Saturday 28th April 2018

The Terror


The Terror Follows a non-linear narrative structure, beginning at a point approximately midway through the overall plot. The narrative switches among multiple viewpoint characters and uses both third- and first-person narrative (the latter in the form of Dr. Goodsir’s diary entries).

Inspired by a true story, The Terror centers on the British Royal Navy’s perilous voyage into unchartered territory as the crew attempts to discover the Northwest Passage. Faced with treacherous conditions, limited resources, dwindling hope and fear of the unknown, the crew is pushed to the brink of extinction. Frozen, isolated and stuck at the end of the earth, The Terror highlights all that can go wrong when a group of men, desperate to survive, struggle not only with the elements, but with each other.


The story begins in the winter of 1847. For more than a year, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus have been trapped in ice, 28 miles north-northwest of King William Island. The weather has been much colder than normal, the ships’ tinned provisions are dwindling and often putrid, and the sea ice and landmasses are mysteriously devoid of any wildlife that can be hunted. In addition to the natural dangers, the crews are being stalked and attacked by a monster resembling an immense polar bear.

In flashbacks, the novel relates some of the backstory behind the expedition’s current predicament. The Franklin expedition is the latest in a series of attempts to forge the Northwest Passage, all of which have ended in failure. Sir John Franklin, having been recalled in disgrace from a government posting in Van Diemen’s Land, views the expedition as his last chance for glory and recognition. Captain Francis Crozier, embittered by romantic rejection at the hands of Franklin’s niece, seeks to distract himself by again venturing into the Arctic. The rest of the crew have signed on for adventure. Although the expedition begins auspiciously enough, three men die of disease during their first winter in the ice, and soon afterward, Franklin makes the fateful decision to travel around the northeast coast of King William Island, which results in the ships’ becoming trapped.

BHC3325; H.M.S. Erebus in the ice, 1846terror-1

In the summer of 1847, Franklin sends out parties in various directions across the ice, in hopes of finding open water. None of the parties succeeds in this goal. However, one of the parties encounters a pair of “Esquimaux” on the ice, a young woman and an old man. They accidentally shoot the man, whereupon they are set upon by the monster, who kills Lt. Graham Gore, the leader of the party. When the party returns to the ships, the girl follows them. Crozier names her “Lady Silence”, as her tongue appears to have been bitten off in the past, rendering her mute. After the Esquimaux man dies aboard Erebus, the monster begins stalking and attacking the crews. Although the beast shows signs of intelligence, the men believe it is nothing more than an unusually aggressive bear. This assumption leads them to underestimate the creature. Franklin is killed in a botched attempt to bait the creature out in the open, and a number of other officers and men are killed as the months progress.


Following Franklin’s death, Crozier becomes the expedition commander, with Captain James Fitzjames assuming the role of executive officer. Despite some initial tension between them, the two men gradually become friends as they attempt to deal with the threats of the monster, disease, and impending starvation. By 1848, the crews become further debilitated by the extreme cold and lack of fresh food, and the monster continues to prey on them. An ill-fated ‘morale boosting’ New Year’s Eve carnivale masque ends with a large number of the expedition, including three of the four surgeons, being killed by the monster and friendly fire from the expedition’s Royal Marines detachment. Crozier subsequently orders punished Caulker’s Mate Cornelius Hickey (for wearing a white polar bear costume) and two other men (for unbecoming behavior) with 50 lashes of the cat o’ nine tails. Hickey begins to plot against the officers, especially Crozier and Lt. John Irving, who had earlier discovered Hickey copulating in a compromising position with another member of the crew in Terror’s hold.


As spring approaches, Erebus is eventually crushed and sunk by the relentless ice. Its remaining crew decamps to Terror for a short time, until Crozier finally orders the ship abandoned. The expedition’s 105 survivors relocate to ‘Terror Camp’, a tented refuge on King William Island. After ruling out an attempt to reach the far side of the Boothia Peninsula, Crozier and Fitzjames conclude that their best hope is to man-haul the lifeboats of both ships south to the Canadian mainland and then down Back’s River to an outpost on Great Slave Lake, an arduous journey of several hundred miles. However, before they can set out, Irving is set upon and murdered by Hickey. Hickey lays the blame for Irving’s death on a band of Esquimaux hunters whom Irving had in fact befriended, and the Esquimaux are attacked and massacred in revenge. From this point on, the crews fear and avoid the native population.


With all hope of outside rescue eliminated, the crews begin hauling the boats across King William Island. The trek is brutal, and many of the men die from exhaustion, exposure, and disease, including Fitzjames. There are rumblings of mutiny from Hickey and his growing entourage, and the monster continues to appear with deadly frequency, at one point slaughtering an entire boat crew as they explore an open lead in the ice. With no other options, and despite mounting casualties, the crew continues to press south and eventually reach a position on the southern shore of the island that they name ‘Rescue Camp’.


