Thursday, August 18, 2016

Where to look for HMS "Terror"?

With the discovery by Parks Canada's marine archaeologists of HMS "Erebus" in 2014, the burning question has been the location of her sister ship, HMS "Terror." This year's search by Parks is planned to focus on the Terror, though there will be some new dives on Erebus as well. One might assume that, with one ship located and identified, it might be possible to narrow the range of sites to search for the second vessel, but that's not necessarily the case. In fact, since the Inuit never knew the name of either vessel, it takes some considerable review of the available testimony to sort out which tales refer to which ship; only then can we begin to form a clearer view of the possibilities. And, as was true of the 2014 find, it's mainly but not solely Inuit testimony that we need to consider.

One account that may deserve fresh attention is that given to L.T. Burwash by Enukshakak and Nowya in 1929, describing a cache of crates "northeast of Matty Island," along with wooden planks washed up on the shore, presumably from a wreck "three quarters of a mile off the coast of the island." Since we know that, if indeed this is a Franklin ship, it could only be the Terror, then this testimony offers one line of possibility. Similarly, any other sightings of ships at sites some distance from the known location of Erebus can, if accurate, only be of Terror -- these would include the ship possibly seen by Anderson's men in 1855 somewhere off Ogle Point.

These stories, though, are outliers to the main threads of Inuit tradition, which have the advantage that they begin with two ships, and include eyewitness accounts of one of them sinking. The most dramatic account of this was given to Hall by Kok-lee-arng-nun:
The old man and his wife agreed in saying that the ship on board of which they had often seen Too-loo-ark was overwhelmed with heavy ice in the spring of the year. While the ice was slowly crushing it, the men all worked for their lives in getting out provisions; but, before they could save much, the ice turned the vessel down on its side, crushing the masts and breaking a hole in her bottom and so overwhelming her that she sank at once, and had never been seen again. Several men at work in her could not get out in time, and were carried down with her and drowned.
Apparently, this ship's sinking was visible from on or near shore, and Inuit were present to witness it. Since the Victory Point record indicates both ships were intact when abandoned, and Inuit only learned of the Crozier's landing site (from McClintock's interpreter) in 1859, this event must have taken place after the ships were re-manned. There's good circumstantial evidence that this was the Terror; if we take the "Too-loo-ark" of this story to be Crozier then it would be the ship aboard which the Inuit often saw him, and the line in the "Peglar Papers" about the "Terror Camp" being clear suggests that the survivors from that vessel camped on the land. The likeliest site for this would seem to be Erebus bay, and as Dave Woodman has noted, the "visibility from shore" horizon line enables one to project an area of high probability (you can read his new, detailed account of this here or via my Franklin search archival pages).

At the same time, there are those who still believe that it's more likely that the Terror foundered before reaching that area. It seems significant to them that much of the recovered material from the Erebus Bay site is in fact associated with the Erebus, whereas if the Terror sank near there, more material from that ship might be expected. This was the original plan of the 2014 expedition, which took its name from the Victoria Strait, the goal of which was to locate the wreck or sunken debris from Terror. And now, in 2016, it seems that this is once more the primary search area that's been chosen, though of course it's also possible that ice conditions may limit or prevent a search there, as they did in 2014. It should be remembered that it was only after the disappointment of being unable to reach that year's goal that the Parks Canada team fell back on a further search in the Wilmot and Crampton Bay area -- and that it was that very search that finally revealed the golden sonar shadow of Franklin's flagship.

17 comments:

  1. Apparently, false stories about the expedition can have a life as well as real ones. Take for example the story that one ship was driven up onto the beach, where she stayed for many years and was extensively recycled by the Inuit (Onalee). It was said to have had the body of a big man with long teeth on it. The beached wreck story was later confirmed to M'Clintock by a woman who had visited it recently. Later, the body of the man with long teeth was said to have been on a ship that was frozen into the ice, floating upright, presumably HMS Erebus. According to Hall, that ship sank because one whole side of it was crushed in by heavy ice, which means it can't have been Erebus, which only has one end damaged. Then there is the story that one ship spent the winter on the south coast of the most northerly of the Royal Geographical Society Islands, at "Imnguyaaluk". If that was Terror, there is no sense looking for it in Erebus Bay. See Dorothy Eber, Chapter 5, Encounters on the Passage.

