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In the Footsteps of Franklin

4 min read

Researchers have solved one of the greatest mysteries in polar exploration with their discovery of the second ship abandoned by Sir John Franklin and his crew in 1848. The search that spanned 168 years came to an end in the middle of aptly-named Terror Bay off King William Island in Nunavut, Canada, when the 10-person crew of the Arctic Research Foundation's Martin Bergmann located the HMS Terror.

HMS Terror thrown up by ice

HMS Terror. Photo: National Archives of Canada

Searchers and historians had long believed the ship crushed by ice about 60 miles north of where it was actually found just off the southwest corner of King William Island. The discovery comes hot on the heels (historically speaking) of the discovery of sister expedition ship HMS Erebus, recovered two years and a day earlier by a Canadian search team.

HMS Erebus. Photo: Parks Canada

HMS Erebus. Photo: Parks Canada

Follow in Explorers' Footsteps on an Arctic Expedition

Sir John Franklin departed England in 1845 with two vessels and a crew of 129 civilians and officers, in search of the fabled Northwest Passage shipping route. Their arctic expedition would become one of the better known marine archaeology mysteries of the century and a half since.

Franklin's wife, Lady Jane, convinced the British government to send search parties after three years without word from her husband. Although those early searches proved fruitless, Inuit reports at the time indicated a complete loss of life.

A subsequent search commissioned by Lady Franklin in 1857 turned up a number of corpses and a cairn note. Both the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror had become entangled in ice in May of 1847, the logs said; by the following April, the tone of the ships' log changed and the men had begun to abandon ship.

Historians now have another piece of the puzzle, thanks to another Inuit report that while hunting, two men had stumbled across the mast of a ship protruding from the ice.

The Terror's discovery so far from where it was thought sunken raises more questions than it provides answers. Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Research in Motion, was instrumental in organizing this most recent search for the Terror. He told The Guardian publication, “This discovery changes history. Given the location of the find [in Terror Bay] and the state of the wreck, it's almost certain that HMS Terror was operationally closed down by the remaining crew who then re-boarded HMS Erebus and sailed south where they met their ultimate tragic fate.”

Adrian Schimnowski, the research foundation's operations director, told The Guardian the team used a remotely operated vehicle to explore inside the wreck. “We have successfully entered the mess hall, worked our way into a few cabins and found the food storage room with plates and one can on the shelves,” he said.

Schimnowski noted his team saw wine bottles, shelving, tables and an open desk drawer, among other items, inside the Terror. According to his team, the ship has been preserved by the frigid waters in pristine condition and sits perfectly level on the floor of the sea.

As the mystery of what really happened to the Franklin Expedition in its last fateful months continues to unravel, polar-passionate travelers can continue paying homage to these intrepid explorers on modern-day Canadian Arctic holidays.

Want to learn more about planning your own Northwest Passage expedition?

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