HMS Erebus (1826)

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Erebus image.jpg
One of the ships of Sir John Franklin's last expedition
United Kingdom
Name: 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; 801.1 short tons)[2]
Tons burthen: 372 tons (bm)
Length: 105 ft (32 m)
Beam: 29 ft (8.84 m)
Installed power: 30 kW (40 hp) nhp[3]
Complement: 67
Armament: 1 × 13 in (330 mm) mortar, 1 × 10 in (254 mm) mortar, 8 × 24 pdr (10.9 kg) guns, 2 × 6 pdr (2.7 kg) guns
Official nameErebus and Terror National Historic Site of Canada

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 (254 mm) – and 10 guns. The ship took part in the Ross expedition of 1839 to 1843 and was abandoned during the third Franklin Expedition. The sunken wreck was discovered in September 2014 after a long search.[4]

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 Van Diemen's Land for Antarctica in company with Terror. In January 1841, the crews 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 one ship and Mount Terror after the other.

The crew 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 Van Diemen's Land. The following season, 1842, Ross continued to survey the "Great Ice Barrier", as it was called, continuing to follow it eastward. Both ships returned to the Falkland Islands before returning to the Antarctic in the 1842–1843 season. They conducted studies in magnetism, and returned with oceanographic data and collections of botanical and ornithological specimens. The plants were described in the resulting The Botany of the Antarctic Voyage of H.M. Discovery Ships Erebus and Terror in the years 1839–1843, under the Command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross.

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 botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker, then aged 23, was assistant-surgeon to Robert McCormick.[5]

Franklin expedition[edit]

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

For their next voyage to the Arctic under Sir John Franklin, both Erebus and Terror were outfitted with steam engines from the London and Greenwich Railway steam locomotives. That of Erebus was rated at 25 horsepower (19 kW) and could propel the ship at 4 knots (7.4 km/h). The ships carried 12 days' supply of coal.[6] 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 commanded by 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 partly 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, totaling about 130 men, all of whom died from a variety of causes, including hypothermia, scurvy, and starvation while trying to trek overland to the south. Subsequent expeditions until the late 1980s, including autopsies of crew members, also revealed that Erebus and Terror's 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.[7]

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 ships were not confirmed. It was suggested over the years that these might have been Erebus and Terror, though it is now certain they could not have been and were most likely abandoned whaling ships.[8]

Discovery of the wreckage[edit]

Side-scan sonar images of the wreck of Erebus

On 15 August 2008, Parks Canada, an agency of the Government of Canada, announced a Can$ 75,000 six-week search deploying the icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier, with the goals of finding the ships and reinforcing Canada's claims regarding sovereignty over large portions of the Arctic.[9][10] The search was headed by underwater archeologist Robert Grenier, of Parks Canada, and local historian Louie Kamookak, who had collected Inuit oral histories related to the wreck, as well working with the written records.[11][12][13]

The wreckage of one of Franklin's ships was found on 2 September 2014 by a Parks Canada team led by Ryan Harris and Marc-André Bernier.[14][4] On 1 October 2014, it was announced that the remains were those of Erebus.[15] Recovery of the ship's bell was announced on 6 November 2014.[16] 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.[17]

On 12 September 2016, it was announced that the wreck of HMS Terror had been found submerged in Terror Bay, off the south-west coast of King William Island.[18] The wrecks are designated a National Historic Site of Canada with the precise location of the designation in abeyance.[19][20][21]

On 23 October 2017, it was announced by the UK's defence minister, Sir Michael Fallon, that his government would be giving HMS Erebus and its sister ship HMS Terror to Canada, retaining only a few relics and any gold, along with the right to repatriate any human remains.[22]


Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper appearing at a gala to celebrate the discovery of HMS Erebus, one of two ships wrecked during John Franklin's lost expedition, at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto

In art, entertainment, and media[edit]

HMS Erebus is featured, often alongside HMS Terror, in fictional works that use the Franklin expedition in their backstories, such as:

  • 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.[23]
  • Erebus and Terror are mentioned in Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness (1899).
  • Terror and Erebus (1965) is a verse radio play for CBC Radio by Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen, subsequently published in her collection Afterworlds (1987).
  • Terror and Erebus (A Lament for Franklin) (1997) is an oratorio for solo baritone and chamber ensemble by Canadian composer Henry Kucharzyk, adapted from MacEwen's verse drama and crediting her for its libretto.[24]
  • 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.
  • Erebus and Terror appear in Dan Simmons' novel The Terror (2007), which is a fictional account of the expedition's fate.
    • The Terror is a 2018 American television series based on Simmons' book.
  • 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" (2012) is a radio play for BBC Radio 4, based on the Franklin expedition, by British poet Jo Shapcott.
  • Erebus: The Story of a Ship (2018, published by Cornerstone, a division of Random House), by Michael Palin, is a biography of the ship, covering its loss in the Arctic, Antarctic exploration, and back to its construction in Milford Haven. The book was serialized on BBC Radio 4 in 2018.
  • Erebus and Terror is the sixth track on the 2016 album, Further Than Rust by Canadian folk band, Nickeltree.

In namesakes[edit]

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.
  3. ^ Murray, Robert (1852). Rudimentary treatise on marine engines and steam vessels. J. Weale.
  4. ^ a b Davison, Janet (2015-09-27). "Franklin expedition: New photos of HMS Erebus artifacts, but still no sign of HMS Terror". CBC News. Archived from the original on 26 November 2015. Retrieved 19 December 2015. A big clue in the mystery is the wreck of HMS Erebus, found last year in a location indicated by Inuit oral histories.
  5. ^ Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Hooker, Sir Joseph Dalton". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  6. ^ Gow, Harry (2015-02-12). "British loco boiler at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean". Heritage Railway. Horncastle: Mortons Media Group Ltd (199): 84. ISSN 1466-3562.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "Arctic Blue Books -British Parliamentary Papers Abstract, 1852k". University of Manitoba Libraries - Archives and Special Collections. 1852.
  9. ^ Boswell, Randy (2008-01-30). "Parks Canada to lead new search for Franklin ships". Windsor Star. Archived from the original on |archive-url= requires |archive-date= (help). Retrieved 2013-08-30.
  10. ^ Campbell, Peter B. (18 December 2015). "Could Shipwrecks Lead the World to War?". The New York Times. p. A23. Archived from the original on 19 December 2015. "Franklin’s ships are an important part of Canadian history given that his expeditions, which took place nearly 200 years ago, laid the foundations of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty," Mr. Harper said.
  11. ^ Cecco, Leyland (29 March 2018). "Inuit oral historian who pointed way to Franklin shipwrecks dies aged 58". the Guardian.
  12. ^ Ferrier MacKay, Susan (April 13, 2018). "Louie Kamookak, 58, teacher and Inuit historian, was the 'last great Franklin searcher'". The Globe and Mail.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Watson, Paul (2014-09-09). "How the Franklin Wreck was Finally Found". The Star.
  15. ^ "Franklin expedition ship found in Arctic ID'd as HMS Erebus". CBC News. 2014-10-01.
  16. ^ "HMS Erebus ship's bell recovered from Franklin expedition". CBC News. 2014-11-06.
  17. ^ Watson, Paul (2015-03-04). "Navy divers, marine archeologists will study Franklin's ship in winter mission". Toronto Star.
  18. ^ Summers, Chris (2016-09-12). "Canada finds second ship from doomed 1845 Franklin expedition". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
  19. ^ Erebus and Terror. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  20. ^ "National Historic Sites of Canada System Plan". Parks Canada. 8 May 2009. Archived from the original on 24 September 2005. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
  21. ^ "National Historic Sites of Canada System Plan map". Parks Canada. 15 April 2009. Archived from the original on 29 May 2006. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
  22. ^ Ducharme, Steve (2017-10-24). "HMS Erebus ship's bell recovered from Franklin expedition". Nunatsiaq News.
  23. ^ Verne, Jules (1962). 20000 Leagues Under the Sea. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-21063-7.
  24. ^ "Terror and Erebus by Henry Kucharzyk". Soundmakers. Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  25. ^ Erebus and Terror Gulf
  26. ^ "Erebus and Terror Gulf". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2012-03-02.

External links[edit]