    I think the area east of KWI deserves greater scrutiny. Louie Kamookak, at a recent meeting at the Museum of History in Ottawa, summarized his advice to the government searchers who were looking for the wrecks: "You should look down near the mouth of the Back River." That's not where Erebus was eventually located, but Terror has yet to be found.

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    1. I think that many of the stories of Franklin's ships ended up being what Louie calls "mixed" stories. Not all Inuit who heard about one of the ships knew about the other, and it made sense to them to assume that the stories all related to the same ship. If wood from Terror washed ashore near its wreck, you can bet that every last twig would have been salvaged by the Inuit, so we'd expect at best some sunken bits or debris, probably including the railway boiler.

      Eber's testimony is very late, and much of it clearly has lost details and accuracy when compared to the accounts given to Hall or Schwatka. Eyewitness accounts always have more weight, I feel. The "mouth of the Back River" story would accord with the sightings by Anderson's guides.

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  2. And possibly the Matty Island wreck. There is said to be a large mast segment on King Island, near the mouth of the Back River.

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    1. The mast on King Island was small enough that one man was able to lift it onto a rock (Eber). So it was probably the mast of a ship's boat.

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  3. More fascinating food for thought! I'm wondering if faulty translations could account for the stories of a wreck near either Matty Island or the Royal Geographical Islands? Both represent islands near KWI though vastly different otherwise.
    Since the death march trail indicates a west to east route, it would make sense that the Terror is to be found west of Erebus Bay, perhaps closer to shore than we would otherwise suspect.
    Another frustrating detail comes to mind.....the Victory point record was deposited by Gore in 1847. Fitzjames penned the abandonment note to its margin in 1848. That in itself is frustrating in that he did not write out a complete story. Were they starting for the Fish River? And if so, and then turned around to re-man the ships, why didn't he update his note at Victory point (or at whatever location they departed from shore to re-man the ships?)
    The story of the Terror being crushed, if true, and several men were taken down with her, would perhaps explain the low body count found on the island. Since we know 105 men left the ships in 1848, the lack of bodies to account for that full complement could be explained in part by them drowning.
    If they survived another winter or two on the ships near Erebus bay, I can only imagine how heartily sick of it all they must have been by that point. Years of being stuck in the ice, supplies running low (in theory)....it must have truly been a time of disillusionment for them all.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Don. I don't think that mistranslation is a factor in the Matty Island stories -- Burwash had good interpreters, and saw some of the wood these men had obtained; there are accounts by pilots flying over the area of seeing a possible wreck.

      The VP record is endlessly fascinating -- and frustrating! But we do have an account in a couple of accounts in Inuit testimony of encountering a group whose leader related, partly through miming the events, a tale of two ships, one crushed by the ice. In any case, I think that the main reason the VP record was not further updated was that the main body of the expedition had moved considerably further south, at least as far as Erebus bay, and that dispatching a party to update it would have been a costly use of dwindling resources.

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  4. I agree that they must have been somewhat south of the VP cairn which is why it was not updated......but then where are the updates along that western shoreline? Were there even cairns found empty or dismantled? I think I read McClintock headed for the Simpson cairn of 1839 and it was dismantled but by whom? And when? I have wondered if the Franklin crew found the Simpson cairn dismantled, they may well have guessed the same would happen to their cairns, so perhaps they left messages in another way.....somehow disguised. But the disguise has worked all too well.
    I remember reading those encounters where the survivors pantomimed the crushing of the ship. But it seems they were heading eastward along the southern coast of KWI.....so how does that fit with Matty Island?
    I love a good mystery but this one drives me crazy!

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  5. How far across the ice could an Inuit standing on the shore of KWI see on a clear or cloudy day? Weather would be important in how far.

    I have always wondered, is the reverse side of the VP record completely blank as to printed or written wording ? I have never read anything describing the reverse side.

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    1. Dave has worked out the horizon line -- upper-level clouds would not affect this, unless there was a lot of fog at the surface -- it's a maximum, in any case, not a minimum.

