One of Franklin Expedition Ships Found

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Sir John Franklin
Sir John Franklin


Canada finds sunken ship from doomed 1845 expedition

OTTAWA – Canadian explorers have found one of the two lost Franklin Expedition ships which have been missing since 1845. Underwater video of the sunken ship, which became stuck in ice during a voyage to discover Canada’s fabled Northwest passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans has been shared by the explorers.

The mystery of the Franklin expedition has gripped Canadians for generations, in part because of tales handed down through aboriginal people that the crew of 128 men resorted to cannibalism to survive.

Sir John Franklin
Sir John Franklin

All the men died and the ship vanished.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the announcement. “This is a great historic event. For more than a century, this has been a great Canadian story and mystery. I say it has been the subject of scientists and historians and writers and singers and so, I think we have a really important day in mapping together the history of our country.”

“I am delighted to announce that this year’s Victoria Strait Expedition has solved one of Canada’s greatest mysteries, with the discovery of one of the two ships belonging to the Franklin Expedition lost in 1846.

“Although we do not know yet whether the discovery is Her Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Erebus or HMS Terror, we do have enough information to confirm its authenticity. This find was confirmed on Sunday, September 7, 2014, using a remotely operated underwater vehicle recently acquired by Parks Canada,” continued the Prime Minister.

“This is truly a historic moment for Canada. Franklin’s ships are an important part of Canadian history given that his expeditions, which took place nearly 200 years ago, laid the foundations of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.

“I would like to congratulate and pay tribute to all partners involved in this year’s momentous Victoria Strait Expedition, including Parks Canada, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS), the Arctic Research Foundation (ARF), the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), the Royal Canadian Navy and the Government of Nunavut. This discovery would not have been possible without their tireless efforts over the years, as well as their commitment, dedication and the perseverance of the many partners and explorers involved,” added Harper.

“Our Government has been deeply committed to finding HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, which were Canada’s only undiscovered national historical site. Since 2008, there have been six major Parks Canada-led searches for the lost Franklin Expedition ships, pain-stakingly covering many hundreds of square kilometres of the Arctic seabed. It is gratifying that the ship’s remains were found during the Government-supported 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition.

“Finding the first vessel will no doubt provide the momentum – or wind in our sails – necessary to locate its sister ship and find out even more about what happened to the Franklin Expedition’s crew.”

Franklin Expedition Backgrounder

On May 19, 1845, the Royal Navy ships Her Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Erebus and HMS Terror departed Greenhithe, England, on a much-heralded Arctic expedition in search of a Northwest Passage. Under the command of Sir John Franklin, with Captain Francis Rawdon Crozier second in command, the expedition’s two ships set out with a total complement of 134 officers and men. HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were converted bomb vessels of 372 and 325 tons respectively, and both had already seen prior service in polar exploration, with the latter also having seen service during the War of 1812. They were stoutly-built and soundly reinforced for operation in the ice, equipped with novel auxiliary-steam screw propulsion systems, fitted expressly for the expedition, and lavishly provisioned for a voyage of up to three years. Sir John Franklin’s orders were to traverse the passage and return to England without delay via the Pacific. The expedition was also expected to conduct a variety of zoological, botanical, magnetic, and geological surveys.

The last Europeans to have contact with HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were the crews of two whaling vessels, the Enterprise and the Prince of Wales. Conversations during this chance meeting in August 1845, between the Expedition leaders and the Captains of the whaling ships, indicated that Franklin was waiting for an opportunity to cross Baffin Bay to Lancaster Sound. However, after entering the eastern Arctic Archipelago later that season and enjoying initial success, the promising expedition soon began to falter. Indeed, except for some encounters with the Inuit, the crews of the vessels were never seen again.

The disappearance of the Franklin Expedition set off a massive search effort in the Arctic and the broad circumstances of the Expedition’s fate were not revealed until 1859 when Lieutenant William Hobson of the steam yacht Fox, a vessel privately chartered by the indomitable Lady Jane Franklin, found a sombre message left in a cairn on Victory Point, King William Island.

The message revealed that both ships had become trapped in ice in late 1846 and had remained so for approximately one and a half years. It indicated Franklin had died on June 11, 1847, while an additional 23 crew members had similarly perished under unknown circumstances. On April 22, 1848, the 105 remaining survivors deserted the ships and recorded their intention to proceed on foot in the direction of Back’s FishRiver. The entire complement of both ships perished and HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were lost to the ice. While the message revealed the general vicinity of the two vessels at the time of their abandonment, neither wreck location is currently known.

In 1992, the Government of Canada declared the missing wrecks to be a national historic site. This designation came about as a result of their association with Franklin’s last Expedition, and their role in the history of exploration of Canada’s North and the development of Canada as a nation.

Video by by Reuters