Led by Sir John Franklin, the ship departed England in 1845 along with its sailing companion, H.M.S. Erebus, with the intention of mapping the fabled Northwest Passage through the treacherous Canadian Arctic. Within three years, both Royal Navy ships became engulfed in ice in the Victoria Strait, and none of the 129-member crew survived to tell the tale. Rescuers abandoned operations in 1859 with no sign of the crew or their ships.
Canadian archaeologists, however, renewed the hunt for the ships in 2008 and finally found H.M.S. Erebus in 2014. Two years and a day later, on September 3, 2016, the research vessel Martin Bergmann found the well-preserved H.M.S. Terror at the bottom of King William Island’s Terror Bay.
Adrian Schimnowski, the leader of the Arctic Research Foundation expedition that found H.M.S. Terror, Jackie Hong and Jesse Winter for the Toronto Star: “We found Terror in Terror Bay.”
Schimnowski and the nine other crew members aboard the research vessel discovered the ship about 60 nautical miles north of the wreckage of Erebus, which was found in Queen Maud Gulf along the central Arctic coastline.
Sammy Kogvik, a Canadian Ranger and Inuk from Gjoa Haven, a small hamlet in Nunavut above the Arctic Circle, aided in the discovery of the wreckage. As told to the Toronto Star, while fishing in Terror Bay seven years ago, Kogvik and a friend happed upon a ship’s mast protruding out of the water. Kogvik photographed the mast, but lost his camera on his return home and did not inform anyone until he told the crew of the Martin Bergmann last month as it traveled through Simpson Strait.
Working off the tip, the Martin Bergmann sailed through Terror Bay and found the Terror when their depth sounder located the shipwreck. The crew then deployed a small boat equipped with a remotely operated underwater vehicle. Rigged with a camera, the vehicle soon began to broadcast images of the wrecked ship back to the researchers.
The images confirm that the ship is indeed the Terror. The Toronto Star reports that images of a bell looked exactly the same as that of the Erebus, the hatches on the wreck matched drawings of the H.M.S. Terror, and an exhaust pipe on the ship’s steam engine was in the right spot.
The underwater images also showed that the ship was in pristine condition. “This vessel looks like it was buttoned down tight for the winter and it sank,” Schimnowski told Paul Watson at The Guardian. “Everything was shut. Even the windows are still intact.”
The discovery calls into question long-held theories of the Franklin Expedition. Watson reports that a long, heavy rope line ran through a hole in the ship’s deck, which suggests that an anchor line may have been deployed before the Terror went down. This raises the possibility that the British sailors re-manned the vessel in an attempt to escape south, a hypothesis further buttressed by the fact that the Terror lies 60 miles south of where experts thought it was crushed by ice, Watson reports.
The discovery also validates the importance of Inuit oral tradition and testimony. Dave Woodman, who has written about the importance of Inuit testimony in the search for the Franklin Expedition, told Canadian Geographic: “Just like Erebus, it’s validating of Inuit testimony.”