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The Underwater Archaeology Search for Franklin's Lost Vessels: HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site

Franklin's Expedition

Outfitting the Expedition: Taking Everything With You!

By the time the Franklin and Crozier set out on their 1845 expedition, the Royal Navy had some experience with exploration at both the south and northern extremes of the globe and outfitted the ships and crew for the polar climate. The bows of both HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were reinforced with iron plating, and 10-inch (25-cm) reinforcing beams were added to the inside walls of the hull to protect against the crushing pressure of pack ice. HMS Erebus was additionally strengthened with diagonal iron bracing installed in its hull. Both ships were retrofitted with steam propulsion to assist them in navigating through ice. For HMS Erebus, a 15-ton, 25 horsepower 'Planet' locomotive was purchased from the London & Greenwich Railway, stripped of its wheels, and installed in the ship's hold. HMS Terror received a 20-horsepower locomotive, better suited to this ship's smaller dimensions. Each vessel had specially-designed screw propellers and rudders that could be retracted inside its hull, to prevent damage by ice. Other state-of-the-art installations were provided for the comfort of the officers and crew. Desalinators built into the 'Fraser' galley stoves connected to a large holding tank above the galley, provided fresh water from seawater. It was necessary for the ships to be able to produce large quantities of fresh water as the steam engines, when being used, consumed almost a metric tonne of water per hour. A tubular boiler apparatus in each ship, also designed by Fraser, conveyed hot water in pipes to heat the inside of the crew's cabins.

The expedition was given a daguerreotype camera to help record its discoveries. Invented only a few years before, the daguerreotype took photographs through a chemical reaction which developed an image on a silver plate. The two ships also had libraries with over 2,900 books including technical manuals, the reports of previous explorers, bibles and other religious works, Shakespeare's plays, popular publications such as Punch magazine, and the writings of Charles Dickens. Mahogany writing desks were installed for the officers, and school supplies provided for instructing sailors. Instruments for research in geology, botany and zoology, as well as for taking magnetic observations, were also on board. Each ship had a hand organ capable of playing 50 different tunes, including 10 hymns, to provide entertainment.

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror had enough provisions for the three years that the mission was expected to last: over 61,000 kg of flour, 29,000 kg of salt beef and pork, 4,200 kg of chocolate, 16,700 kg of liquor, 900 litres of 'wine for the sick' 1,069 kg of tea, 4,200 kg of lemon juice (to prevent scurvy), 91 kg of pepper, and 8,000 tins of preserved meat, soups and vegetables. The ships also carried 3,200 kg of tobacco, 1,650 kg of soap, 1,225 kg of candles and dozens of wolf-skin blankets.

After Franklin's disastrous first Arctic expedition (1819 -1822) when his crew suffered from starvation, he believed that Arctic explorers should be self-sufficient rather than attempting to live off the land. The outfitting of Franklin's 1845 expedition was the ultimate expression of his idea that you should take everything with you!


  • John Wilson, John Franklin: Traveller on Undiscovered Seas. (Montréal: XYZ Pub., 2001).
  • Owen Beverly Beattie, Frozen in time: Unlocking the Secrets of the Franklin Expedition. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1988.
  • Lincoln P. Paine, Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1997.
  • Charles Moore. 'Irish-Canadian Franklin Search Expedition, 2004, Report of Field Survey Results,' Maritime Heritage Consulting, Vancouver, 2004.
  • David Lyon, The Sailing Navy List. All the Ships of the Royal Navy - Built, Purchased and Captured - 1688-1860