Thursday, August 29, 2019

HMS Terror Revealed

After what has seemed, to the waiters, an excruciating interval -- but in fact only about three years -- the underwater archaeology team at Parks Canada has opened the door -- or rather, the hatch -- into a world of wonders beyond anything any of us could have imagined. The newly-released video, mostly made using its brilliantly small ROV, takes us far inside the ship, both forward (we see bottles and mugs on a shelf in the forecastle) and aft (in one of the most stunning sequences, through the passageway along which the junior officers' cabins lie, and eventually all the way to Francis Crozier's "Great Cabin." There, aside from the thick layer of protective silt; things look much as they must have when the cabin was last in use; though a table seems overturned, Crozier's desk, with its enticing drawers, is upright and looks to be in perfect condition. Nearby, we see what must be his chair, and what looks to me like a parallel rule that would be used in plotting routes on a chart. The bank of cubbies and drawers which, as on Erebus, would have held those charts, looks similarly pristine, while on the port side another set of larger drawers seems a bit more damaged. On the starboard side, two shelves -- are those dusty books? -- while in the back, the eerie light of the surface world still peeps through the mostly intact windows.

On our way, we note the sliding doors that open into the officers' sleeping quarters (so wonderfully reproduced in AMC's The Terror), and peep inside one -- the bed-rail is still in place (is that someone's back-scratcher hanging from it?), and the chamber-pot tucked away on the floor, its user having gone more than a century and a half without the need of it. A couple of plates are seen behind a rail, with stacks more on another shelf; we seem to be looking into a storage area for the officers' mess. In other images, a wall of cubbies holds numerous intact bottles (apparently Crozier did not drink up all the whiskey!), some of which seem to have slips or papers underneath them, while on a nearby shelf a large, ridged bottle has become a home for anemones.

And we realize, of course, that this ultimate teaser-trailer is only a tiny selection from what are likely hundreds of hours of video, over which the Parks team will be poring for the next year, and longer. In much the way that Bob Ballard's earliest ROV video of RMS Titanic evoked a powerful sense of luster and loss, the camera becomes for us a kind of mournful visitor, urging us on even as, on another level, we feel a bit like intruders. Already, of course, Franklinites around the world are pondering, sifting, and will soon be having a grand back-and-forth over the finest of details in a single video frame. But for this first gilmpse -- so quickly shared with the public -- we must always be simply grateful.

24 comments:

  1. I saw the news release. Wow! One of the pictures taken by that ROV was of a bunk and a bedrail with its nice curved ends. That reminded me of the engraving in the London Times depicting a cabin on the ship. More proof that the Times was accurate.

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  2. Are we likely to see similar footage of Erubus in the coming days?

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    1. As to Erebus, the Parks team is there now. The challenges are quite different -- the below decks area is much less intact, and the back of the "great cabin" entirely gone. Their focus there will be removing artifacts that are in danger due to the damage happening to the ship from strong currents and a longer open water season.

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    2. I wonder if the story about a body being seen in one of the cabins reters to the Terror. They still haven't been able to see inside one of the quarters.

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    3. "They still haven't been able to see inside one of the quarters."

      I was under the impression that the closed door was that to Crozier's sleeping quarters. Which, if true, is even more tantalizing.

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  3. The tripod stopped me cold--surely the camera must be nearby! And doesn't it make you SO impressed with the set designers for The Terror on AMC that made this world seem almost familiar?

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    1. I absolutely agree with you there as to the set design of the AMC series! And I also thought, when I saw that tripod, "camera"?? Can't quite make out the far left of the frame, but I'm letting my hopes run high!

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    2. After having ruminated on it today, I think we should probably temper our excitement regarding any potential Daguerreotype discoveries.

      Even in the best-case scenario, with a professional Daguerreotypist working in a purpose-built studio, the images are notoriously fragile. The ones that have survived to present day did so because they were immediately encased in glass after being exposed.

      I'm sure Mr. Goodsir did his utmost in learning how to properly use the equipment, I just can't conceive of a mid-1840s original Daguerreotype exposure surviving in a legible condition after having been submerged for the better part of two centuries.

      But it goes without saying that I'd be absolutely delighted to be wrong.

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  4. I agree that the tripod is one of the most amazing finds. The nearby large box could hold daguerreotypes.

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  5. 1. It's hard to describe the thrill of seeing the interior - and so many of its contents - so amazingly intact after all this time. How well we know this ship, and to see it now in such remarkable condition - as if it had just sunk last summer! But Russell surely possesses this thrill even more intimately than the rest of us...

