Eight years into the quest to solve a 168-year-old mystery, an Arctic research mission may have found the second of two shipwrecks from the ill-fated Franklin Expedition.
A report in the Guardian Monday claims archaeologists with the Arctic Research Foundation have located the HMS Terror — and it appears to be in “pristine condition.”
Sir William Franklin led HMS Terror and HMS Erebus on a British Navy quest for the Northwest Passage.
All 129 crew members were lost after the doomed vessels disappeared in 1848, three years after the expedition set out from England.
The 10-member crew aboard the research vessel Martin Bergmann located the wreckage in Terror Bay off Nunavut’s King William Island on Sept. 3.
According to the Guardian, HMS Terror was located 96 kilometres south of where it was believed to have been lost, resting 24 metres below the surface of Terror Bay off the southwest corner of Nunavut’s King William Island. Underwater archaeologists found the wreck of HMS Erebus two years ago, on Sept. 7, 2014. It was resting in 11 metres of water, just north off the Adelaide Peninsula in the Queen Maud Gulf.
The two ships were believed to have been abandoned after getting trapped in ice in the Victoria Strait, to the northwest of King William Island.
The Bergmann and its crew are funded by the Arctic Research Foundation, a private charitable organization founded by Jim Balsillie, the co-founder of BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion.
Arctic Research Foundation operations director Adrian Schimnowski confirmed to the Guardian the team used a remote-controlled underwater vehicle to look inside HMS Terror and see just how well-preserved the ship remains.
“We have successfully entered the mess hall, worked our way into a few cabins and found the food storage room with plates and one can on the shelves,” Schimnowski told the Guardian by email from the vessel. “We spotted two wine bottles, tables and empty shelving. Found a desk with open drawers with something in the back corner of the drawer.”
Parks Canada has led the search for the wrecks since 2008. The federal agency confirmed the wreck of the Erebus two years ago, but has yet to announce whether it has confirmed the Terror was indeed found.
After the discovery of the Erebus wreck in 2015, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the mystery of the Franklin Expedition was of great interest to Canadians and people around the world.
But it was also of great interest to Harper, who sought to assert Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.
A chance encounter on Terror Bay
Their fate of the Franklin Expedition crew — until now — has proved one of the Arctic’s most enduring mysteries.
In a separate interview, Schimnowski told The Canadian Press the mystery might have remained if not for a late-night conversation on one of the search vessels between himself and Sammy Kogvik, an Inuk and Canadian Ranger from Gjoa Haven.
The two were on the bridge of the Martin Bergmann, a research vessel, and Kogvik was telling Schimnowski about the history of the shorelines they were sailing past. He started talking about something he’d seen seven years ago while snowmobiling across the sea ice of Terror Bay.
Kogvik recalled how he had looked behind him to check on his hunting partner when he spotted a large pole sticking up out of the ice. The two Inuit stopped and took pictures of what looked like a ship’s mast.
But when Kogvik got home to Gjoa Haven, he found he’d dropped his camera and lost the shots.
“He kept the story secret because he didn’t want people not to believe him,” Schimnowski said
“As soon as he said the story, I knew from his eyes and the way he was speaking that he had something. I’d also heard similar stories in the past four years, so we quickly decided to change our course, to go in to Terror Bay.”
The crew searched for more than two hours without success. They decided to give up and head to the nearby community of Cambridge Bay using a different route out of the bay than they had entered with.
“Within 15 minutes of starting again, we found an artifact on screen,” Schimnowski said. “It looked like the cross-section of a masted ship.
“It was very exciting. We had several happy dances on the bridge. There were hugs, tears …
“You have very few experiences like that in a lifetime. We celebrated together.”
In a release, Kogvik said he was delighted to see the vessel again.
“I am very excited, we found the boat I touched 7-8 years ago and then it vanished again. Gjoa Haven will be excited too because an Inuit found the boat so many years ago.
“I am just so excited to be aboard RV Bergmann and see the boat again. I just want to see something, anything, even something small that will show me how the people lived on that boat.”
With reporting from The Canadian Press