Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New Search for Erebus and Terror

As we are approaching late July, I started wondering how Parks Canada's search for the Erebus and Terror was progressing. At this time of year Lieutenant Schwatka's expedition witnessed the ice break up in Victoria Straight. Expedition member Heinrich Klutschak wrote that on July 24 the ice near Erebus Bay began to fracture and pile up on shore. However Klutschak does not make it clear how much, if any, water was opened at the time.

The bad news is that Parks Canada's search has been called off since the designated ice breaker is needed elsewhere (understandable and somewhat expected). The good news is that a private search expedition Finding Franklin 2009 (pdf file) is scheduled to start shortly and will try to search the bottom of Victoria Straight, to the northwest of Victory Point. The area is known as "Larson Sound." The search team plans to use side scan sonar and forego any metal detecting.

There seems to be a good probability that one of the ships went down somewhere West or northwest of Adelaide Peninsula to the South of KWI. This ship is sometimes referred to as the "Utjulik" wreck. Over the span of decades, the Inuit told and retold a story about boarding a deserted ship in this area. This would account for the location of one ship with the other generally presumed to lie somewhere in Victoria Straight.

Robert Grenier, leading the (now stalled) Parks Canada search, outlined a plan to estimate the drift of the ships down from the north of KWI and towards the RGS Islands. This estimated drift path would then be used to define a search area. This method has always been my first choice though it is expensive.

If the second Franklin ship was crushed by the ice what traces could we expect to find? Would it be nothing but a debris field? Or more intact like the Breadalbane (side scan sonar image)? Or perhaps somewhere in between?


  1. I've been surprised as well that the new private expedition has set its sights so far north. There'll be nothing but spars and splinters there, although if they find the railway engine, then at least we should be able to know which ship it was that was crushed further north, and ergo which it was that was anchored off the Adelaide Peninsula.

  2. Some have theorized that the Utjulik ship was the Terror. One reason is a block of wood recovered by Schwatka with what might be "OR" marked on it. Most of what was found in Erebus Bay is said to have come from the Erebus (haven't done the inventory myself). The theory here is that a much as possible was taken off of the Erebus before the ice crushed her. David Woodman suggests that the ships were not far from McClintock's Boat Place while they were still manned.

    Not only would the steam engines identify the ship but some of the cans and sledge harnesses were marked with an "E" or "T" depending on which ship they came from. Apparently the heating systems varied between the two ships as well. A debris field might actually make it easier to recover some items.

    I haven't given up hope that an intact ship may lay to the west of KWI. But ultimately it wouldn't surprise me if the ship was splintered. Breadalebane was crushed by ice but is still largely in one piece. There was a photo online showing her bow with the numbers still painted on the waterline.

    Part of a writing desk was obtained by Hall which was said to have come from the Utjulik Ship. Schwatka found a board with "LF" spelled out using brass tacks. The Inuit claimed it was a part of the Utjulik Ship but it has defied explanation ever since it was recovered. Admiral Wright claimed the board as proof the Utjulik wreck was the Investigator (abandoned in 1853 far North in Mercy Bay). The items collected by Schwatka and Hall haven't been examined in a long time. Perhaps these relics could tell us something? I wonder what is required to gain access to these relics? It would be a big help with the cutlery project.

  3. Chris, I heartily agree -- these relics should be looked at again, my modern experts in marine history, wood, fabrics, etc. The NMM may have done a reasonable job of keeping these objects safe, but it has done very little to make them available to researchers, and rarely makes them available to anyone without charging ridiculous fees (I happen to know that the NOVA producers paid $10,000 for for the privilege of having a few of these items taken out of storage and discussed by a curator on camera). There should be a national effort in the UK to get them to change their policies and make these items available at no charge to legitimate researchers!