HMS Erebus (1826)

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For other ships of the same name, see HMS Erebus.
Erebus image.jpg
One of the ships of Sir John Franklin's last expedition
Career (UK)
Name: HMS Erebus
Builder: Pembroke dockyard, Wales
Launched: 1826
Fate: Abandoned in Victoria Strait, Canada, 22 April 1848[1]
General characteristics
Class and type: Hecla class bomb vessel
Displacement: 715.3 long tons (726.8 t)[2]
Tons burthen: 372 tons (bm)
Length: 105 ft (32 m)
Beam: 29 ft (8.8 m)
Installed power: 30 nhp [3]
Propulsion: Sails
steam engine
Complement: 67
Armament: 1 × 13 in (330 mm) mortar, 1 × 10 in (250 mm) mortar, 8 × 24 pdr (11 kg) guns, 2 × 6 pdr (2.7 kg) guns
Official name: Erebus and Terror National Historic Site of Canada
Designated 1992

HMS Erebus was a Hecla-class bomb vessel designed by Sir Henry Peake and constructed by the Royal Navy in Pembroke dockyard, Wales in 1826. The vessel was named after the dark region in Hades of Greek mythology called Erebus. The 372-ton ship was armed with two mortars – one 13 in (330 mm) and one 10 in (250 mm) – and 10 guns. The ship was abandoned during the Franklin Expedition in 1848 and rediscovered in a submerged state in September 2014 after a long search.

Ross expedition[edit]

After two years service in the Mediterranean Sea, Erebus was refitted as an exploration vessel for Antarctic service, and on 21 November 1840 – captained by James Clark Ross – she departed from Tasmania for Antarctica in company with Terror. In January 1841, the crew of both ships landed on Victoria Land, and proceeded to name areas of the landscape after British politicians, scientists, and acquaintances. Mount Erebus, on Ross Island, was named after the ship itself and Mount Terror after the other.

They then discovered the Ross Ice Shelf, which they were unable to penetrate, and followed it eastward until the lateness of the season compelled them to return to Tasmania. The following season, 1842, Ross continued to survey the "Great Ice Barrier", as it was called, continuing to follow it eastward. The two ships returned to the Falkland Islands before returning to the Antarctic in the 1842–1843 season. The ships conducted studies in magnetism, and returned with oceanographic data and collections of botanical and ornithological specimens. Birds collected on the first expedition were described and illustrated by George Robert Gray and Richard Bowdler Sharpe in The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Erebus & HMS Terror. Birds of New Zealand, 1875. The revised edition of Gray (1846) (1875). The future renowned botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker, then aged 23, was assistant-surgeon to Robert McCormick.[4]

'Erebus' and the 'Terror' in New Zealand, August 1841, by John Wilson Carmichael.

Franklin expedition[edit]

For their next voyage, to the Arctic under Sir John Franklin, Erebus and Terror were outfitted with steam engines. Both were ex-London and Greenwich Railway steam locomotives. That fitted to Erebus having formerly been №4 Twells. It was rated at 25 horsepower (19 kW) and could propel the ship at 4 knots (7.4 km/h). The ships carried twelve day's supply of coal.[5] The ships had iron plating added to their hulls. Sir John Franklin sailed in Erebus, in overall command of the expedition, and Terror was again under the command of Francis Crozier. The expedition was ordered to gather magnetic data in the Canadian Arctic and to complete a crossing of the Northwest Passage, which had already been charted from both the east and west but had never been entirely navigated.

The ships were last seen entering Baffin Bay in August 1845. The disappearance of the Franklin expedition set off a massive search effort in the Arctic. The broad circumstances of the expedition's fate were first revealed when Hudson's Bay Company doctor John Rae collected artifacts and testimony from local Inuit in 1853. Later expeditions up to 1866 confirmed these reports.

