In 1845, the Royal Navy’s HMS Erebus and HMS Terror sailed to the Canadian Arctic with the goal of traversing the icy Northwest Passage. The mission’s captain, Sir John Franklin, and his 128-strong crew were never heard from again. Now, a team of Canadian archaeologists has explored the inside of the wreck of HMS Terror, uncovering artifacts frozen in time for 170 years.
A number of search parties in the 19th century uncovered artifacts, graves, and bones with cutmarks that implied the sailors had resorted to cannibalism, but it wasn’t until 2014 that the wreck of Erebus was uncovered, with Terror being discovered just two years later off the coast of King William Island.
Earlier this month, Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team sent a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) beneath the icy waves to explore the interior of HMS Terror. Over seven dives, the researchers managed to explore 20 cabins and compartments, taking some incredible photographs in the process. They note that this is the first time the ship’s interior has been scientifically and systematically mapped. A combination of frigid water and preservative sediment layers has kept the ship in surprisingly good condition.
The best-preserved part of the ship is the captain’s cabin, although his sleeping quarters remain inaccessible. Within the cabin, the team spotted map cabinets with their drawers still shut, a pair of thermometers, a tripod, and boxes that probably contain scientific instruments.
“The condition in which we found Captain Crozier’s cabin greatly surpasses our expectations,” said Marc-André Bernier, manager of underwater archaeology at Parks Canada, in a statement. “Not only are the furniture and cabinets in place, drawers are closed and many are buried in silt, encapsulating objects and documents in the best possible conditions for their survival. Each drawer and other enclosed space will be a treasure trove of unprecedented information on the fate of the Franklin Expedition.”
Meanwhile, the officers’ cabins are preserved with beds, desks, and shelves in place. The team also think they’ve found the officers’ mess pantry, complete with shelves that have plates, bowls, bottles, and glasses still sitting on them.
The researchers believe that they may yet uncover well-preserved written documents, such as logbooks and maps. The icy water and lack of light may well have preserved artifacts such as these, leaving them in almost pristine condition. Now the researchers plan to analyze their footage and images of HMS Terror in a bid to uncover new information about the doomed voyage and its crew.
“The new footage of HMS Terror is truly extraordinary,” said Susan Le Jeune d’Allegeershecque, British High Commissioner to Parks Canada. “The excellent condition of the ship will, I hope, mean that there will soon be answers to so many questions about the fate of the Franklin Expedition, shrouded in mystery since 1845.”