U.K. offers famed Arctic shipwrecks

The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror in the bay where John Franklin's expedition spent the winter of 1845-1846, as illustrated by Le Breton in 1853.


By Colin Dwyer - NPR.org


In an act befitting "our long shared history and the closeness of our current bilateral relationship," the U.K. has announced it will give Canada the recovered shipwrecks of John Franklin, a British explorer who sought to chart an unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage in the Arctic in the 1840s — and died in the attempt, along with all of his crew.

"This exceptional arrangement will recognise the historical significance of the Franklin expedition to the people of Canada, and will ensure that these wrecks and artefacts are conserved for future generations," British Defense Minister Michael Fallon said in a statement published Tuesday.

For more than a century and a half, the resting place of the two vessels remained a mystery — until a team of archaeologists finally found and identified the HMS Erebus in 2014.

Just two years later, researchers acted on a tip from an Inuit man to find the HMS Terror, the flagship of Franklin's 1845 expedition, sitting "perfectly preserved" nearby in the waters near King William Island.

Reporting at the time the HMS Erebus was found, the Toronto Star explained the enduring riddle Franklin's doomed expedition has represented:

"Sir John Franklin and 128 crewmen were lost in the original expedition. Skulls believed to be of the members of the expedition were found and buried on King William Island in 1945. "But for 167 years it has remained a mystery as to why Franklin and his men were never heard from soon after the Royal Navy had mounted one of the best equipped Arctic explorations in its history to find a possible trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans."


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Canada Northwest Passage John Franklin Arctic shipwrecks