Arctic Shipwreck Found After 170 Years, Solving “Great Mystery”

Sep 11, 2014

By Brian Clark Howard

 

One of the most famous ships lost in the 19th century has been located in the Arctic, the Canadian government announced Tuesday, prompting Prime Minister Stephen Harper to declare that “one of Canada’s greatest mysteries” has been solved.

The shipwreck marks the final resting place of one of two vessels that disappeared mysteriously nearly 170 years ago, when a British naval expedition led by Sir John Franklin was attempting to navigate and map the Northwest Passage.

The ships, the H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror, were lost in 1846 and both crews perished. Although the graves of a few of the men were discovered later on land and local Inuit reported seeing one of the ships sink, exactly what happened to the ill-fated voyage has been a source of intense debate and speculation over the years.

But now Canadian authorities have released sonar images of what appears to be a largely intact ship near Nunavut’s King William Island, thanks to a remotely operated vehicle owned by Parks Canada.

9 comments on “Arctic Shipwreck Found After 170 Years, Solving “Great Mystery”

  • The ships, the H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror, were lost in 1846 and both crews perished. Although the graves of a few of the men were discovered later on land and local Inuit reported seeing one of the ships sink, exactly what happened to the ill-fated voyage has been a source of intense debate and speculation over the years.

    This was a tooled up (in European terms) expedition seeking the North West Passage. It’s crews perished, due to being unable to cope with the conditions, while the local Inuit lived off the land in the same area as usual.

    They would appear to have been unfortunate in the seasons they chose for the expedition being iced in and staying iced in!



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  • Fascinating.

    Found, entirely due to scientific advances; I doubt a single prayer was or needed to be uttered.

    HMS? That reminds me that Canada is still a dominion of the Queen, albeit a self governing one of course.



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  • The fate of the expedition was discovered by Dr John Rae, whose name is largely forgotten to history, due to the efforts of Franklin’s widow who didn’t want it generally known that in the last extreme, cannibalism, had taken place. John Rae also located the last link in the North West Passage, called Rae Strait today, although it wasn’t ice free in his day.
    The book “Fatal Passage” by Ken McGoogan is a good read on the subject. Dr Rae is one of the foremost Polar explorers that no-one has heard of.



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  • Not entirely forgotten, fortunately. Most histories of the Hudson’s Bay Company, he was actually in their employ, give full credit to the amazing acheivements.

    At the same time as looking for Franklin, he surveyed most of the Canadian North coast, learnt the languages of the people he encountered, and was considered by the Innuit, no slouches themselves, as a magnificently skilled hunter.



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  • Check your history….Many arctic expeditions were done over a period of years, and they always actually planned on being iced in for the winter. The Franklin expedition is mostly seen to have ended up as a tragedy due to lead poisoning from the canned food and plumbing in the ships. It was, however, very common in the 1800’s to explore the arctic and when winter came to COUNT on being iced in and riding it out.

    A good place to start would be Pierre Burton’s “Arctic Grail” it goes into this stuff in detail, and Burton is an absolute master of writing. The way he writes makes fact feel like fiction.



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  • Fraser Sep 13, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    They would appear to have been unfortunate in the seasons they chose for the expedition being iced in and staying iced in!

    Check your history….Many arctic expeditions were done over a period of years, and they always actually planned on being iced in for the winter.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin%27s_lost_expedition
    Franklin’s chosen passage down the west side of King William Island took Erebus and Terror into “… a ploughing train of ice … [that] does not always clear during the short summers…”,[85]
    whereas the route along the island’s east coast regularly clears in summer[85] and was later used by Roald Amundsen in his successful navigation of the Northwest Passage. The Franklin expedition, locked in ice for two winters in Victoria Strait, was naval, not well-equipped or trained for land travel.



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  • That is encouraging JC, and perhaps my fault by only thinking with a UK view. Franklin’s widow did a pretty through job of having him removed from the official record. There is even a plaque in Westminster Abbey proclaiming her husband to be the discoverer of the North West Passage.



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