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She was damaged near Lisbon and withdrawn from service after being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.
The Antarctic expedition 1839-1843,
James Clark Ross
James Clark Ross was an Englishman who by
1839 was the most experienced polar officer in the world. He had successfully located the north magnetic pole (1831) and had spent
eight winters in the Arctic, having been there for seventeen of the
previous twenty years. He was also reckoned by some to be the most handsome
officer in the Royal Navy. What better credentials could he have to lead
this latest of John Barrow's - the Second Secretary to the Admiralty -
Ross sailed south for the Antarctic in
the autumn (fall) of 1839 in command of the Erebus an Terror, the aim was to find
the south magnetic pole. This was to be part of Britain's contribution
to an international year of co-operation whereby European nations would
set up magnetic observatories around the world, coordinating readings on
fixed dates and comparing readings.
expedition was extremely well equipped by any standards. There were
stores for three years including large amounts of vegetable soup, pickled
cabbage and carrots to keep scurvy at bay. There were ice saws, portable
forges, winter clothing for every man and even a small flock of sheep.
Each ship held a crew of sixty four. They did not handle well (partly
because of the shallow draft) though they represented the epitome at the
time of naval ingenuity. No sailing ships before or since that time were
better prepared for their task with such fine attention to detail.
is not easy to describe the joy and light heartedness we all felt, as
we passed the entrance to the (English) Channel, bounding
before a favourable breeze over the blue waves of the ocean, fairly
embarked on the enterprise we had all so long desired to
James Clark Ross
Boats from HMS Erebus and HMS Terror -
Sounded in open ocean at 27.43 S and 17.48 W. Recorded depth of
approximately 2200 fathoms. First modern successful sounding in deep
Picture courtesy NOAA
Progress south was rather less hurried than
subsequent voyages and it was a year after leaving England that Ross
eventually left Hobartstown in Van Diemen's Land (today known as Hobart in
Tasmania) for the Antarctic Ocean. Rather than go directly he first sailed
to the 180th line of longitude and then turned south, this was partly to avoid
rival French and American expeditions under D'Urville and Wilkes
respectively. Ross had also learned from sealers that at this 180th meridian they
had seen a lagoon-like stretch of open water beyond the pack ice.
The first iceberg of the voyage was sighted
just after Christmas Day in 1840, on New Year's Day 1841 the ships crossed the
Antarctic Circle. Warm weather clothing was issued free to all of the
They came to the pack edge on the 3rd of
January, there was open water beyond the consolidated
edge, open narrow leads rather than the lagoon they had heard about, but
open navigable water nevertheless. Ross picked his point and rammed the
edge of the ice with the Erebus. For an hour, he repeatedly rammed
the same spot - this in a sailing ship it must be remembered. Eventually
it gave way and the two ships could pass through between the mass of open
sea and ice floes, they wormed their way ever southwards.
Ross pushed through the pack, his strengthened bomb ships being
able to do this unlike those of D'Urville and Wilkes. After a week, by the
9th of January, he
was through the band of pack ice into an "open polar sea", the
"lagoon" the sealers had spoken about. Now
all eyes looked to the south straining for a glimpse of land. The ships
were in a region that had never been visited by man before and all those
on board the two ships were filled with a sense of awe at their
achievement and what they were beholding. The dipping needles they carried
showed that the magnetic south pole was very near by.
On January the 11th land was sighted, a
range of mountains which Ross called the "Admiralty Range". This
was a time in which any new land seen in this region was the first time it had
ever been seen. There were no native peoples and discoverers could name
features as they pleased as long as they stayed within certain
conventions. Thus "Cape Adare" was named after a friend and
"Victoria Land" after the recently crowned English queen, other
features followed thick and fast.
"We had discovered a land of
so extensive a coastline and attaining such an altitude as to
justify the appellation of a Great New Southern Continent."
James Clark Ross
Ross had stumbled into one of the
"bites" taken out of the otherwise rounded shape of Antarctica
in an area that was to become known as the "Ross Sea". After
following the mountainous coastline for two weeks, an active
volcano was sighted rising 12,400 feet skywards from 100 miles away in the incredible visibility
common in Antarctica. The volcano's peak appeared to flash red fire at
night and by day streamed a dark vapour cloud. Ross named it Mount Erebus
after his ship and another smaller and extinct volcano rising to 10,900
feet, further to the east
On reaching nearly to Mount Erebus Ross
encountered a feature he called the "Great Ice Barrier" at
78°4'S, a wall of ice rising 160 feet out of the sea and
"...extended as far to the east and west as the eye could
discern" that prevented any further sailing south. He called the sea
at the point where he met the barrier "McMurdo Sound" after the
first lieutenant on the Terror.
The ice barrier could not circumvented nor
seen over, landing was impossible as the barrier's ice wall
was vertical. What was not known, but has been discovered since is
that the barrier represents the front edge of a vast ice shelf
flowing from the Antarctic interior 1,000 feet deep and extending for
about 1,000 miles.
As an experienced Arctic navigator - he had
spent four years in the ice a decade before - Ross realised that the entry
through the band of pack to the great ice barrier may have been a freak
and it could easily close behind them, never to open again. The Antarctic was not
like the Arctic with its plentiful seasonal game and not wishing to risk an
Antarctic winter frozen into the ice, the course was reversed. Erebus
and Terror turned around on the 9th of February. Not before time as the sea was
starting to freeze, the Erebus and Terror returned to Hobart in April for a three month
The following austral summer,
Ross sailed south once again, this time he had obtained a chart from the
voyage of the L'Astrolabe and Zelee.
They entered the pack ice at 60°50'
W. This time the pack held them and they drifted helplessly. On January
the 19th 1842, both ships rudders were wrecked by ice in a gale and the Erebus
had her hull stripped of its copper sheeting. They were
not freed from the ice to sail again until February the 2nd when they left
the consolidated pack. The furthest south reached was 78°11'.
It would be almost sixty years before another ship ventured so far south
On March the
13th there was a final brush with disaster as Erebus collided with Terror
sweeping away the Terror's bowsprit. The two ships drifted towards
two icebergs some sixty feet apart. Terror passed through first
before Erebus whose yards (ends of the horizontal wooden poles from which
the sails hung) hit the iceberg again and again. Ross eventually sailed
her through the space between the icebergs "by the hazardous
expedient of the sternboard". In other words, he sailed backwards.
The two ships
returned to the Falkland Islands before setting off for the south again in
December 1842 to explore the Antarctic Peninsula though they did not get
so far as they had done previously. They arrived back home on the 4th
of September 1843, four years and five months after setting off. Data
had been gathered on magnetism, oceanography and substantial botanical
and ornithological specimen collections had been made. It was to be the
last major voyage of exploration made entirely under sail.
to England triumphant and to receive a knighthood. Despite his findings,
no-one but whalers and sealers would follow for many years. The Antarctic continent
existed and was prodigious in size, though it would be fifty years before
any attempt was made to explore the land surface.
voyage of Erebus and Terror with John Franklin to search for the