The HMS Erebus vanished into the Canadian Arctic in 1846. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has now confirmed that the ship was found, largely intact, near King William Island. The HMS Erebus was part of Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition, which claimed the lives of 129 men.
Franklin’s expedition left England in 1845 on two bomb vessels. Two years later, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were officially declared missing. It was later determined that the ships became icebound while exploring the Northwest Passage.
As reported by the Washington Post, the crew eventually deserted the ships. Faced with harsh weather and limited supplies, all 129 men eventually died.
Throughout the last 150 years, numerous bodies were recovered from the shores of King William Island. The condition of the remains has sparked rumors and speculation about how the men died.
Although a large portion of the crew was likely killed by disease and exposure, researchers believe the survivors eventually resorted to cannibalism.
“… one man’s body when found… flesh all on and not mutilated except the hands sawed off at the wrists… a great many had their flesh cut off as if some one or other had cut it off to eat.”
Following a thorough examination, researchers concluded that “one-quarter of the remains” were intentionally mutilated.
“The location of the cut marks is also consistent with defleshing, or removal of muscle tissue… The fracturing of long bones to facilitate marrow extraction has been used as an indicator of cannibalism… the fractures are consistent with… reports that many of the bones at the site had been “broken up for the marrow in them.”
As reported by CBC, the HMS Erebus wreckage will help scientists determine exactly what happened to the ships and their crew. Although a majority of the crew was recovered, Captain Sir John Franklin’s body was never found.
Senior underwater archeologist Ryan Harris said the crew left a note which stated that Franklin died in June 1847. However, the note did not indicate how the captain died or the location of his remains.
Harris said it has been suggested that Franklin was buried at sea or on the shore of King William Island. Harris hopes “archeological investigations will be able to identify the answer to that question” with the discovery of the HMS Erebus wreckage.
Although the ill-fated ship was discovered on September 7, it took nearly one month to confirm the wreckage was indeed the HMS Erebus.