HMS Erebus (1826)

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Erebus image.jpg
One of the ships of Sir John Franklin's last expedition
United Kingdom
Name: HMS Erebus
Namesake: Erebus
Ordered: 9 January 1823
Builder: Pembroke Dock, Wales
Laid down: October 1824
Launched: 7 June 1826 (1826-06-07)
Abandoned: 22 April 1848 (1848-04-22), Victoria Strait[1]
Rediscovered: 2 September 2014, Wilmot and Crampton Bay
General characteristics
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 (8.84 m)
Installed power: 30 Nominal horsepower[3]
Propulsion: Sail, steam engine
Complement: 67
  • 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 nameWrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site

HMS Erebus is a Hecla-class bomb vessel constructed by the Royal Navy in Pembroke dockyard, Wales, in 1826. The vessel was the second in the Royal Navy named after Erebus, the dark region of Hades in Greek mythology.

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 1839–1843, and was abandoned in 1848 during the third Franklin expedition. The sunken wreck was discovered by the Canadian Victoria Strait expedition in September 2014.[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.

In 1845 HMS Erebus and HMS Terror left England on a voyage of exploration to the Canadian Arctic, under Sir John Franklin. Both ships 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 by Europeans 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 artefacts and testimony from local Inuit in 1853. Later expeditions up to 1866 confirmed these reports.

Model of Erebus trapped in the ice, Nattilik Heritage Centre, Gjoa Haven, September 2019

Both ships had become icebound and had been abandoned by their crews, totalling 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, and 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]

In April 1851 the British transport ship Renovation spotted two ships on a large ice floe off the coast of Newfoundland. 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]

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 as working with the written records. Kamookak, who died in 2018 at the age of 58, was made an officer of the Order of Canada and a member of the Order of Nunavut for his work.[11][12][13]

Ship's bell, Nattilik Heritage Centre, Gjoa Haven, 2019

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, it was announced that a diving expedition on Erebus, by Parks Canada and Royal Canadian Navy divers, would begin in April.[17]

Although the exact location has not been released, Nancy Anilniliak, the Field Unit Superintendent of the Nunavut Field Unit, has restricted access to a rectangular area in Wilmot and Crampton Bay, to the west of the Adelaide Peninsula. The area runs from Point A (68°14′44.8″N 98°52′22.3″W / 68.245778°N 98.872861°W / 68.245778; -98.872861 (point A)) to Point B (68°17′44.2″N 98°40′17.9″W / 68.295611°N 98.671639°W / 68.295611; -98.671639 (point B)) to Point C (68°13′15.4″N 98°32′16.2″W / 68.220944°N 98.537833°W / 68.220944; -98.537833 (point C)) to Point D (68°10′16.5″N 98°44′19.3″W / 68.171250°N 98.738694°W / 68.171250; -98.738694 (point D)).[18]

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.[19] The wrecks are designated a National Historic Site of Canada with the precise location of the designation in abeyance.[20][21][22]

On 23 October 2017, British Defence Minister Sir Michael Fallon announced that the United Kingdom would transfer the ownership of both ships to Canada, retaining only a few relics and any gold, along with the right to repatriate any human remains.[23]

In September 2018, Parks Canada announced that Erebus' condition had deteriorated significantly, with a 14-meter section of the upper deck detaching from the ship, flipping over, and moving towards the stern. Parks Canada attributed the deterioration to "an upwards buoyant force acting on the decking combined with storm swell in relatively shallow water". It was then confirmed that the United Kingdom will own the first 65 artifacts brought up from Erebus while the wrecks of both ships and other artifacts will be owned by Canada and the Inuit people.[24] Taking advantage of "sublime" weather conditions in the summer of 2019, Parks Canada were able to recover a number of artifacts from Erebus, namely personal items belonging to members of the crew, which were unveiled at Parks Canada's conservation lab in Ottawa in February 2020.[25]

Public access[edit]

