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Good News: New discovery in HMS Erebus shipwreck

BY Alice Gawthrop

3rd Mar 2023 Good News

Good News: New discovery in HMS Erebus shipwreck

A new discovery has been made in the wreckage of HMS Erebus, which may offer new insights as to the fate of the ship's crew

In 1845, two ships left England on a voyage of Arctic exploration: the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror. Neither ship returned.

The HMS Erebus

For years, the exact fate of the ships’ crews remained a mystery. Now, marine archaeologists have found a trove of fascinating artefacts in the wreckage of the HMS Erebus in Wilmot and Crampton Bay, an Arctic waterway in Nunavut, Canada. Among these treasures is a journal that may offer clues as to the crews’ fate. 

The wreckage was first discovered in 2014 by Parks Canada in collaboration with Inuit communities. Two years later, the HMS Terror was discovered in Terror Bay.

François Etienne Musin (1820-1888) - HMS 'Erebus' in the Ice, 1846

François Etienne Musin (1820-1888), HMS "Erebus" in the Ice, 1846 © François Musin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The two ships set off on their tragic voyage under Sir John Franklin in May, 1845. They were last seen by Europeans entering Baffin Bay in August of that year. 

Search expeditions and testimonies from local Inuit determined that the ships had become icebound and were abandoned by their crews. In total, there were 129 crew members, alongside John Franklin himself, all of whom ultimately died. 

Clues to the ship’s fate

The circumstances of their deaths have been the subject of much speculation, spawning novels, TV series and a whole lot of late-night wondering. A recent discovery by diver Ryan Harris may shed some light on the matter.

"The team hope that it may hold clues as to what exactly happened"

Over the course of 11 days in 2022, marine archaeologists carried out 56 dives to explore the HMS Erebus. They recovered 275 artefacts, including a leather journal found in the steward’s pantry. “We’re quite excited at the tantalising possibility that this artefact might have written materials inside,” Harris said.

It will take some years of lab analysis before the contents of the journal can be identified with any certainty, but the team have expressed hope that it may hold clues as to what exactly happened after the ships became icebound back in the 1800s.

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