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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The HMS Terror and Erebus–a Tragic Story

Today I wanted to give you a little bit of background information on the British ships the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus. This week they will be featured with a look at their cultural impact as well as with a review of The Terror by Dan Simmons. Simmons’ book tells a version of the tale of these ships during their last expedition, the Franklin Expedition (which I will talk about more in a minute), however they had quite the life before that ill-fated voyage. The more I read about their exploits the more interested I become.

The HMS Terror began its life as a war ship during the War of 1812. It actually was involved in the bombardment of Stonington, Connecticut which is just a few towns over from my hometown – which I never knew was even involved in the War. In the 1840’s the Terror teamed up with the Erebus for the first time in their storied careers in an expedition that would be known as the Ross Expedition to the Antarctic. For 3 years they explored and studied the nature of Antarctica.

erebus and terror
Engraving of HMS Terror and HMS Erebus.
Photo Credit: Bettmann/Corbis

Following the success in the Antarctic, the next best place to explore would be…the Arctic! This expedition would be known as the Lost Franklin Expedition – and the last for both of these ships. The expedition, led by John Franklin, left England in 1845 to discover the Northwest Passage, only to get stranded in the ice off of Baffin Bay. The crew of 128 lasted through at least 1848 before running out of provisions. The last note left by the crew was dated April 26, 1848 and stated that they were going to be setting out on foot for the Canadian mainland. The crew was never seen again and it is likely that they all succumbed to their fate.

There is a very cool interactive timeline/map of the Franklin Expedition as well as the subsequent searches made for the crew and ships. You can also read more details about the searches for the ships. Both sources are courtesy of Canadian Geographic.

Searches were made many times to try and locate the missing crew and the ships beginning in 1848 and continuing throughout the rest of the 19th century. Several of the bodies of crew members who perished early in the stranding have been located, as have many other relics showing that the crew was there, however to date the ships have not been located.

The plight of the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus is one of those stories that captivate me like the Donner Party – in one of those twisted types of fascinations. It’s one of those unsolved mysteries that I hope to one day be solved.


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