From there, the survivors splinter into several groups. Hickey and his faction declare their intent to return to Terror Camp, while another group opts to return to Terror herself, despite the possibility that she has been crushed by the ice. Crozier agrees to let them go, but later he and Goodsir are lured away from the camp and ambushed by Hickey’s men. Crozier shoots and fatally wounds Magnus Manson, Hickey’s lover and chief crony, and is then shot and apparently killed by Hickey, while Goodsir is taken hostage.


The remainder of the crew decides to keep marching south. All three groups eventually meet with disaster. Hickey’s group, despite resorting to cannibalism, is stopped short of its goal by a blizzard, and most of the men either starve or freeze to death, while the remainder are murdered by Hickey, who has begun to suffer delusions of godhood. Goodsir commits suicide by poisoning himself, ensuring that any of Hickey’s crew who eats his body will die. The monster leaves Hickey alone to freeze to death, seemingly because Hickey’s soul is so foul that the monster considers him inedible. The other groups’ fates are not revealed, but it is implied that they all die as well, rendering Crozier the expedition’s sole survivor. Crozier is rescued by Lady Silence, who treats his wounds with native medicine and brings him with her on her travels.


As he recovers from his injuries, Crozier experiences a series of dreams or visions which finally reveal the true nature of the creature. It is called the Tuunbaq, a demon created millennia ago by the Esquimaux goddess Sedna to kill her fellow spirits, with whom she had become angry. After a war lasting 10,000 years, the other spirits defeated the Tuunbaq, and it turned back on Sedna, who banished it to the Arctic wastes. There, the Tuunbaq began preying on the Esquimaux, massacring them by the thousands, until their most powerful shamans discovered a way to communicate with the demon. By sacrificing their tongues to the beast and promising to stay out of its domain, these shamans, the sixam ieua, were able to stop the Tuunbaq’s rampage. Lady Silence is revealed to be one of these shamans, and she and Crozier eventually become lovers. He chooses to abandon his old life and join her as a sixam ieua.

Single_Jared_Harris_Captain-Francis-Cozier-800x600Francis Crozier (age 49) Captain - Terror

Captain Francis Crozier

The expedition’s second in command (he becomes commander of the expedition following the death of Sir John Franklin) and primary narrator of the novel. He is portrayed as a competent leader and skillful captain, though he suffers from alcoholism and a deep sense of insecurity stemming from his Irish ancestry and humble birth. He also is implied to possess latent psychic abilities. Towards the end of the novel he is shot several times during the betrayal and ambush by Cornelius Hickey, near Rescue Camp. Crozier is saved (in unexplained circumstances) by Lady Silence, who uses native medicine to heal his gunshot wounds. She teaches him how to survive in the adverse Arctic conditions and the ways of the sixam ieua spirit-governors, and the two become lovers. Crozier eventually joins Silence as a sixam ieua, and they have two children together. He adopts the Inuit name Taliriktug, meaning ‘Strong Arm’.

Single_Tobias_Menzies_Captain-James-Fitzjames-800x600James Fitzjames (age 33) Commander - Erebus

Commander James Fitzjames

The expedition’s third in command and the de facto captain of Erebus prior to Franklin’s death. He is an upper-class officer, described as handsome and charming. At the start of the novel, Crozier is wary of Fitzjames and jealous of the apparent favouritism that is shown towards him within the Royal Navy. However, they become firm friends as the novel progresses. Following Franklin’s death, Fitzjames proves to be a very competent captain of Erebus and an invaluable assistant to Crozier. Throughout the novel, Fitzjames’ physical condition steadily deteriorates, and he eventually dies of an illness (implied to be botulism) during the trek south across King William Island.

theterrortrailerfbDr. Harry Goodsir, Assistant Surgeon, Erebus

Dr Harry D.S. Goodsir

Trained as an anatomist and signed on by Franklin as an assistant surgeon, he is considered the lowest of the four doctors who set out on the expedition, since he is technically a civilian and not a naval officer. Following the violent death of the other medical officers at the Venetian Carnivale, Goodsir becomes the only physician aboard either ship. Though he initially appears to be weak and effeminate, he is portrayed as a compassionate, strong-willed, and indefatigable man, who earns the respect of the entire crew. He is also one of the few men Crozier trusts implicitly. During Hickey’s final and successful attempt to mutiny and leave the expedition, Goodsir exposes Hickey’s real motives to take two sick and catatonic crew members with him. Despite Hickey’s insisting the men are his friends, and he and his crew wish to care for them, Goodsir states the real reason Hickey wants the two crewmen is so Hickey’s crew can eat them. Goodsir then proceeds to humiliate the flustered Hickey by instructing him in front of the entire expedition on how to butcher his able and healthy friend, Magnus Manson, should he need to later. Goodsir is later kidnapped by Hickey’s mutineers, who repeatedly mutilate him when he refuses to assist them in butchering their dead crewmates for sustenance, and Goodsir eventually commits suicide by taking a lethal cocktail of drugs. He does this as a parting shot to Hickey and his men, as the poison he ingests will kill anyone who attempts to eat his corpse.

