A long-lost British exploration ship, HMS Terror, had been found according to Canadian Arctic explorers. The ship, which was a part of the doomed Franklin Expedition in 1845, was found on the bottom of Victoria Strait in the Western Arctic. With this discovery, one of the greatest maritime mysteries of the world seems to have been solved once and for all, almost 170 years later.
The Arctic Research Foundation announced the discovery on Monday, although the main government partner in the search, Parks Canada, refused to confirm anything, only saying that the discovery “would be important for Canada” and that they are “currently working with our partners to validate the details of the discovery.” The Arctic Research Foundation has said that the ship is in a well-preserved state. The foundation’s operations director, Adrian Schimnowski described the findings via an email to the Guardian.
“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.”
“We spotted two wine bottles, tables and empty shelving. Found a desk with open drawers with something in the back corner of the drawer.”
Schimnowski also told the Guardian that everything in the ship appeared to be locked down tight.
“This vessel looks like it was buttoned down tight for winter and it sank. Everything was shut. Even the windows are still intact. If you could lift this boat out of the water, and pump the water out, it would probably float.”
The Arctic Research Foundation is funded by Canadian tech tycoon and philanthropist Jim Balsillie. Balsillie co-founded Research in Motion, the creators of the Blackberry phones. Balsillie played a key role in the expedition leading to the discovery of these ships and he spoke to the Guardian about it, explaining his theory on why the twin ships sank further south than where they were first abandoned.
“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.”
HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, its sister ship, had sailed from England in 1845 with 129 men. But as the ship headed north, it got caught in the ice, as the sea began to freeze around it. With supplies running low, it was finally abandoned in April 1948. The crew members thus began an ill-fated walk to the south, but the badly preserved tinned food lead them to their deaths, one at a time. Several search parties were sent out but only the remains of some of the sailors were found. The ships were never discovered, thus sparking one of the biggest maritime mysteries of all time.
HMS Terror’s sister ship, HMS Erebus was found in September 2014, on the ocean floor a few miles off King William Island.
The wreck of HMS Terror was found on September 3. But according to Oksana Schimnowski, the group had to wait to make sure that they had the right wreckage.
“They had to steam back to Cambridge Bay, a full day away. Then they had to return with remote-controlled video equipment to examine the ship. The need for safety in the Arctic also made the searchers work slowly.”
She also clarified what led the team to confirm the identity of the ship.
“Erebus and Terror were what they called bomb vessels. These were ships carrying heavy mortars, and they had reinforced hulls that were judged useful for work in Arctic ice. They were the only two bomb vessels known to have sailed in the Arctic, and that made identification easier.”
Now, as Britain and Canada lock horns to determine the fate of all the contents abroad the two ships, the Inuit community in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, where HMS Terror was found, are asking to be made a part of the discussions.
Cathy Towtongie of Nunavut Tunngavik, the representatives of the Inuit community of Nunavut, spoke with the Guardian about the matter.
“We have to be at the table.This violates the Crown’s fiduciary duty to Inuit and its consultation obligation.”
[Featured Image by Angelo Giampiccolo/Shutterstock]