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

Introduction

Due to the importance of Sir John Franklin’s 1845 voyage to Canada’s history of Arctic navigation and exploration, the two lost ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, are designated together as a national historic site of Canada – the only such “undiscovered” national historic site.

Locating these shipwrecks, or their contents, offers unprecedented information on the search for the Northwest Passage, the exploration of Canada’s North and the fate of Sir John Franklin. HMS Erebus, HMS Terror and their crew are also a testament to Canada and Great Britain’s shared history. HMS Erebus and HMS Terror also have historical and cultural significance for local Inuit who speak of the ships in their oral history. It is believed that Inuit oral history and research could hold the key to the ultimate discovery of the lost vessels.

Locating HMS Erebus and HMS Terror continues to prove very challenging due to the vastness of the Canadian Arctic and the harsh conditions frequently encountered in northern waters. It is also complicated by differing accounts of the fate of Franklin’s ships as preserved in Inuit traditional knowledge, and the many interpretations given to these accounts on the possible resting place of the wrecks. A number of attempts to locate HMS Erebus and HMS Terror have been unsuccessful to date, but an increasing area of the seafloor has been systematically ruled out, thus narrowing the search.

Sketch of the situation of the H.M.S. Terror at Sunrise, July 14, 1837 Sketch of the situation of the H.M.S. Terror at Sunrise, July 14, 1837
© Courtesy Library and Archives Canada / Mary Montagu Album / C-006125