Wednesday, September 26, 2018

2018 Discoveries from HMS Erebus

Images © Parks Canada
It had the makings of an ideal search season: the RV David Thompson was renovated and raring to go; the dedicated barge Qiniqtiryuaq (the "Big Searcher") was at the ready, and all the varied legal and cultural issues affecting the recovered items had been resolved after years of patient negotiation. But of course, there remains that most implacable opposing force, an essential part of the Arctic from Franklin's day to our own: the ice.

The ice significantly delayed the voyage of the David Thompson to the wreck site, and posed a challenge to getting the Parks Canada team safely in and out; in the end, there were scarcely two days available for diving on the Erebus, and none for the Terror. And yet the modest group of items recovered is only the more remarkable for that: they range from the generic and common, such as a belaying pin or a nail, to the specific and personal: a stoneware pitcher and part of an artificial horizon recovered from one of the officers' cabins (no word yet on whose). There are also two metal blocks, part of the mechanism for managing the rigging, and a piece of "fearnought," a sort of tarred felt that was wedged between the planking of the upper deck to make it waterproof.

One of the more intriguing items is the "roof" for an "artificial horizon." which would have consisted of a pan of liquid mercury. By means of this device, a mariner could obtain an elevation on a celestial object even if the horizon were obscured by fog or blocked by looming icebergs; its principle is known as a "double altitude." It would probably have been employed by one of the lieutenants aboard the Erebus, and evokes -- as did navigational tools found by earlier searchers -- a sense of the limits of science. Here were these men, equipped with every technological apparatus to steer themselves safely through the unknown -- and yet none of them were able to find their way safely home.

The pitcher is another poignant item; it's said to be of English brown salt glaze, and have been found in an officer's cabin. It's rather plain -- comparable examples of such jugs often feature decorative motifs -- and must have been employed in some humble use, such as with a washbasin. It was found near a stack of plates, which were not -- alas -- retrieved, as these might well have shed some light on the proximate pitcher. Doubtless many photographs were made, even in such limited circumstances, but these have yet to be shared. At last year's press conference, Parks's divers spoke of the ornamental woodwork on the drawers built in to the base of the officers' bunks; it would be lovely to see images of these! This year's search has been, in other respects, one of the more fully shared, with nearly-live photos and information along the way; it's to be hoped that a new set of photographs will soon be forthcoming.

2018 was a difficult ice year all 'round -- none of the expedition cruise vessels that had planned to navigate the Northwest Passage made it through -- we will just have to hope that the next season will be more favorable.

No comments:

Post a Comment