British shipwrecks Erebus and Terror

Ice Melt Encourages Lost Arctic Ships Search

HMS Erebus

By Nick Meo

More than 160 years after they vanished into the northern ice on a doomed mission to find a North West Passage to Asia, an expedition will set off in search of the lost ships of Victorian explorer Sir John Franklin, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror. 

If the Canadian Coastguard's sonar manages to locate the remains of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, they will solve one of the great mysteries of maritime exploration. 

The last recorded sighting of the two vessels and their 128 hand-picked officers was on July 26, 1845, two months after they had set sail from Greenhithe in Kent on a mission to chart the North West Passage. Their failure to make to their intended destination of China sparked one of the longest rescue missions in maritime history, in the course of which the passage was finally located after centuries of failed efforts. 

Of the Franklin expedition itself, however, only rumours of starvation, madness and cannibalism filtered back to London, based on the reports of Inuit people in the Arctic wastes north of Canada, who reported a group of white men trapped by the ice and slowly dying of hunger. In the 1980s the frozen bodies of two seamen and a petty officer in an ice-filled coffin were found.

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