One of the greatest maritime exploration mysteries solved!
HMS Erebus and HMS Terror went missing after Sir John Franklin and his crew searched for an access route through the Northwest Passage in 1845.
The ships and their crew never returned home. The mystery behind the fate of the crew and the two vessels is one of the biggest in marine history – until now as we begin to unlock the story with modern research and expeditions in the Arctic. Did you know One Ocean Expeditions was involved in this search to help locate the HMS Erebus?
“At first, being locked in the ice in Victoria Strait was business as usual for Sir John Franklin and his men. It was to be expected in the Arctic. It was one of the reasons Franklin’s two ships, Erebus and Terror, had been so solidly reinforced to withstand the power of buckling ice. The first year of Franklin’s mission to claim the Northwest Passage for Britain had gone well. Franklin left Greenland in the summer of 1845, sailed west through Lancaster Sound, south of Devon Island, and then venturing north through the Wellington Channel, becoming the first European to explore it. Then Franklin took shelter for the winter in a bay next to Beechey Island, a tiny, desolate islet just southwest of the bulk of Devon Island.” “Naturally, the bay froze over in the winter. As they expected, the men set up a rather intricate winter camp on the island, establishing tents, a forge and a carpenter’s shop.” pg 85
It is still not fully understood how and why, exactly, Franklin’s men died.“ They constructed the carefully marked, beautifully detailed graves of the first three men to die on the expedition… Modern autopsies of these three men, in research by Owen Beattie, shows that they died of pneumonia, suffered from tuberculosis and, disturbingly, had unusually high levels of lead in their bodies when they died.” pg86
Perseverance and steadfast determination were these men’s focus. They continued on. “Once the ice cleared later that year (1846) – again, unusually early – Franklin’s ships moved south and west toward King William Island and Victoria Strait, avoiding the eastern side of the island because the charts of the day showed it was connected to the mainland.” pg86. Franklin and his men spent eight months aboard the ships before setting out to attempt communication. They were following their plan to the letter and at this point the expedition was not in disarray. “By May the following year – 1847- a group of two officers and six men were sent off the ships to King William Island. That information was contained in two copies of the same note deposited at two different points on the island, one of which was a stone cairn at Victory Point. Found more than a decade after it was left, it declared, “All well.” pg 87
Inuit oral history of the time helps to piece together what might have happened around the time of Franklin’s death. “….if [Inuit] were describing Franklin, they drew the picture of an easy-going group of sailors on two highly functioning ships. Not only that, but if, as they said, the captain was sick and lame, then that added weight to the theory that Franklin may have died in his bed of illness, rather than by any other mishap.” Pg 88
John Geiger and Alanna Mitchell: Franklin’s lost ship. The historic discovery of HMS Erebus. 2015
The search for these vessels helped chart what is now Canada. Over time the searches have turned up scarce traces of evidence to piece together the mystery, until enough evidence was found to start another search – this time with success. In 2014, One Ocean Expeditions partnered with the Government of Canada, Royal Canadian Geographical Society and several private partners in one of the largest combined search efforts to date. resulting in the find of Franklin’s HMS Erebus in the Victoria Strait Expedition 2014.
One Ocean Expeditions provided a vessel, One Ocean Voyager – Vavilov, to support the search. The One Ocean Voyager was carrying Parks Canada’s ROV (remote operated vehicle) and their AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle). The AUV has a state-of-the-art sonar system that was deployed in order to scan the seabed in search of the Franklin vessel and was key in this incredible discovery. The HMS Erebus has been resting on the ocean floor in near perfect condition for over 160 years.
Find out more about the Victoria Strait Expedition
The search is not over as the HMS Terror is still missing. Avid explorers such as Louie Kamookak are still searching for artifacts of the famous expedition. Learn more about Louie’s Humahuk Expedition as he travels through the Arctic.
Join us on an Arctic voyage to walk in their foot steps and visit the place of Franklin’s 1845 winter home.
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