Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Terror, in all her glory ...

Side-scan image of HMS Terror by Parks Canada; used by permission
In the Franklin story there are just a few images that, without a single word to accompany them, tell volumes: the face of John Torrington seeming to stare forth from his coffin; the lone skull in a field of rocks at Erebus Bay; William May's still-life lithograph of the Franklin relics. Certainly the sonar image of HMS "Erebus" was another, and to that may be added the even more dramatic scan made by Parks Canada of HMS "Terror." In it one can see many structures missing from her sister ship Erebus: the long and lovely bowsprit, the davits from which the boats once swung still attached to the deck, and the shadows of the deckhouse, masts and other fixtures. Indeed, it's possible if one places a plan of the ship over the top of the image, to see the correspondence of the vessel that enabled Parks to make its identity positive -- not that there were any other missing vessels of that period know to be in the vicinity!

The ship appears a bit narrower than she actually is, and the bowsprit seems to be at an angle -- but these effects are due to the relatively steep angle of the sonar beam; like the beams of some artificial sun, the shadows it paints are an a steep angle, a golden sunset not solar, but painted by reflected sound.

But like those other images, it raises as many questions as it answers: where precisely does she lie (we're not meant to know just yet, for the understandable reason that the security of the site is paramount); near what portion of land (which instantly becomes the ideal place for archaeologists to do work on the ground); facing in what direction? Was she piloted here or did she drift (the former seems, for now, by far the most likely). The Inuit testimony tell of a sudden sinking, but so far as can be seen, she seems in "ship shape" from stem to stern. Nevertheless, she sits in deep silt, which may yet disclose the damage, severe or slight, which brought her to her resting place. Even that place is a question: according to some modern Inuit accounts, the ship may have shifted in position about seven years ago, such that a mast was present above the ice of the bay -- a mast which may since have been broken off or carried away. Low tides that year may have also had something to do with it, And, however she reached her present resting place, the all-important when is yet unknown -- upon which the chronology of the "Terror Camp" on land, and the subsequent departure of some number of survivors, depends. For that answer, we'll have to wait at least until next year's dive season.


  1. The sudden sinking does seem at odds with the apparent condition of the wreck, but what struck me was that it was only a relatively "small" series of holes which sunk the Titanic. It might not have been proportionally much more for the Terror, esp. with inferior pumps.
    I suppose the ship could have been manned and yet drifted to its location too. Ice conditions might have allowed for re-manning of the ship, but left it to the temperamental nature of the ice which pushed it to its location. Promising leads in the ice might have closed up preventing clear sailing.
    It is going to be a long winter of piecing and re-arranging pieces of this puzzle.

  2. beautiful shot of the Terror! ("La Terreur" en Fran├žais). And yes, the perspective is very visible! I think we need to read again all the Inuit testimony, with the perspective that the broken up ship is the Erebus and the nicely sunk ship is the Terror (that which the inuit said they entered by making a hole in the hull, for instance). Maybe it can be reconciled with the testimony, considering the fuzz of XIXth century translation+transcription+interpretation?

  3. This story of the black men "(...)Before the Captain took him down into his Cabin he told this Innuit to take a look over to the land, the Captain pointing out to him the exact spot where there was a big Tupik (tent). The Captain asked him if he saw the tent, & the Innuit told him he did. Then the Captain told him that black men, such as he had just seen, lived there, & that neither he (this Innuit) nor any of his people must ever go there. After the Innuit had received the presents that the Captain made him, he left the ship & went home; & he would never go to the ship again because of the frightful looking black men that lived down in the Coal hole." Does this no establish a relation between the place where a ship was located and the 'tent'... in Terror Bay? And maybe explain why the inuits were scared of the place and kept silent on it for generations?

  4. I wonder if the direction the ship is facing may be significant. It might point towards a cairn or Franklin's own grave. I can't help but wonder that the last survivors knowing they were doomed may have tried to use the very ship itself as a kind of last message.