Lieutenant John Irving
A young officer who is assigned the duty of protecting/investigating the mysterious Inuit girl, “Lady Silence”, with whom he has become infatuated. Irving is portrayed as a roguish and carefree womanizer, who has signed onto the expedition for glory and fame. Despite this, he becomes a favourite of Captain Crozier’s and is shown to be one of the most reliable officers on the expedition. Late in the novel, whilst on a solo exploration of King William Island, Irving befriends an Esquimaux hunting party. However, before he can return to camp and report his finding of the expedition’s potential saviours, he is waylaid and brutally murdered by Cornelius Hickey.

Caulker’s Mate Cornelius Hickey
Described as diminutive, devious, and a sea lawyer, Hickey is, after the Tuunbaq, the main antagonist in the novel. Hickey takes a strong dislike to Lt Irving when Irving accidentally discovers Hickey and Seaman Manson having sex in the bowels of HMS Terror and becomes enraged at all the officers when he is flogged in the aftermath of the Venetian Carnivale. His animosity towards Irving culminates with Hickey’s horrific murder of the lieutenant on King William Island. Hickey’s various attempts at fomenting mutiny are finally successful at Rescue Camp, when he convinces a number of the crewmen to attempt to return to the abandoned Terror Camp. After Crozier grudgingly allows Hickey and his followers to depart from the main expedition, Hickey attempts to return to Terror Camp, although he briefly returns to kill Crozier and kidnap Dr Goodsir. Hickey’s crew is eventually killed by the Tuunbaq, which rejects Hickey’s soul and leaves him to freeze to death alone.

Seaman Magnus Manson
A giant, physically powerful man with mild developmental disabilities, Manson is Cornelius Hickey’s lover and chief crony. Hickey uses Manson as a sort of living weapon, setting him on people who get in his way. Despite this, Manson is well-regarded by the crew, as his immense strength proves useful for many tasks aboard the ship. Captain Crozier shoots Manson in the stomach during the mutineers’ attempt to kill the expedition’s commander. Manson survives for several weeks, despite his injuries. Dr Goodsir lies to Manson and Hickey about the severity of the injuries, and ignoring his Hippocratic Oath, allows Manson to die without providing effective treatment.
Ice Master Thomas Blanky
A forthright, jovial and likable man, Blanky is the only character who evades the Tuunbaq, which Blanky accomplishes not once, but twice. In spite of his escape, he loses a leg and suffers other injuries, including frostbite, after which he receives a peg-leg. Despite this, Blanky continues to maintain hope of survival and rescue, until he develops gangrene in the stump of his severed leg during the trek across King William Island. Realizing he is now nothing more than a burden to the crew, he opts to remain behind on the ice whilst the rest of the survivors struggle on, and he is eventually attacked and killed by the Tuunbaq, although it is implied that he dies fighting.

Captain of the Foretop Harry Peglar
A respected member of the crew, Peglar is one of the senior petty officers aboard HMS Terror and is the ex-lover of Subordinate Officers’ Steward John Bridgens. Peglar is dyslexic and has a heart complaint that becomes evident later in the novel. He is killed by the Tuunbaq, along with several other members of the crew, while attempting to explore a possible lead to open water.
Subordinate Officers’ Steward John Bridgens
The oldest surviving member of the expedition, Bridgens is the ex-lover of Harry Peglar’s. A learned man, he becomes assistant to Dr Goodsir for a while at ‘Rescue Camp’. With starvation and disease the only prospect, Bridgens decides to simply leave the camp and walk into the low hills of King William Island. He is last mentioned in the novel falling peacefully asleep after watching a beautiful Arctic sunset.

Ship’s Boy Robert Golding
23 years old at the close of the novel, Golding is no longer a boy, but he is described as possessing a boy’s gullibility. Despite appearing to be loyal to Captain Crozier, he has secretly fallen in with Hickey’s band. He conducts an elaborate, and rather humorous, subterfuge to lure Crozier and Dr Goodsir to the Hickey ambush site (his attempts to pronounce the word polynya: polyp and polyanna, exasperate Captain Crozier). Golding eventually dies along with the rest of Hickey’s compatriots.