      And yes, the reverse side of the VP record is entirely blank (alas)!

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    2. Just re-hashing some thoughts here so it's clear in my mind. In theory, they come ashore at Crozier's Landing, leave the note in the VP cairn, and prepare to head south and eastwards to the Fish River. (I'm not sure it's clear if the entire 105 souls as Fitzjames called them were going to travel or whether a smaller party would be travelling on ahead). As they head down the coastline toward the Erebus Bay area, at some point (2-3 months later I'm guessing) the ships are freed and are re-manned. I wonder if some were held back from the march to keep tabs on the ships just in case?
      As they are stopped again at Erebus Bay, the Terror becomes caught again in the ice and crushed, losing much of her supplies and many of her crew. The Erebus survives and sails on, probably the summer of 1850?
      I can only imagine the decisions being made at the point when the Terror was sunk. Does everyone pile onto the Erebus? Do you split up the crew, taking crew from both ships to be fair? If the ice was very fickle that year, could the Erebus have been free of ice and sailed on hoping the Terror would follow? Did the crew of one ship even know what happened to the other?
      I find it interesting that some Inuit reported seeing the ship sink, and others reported meeting crew who did the pantomime of it being crushed and sinking. Obviously different groups were encountered.
      Where are those records buried??? Erebus Bay area? How thoroughly has the shore been searched near where the Erebus was found? Any signs of a cairn there?

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  6. Since the reverse of the VP record is blank...I do think it would have been easier to write on the reverse, instead of around the margins of the front side as was done. Certainly, there was more space to write a more complete narrative.

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    1. I have often wondered that, and thought perhaps it was due to the message having been rolled and put into the metal cylinder. If it was a tight roll, it might have been easier to write on the one side due to the paper trying to curl up.
      Also, this message is worth its weight in gold to us looking back in time, but to them, it was probably just a convenient "update" and more details would be following later at other locations. I doubt they saw it as "definitive" whereas it's all we have!
      Imagine if they had used the back of that page and filled it with details though!

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  7. Is Parks Canada releasing regular search updates anywhere, eg, Twitter? If news breaks, I'm wondering where it would break first. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you! I just pre-ordered the Kindle edition of your book on Amazon; here's hoping they do an audiobook edition as well.

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  8. Where to find Terror ? In September of 1854, Chief Factor James Anderson write a letter to Sir George Simpson, describing the artifacts found in Montreal Island. Would it be reasonable to postulate that the Terror, after being remained, drifted down to Erebus Bay where she sank. Then the survivors took a boat to Montreal Island, where they died. That would have been a lot easier than dragging the boat all the way from VP.

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  9. I have wondered about the reconstructed journey from Victory Point to Erebus Bay (and beyond). So the entire crew lands at VP (the 105 souls as Fitzjames called them). They marched down the coastline toward Erebus Bay. Given that their landing was "new" how healthy were they at this point? There are a few graves between Erebus Bay and VP (3 I know of, one being the one ascribed to Lt. Irving). So there was a price to pay for this southerly march.
    Since this was late April when they landed, how long did the march to Erebus Bay take? I read somewhere that ships would remain frozen in till July (thereabouts), so did it take them that long to get to Erebus Bay? And why did they stop there if the VP note said they were going to the Fish River?
    Was the haul down the coastline more arduous than they thought it would be and returned to the ships? But to do so would mean returning to being frozen in, which was the very reason they left! It's akin to a death sentence.
    So were they at Erebus Bay and noticed the ships drifting by a few months later? Or did they return to the ships only to get frozen in further down the coast which happened to be Erebus Bay?
    The accounts of the Inuit seem to indicate things were okay at this location. The descriptions of successful hunts etc.
    So, did they give up the intentions of the VP message at this point since the ships had been freed up? (albeit frozen in again). Was the Fish river plan only re-activated once the Terror had been crushed?
    But then what was the thinking for sending the Erebus forward (it did have a crew on it when abandoned) and having others march eastward toward the Fish River?
    Every time I think the puzzle pieces "fit" together, they don't!

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