Both ships had become icebound and had been abandoned by their crews, in total about 130 men, all of whom subsequently died from a number of causes, including hypothermia, scurvy, and starvation while trying to trek overland to the south. Subsequent expeditions up until the late 1980s, including autopsies of crew members, also revealed that their shoddily canned rations may have been tainted by both lead and botulism. Oral reports by local Inuit that some of the crew members resorted to cannibalism were at least somewhat supported by forensic evidence of cut marks on the skeletal remains of crew members found on King William Island during the late 20th century.[6]

A British transport ship, Renovation, spotted two ships on a large ice floe off the coast of Newfoundland in April 1851. The identities of the two ships were not confirmed. It was suggested over the years that these ships might have been Erebus and Terror, though it is now a certainty that they could not have been, and were most likely abandoned whaling ships.[7]

On 15 August 2008, Parks Canada, an agency of the Government of Canada announced a CDN$75,000 six-week search, deploying the icebreaker CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier with the goal of finding the two ships and also to reinforce Canada's claims regarding sovereignty over large portions of the Arctic.[8]

On 8 September 2014 it was announced that the wreckage of one of Franklin's ships was found on 7 September using a remotely operated underwater vehicle recently acquired by Parks Canada.[9][10] On 1 October 2014 the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that the remains were that of Erebus.[11] The recovery of the ship's bell was announced on 6 November 2014.[12]

On 4 March 2015 a winter diving expedition on Erebus, consisting of Parks Canada and Royal Canadian Navy divers, was announced to commence in April 2015.[13]

The remains of the ships are designated a National Historic Site of Canada with the precise location of the designation in abeyance.[14][15][16]

In fiction[edit]

Erebus and Terror are mentioned in numerous fictional works.

In literature[edit]

  • Captain Nemo mentions Erebus and Terror, in the context of Captain Ross' expedition, in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), as background to establish the difficulty of reaching the South Pole, while Captain Nemo stands upon its fictional summit.[17]
  • Erebus and Terror are mentioned in Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness (1899).
  • Ice Blink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin's Lost Polar Expedition (2001), by Scott Cookman, offers a journalistic account of Franklin's expedition that is up-to-date, factual and scholarly, and seeks to shed new light on this century-and-a-half-old mystery.
  • Erebus and Terror appear in Dan Simmons' novel, The Terror (2007) which is a fictional account of the expedition's fate.
  • Clive Cussler's novel, Arctic Drift (2008), uses Erebus and Terror as part of the plot as well as the establishing backstory of the ill-fated expedition.
  • Erebus is the fictional whaling and trading vessel of a 19th-century Russian-German character depicted in James Michener's novel Alaska.

In television, radio, and film[edit]

  • In the Doctor Who Audio Dramas story Terror of the Arctic, Erebus appears alongside her sister ship, Terror.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fleming, Fergus (1998). Barrow's Boys. New York: Grove Press. p. 415. ISBN 0-8021-3794-6. 
  2. ^ Bourne, John (1852). "Appendix, Table I: Dimensions Of Screw Steam Vessels In Her Majesty's Navy". A treatise on the screw propeller: with various suggestions of improvement. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  3. ^ Murray, Robert (1852). Rudimentary treatise on marine engines and steam vessels. J. Weale. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  4. ^  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Hooker, Sir Joseph Dalton". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  5. ^ Gow, Harry (12 February 2015). "British loco boiler at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean". Heritage Railway (Horncastle: Mortons Media Group Ltd) (No.199): 84. ISSN 1466-3562. 
  6. ^ Keenleyside, Anne; Bertulli, Margaret & Fricke, Henry C. (March 1997). "The final days of the Franklin Expedition: new skeletal evidence" (PDF). Arctic 50 (1): 36–46. doi:10.14430/arctic1089. Retrieved 2008-01-26. 
  7. ^ "Arctic Blue Books -British Parliamentary Papers Abstract, 1852k.". University of Manitoba Libraries - Archives and Special Collections. 1852. 
  8. ^ Boswell, Randy (2008-01-30). "Parks Canada to lead new search for Franklin ships". Windsor Star. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  9. ^ "Sir John Franklin: Fabled Arctic ship found". BBC News. 2014-09-09. 
  10. ^ "Lost Franklin expedition ship found in the Arctic". CBC News. 2014-09-09. 
  11. ^ "Franklin expedition ship found in Arctic ID'd as HMS Erebus". CBC News. 2014-10-01. 
  12. ^ "HMS Erebus ship's bell recovered from Franklin expedition". CBC News. 2014-11-06. 
  13. ^ Paul Watson (2015-03-04). "Navy divers, marine archeologists will study Franklin’s ship in winter mission". Toronto Star. 
  14. ^ Erebus and Terror. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  15. ^ "National Historic Sites of Canada System Plan". Parks Canada. 2009-05-08. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  16. ^ "National Historic Sites of Canada System Plan map". Parks Canada. 2009-04-15. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  17. ^ Verne, Jules (1962). 20000 Leagues Under the Sea. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-21063-7. 

External links[edit]