HMS Terror Rediscovered 170 Years After Ill-Fated Northwest Passage Attempt


Stephen Luntz

Stephen has a science degree with a major in physics, an arts degree with majors in English Literature and History and Philosophy of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication.

Freelance Writer

Erebus and Terror

The fate of the Erebus and Terror was a popular subject for 19th century artists. John Wilson Carmichael

A ship perfectly matching the design of the long-lost HMS Terror has been located off the south coast of Canada's King William Island, almost 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of where the Terror was thought to have been abandoned. The discovery indicates an unrecorded chapter of the tragic events of the Franklin expedition, in which 129 explorers died.

From Magellan's hazardous voyage around Patagonia until the opening of the Panama Canal, Europeans searched for a shorter path around the Americas, hoping for a faster trade route to Asia. Many perished. Sir John Franklin's 1845 expedition produced the worst death toll of all, as both of Franklin's ships became stuck in the ice while attempting the Northwest Passage, and the crews died of hypothermia, scurvy and probably lead poisoning after fleeing on foot.


For a decade after the disaster others sought the fate of Franklin. No survivors were found. The crew's fate as reported by local Inuits, searches for the ships, and the graves of the crew have drawn hundreds to the far north and inspired some of Canada's most beloved art.

Franklin's flagship, HMS Erebus was found two years ago. Now, the Arctic Research Foundation (ARF) has finally located HMS Terror, the voyage's second ship.

The ARF's expedition has yet to return or make an official announcement, but operations director Adrian Schimnowski contacted The Guardian with photographs and some film footage taken by a remotely operated submersible.

“We have successfully entered the mess hall, worked our way into a few cabins and found the food storage room with plates and one can on the shelves,” Schimnowski told them by email.




Unlike the Erebus, the Terror appears remarkably well preserved, with Schwimnoswki claiming: “If you could lift this boat out of the water, and pump the water out, it would probably float.”

Much may be learned from the state of the vessel, but perhaps the most important question is what the Terror was doing so far south of where records show it was abandoned. Jim Balsille, a philanthropist who helped establish the ARF, has proposed that crew members re-boarded the ship and sailed it south in a last desperate attempt to escape.


The ARF has previously noted that the quest to find the ships has led to the mapping of 1,200 square kilometers (470 square miles) of the Arctic seabed, providing much of humanity's knowledge of the region.

A route through the Canadian islands was found just four years after Franklin's mission, but it was only in 1906 that a journey was completed. Even then, widespread ice restricted passage to shallow-drafting ships, making the route useless for trade purposes.

Today the world is a very different place. More powerful ships have contributed, but it is mostly the astonishing decline in Arctic sea ice that has allowed the first giant cruise vessel to currently safely traverse the waters where so many died. In another few decades Franklin's dream may come true, but if so it will mean a nightmare for the rest of the planet.

[H/T: The Guardian]


  • tag
  • Arctic,

  • shipwreck,

  • sea ice,

  • HMS Terror,

  • HMS Erebus,

  • Northwest Passage,

  • Sir Joh Franklin