Ownership of the two ships, Adm. Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, two of the most archaeologically important wrecks in the world, was formally transferred to the Canadian government with the signing of a Deed of Gift at a ceremony last month with the Inuit of Nunavut, who played a key role in their discovery, recognised as joint owners of the wrecks and artifacts.
After a local Canadian Forces Ranger pointed out where Franklin’s lost Arctic survey ship HMS Terror was in 2016, a group of 17 Inuit was enlisted by Parks Canada last year to camp out in rotating four-person shifts to protect the historic site and that of Franklin’s other ship, HMS Erebus, which was discovered in much the same way in 2014.
The two ships, under the command of Sir John, set sail from England in 1845 through the Canadian Arctic to find the Northwest Passage. During the treacherous journey, the ships became trapped in thick sea ice. The crews abandoned the ships to trek overland to safety, but tragically none survived.
“The story behind these vessels is both fascinating and incredibly important to the history of both our nations. The UK joined forces with the Canadian government and Inuit population to search for these ships for 172 years and I’m delighted they will now be protected for future generations,” said UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.
Artifacts from the wrecks will be available for display at museums in both countries. Currently, there are examples on display at the Canadian Museum of History as part of the “Death in the Ice” exhibit.
The Expedition’s timeline, from the Canadian Museum:
May 19, 1845: The Franklin Expedition departed from Greenhithe, near London, England.
July 4, 1845: The ships arrived at the Whale Fish Islands, Greenland, after a stormy Atlantic crossing.
July 12, 1845: Officers and crewmembers mailed their last letters home.
July 29 or 31, 1845: HMS Erebus and Terror were sighted in Baffin Bay by whaling ships. This was the last time the ships and their crews were seen by Europeans.
Winter 1845 to 1846: The expedition spent its first winter in the Arctic off Beechey Island. Three members of the crew died and were buried on Beechey Island.
Summer 1846: The expedition headed south into Peel Sound.
September 1846 to Spring 1848: The ships were beset — surrounded and stuck in ice — northwest of King William Island.
June 11, 1847: Sir John Franklin died. He was 61 years old and had served in the Royal Navy for 47 years.
April 22, 1848: The expedition had been stuck off King William Island for over a year and a half. Fearing they would never escape, the men deserted the ships.
April 25, 1848: The men landed on King William Island. Nine officers and 15 seamen had already died. There were 105 survivors. Officers left a note stating their plan to trek to the Back River.
January 20, 1854: Franklin’s Expedition is missing for more than eight years. The Admiralty announced that its officers and men will be declared dead as of March 31, 1854.
1847–1880: More than 30 expeditions sailed, steamed or sledged into the Arctic from the east, west, and south. Very few found any trace of the expedition.
2008: A renewed search for Franklin’s ships began under the leadership of Parks Canada.
September 1, 2014: An important clue is found on an island in Wilmot and Crampton Bay: an iron davit pintle (fitting). Parks Canada refocuses its efforts near that island.
September 2, 2014: 167 years after the British Admiralty’s search began, the first wreck, HMS Erebus, is found.
2016: Almost two years to the day after the discovery of Erebus, Terror is located in Terror Bay, off the southern coast of King William Island.
After a local Canadian Forces Ranger pointed out where Franklin’s lost Arctic survey ship HMS Terror was last year, a group of 17 Inuit has been enlisted by Parks Canada to camp out in rotating four-person shifts to protect the historic site and that of Franklin’s other ship, HMS Erebus.
It’s a unique arrangement at this historic site — the first in Nunavut to be jointly managed by Parks Canada and Inuit — with the groups getting an equal say in how the site is managed and preserved in the years ahead.
This August, four Inuit guardians set up a base camp on Saunitalik Island — “place of bones” in Inuktitut — a five-kilometer-long sandy island a short Zodiac ride from the Erebus. A second group of guardians is camped near the Terror.
Along with keeping an eye out for polar bears while archeologists are at work, the guardians scan the horizon for unauthorized ships and the ground for artifacts. They call in any activity by satellite phone.
Canada’s plucky Ranger force, a group of some 5,000 part time soldiers organized in patrols in 200 far north communities in the nation’s huge arctic expanse are sparsely equipped. Armed with WWII-era Longbranch No.4 Enfield .303 rifles to ward off polar bears and issued a pair of camo pants and an orange pullover and ballcap, they are Canada’s search and rescue and sovereignty in the arctic.
And sometimes they stumble upon some neat stuff in their travels. Six years ago Inuit Ranger Sammy Kogvik came across a ship’s mast sticking out of the ice in isolated Terror Bay in winter, named after Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated ship HMS Terror.
Terror was one of two Royal Navy ships that set out in 1845 on the Franklin to find the Northwest Passage to Asia. The ships became trapped in thick Arctic ice and all 129 crew members died. The other ship — HMS Erebus — was located in September 2014 in the Queen Maud Gulf, along the central Arctic coastline– with the help of Inuit oral history.
“When I was getting off the snowmobile I looked to my left and saw something sticking out of the ice,” he said.
The men decided to check it out.
“I told [Uncle James] it’s one of those … might be one of those old ships that they’ve been looking for.”
Kogvik says he pulled out his camera and had his friend take a photo of him and the mast.
“I gave it a bear hug, and both my legs around that mast.”
But after Kogvik lost his camera, the men kept quiet about their find.
“I told Uncle James, don’t tell anybody, because we don’t have any proof … we didn’t want to keep secret, but it might seem like lies to people, because we don’t have any proof.”
Well, fast forward a few years and the Ranger found himself on an expedition to find HMS Terror, and, with the Arctic Research Foundation team looking in the wrong area, he gave expedition leader Adrian Schimnowski a tip.
Schimnowski says it took just 2½ hours to locate the ship in the bay.
“My boss said, ‘Sam, we found the ship!'” Kogvik recalled. “Everybody was yelling, too — happy.”
Almost all of the hatches on HMS Terror were closed and all three masts were standing.
“It just followed Sammy’s story,” Schimnowski said.
Former super-carrier USS Ranger, being towed from US west coast to Texas, around the tip of South America where she will be scrapped, halted tow in Balboa to refuel the tow boats.
That’s when a local with a drone decided to buzz the ship as it sat in the Bay of Panama. Footage recorded by former officer in the Navy, who works and lives in Panama as a Panama canal Pilot.
Pretty neat video