Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Found: Vessel #1 of Franklin's two ships

So word now is that a vessel has been found. Let's call this "vessel #1" -- it's certainly either the "Erebus" or "Terror" -- and apparently, as I'd always suspected, it's the more southerly of the two vessels, the one that was piloted or drifted well south of Victoria Strait, that's been discovered. This is the ship that was anchored not far offshore from an island and sank after being frozen in for a season in shallow water such that the tops of the masts could be seen.  The exact location, sensibly enough, is not being disclosed, but seems to lie to the southwest of King William Island, off the western or northwestern extreme of the Adelaide Peninsula, in what Parks Canada refers to as their "southern search area."

This must be the very ship that was talked about in Inuit tales for many years, the one they visited and explored after it had been abandoned, the one in which they found the body of a very tall man in one of the cabins. The current years' searchers can thank the ice that prevented them from searching for the more northerly wreck which, though it may be found, I believe will be in a very fragmentary condition, if anything survives of it at all.

Judging from the images, I'd say that it's intact enough that I would expect to find the boiler in situ, which will enable definite identification of the vessel. And we should also, I think, expect that a considerable amount of material representing life aboard the ship may be recovered, if the items found in the preliminary search of HMS "Investigator" are any clue. This could, potentially, include objects of metal, wood, leather, or even paper (the last of which would be a sort of "Holy Grail" to be sure).

I'm going to go back for the moment to checking the news reports, and e-mailing various people who've sought this vessel or are part of this year's team. They certainly all deserve our hearty congratulations! But let's also remember that this vindicates Inuit oral tradition, which had described a ship in just such a situation, and mentioned items from a ship found near Hat Island. It's a big day.

23 comments:

  1. It is indeed!!

    Congratulations to you Russell, you must be inmensily happy after all these years!
    What a day!

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  2. This also bodes well for the accuracy of Inuit oral tradition regarding other aspects of the Franklin Expedition - and beyond - making it an even more valuable historical resource.

    Also, it's not a little interesting that Parks Canada's Ryan Harris noted in the news conference that the Franklin ship appears to be in an even better state of preservation than HMS Investigator.

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  3. Thanks Andrés! But more congrats today to those who led the way, such as Dave Woodman, and the folks on the ground, such as Ryan Harris! I'm just the guy in the armchair.

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    1. All of you have contributed to this finding in the same way that all those explorers did to find each piece of the Northwest Passage.

      And, you in particular to make your thoughts generously accessible for the general public. Thanks to you for your part of the work!!

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  4. Enjoy your evening in the armchair ;)

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  5. It has been a pleasure to read your works over the years. Today is indeed a very special day.

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  6. This is unbelievably kewl!!! So this ship is not that far from the Abandonment Site?

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    1. Actually it appears to be some considerable further distance south, in Queen Maud Gulf.

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  7. Fantastique! I'm really thrilled and I'm sure you must be too. I hope this will shed some new light on this fascinating mystery. Thank you Mr. Potter for having kept the spirit of the Franklin Expedition alive with this most excellent site.

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  8. A monumental day indeed. Hats off to Ryan Harris and team, the Harper administration...and the people of Nunavut. Job well done.

    I would imagine we might know in a matter of days which ship it is, given that there are divers on the scene. Imagine if it is the Erebus; what might be left in Franklin's cabin, and the cabin of James Fitzjame's.

    And then, we may now dare think of the real possibility of finding the holy grail - the ships' logs or papers - and maybe even partial or full restoration. Anyone want to read those pages? Getting too far ahead, but exciting days immediately ahead to be sure.

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    1. Thanks Ron -- I join in your congratulation to Ryan and his team! And maybe, now that he's had some cred in the big find, a certain GN administrator we both know will be more relaxed in granting future permits!

      I do think there's a chance of legible paper documents, printed or written, being recovered. Fingers crossed!

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  9. Russell, what are your thoughts on the possibility of finding intact and readable documents, journals, the logbook (assuming its on the wreck)?

    Secondly, what should be done with the wreck? If it could be raised and preserved Ina controlled environment should that be considered?

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    1. I think it's possible. The wreck, though, ought not to be raised -- even given its good preservation -- both the risk of damage and the site's designation by Canada as a national historic monument would argue against it.

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    2. You are probably correct but the idea that we could someday see the wreck of the Terror or Erebus is a tempting one.

      I'm thinking of what was done with the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's warship that was raised back in the 1980s. It sank in 1545 whereas Franklin's ships were lost only 170 years ago. There's also the Vasa, a Swedish warship that sank in 1628. It was raised back in the 1960s and now sits in a museum in rather good condition.

      I admit I'm getting ahead of myself here since the Franklin ship has yet to be examined and identified. The exact condition of the wreck has yet to be determined.

      But its so exciting to think of what may be uncovered. As far as we know, the body of Sir John Franklin himself may be there. A logbook, documents, journals and letters from the officers and crew, a daguerreotype...the possibilities are endless.

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  10. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would see this day.

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    1. Same here. I had strong doubts about either ship being found. My suspicion was that both ships were carried off into the Atlantic on an ice foe based on the 1851 sighting by the "Renovation" which spotted two sailing vessels on a ice floe off the coast of Newfoundland.

      Can't wait to see what is discovered on the wreck!

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  11. There were waterproof message cylinders, so maybe some paper inside could survive? And I wonder if there can be any human remains (big white dead man was reported by Inuits)?
    It is great day, really unbelievable! Congrats to everyone who helped!

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    1. Let's hope so. If there was an orderly abandonment then hopefully they did leave some record in a cylinder or secure box.

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    2. Actually, water would be far kinder to printed or written papers than would air. The water up there has a relatively low temperature and oxygen content, and would tend to preserve things.

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  12. I'm wondering how the investigation will proceed from here. Considering the relatively short summer season, difficult conditions, the need to ensure that no evidence is lost or damaged, and the large amount of work to be done, I can imagine a thorough investigation taking several years. I don't really know though - I'm just speculating. I also wonder if any plan was in place for investigating a wreck prior to its discovery.

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