First Look Inside the Wreck of the HMS Terror

By on August 28, 2019

See inside the HMS Terror for the first time since it vanished with the Franklin Expedition over 170 years ago.

Aside from a few bodies found mummified in the Canadian permafrost and tales told by Inuit tribes of madness and cannibalism, nothing was ever found of the Franklin Expedition after it vanished in 1846. Over 30 expeditions failed to find any trace of the two ships and most of the 129 men that set out from England in 1845 to find a passage through the Arctic that connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

That is, until extensive surveys based on Inuit oral history lead searchers to the wreck of the HMS Erebus in 2014. Just two years the second ship, the HMS Terror, was discovered. Both ships were discovered in shallow water near King William Island, where two members of the crew had been found long dead in a lifeboat in 1859.

Mummified body from the Franklin Expedition
A member of the Franklin Expedition found buried on Beechey Island in 1984, mummified in the permafrost

Now, for the first time, we can get a glimpse inside the ship thanks to the Parks Canada researchers who have been studying the remarkably preserved wrecks.

The Erebus has had a few more years to be studied, and some artifacts have been brought up, but until this year weather conditions made it difficult to examine the Terror.

Thanks to calm seas, the underwater archaeology team was able to guide a small ROV into the ship and capture some amazing video of the interior.

“Overturned armchairs, thermometers on the wall, stacked plates, chamberpots, washbasins — often in their correct position,” team member Ryan Harris said. “We were able to see an incredible array of artifacts.”

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The camera was piloted through an open hatch into the ship.

“You have the lights of the ROV penetrating the darkness,” Harris said. “Looking forward in the corridor, you see the list of the ship to starboard.

“And then off to the left, you see a succession of doors into various officers’ cabins. Every single sliding door agape. Just imagine piloting the vehicle into one cabin after the next and see the private quarters of each officer. You see the bed places, you see the shelves, shipboard articles on the shelves, scientific instruments in their cases and many, many drawers.”

Harris said it feels like violating the privacy of the crew that once occupied those spaces. “It’s exhilarating, but it’s quite a solemn space.”

Inside the HMS Terror shipwreck
Inside the wreck of the HMS Terror

The only door found closed in the ship was the one leading to cabin of captain Francis Crozier.

That cabin is likely to be filled with journals and maps preserved and still legible that could help answer many questions about the doomed expedition.

“It looks like the ship, in many ways, was fully operational and then suddenly deserted,” Harris said. “All the cabin doors were opened, almost as if there was a rush to see if anyone was on board as it sank. We don’t know.”

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