Lady Silence (Silna)
A young Inuit woman who has a mysterious link to the Tuunbaq. After her companion is shot by a party from the expedition, she accompanies the expedition back to the ships. When her companion dies, she remains aboard Terror, settling into a chain locker in the ship’s hold, and comes and goes as she pleases. The crews are afraid of her, believing her to be a witch, and on at least one occasion her life is threatened by Hickey’s faction, though Captain Crozier is able to defuse the situation. She apparently follows the men when they leave the ships behind and saves Crozier’s life after Hickey shoots him. She teaches Crozier how to survive in the Arctic, and they eventually become lovers. Silence’s aptitude for survival is frequently compared to the expedition members’ failure to keep warm and find sustenance in the harsh Arctic conditions.

Franklin-HERO,0Sir John Franklin, (age 59) Captain - Erebus

Sir John Franklin

Commander of the expedition and the nominal captain of HMS Erebus, he is portrayed in the novel as a pompous snob and buffoon, seeking one last chance at fame and glory after several failed Arctic expeditions and his dismissal from the governorship of Van Diemen’s Land. Franklin is killed by the Tuunbaq early in the novel, whilst inspecting the site of an attempt to ambush and kill the monster.

The Tuunbaq
A creature from Inuit mythology, the Tuunbaq is an indestructible killing machine that has taken the form of a massive polar bear with an elongated neck. The product of a war between the Inuit gods, it has been banished to the frozen northern wastes. The Tuunbaq preys on all creatures within its icy domain but particularly likes to eat the souls of humans. Only the sixam ieua’ – spirit governors of the sky – a select group of Inuit shaman specially bred for their psychic abilities, hold any sway over the beast. The sixam ieua allow the Tuunbaq to eat their tongues as a sign of their dedication, but they can summon the creature and pay homage to it with their throat singing and gifts of animal flesh. They communicate with it (and other sixam ieua) using a form of telepathy.

stephen_rough_3Dr. Stephan Stanley, Surgeon, Erebus

Dr. Stephen Stanley Ships Surgeon 

Erebus and Terror – John Franklin

In Search of the North-West Passage

A prestigious expedition to find the fabled northern route from Europe to South East Asia, “The Orient” to enable trade. Franklin died after 2 years and the ships were sunk after 3, all the crew were lost, but it would be 9 years before the story first came out and 33 years before rescue and recovery attempts ended.

1845 – The ships and the start of the journey
At the center of this story are two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. These were bomb ships designed to carry heavy mortar and cannon to bombard shore targets from sea. They were reinforced to take the considerable weight and recoil of the guns and so were stronger than other similar sized ships, this strengthening meant they were selected for polar work where they might encounter ice.

Screenshot 2018-04-29 16.33.07

They had already been on a four year voyage to the Antarctic from 1839-1843 led by James Clark Ross, a famous historic voyage of discovery. Mount Erebus, an active volcano in Antarctica and Mount Terror a nearby inactive volcano are named after the ships.
Erebus was 19 years old and Terror 32 years old by the start of the expedition already having had eventful lives. They were fitted with 20hp steam engines taken from the railways with screw propellers that allowed the ships to progress at 4 knots, the steam produced also provided heating and generated freshwater.


The Northwest Passage is a sea route from the Western Atlantic to Eastern Pacific Ocean so allowing European merchants quicker and easier access to the markets of the orient, specifically China and Japan without having to sail around South Africa or the Americas. It was initially imagined as something that might be there, the search began in the late 1400’s. In 1745 the British Admiralty promised a £20,000 prize for whoever discovered this passage. By the early 1800’s exploration became more scientific concerned with mapping the arctic coastline rather than the former “lets go and have a try” approaches.

John Barrow, Second Secretary of the British Admiralty from 1804 to 1845 had coordinated and initiated much of the scientific mapping operations. He organized a major expedition that he thought would finally determine whether or not a Northwest Passage existed at all. On the 19th of May 1845 the Erebus and Terror with a combined crew of 133 set out from England under the command of Sir John Franklin, an explorer who had already led two land expeditions to find the enigmatic sea route. 129 of these men were to enter the Arctic after the supply ship had left for home. None would return.

At 59 Franklin was widely considered too old and unfit for such an undertaking. The first choice, James Ross couldn’t be persuaded to take the position (at 44 he thought himself too old) and political rather than practical reasons had a large part to play in Franklin’s appointment. There were many detractors, John Ross, the uncle of James offered to lead a rescue expedition if nothing had been heard by February 1847, this even before Franklin set off.


1845 – Early days, no news is good news
Barrow thought the expedition might make it through the northwest passage within a single season, so avoiding overwintering, though this was unlikely and there were provisions for three years along with hunting equipment that could be used to supplement preserved rations.

Erebus and Terror were accompanied to Greenland by a supply ship which returned to England bearing letters from the crews of the two ships.

On the 26th of July 1845, two whaling ships saw Franklin’s expedition in northern Baffin Bay which they reported on arrival back home in England in August. It appeared that all was well and on schedule. It was to be the last contact the expedition had with the outside world.

