Monday, October 23, 2017

Franklin's Ships now Canada's

Approximate sites of Erebus and Terror
With a dramatic announcement, British Defence Minister Sir Michael Fallon declared that Sir John Franklin's ships, HMS "Erebus" and "Terror" would shortly be officially given to Canada, with the UK presumably abandoning all salvage rights that would have been its perogative, since the naval vessels of all nations (unlike private or commercial ships) normally remain the property of that nation. It's a welcome development, as it at last removes the veil of uncertainty that had recently descended once more on these fabled ships, despite a 1997 Memorandum of Agreement (which you can read in full here) stating that the UK would abandon or delegate these same rights, "with the exception of those items of particular historical significance to the Royal Navy."

The earlier agreement was somewhat ambigious about these items -- would they be brought to the UK and loaned for display, or kept permanently? This new announcement says that only a "small sample" of items will be retained, but these (presumably) permanently. I have checked with my contacts at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, but they had no further information on which items these might be; it's quite possible that the National Museum of the Royal Navy -- mentioned in the announcement -- might be the intended repository. I hope that this small sample will be discrete and remain so; it would be a shame if, every time an artifact is brought up from one of the ships, a fresh debate had to take place over how "significant" it was.

There is another crucial part of this news which, as is their wont, many press outlets have ignored -- which is that this announcement will have no effect on the agreements already made with the Franklin Advisory Committee, the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, the Inuit Heritage Trust, and the Government of Nunavut. Parks Canada has issued a press release, which reads in part:
The Government of Canada recognizes the invaluable contributions of Inuit of Nunavut, the Government of Nunavut, and all partners in the search and discovery of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. Most importantly, the discoveries would not have been possible without the support, guidance, advice and traditional and modern knowledge shared so generously by Inuit of Nunavut.
Frank Pederson, who respresents the KIA and chairs the Franklin Advisory Committee, had this to say:
I am very pleased by the announcement today from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on the intent to gift the Franklin wrecks to Canada. This exceptional gift will allow for the joint ownership of the artifacts by Inuit and Canada, as stipulated in the Nunavut Agreement. We look forward to working with Parks Canada on the future management of the Wrecks of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site and helping to protect and present these wrecks and artifacts to tell the story where these events took place.
So it is good news all around -- now that these issues are settled, we have every reason to expect much good work, and continued co-operation and respect between Parks Canada and Inuit organizations, will continue througout the many years it will take to learn all these storied vessels have to teach us.


  1. CBC TV news said tonight that Britain would would retain ownership of "bodies and bullion." Surprised at the reference to bullion.

    1. Yes, I agree it’s odd — but these same two reservations are also in the original MOU.

  2. I think these are good news. In my opinion it is better everything ownership and all the archaeologist work is being done is in the same hands. Surely, this gesture will avoid certain paperwork and operations may go on in a smoother way. If I were responsible of listing which artifacts should be considered as valuable, I would have definitely chosen the Daguerrotype camera, which for sure there must be well packed some place in Erebus. Unless, of course, it had been kept in Franklin´s cabin and therefore lost in the sea floor.

  3. I would think that after 170 years underwater, the developed daguerrotype plates would be in good shape. It would be fantastic to recover those plates and see the images !