    2. This is to some degree unfair, but it's frustrating seeing Crozier's desk sitting there, so intact, with heaven knows what important evidence about the expeditions final months waiting inside, just waiting to be revealed. Of course, I understand the terrible shortness of the weather window the search team has to work with, the procedures that need to be followed, the great care needed to avoid damage to a fragile wreck site and its artifacts, and the even greater urgency of securing artifacts from the much more unstable EREBUS. But how I wish it were possible to just pull that desk out NOW, oh, so carefully, to be taken apart at leisure over the coming months in a proper facility...there is, after all, no *sure* guarantee that nothing untoward will happen to the wreck this winter.

    But with any luck, its 170th winter in the chill waters of Terror Bay will be as uneventful as the previous 169 were.

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  6. I'm glad the wrecks weren't discovered 40 or 50 years ago.

    Better that it happened after underwater archaeology became a real discipline with real ethics and protocols.

    As fun as it would be to know immediately what's in the Crozier's drawers and whether any daguerreotypes are present, it would've been a tragedy to send divers down to plunder all they could grab and plow through anything in their way.

    As it is, the next great chapter in the story is going to be formulating a plan for extracting the contents of those drawers without causing undue harm to the wreck herself.

    You need a vehicle small enough to traverse a window pane, but sufficiently robust to open drawers and grapple/transport the contents.

    Ryan and Marc-Andre have a lot of work to do. Can't wait to see what they come up with.

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    1. Trying to do the entire interior excavation by ROV is simply unfeasible -- ultimately, a way has to be found to enable human access to the interior. Operators using robotic arms won't be able to judge the fineness of force required to open a drawer, or waft away silt into a vacuum tube with sufficient gentleness, or feel delicately for an object beneath the silt. Human arms, and crucially fingers, will be required.

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    2. Jonathan, yes exactly. I've heard that the Parks team is considering a number of options, including temporarily removing a section of the deck over the great cabin and officers' cabins -- the existing hatch and passage are far too narrow to safely accommodate the divers.

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    3. I've heard that the Parks team is considering a number of options, including temporarily removing a section of the deck over the great cabin and officers' cabins

      Fascinating - and it makes sense, too. You could then lift a desk drawer or chest (and whatever container you place it in) almost straight out of the cabin. It also could minimize risk of damage to other parts of the ship they're not yet prepared to put divers in.

      Well, I suppose they have all winter to figure something out...

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  7. Looking at the ROV video going down that long hallway towards the stern- I wondered: would it be safer and easier for the Parks Canada divers to remove the the glass at the rear and go into Crozier's cabin that way ?

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    1. One window has no glass, so there is a route of ingress.

      The challenge won't be so much in getting a vehicle inside the room, but in getting the artifacts back out.

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  8. It's been an incredible experience, I was gifted Dan Simmons novel a few years ago, and became almost obsessed with reading every piece of nonfiction literature available on the subject (including this blog front to back many times). This small sliver of history has captured my mind in a way only the People's Temple story has been able to come close to.

    The idea of Terror in such good condition is beyond my wildest hopes. Just a little more patience, and we may actually have a few answers. I think of all those who dedicated much or all of their life to the search and I'm incredibly thankful to be able to witness what comes next.

    Thanks for keeping me interested Professor.

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  9. What is the significance of all the cabin doors being open? Only Crozier's bedroom is shut, apparently. All other private spaces are open.
    Does this imply an orderly abandonment? Or were there so few last men that normal privacy rules weren't necessary?
    There doesn't appear to be any evidence of plundering. Too many useful objects neatly stowed, and Crozier's desk drawers would be open.
    I read elsewhere that the divers noted that the upper hatches and skylights weren't caulked, as they would have been during winter. So the ship was probably abandoned after winter.
    This, and the gentle, upright nature of Terror's sinking, don't imply sudden sinking via malevolent icesheets in winter. More likely a planned abandonment in spring or summer. Then Terror gently sank soon after, before any innuit arrived.
    Maybe after the 3(at least) hard winters amongst iceflows, the cessation of manning the bilges meant Terror's battered hull now just slowly filled with water and gently sank, upright.

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    1. These are good questions - and as Russell would say, we really don't know enough yet to answer them.