The crew were inexperienced in the polar regions with only very few having been to the Arctic previously, though Franklin had and Crozier the captain of the Terror had returned two years previously from the Antarctic where he had also been captain of the same ship in James Clark Ross’s four year long expedition.

The diaries from the Erebus (where Franklin was stationed) that were eventually found report that these early days had a positive, benign and happy atmosphere where success was assured and failure not contemplated.


Sgt. Solomon Tozer

Crozier was less convinced however and presided over a ship less convivial. Both captains had a feeling they would not return home alive, shared only in their written thoughts.

In a time before telecommunications and with the ships heading to a region where they would likely be iced in for the winter with plenty of provisions to get them through and no likely contact for several months each year, no-one worried about what might be happening, no news was what was expected. However no news arrived during during the whole of 1846 either and concerns began to form.

The expedition was expected to take around three years.

Lieutenant H.T.D. Les Vesconte, Erebus

Lieutenant H.T.D. Les Vesconte, Erebus

1847 – rescue rejected then accepted
On the 9th of February 1847 John Ross true to his word to Franklin before he set sail approached the Admiralty Board in London with a rescue plan. He was initially rejected, as he was again later with a more detailed plan and as was another plan from a Dr. King. The expedition had been away for two winters at this point, it was known that they had provisions for at least another one.

Eventually by November 1847 in the continued absence of sightings or further news, a rescue mission was prepared by James Ross and accepted by the Admiralty Board. By the spring of the following year 1848, two sea-borne rescue missions set off along with a land attempt. Another (now the third) winter had passed since the expedition set off. None of these early missions found anything at all.

John Barrow died in November 1848 and with him any interest in the Franklin expedition from the Admiralty, or so they would have preferred. Franklin’s disappearance was a major news story of the day, he was a hugely popular public figure and his disappearance only served to make him more so. Eventually the response of the Admiralty was to offer £20,000 for the rescue of Franklin, £10,000 for finding his ships and another £10,000 for finding the northwest passage. The issue was handed over to the Arctic Council.

Portrait of Charles Hamilton Osmer


1850 – rescue missions in force find something…… and then nothing
Franklin’s widow, Lady Jane Franklin became obsessed with finding her husband or at least his remains. She spent her time and money financing expeditions and when the money ran low, she lobbied others for funds. In 1850 fifteen ships entered the Arctic on search missions including two American ships, one expedition was financed directly by Lady Franklin and another small two-vessel expedition was financed and led by the now 73 year old John Ross. They had no real idea where to look. The main difficulty was an unawareness (despite much advice from people who were aware) of the capricious nature of ice in the search area, what can be clear one year can be blocked for the next several, such was the case with the Peel Channel, clear when encountered by Franklin in the summer of 1846, but blocked by ice during subsequent searches.

HMS Assistance, one of four ships that winter in the ice near Beechey Island in 1850, it returned to England in 1851 before the winter, having found no trace of the lost expedition.


Thomas Blanky Ice Master

In late August 1850 the first signs of the expedition were found on Beechey Island, or specifically the remains of the first winter quarters from 1845 by an Admiralty fleet under Horatio Austin on the Resolute and and William Penny with the ships HMS Lady Franklin and HMS Sophia. John Ross and his two small ships were there too. Marks on the ground from fires and sledges were to be seen along with a pyramid of some 600 large empty food cans. More ominously there were also three graves with headstones marked with the date of deaths as January and April 1846, though rather than being seen as a bad sign, these were seen at least being better than an awful lot more deaths. There was however no sign of the customary stone cairn with an expected message from Franklin stating his current state and intentions of what to do next.


Sledge tracks were found extending at least forty miles up a nearby channel and it was assumed that these represented scouting parties Franklin sent out for the next summer (which would have been 1846 – 4 years previously by now). The search parties settled into a protected bay for the winter.

The ships crews endured the endured the winter at a place they called Union Harbour more or less cheerfully. They also went out on numerous sledging expeditions, manhauling. No further signs were found of Franklin or the two ships or the 129 men that winter or by the ships that fanned out in the summer when the winter ice had cleared, and so they returned to England in 1851 carrying with them a rumour via some convoluted connected whispers that Franklin and his men had been killed by the Inuit.

After this enormous costly search that essentially found nothing, the Admiralty had even less desire to continue. Franklin by now had attained an almost legendary status and while the public had lost interest in the North West Passage, it was becoming a matter of national pride to find out what had happened to England’s hero.

Every one had an opinion about what had happened, so it seemed of where Franklin had gone and what should be done to find him. Arctic foxes were captured and had notes attached around their neck with details of where to find food in the hope that the men of the expedition might capture them and read the notes, a similar idea was also tried with balloons. Medals were struck and handed out to the Inuit so if they found any trace of the expedition, they would know where to find the searchers and inform them.

