Monday, September 26, 2016

HMS "Terror" find confirmed!

Parks Canada photo
As most of us expected, Parks Canada today confirmed that the wreck first located on September 3rd by the research vessel Martin Bergmann is, in fact, HMS "Terror," the second ship of Sir John Franklin's 1845 expedition. The Parks team had to deal with rough weather, which churned up a fair amount of silt and made visibility poor, but despite this were able to examine enough of the ship to, having compared it with the detailed plans they have at hand, make the identification definite.

Much of the press release, though, was devoted to highlighting the new degree of co-operation between Parks and various Inuit groups -- Inuit Heritage Trust, the Kiktikmeot Inuit Association, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., and the Government of Nunavut. This is a crucial aspect of the find, and --as I noted in my blog a couple of weeks ago -- is something that has been in the works for a long time. It was evident, in the time between the initial discovery and Parks's statement, that many Inuit still felt anxieties over how the site and the relics found there will be treated, but today's announcement should, I hope, be reassuring. As I've mentioned, my personal view is that the wrecks and their contents technically aren't covered in the Nunavut Land Claims agreement, but the willingness of the present Government to treat them exactly as though they were, and to commit to ongoing cooperation, is nevertheless the right thing to do.  There's property, and then there's cultural property, and it's clear that the "Terror" and "Erebus" are sites which enshrine, embody, and contain, the history of both Inuit and European-origin peoples. Like cords in a vast fish-net, they are too enmeshed in one another to be separated, and for the goal of the proper conservation of these vessels to be met, they must work together.

The fact that "Terror" owes its discovery not simply to the historical Inuit testimony collected by Rae, Hall, and Schwatka in the 1850's, '60's, and '70's -- but also to that of Sammy Kogvik, a present-day Inuk who led searchers to the site -- underscores the rightness of this arrangement.

But there is work to be done. It's encouraging now to know that the Parks Canada team can spend the still-brief search window next summer actually working on both ships rather than searching for them. The apparently much better state of the decks and great cabin of the "Terror" suggests that this might be the place to start; what we need now is not only the everyday items that have already been spotted, such as a bottle of wine or a desk drawer -- but the written records that will certainly be found. Will they be as enigmatic as the infamous Peglar Papers? Or will we get an accurate ship's log or other official record, which would certainly change what we know about the final fatal months or years of the expedition? For those of us who have already spent a large chunk of our lives wondering, it will be a long year!


  1. Hopefully today's press conference will put at ease all the various parties who hold an interest in this story. There is something there for everyone! It belongs to everyone.
    Could anyone have scripted this any better? While we put our trust in new technology, who would have thought that a chance encounter with a piece of wood stuck in the ice would lead here? Having read the Terror was "crushed" in the ice, had me envisioning it being pulverised and "smeared" across the ocean bottom. Not so!
    Knowing the state of the wreck (at least from an archaeological viewpoint not necessarily from a sea worthiness view) it must have been so frustrating to see thru those cabin windows and not want to get at things! And as excited as I was about Erebus being found, the Terror makes me even moreso.
    I do hope more pictures are forthcoming or even video. What I've seen and read to date merely whets the appetite. And the thought of official papers being in the vein of the Peglar Papers stopped me cold in my tracks LOL! Please, no!!!
    In another thread on this blog someone commented about the difference between abandoning the ships vs deserting them. That distinction as described would clearly seem to fit with what has been uncovered about the ships being remanned. They didn't just land at Victory Point and march to their deaths carrying curtain rods and the Vicar of Wakefield....there is so much more to this story!
    As the Inuit testimony gets confirmed, and as the determination of the sailors to adapt and persevere becomes more apparent, the story just builds and builds. I can't wait to see where this leads.

  2. I am afraid they took all hand-written papers with them ... It makes me depressive.
    Still, I have been mulling the following piece of the puzzle which to me does not fit into any of the existing theories: No matter whether the ship(s) were frozen in ice or free floating nearby the coast of KWI, why would anybody drag the heavy boat on sledge back to them??? Does any of the readers have an idea on where to place this piece of the puzzle? Greetings. P51

    1. The fact that the boat was pointed back towards the north or north west is not proof that it was being moved in that direction.

      For example, if the boat were being used for shelter it would be best to point the bow towards the prevailing wind. Alternatively, the boat could have been moved around and reoriented by ice driven up against the shore. Further north on King William Island, James Ross noted that "the lighter floes had been thrown up, on some parts of the coast, in a most extraordinary and incredible manner; turning up large quantities of shingle before them, and, in some places, having travelled as much as half a mile beyond the limits of the highest tide mark".

      In any event, since it is now known that both ships ended up south of the "boat place", there only would have been a limited period of time in which the direction in which the boat was pointing would have been the right direction to return to the ships, and that period of time is, it would seem, one or two years before the final demise of the expedition.

      The bodies found in that boat may also have ended up in that location for a reason that had nothing to do with moving the boat, e.g. scavenging supplies that may have been left behind in a previous year.

      It also seems to me that if the ships were deserted for a spring and summer season of hunting and fishing (i.e. rather than the obviously impossible plan of getting the entire expedition many hundreds of miles up-river to a Hudson's Bay Post), then it would have made sense to plan for the re-manning of the ships, and certainly to re-occupy them before the next winter set in (assuming they both were not destroyed when the ice started to move the ships southward in the summer). In that case, you wouldn't take all eight boats with you the whole way to your hunting grounds; you would leave some at points along the coast, so that there was the possibility of promptly returning to the drifting ships without first having to retrieve a boat a hundred miles away and without having to wait for the seas to freeze solid in the winter darkness before it was safe to cross the ice to the ship. Given the direction of the ice drift, Erebus Bay would be an obvious place to pre-position one of those boats. So that boat was probably left deliberately there and wasn't being being moved north from some more southerly location.

      So in light of the discoveries of the ships far to the south, nothing much can be read into the fact that a boat appeared to be oriented as if it were being pulled back towards the north.

  3. Re the heavy boat found by McClintock, I wonder how far the boat was from the nearest water - frozen or not ? Could the boat have been rowed/sailed up North from Terror Bay during the Summer until the ice got too thick, and then hauled to shore ?

  4. I wonder if those ice floes being driven so far ashore on KWI would have scoured the shoreline clean of possible Franklin grave markers etc?
    Since we know from Inuit testimony that the expedition did hunt successfully, then moving toward hunting/fishing areas to supplement the diet makes complete sense. That would allow the canned goods to be "reserved" for when game was scarce.

  5. For those thinking written artifacts like books would not survive underwater a book on mathematics was recovered from the Titanic - a much more hostile environment for organics.