Monday, April 30, 2012

HMS Breadalbane

The Franklin search ship HMS Breadalbane was caught or "nipped" by pack-ice and sank on Sunday 21 August, 1853; according to one crew member, "it was a very sad and unceremonious way of being turned out of our ship -- from the time the first nip took her, until her disappearance, did not occupy more than fifteen minutes."  Aside from landing some stores at Cape Riley, the Breadalbane had not lasted long enough to make much of a contribution to the search for Sir John, but its history since then has been full of interest and significance.  Until the re-discovery of M'Clure's "Investigator," she was the furthest-north known shipwreck in the world, and the search to find her, recover artifacts, and learn from the wreck site has stretched over nearly forty years, and took an interesting turn last week when divers working as part of the Canadian military's Operation Nunalivut explored the wreck using a submersible ROV, sending color video images to the surface.

The wreck was not far off Beechey Island, and its general location fairly readily ascertained. The first definite evidence of the wreck was located by diver Joe MacInnis in 1975; based on his evidence and subsequent searches, a Canadian Coast Guard vessel discovered the wreck using side-scan sonar in 1980. Remarkably, her hull was largely intact, and two of her masts will still standing, one of which still seemed to be carrying some portion of canvas.  MacInnis later led several dives to the wreck, and retrieved the ship's wheel.  This and his earlier searches were described by him in his book The Breadalbane Adventure, which featured an introduction by Walter Cronkite.

MacInnis later hit on the idea of setting up a seasonal camp on the ice, and taking aquatic tourists down to the wreck at thousands of dollars a pop.  To that end, he purchased a number of large mobile dwellings, had them shipped to Resolute, and fixed to skids so they could be towed out onto the ice by tractor.  The hoped-for number of tourists never materialized, and when I was at Resolute in 2004 the mobile units could still be seen, abandoned, a few hundred yards from the main port.

You might think that all the archaeological knowledge possible had already been retrieved from the Breadalbane, but this didn't stop Canadian Forces divers from searching the wreck again this April.  The annual northern military exercise in Nunavut, though it mostly involves staged search-and-rescue operations, is also geared toward strengthening Canada's claim to its northernmost territories, and apparently nothing spells "sovereignty" quite so well as a sunken Franklin-era vessel.  Nothing new was discovered, so far as I know, though the online video shows some intriguing images.  There's also a fairly detailed account of the dive on the Canadian Forces' own website here.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Russell, i am not very sure, but i think thet the USS Proteus of the Greely expedition wreck on the Smith sound near the Sabine Cape.

    Has anybody tried ever to find the rests of this ship?.

    It´s further north even that the HMS Breadalbane and probably it sank very near the coastline because in that time they landed some food there which the Greely expedition found time after.