Edward Couch, Mate, Erebus)

Edward Couch, Mate, Erebus

1852 – 5 ships look in the wrong place and find nothing,

Incidental rescue, 4 ships lost
The main problem was that the search efforts were being made in the wrong place. The Wellington Channel was considered to be the most likely place to look, it is 500 miles almost due north from where the wreck of one of Franklin’s ships would eventually be found. This expedition led by the unsuitable Sir Edward Belcher consisted of the ships: Assistance, Resolute, Intrepid, Pioneer and a supply ship, the North Star.

The ships froze in for the winter and Belcher’s pettiness and harsh application of the rules soon earned him many detractors and downright enemies, especially in the long, cold, dark winter night. Life on the frozen-in ships with Belcher was so unpleasant that almost all the men who could were volunteering for sledging expeditions, the level of discomfort of this being preferable to being on the ship. Belcher himself thought he was deliberately being told to look in the wrong place in order that he may be able to make an attempt on the North Pole if the opportunity presented itself, a situation that he resented and couldn’t have helped his attitude to the men in his command. This is considered to be the first expedition that was ostensibly “Looking for Franklin” where in reality it was a euphemism for making a attempt on the north pole. In subsequent years many similar expeditions had the same public and hidden agendas.

Belcher was ready to abandon his quest and go home when he received new orders, to search for the ships Investigator and Enterprise which had gone to search for Franklin in 1850 and had become not quite lost as such, but their whereabouts were unknown. In April 1853 sledging parties left the Resolute for what was to become a 105 day 1,400 mile journey, though they made only geographical discoveries. Another party went west and found the Investigator frozen into the ice at Mercy Bay, the now near starved crew had entered the Arctic in the west by the Bering Strait, the captain McClure thought he would be able to reach the Atlantic and become the first to traverse the North West Passage, spurred on in no small part by the £10,000 prize.

Charles Des Voeux,Portrait of Charles des Voeux

Charles Des Voeux

HMS Investigator was to make two journeys to the Arctic in search of the Franklin expedition, in the second, leaving in 1850 it became trapped in the ice and was abandoned three years later (the crew was rescued by the Resolute after a long overland walk). The wreck of the Investigator was discovered in 11m of water by marine archeologists in 2010.

More sledging trips were made along the routes that Franklin might have taken, still to no avail. By February 1854 Belcher had become sufficiently worried about the safety of his frozen in ships and men that he ordered them to be abandoned and all crews to board the North Star and return to England, fortunately the crews were able to be divided amongst a further two other supply ships that arrived.

Belcher was subject to the automatic court martial for any captain who lost a ship, he had lost for out of five. While he was exonerated, the verdict was interpreted more as “not proven” than of actual innocence. He was never again given an active command. Later on, the abandoned Resolute broke out of the ice and drifted to Davis Strait where it was salvaged by an American whaler 19 months later who couldn’t believe his luck.

Graham Gore, Commander - Erebus

Lieutenant Fairholme, Erebus

1853 – the story of Franklin’s fate is revealed
It was a man called John Rae a doctor and an overland man for the Hudson Bay Company who found what had happened to Franklin. While exploring the one empty space left by previous expeditions in 1853 he encountered a group of Inuit who told him of an encounter they had four years previously in 1849-50.

The Inuit told of a group of forty men dragging a boat south, they were all very thin and using sign language made it known that their ship had been crushed in the ice, they purchased a seal from the Inuit. Later the same season, the the same party were encountered, or at least what remained of them about a days walk from the Great Fish River. The men Rae spoke to had not seen the group first hand but were recounting a story told to them by others.

The scene described was apocalyptic, there were scattered dead bodies, in tents, under the upturned boat or out in the open. Many of the bodies has been hacked with knives and human remains were reported in cooking pots, they said there were thirty dead in that place, another five dead were found on a nearby island. The Inuit also reported hearing gunshots later in the year after the game had returned (so probably after May) indicating that not all of the men had died by that time. To confirm the story they told Rae, they sold him a number of artifacts, a silver spoon, silver forks and similar with initials and names that confirmed their provenance as belonging to the officers of the Erebus and Terror.

Single_Trystan_Gravelle_NK_021617_0042Portrait of Henry Foster Collins

Henry Collins

Rae stated “From the mutilated state of many of the corpses, and the contents of the kettles, it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last resource – cannibalism – as a means of prolonging existence”.

Rae’s report caused great consternation when it reached England. The Admiralty were relieved as they could now stop searching. Lady Franklin and the Arctic Council were shocked, not only was the news of death but death by starvation and with cannibalism thrown in to boot. They did the only reasonable thing they felt they could, they doubted the story and shunned Rae.

Rae had not seen the scenes described or even the region and why were the men in such an unlikely place? The Hudson’s Bay Company sent out a team to where they thought the Inuit had seen the scenes they described. Wood and some relics were found connected to the Erebus, but no signs of dead bodies.

