Hecla-class bomb ship / 3 masts
/ L,B,D 105' x 28.5' x 13.8' - 32m x 8.7m x 4.2m / 372 tons /
Hull: wooden / Complement 67 / Arms: 1 x 13" mortar, 1 x 10"
mortar, 2 x 6pdr, 8 x 24 pdr / Designed Sir Henry Peake / Built: Pembroke
dockyard, Wales 1826.
Vesuvius-class bomb ship / 3 masts / L,B,D
102' x 27' x 12.5' - 31.1m x 8.2m x 3.8m / 325 tons /
Hull: wooden / Complement 67 / Arms: 1 x 13" mortar, 1 x 10"
mortar, 2 x 6pdr, 8 x 24 pdr / Designed Sir Henry Peake / Built: Davy,
Topsham, England 1813.
saw war service in 1812 in the Crimea, but was then laid up until 1828.
She was damaged near Lisbon and withdrawn from service after being
In 1836 Terror
sailed to Hudson Bay under the command of George Back with the intention
of reaching Repulse Bay - which she never did. She almost didn't survive
the winter, at one point being pushed some forty feet up a cliff before
the ice subsided. Ten months after entering the pack Terror limped
to Ireland where she was beached and repaired.
terror were designed as "bomb ships" for the naval
bombardment of shore targets. The main armaments of large bore mortars
weighed 3 tons each and required that the ships be considerably
re-inforced for the punishing work that this entailed. The mortars had a
powerful recoil. Thus they were
suited for polar exploratory work by virtue of being stronger than other
similar ships available at the time. The ice strengthened sealing
and whaling vessels used in later polar expeditions were not available
in such numbers at the time of the Erebus and Terror
They also had
capacious holds for all of the stores that were needed and shallow drafts
(eleven feet) to get close in to shore.
preparation for the voyage, the admiralty dockyards doubled the
thickness of the ships decks with a layer of waterproof cloth being
sandwiched in between the old and new layers. The interiors of the two
ships were braced fore and aft with oak beams to resist and absorb shock
from ice. The hulls were scraped clean and double planked and finally the
keels were sheathed in extra thick copper plate. Triple strength canvas
was fitted for the sails.
They ships had sail
power only for the Antarctic expedition, but were fitted out with single
screw propellers powered by 20hp engines for the Northwest Passage voyage.
In search of the Northwest
Passage, 1845 - 1848, John Franklin
After arriving back in England following their Antarctic
expedition with James Clark Ross, Erebus and Terror were fitted out with 20 hp
steam engines and single screw propellers for a new voyage in search of the
Northwest Passage under the command of Sir John Franklin.
The ships sailed again from the Thames on the 19th of May
1845. They had been painted black with a wide yellow stripe running along
them. They were provisioned for three years, though by careful use and by
getting extra food from hunting and fishing, this might stretch to
They were seen in Baffin Bay near to the entrance of Lancaster
Sound on the 26th of July 1845 by two whaling ships that were waiting for
the ice to clear. Neither ship, the Erebus nor the Terror
nor any of the 133 crew aboard them were ever seen again.
The ships sailed north but found their way
blocked by ice and had to turn south again. Eventually they became ice
bound in Victoria Strait between King William Island and Victoria Island.
Franklin died on board Erebus on June 11th 1847 of natural causes. By
spring 1848, 23 crew members were also dead from starvation or scurvy. On
April 22nd 1848, the 105 remaining survivors abandoned the ships and attempted
to march to Fort Resolution about 600 miles to the southwest - none of
them made it alive. All of the crew of both ships died and the Erebus
and Terror were lost to the ice.
Pressed for news of the expedition, the
British Parliament issued a £20,000 reward for Franklin's rescue - no
news or sight of the expedition had been seen or heard since August 1845.
There was £10,000 to anyone who just found the two ships and another
prize of £10,000 to the first to cross the North-West passage. Lady Jane Franklin, Sir John's wife (now widow though she was not sure of
it) was very energetic in her searches, paying with her own money (and
that donated from others in response to her forthright approaches) for four
ships to go to the Arctic.
She appealed to the Whitehouse in 1849 for
help though at first was met with a cool response. Eventually after
effectively being shamed by popular public opinion to Lady Franklin's
appeal, congress acted. A New York shipping merchant, Henry Grinell
offered the use of two of his strengthened ships, the Advance and Rescue,
Congress authorized that they be manned by US Navy personnel.
The lure of the search for the lost
expedition of Erebus and Terror led by Franklin gripped many
men over the next ten years. Forty search parties set out to find them,
six went overland through North America and thirty four went by sea.
Initially it was thought the men might be found alive, but eventually this
became a quest to find out what had happened to the expedition.
Ironically, it was the search for the lost men that led to a great opening
up and exploration of the Arctic on a previously unprecedented scale.
Some of the expeditions were possibly using
"looking for Franklin" as an excuse for their own attempt to
reach the North Pole or to be the first through the North-West passage.
Indeed for the next half a century the phrase "going to look for
Franklin" became a euphemism for an attempt at the North Pole.
In August 1850, the first signs were found.
At the mouth of Wellington channel on Beechy Island, were found the remains
of where the expedition had wintered in 1845. There were sledge tracks in
the earth, fire sites and a massive pyramid of 600 empty cans. There were
also three graves. This was a very unusually high rate of loss for a first
winter, despite other expeditions losing men it tended not to happen until
a number of years had elapsed. Something had clearly made Franklin and his
The fate of Erebus and Terror
was not learned until 1859 when the Fox, one of Lady Franklin's own
ships commanded by Leopold McClintock learned their fate after discovering notes and artifacts on King William
2010 - Parks Canada searches for the wrecks of the Erebus and Terror, but
still no sighting since 1845
Picture courtesy - Library and Archives Canada, Peter Winkworth Collection