On board Parks Canada's archeology support barge "Qiniqtiryuaq" beside the wreck of HMS Erebus, September 2019

On 5 September 2019, passengers of Adventure Canada on MS Ocean Endeavour were the first members of the public to visit the site of the wreck of the Erebus.[26] The wreck site is within the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site and is managed jointly by Parks Canada and local Inuit people, and public access to the site is not usually allowed.[27] The visit by Adventure Canada passengers was a trial by Parks Canada in creating a visitor experience for the wreck site.[26]


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's 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.[28]
  • 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.[29]
  • 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.
  • The Erebus and the Terror, an instrumental piece composed by Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, is the third track on the 1987 album Something of Time by Nightnoise.
  • Erebus and Terror is the ninth track on the 2019 album, Embrace of the Godless Aeon by Welsh symphonic black metal band Hecate Enthroned.

In namesakes[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fleming, F. (1998). Barrow's Boys. New York: Grove Press. p. 415. ISBN 978-0-8021-3794-4.
  2. ^ Bourne, J. (1852). "Dimensions of screw steam vessels in Her Majesty's Navy". A treatise on the screw propeller. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. OCLC 937353412.
  3. ^ Murray, R. (1852). Rudimentary treatise on marine engines and steam vessels. London: J. Weale. p. 206. OCLC 249509737.
  4. ^ a b Davison, Janet (27 September 2015). "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. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Hooker, Sir Joseph Dalton" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  6. ^ Gow, Harry (12 February 2015). "British loco boiler at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean". Heritage Railway (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 26 January 2008.
  8. ^ "Arctic Blue Books -British Parliamentary Papers Abstract, 1852k". University of Manitoba Libraries – Archives and Special Collections. 1852.
  9. ^ Boswell, Randy (30 January 2008). "Parks Canada to lead new search for Franklin ships". Windsor Star. Archived from the original on 24 May 2016. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
  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 (13 April 2018). "Louie Kamookak, 58, teacher and Inuit historian, was the 'last great Franklin searcher'". The Globe and Mail.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Watson, Paul (9 September 2014). "How the Franklin Wreck was Finally Found". The Star.
  15. ^ "Franklin expedition ship found in Arctic ID'd as HMS Erebus". CBC News. 1 October 2014.
  16. ^ "HMS Erebus ship's bell recovered from Franklin expedition". CBC News. 6 November 2014.
  17. ^ Watson, Paul (4 March 2015). "Navy divers, marine archeologists will study Franklin's ship in winter mission". Toronto Star.
  18. ^ Restricted area and activities in The Wrecks Of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site Of Canada
  19. ^ Summers, Chris (12 September 2016). "Canada finds second ship from doomed 1845 Franklin expedition". Daily Mail. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  20. ^ Erebus and Terror. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  21. ^ "National Historic Sites of Canada System Plan". Parks Canada. 8 May 2009. Archived from the original on 24 September 2005. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
  22. ^ "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.
  23. ^ Ducharme, Steve (24 October 2017). "HMS Erebus ship's bell recovered from Franklin expedition". Nunatsiaq News.
  24. ^ Beeby, Dean (31 March 2019). "Parks Canada battles Arctic ice to explore crumbling wreck". CBC News. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  25. ^ Davison, Janet (20 February 2020). "Artifacts recovered from HMS Erebus offer tantalizing links to sailors on doomed Franklin Expedition". CBC. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  26. ^ a b Bain, Jennifer. "Northwest Passage cruise stops to see Franklin's shipwrecked Erebus". Vancouver Courier. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  27. ^ Parks Canada Agency, Government of Canada (6 June 2019). "Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site". Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  28. ^ Verne, Jules (1962). 20000 Leagues Under the Sea. Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-21063-7.
  29. ^ "Terror and Erebus by Henry Kucharzyk". Soundmakers. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  30. ^ Erebus and Terror Gulf
  31. ^ "Erebus and Terror Gulf". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2 March 2012.

External links[edit]