Lieutenant Fairholme, Erebus

Graham Gore, Commander – Erebus

1857 – Lady Franklin raises funds for yet another rescue mission
John Franklin-Expedition- 1845 Another ship, the Fox in the command of Leopold McClintock was dispatched to the Arctic to search for what it could. Even Lady Franklin accepted that her husband was almost certainly dead now, 12 years after departure, he would have been 72 years old. It was hoped that some of the younger, fitter members of the crew would have survived or that at least journals and diaries might be discovered to cast a light on what had happened.

After two years, in 1859 following a difficult and at times harrowing journey, the Fox was able to start investigating the lost expedition of Franklin. Inuit told of seeing men travelling to the south some dropping dead as they walked, a ship that had many books that became wrecked and the body of a big man with long teeth.

Eventually the first body was found, apparently having fallen down as the man walked, then the remains of a cairn though without a message and then finally a cairn with a message still intact.

H. M. ships ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’ wintered in the ice in
28 of May, 1847 lat. 70° 05′ N. long. 98° 23′ W.

Having wintered in 1846 at Beechey Island in lat. 74° 43′ 28″ N.; long. 91° 39′ 15″ W., after having ascended Wellington Channel to lat. 77° and returned by the west side of Cornwallis Island.

Sir John Franklin commanding the expedition.

All well.

Party consisting of 2 officers and 6 men left the ships on Monday, 24 May 1847.

Gm. Gore, Lieut. Chas. F. Des Voeus, Mate.
The date of wintering 1846-7 at Beechey Island is a mistake, the Beechey Island winter was the previous one in 1845-6, with 1846-7 having been spent in the James Ross Strait to the north of King William Island.

Handwritten around the margin of this was the following:

April 25, 1848 H. M. ships ‘Terror’ and ‘Erebus’ were deserted on the 22d April, 5 leagues N. N. W. of this, having been beset since 12th September 1846. The officers and crews, consisting of 105 souls, under the command of Captain F. R. M. Crozier, landed here in lat. 69° 37′ 42″ N., long 98° 41′ W. Sir John Franklin died on the 11th June, 1847; and the total loss by deaths in the expedition has been to this date 9 officers and 15 men.

Signed by Captains Crozier and Fitzjames of the Erebus, it also states “and start (on) to-morrow, 26th, for Back’s Fish River,”.

This is the only written record of the expedition.


On the 28th of May 1847, all was as expected. Two weeks later Franklin was dead and soon another twenty four men had also died an unprecedented rate of casualties, some illness or disease seemed to have affected the crews.

1859 – The fate of the Franklin crews is revealed… partially
Leopold McClintock in 1859There were clues found by McClintock that hinted at a harrowing ordeal. After sledging seventy miles down the coast of King William Island an abandoned boat was found attached to a large cumbersome makeshift sledge. In the boat were two human skeletons, one much ravaged by wild animals, the other less so, next to which were watches and two guns loaded and propped upright. Also in the boat were large amounts of equipment including surprising items such as silk handkerchiefs, towels and sponges, hardly important things to take. There was some food, including an empty tin that had held twenty two pounds of meat. Books in the vicinity were marked “G.G” or “Graham Gore”. The boat was not pointing south as might be expected if the men dragging it were trying to escape, but instead it pointed north back to where the Erebus and Terror had spent the second winter and where they had been abandoned.


At another place, Victory Point a huge amount of discarded equipment was found, winter clothing, four heavy stoves with other metal items such as barrel hoops, a wooden block from the ships rigging, navigational gear, a medicine cabinet, and an enormous amount of winter clothing, though the notable absence of any food or even empty food tins.


There were more questions than answers, why had the sledge contained so many frivolous items while the equipment at Victory Point was far more useful but left behind? Why was there so little food, the expedition had been equipped with easily enough tinned food to last to 1848 and beyond even if it hadn’t been eked out with game caught during the summer months. The fact that so much useful equipment had been left undisturbed implied that any food had not been taken Inuit.

North of Victory Point three cairns were found, the first, after three miles had an empty canister, the second had nothing at all, the next one was surrounded by the remnants of three small tents and some other scraps. A piece of folded paper was found tucked into the rocks of the cairn but was blank, two broken corked bottles were found, if they had contained messages they had long since blown away.

James Reid, Ice Master, Erebus

James Reid Ice Master

Exhausted, McClintock and the crew of the Fox returned to their ship and sailed for Britain on the 6th of August arriving back in London on the 21st of September 1859, three crew members had been lost. The search for Franklin was over as far as Britain was concerned, 14 years after the Erebus and Terror had first sailed.

