PortandTerminal.com, February 22, 2020
A treasure trove of artifacts was recovered from the H.M.S. Erebus, which set off from England in 1845 with its sister ship, the H.M.S. Terror before both vanished.
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – Approximately 350 artifacts have been recovered from the wreck of HMS Erebus, one of two 19th-century Royal Navy ships involved in a doomed expedition to locate the Northwest Passage in the first half of the 19th century.
Officials in Canada unveiled the items this week, which include epaulets from a lieutenant’s uniform, ceramic dishes, a hairbrush, and a pencil case. Sealing wax, still bearing a fingerprint, that is believed to belong to Edmund Hoar, the captain’s steward, was also found.
HMS Erebus and HMS Terror
The HMS Erebus and its sister ship, HMS Terror, vanished after setting out from England with a combined crew of 130 men more than 170 years ago. They were searching for the Northwest passage across the Canadian Arctic in an expedition led by Sir John Franklin. The last time the two vessels were seen by Europeans was when they entered Baffin Bay in August 1845.
It was learned that in 1846, after the expedition sailed into Canada’s Arctic Archipelago, both ships became jammed in ice off King William Island.
After the sea froze around the ships and Captain Franklin died suddenly in June 1847, the remaining expedition members decided that their best chance of survival was to trek hundreds of miles across the frozen ground in search of civilization
All 105 of the remaining crew eventually died during the trek from a variety of causes, including hypothermia, scurvy, and starvation.
Rumors that the crew resorted to cannibalism have swirled around the doomed expedition since the 19th century. Those rumors arose in 1854 from interviews with local Inuits who told stories of finding piles of human bones, cracked in half, perhaps in an attempt by desperate men to get at the nourishing marrow contained in them. In the 1980s and 1990s, researchers recovered remains of the crew on King William Island. Knife marks adorned the bones, backing up those early accounts by the Inuit.
Finding the wrecks
The disappearance of the ships has captivated historians and scientists and prompted dozens of search missions over nearly two centuries.
More than 30 expeditions searched for clues in the two decades after the two ships’ disappearance, resulting in the extensive mapping of the region and completing the route through the Northwest Passage.
The sunken wreck of HMS Erebus was discovered by the Canadian Victoria Strait expedition in September 2014 helped enormously by a local historian, Louie Kamookak, who had collected Inuit oral histories related to the wreck, as well as working with the written records.
The wreck of the HMS Terror was finally found in “pristine condition” in 2016. Like its sister ship the HMS Erebus, finding the Terror was greatly assisted by the local Inuit people.
The wreck of the Terror is in such good condition that glass panes are still in three of four tall windows in the stern cabin where the ship’s commander, Captain Francis Crozier, slept and worked.
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