      But as he has also noted before, initial appearances can be deceiving - for example, when the Breadalbane was first found, she was upright, with masts still standing, and the damage to her hull was not immediately obvious. Likewise, with Terror, we have not seen any imagery yet of the rest of the hull, and indeed, there could be a hull breach below the silt the ship is resting in that wouldn't be obvious from the exterior at all.

      The cabin doors are also interesting. All of them were sliding doors, so there wasn't anything special about Crozier's door in this respect. It could be that one of your hypotheses - that there were so few surviving officers on the ship at this point that it wasn't necessary to keep all of the doors closed - is a good possible explanation. Likewise, it could be that some doors were among various furnishings broken up for firewood or other needs by the survivors. But we just don't know.

      I *would* hate to so quickly dismiss Inuit testimony on this point, as it has proven to be correct, at least in broad strokes, on so many past occasions. Kok-lee-arng-nun seemed quite clear in his description to Charles Francis Hall of a sudden sinking, and it is very hard to square what he describes with what we know of the Erebus's circumstances. He may have been off on certain details, but it's hard to imagine his description being made up of whole cloth.

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  10. A sudden sinking would square with the evident lack of plundering, and might also explain all the open doors; there was only time to quickly evacuate the cabins. It also fits the scenes of a few upturned chairs and tables, alongside neatly stacked items on shelves.
    The group of survivors that the innuit met at Franklin Bay seemed to suggest their ship rolled or fell sideways. A leading sailor, called Aglooka, mimed the event by literally falling over sideways in the snow.
    But I don't see much evidence of the ship rolling over in the new 7:07min long Terror ROV video from Parks Canada.
    At 2.35 we see items on shelves that from there final positions don't appear to have been thrown about severely in any of the 4 axis. They look more like they've been gently wobbled over.
    The stacks of plates at 3.38 are about 8 plates high in a loosely piled group. Any sort of severe rolling should have spilled that pile, and the pile above it.
    The images inside Crozier's Great Room reveal an upturned low table in the middle of the room, and an upright armchair to one side. Neither item is hard against a side wall as would be expected if the ship had rolled.
    So far I don't see evidence of the Terror having rolled in the manner Aglooka depicted. It looks too neat. The sinking looks more like vertical foundering. Which seems harder to square with a sudden event, tho doesn't exclude it.

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    1. So far I don't see evidence of the Terror having rolled in the manner Aglooka depicted. It looks too neat. The sinking looks more like vertical foundering. Which seems harder to square with a sudden event, tho doesn't exclude it.

      This has been bothering me, too.

      But I think I might explain it this way:

      Let us assume, with Dave Woodman, that Terror sank in the spring/summer of 1850. At that point, Terror had spent five winters in the Arctic. At least two, probably three, of them were hard in ice pack, and rather brutal ice pack at that, and the other winters in thinner shore ice. Tough as her hull and bracing was, that kind of treatment had to play old harry with her seams and joints, weakening her every year.

      By the time she limped into Terror Bay, she surely required regular pumping and constant repair of open seams to keep up with the leaks; a small skeleton crew remains aboard while some are nearby in the Terror Bay camp ashore, and others are on hunting parties... And I could see a situation where, finally, a seam below the water line finally really lets go and bilges her, and the few malnourished scurvy men available for pumps aboard cannot keep up with the flooding. The men frantically abandon ship, grabbing what they can. The ship quickly settles, vertically.

      This would not square perfectly with Kok-lee-arng-nun's account, but it's not impossible his memory distorted details of the sinking, or that he even misunderstood what he saw, or even that Hall did not understand him perfectly. Terror may even have bobbed at an angle briefly as she settled, and Kok-lee-arng-nun perceived it as being "down on its side."

      Still, even so, he would be vindicated in the main, and on the points of commonality his account has with the Inuit that McClintock met on KWI in 1859.

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  11. Extraordinary footage. What are those bottles or jars that can be seen starting at the 3:55 mark on the video? They seem rather large and they are in different colors. Any guesses?

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  12. Any possibility that any pictures taken with the daguerreotype could have survived under these conditions? I imagine looking for any documents, letters and the ship's log would be priority,

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  13. Fascinating video! What struck me was the sense of order on board the ship, contrasting with the story of the survivors encounter with Inuit later on. There may be several viable explanations, but the one that came to me was faulty translations on everyone's part.
    How tempting it must be to see these things like Crozier's desk and not give in to temptation and start opening the drawers! As frustrating as it is to watch, I commend the Parks Canada team for their professionalism and care for the wreck.
    If she did sink quickly it would help explain why the survivors were so ill prepared for their long trek south.

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