The monetary cost of the search expeditions had been enormous:
British Admiralty – £675,000 (2014 equivalent – £20.5M)
Lady Jane Franklin and subscriptions – £35,000 (2014 equivalent – just over £1M)
US government – $150,000 (2014 equivalent – just over $4.5M)
American Henry Grinnell – $100,000 (2014 equivalent – just over $3M)

There had also been a great cost of ships and lives of the would-be rescuers lost. On the positive side, the arctic had been mapped and explored like never before and in great detail.


Still, the mystery was unsolved, no survivors had been found, much of the evidence was contradictory or just unfathomable. The north west passage had still not been discovered or even fully proven to exist, Franklin and the rescue missions found where the passage wasn’t. Expeditions continued sporadically for 19 more years including another one part funded by Lady Franklin in 1874. The last expedition took place in 1878, it found many relics, several graves were identified along with exposed corpses that were given proper burial. The main conclusion was that no further records from Franklin’s Expedition had survived. This signaled the end of Franklin related search or rescue missions, 31 years after the first and 33 years since the expedition left England.


It would be another nearly fifty years before Roald Amundsen made the passage with a small crew in a small boat with a very shallow draught. The journey took them five years as they were frozen in each winter and even then they only just scraped through. Had Franklin’s expedition found the route, the Erebus and Terror would probably not have been able to sail through. The perils of unpredictable sea-ice, the difficulty and treachery of shallow channels and shoals meant that it was useless for the hoped for purpose of a quicker sea-route from Europe to the Far East.

Lieutenant R. O. Sargent, Mate

Lieutenant R. O. Sargent, Mate

Modern investigations from 1980
The corpse of John Torrington exhumed on Beechey Island in 1981, after 135 years in the permafrost it was remarkably well preservedIn 1981 a team from the University of Alberta, Canada travelled to King William Island where they intended to collect bones and subject them to modern forensic techniques to attempt to determine the causes of death or gain any other information. Fewer remains were found than had been hoped for, though it was possible to see pitting of the bones, a characteristic of scurvy, there were marks on the bones consistent with cannibalism. Most surprising of all were the results of trace element analysis that showed levels of lead present in the bones around ten times higher than those of similar age Inuit skeletons from the same area.


The findings were inconclusive however as the lead levels could have accumulated over many years, the only way to find out was to compare to soft tissue lead levels. It was decided to exhume the bodies on Beechey Island and perform autopsies. Two of the (remarkably well preserved) bodies were raised in August 1984 and bone and tissue samples taken before they were reinterred. Pneumonia was found to be the ultimate cause of death, though there were soft tissue lead levels that indicated the men “would have suffered severe mental and physical problems caused by lead poisoning”.

Initially the lead solder in the food tins were blamed for the lead poisoning, it is now thought that while this may have been contributory, the most likely explanation is that the lead came from a new system used for the first time on this expedition where fresh water from the steam engines was collected in tanks using lead pipes and lead soldered joints.


Another forensic expedition in 1992 identified high lead levels in bones and marks consistent with de-fleshing on nearly 400 bones and fragments from another site on King William Island.

The view today is that a number of factors were to blame for the loss of the crews of the Erebus and Terror. Lead poisoning would have had a significant effect with disease such as scurvy, pneumonia and tuberculosis affecting the weakened men, added to this are the effects of bitter cold and starvation.

With a lack of any real kind of written record and the fact that the artifacts are wide-spread and have been disturbed and/or lost before proper forensic archeological studies can be carried out, it is unlikely that the full story that slowly unfolded over four or five years will ever be properly known.

A number of searches for the wrecks of the Erebus and Terror found nothing for a long time. In 2010 however, the remains of H.M.S. Investigator, one of the would be rescue ships that became icebound before being abandoned and subsequently sinking were found upright and reasonably intact in 11m of water at Mercy Bay, Banks Island.

erebus bell

2014 – Erebus Found, 2016 – Terror Found
On the 9th of September 2014 a search called the “Victoria Strait Expedition” found one of Franklin’s ships in east Queen Maud Gulf to the west of O’Reilly Island. Initially it was not clear which ship had been found, later being identified as the Erebus, it is well preserved and largely intact. More here from Parks Canada.

Almost exactly two years later on the 11th of September 2016 a ship wreck found about 24m (80ft) down in a bay to the south of King William Island was surveyed by a small remotely operated submersible vehicle. It was found to be the Terror in a remarkably intact state of preservation. There are plates and a can on a shelf and glass panes still intact in 3 of the 4 tall windows in the stern cabin. The findings imply that the ship sank slowly after being shut up and prepared for the winter.

The Terror was found about 60 miles (96 km) further south of where it was thought to have been crushed by the sea ice. Its location and very well preserved state indicate that some of the crew may have closed the ship down and then attempted to sail south on the Erebus to escape their predicament rather than attempting to walk out of the Arctic as has been the accepted view so far.

Erebus found! – September 2014


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