fabled Northwest Passage, a way through the Canadian Arctic that would make trade with the Orient far more cost-effective than circumnavigating the tip of South America, or going around Africa. The first successful expedition to pass through the passage solely by ship was Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s 1903 expedition, aboard his ship the Gjøa, for which the settlement of Gjoa Haven is named.

The research team that discovered the Terror says that the wreck is in excellent condition – using a robot to photograph the wreck, the team found that many artifacts the Terror’s crew would have used are still in place, as if the crew simply vanished. For research purposes, this is a fantastic find – historians are hoping that the condition of the artifacts will allow them to unravel more of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the fate of Franklin’s expedition.