Saturday, October 4, 2014

HMS "Erebus"

It was -- and is -- a storied vessel. Her Majesty's Ship "Erebus," a 372-ton bomb ketch, designed by Sir Henry Peake, constructed at Pembroke dockyard and already a veteran of James Clark Ross's Antarctic voyage before she became Sir John Franklin's flagship for his 1845 expedition in search of the long-sought Northwest Passage, a voyage from which neither he not any of his 128 men would ever return -- and now, she is found, recovered, re-seen, and ready to tell all manner of stories we can hardly yet conceive -- certainly a cause of celebration. So far, Parks Canada has only released a few tantalizing tidbits of what must be a substantial amount of video and still images from the two days of diving on the wreck that they managed before the end of this year's season -- there's some debate over whether they will (or should) release more all at once, or deal it out in dribs and drabs.

Whichever they choose, it's clear that it will take many years of patient work before this vessel gives up all her secrets. And, in the meantime, we should not forget about the many Franklin searchers and researchers of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, without whose persistence and passion the renewed search might have never captured public interest, or borne such fruitful results: Dave Woodman, Louie Kamookak, Dorothy Eber, Barry Ranford, Margaret Bertulli, Anne Keenleyside, John Harrington, Andrew Gregg, Ron Rust, Peter Wadhams, Maria Pia Casarini, Owen Beattie and John Geiger, Wayne Davidson, William Battersby, Peter Carney, and many others who have sought for traces of Franklin on land and sea (ice), probed through Inuit testimony, searched Admiralty records, and puzzled over ships' plans. Indeed if -- in the face of cutbacks and layoffs that have severely reduced the Canadian government's ranks of experts in archaeology, conservation, materials science, and other areas, this list of dedicated amateurs might come in handy.

NB: The illustration for this post is a curious one -- J.M.W. Turner's "Hurrah for the Whaler Erebus, Another Fish!," exhibited in 1841-- Turner, apparently had been commissioned to provide illustrations for an account of James Clark Ross's Antarctic voyages, but the commission fell through. Tuner, not wanting either to abandon the work or risk the ire of the publishers, re-worked and re-titled them, turning HMS "Erebus" into a whaling vessel! The engraving after Turner's original is by Robert Brandard.

19 comments:

  1. What an exciting time. During an interview with Peter Mansbridge on CBC, Parks Canada's Ryan Harris mentioned that an artifact was brought back from the wreck, but was reluctant to say what it was: one can hope that this might be the ships log or something similar that will explain more of the Franklin story.

    I'm curious Russell, have you heard any details on what technique was used to identify the wreck? During an interview with CTV's Canada AM, Ryan Harris mentions that they weren't able to identify the ship until they returned to Ottawa, so they clearly needed to reference some additional information to determine it was in fact the Erebus...

    Cheers,
    Greg

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  2. Hi Greg, and thanks for your comment!

    As I understand it, the identification was accomplished by means of careful measurements of the wreck. There are slight differences in the overall dimensions of the two vessels, in the structure of the bow and the (unfortunately damaged) stern, and some of the deck features. All of these measurements, and the comparison with original plans, would have taken time.

    I have also heard that they did take one physical artifact for examination -- at this point, we don't know what it is. If it were the ship's bell or some other clearly identifiable part, it could have been decisive.

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  3. Russell

    "...It's clear from this testimony that it was HMS "Erebus," Franklin's ship of command, that sank first -- which would mean that the ship discovered by Ryan Harris and his Parks Canada team would be HMS "Terror.""

    Knowing now that it's the Erebus, does this raise doubts as to the accuracy of the Inuit testimony?

    Bob

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  4. Robert, a reasonable question. And the answer is, not necessarily; if one assumes, as does Dave Woodman, that the man called "Too-loo-ark" in Kok-lee-arng-nun was not Franklin but rather Crozier, then the "ship which sank, and on board which they had often seen To-loo-ark" would indeed have been the "Terror." The Inuit testimony has been proven remarkably accurate, but as with any oral tradition there can be errors in transmission; our conjectures as to the identity of some of people spoken of in this evidence remain -- for now -- conjectures.

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  5. It would appear to me that your list of those being recognized for their past contributions is missing a name or two. I would ask why has the work of the terrestrial archaeologists, which has been responsible for the finding and cataloging of hundreds of Franklin artifacts, been summarily dismissed. Without all the pieces the puzzle would not be where it is today. Let's face it. No Davit equals no ship. Certainly not his year. Then the who and when speculation game begins in ernest.

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  6. It would appear that he names being recognized for their past contributions to this historical moment is lacking a name or two. I would ask why the past and present work of the terrestrial archaeologists, who have over the years discoverd and logged hundreds of Franklin artifacts, has been summarily dismissed? Without all the clues the mystery would still be as it was for the past 167 years. Lets face it. No Davit equals no ship. Not this year at least. Then the who and when speculation guessing game begins in earnest. The credit pie is sufficent in size to reward those who rightfully deserve the recognition.

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  7. Thanks for your comment, Twosmooth. I hope I haven't missed anyone -- I did say "many others" -- by my own count there have been at least 30 land searches since the 1970's. Shouts out to H.A. Larsen, Paddy Gibson, Bob Pilot, Stu Hodgson, L.A. Learmonth, Steve Trafton, John MacDonald, James Qitsualik, Doug Stenton, and anyone else whose name I may have forgotten. If there is anyone else, let me know -- the credit is collective.

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  8. Your welcome Russell. Dr. Doug Stenton and Dr. Robert Park are two names that really deserve more than a shout out. Combined, their list of published papers and books is quite extensive and proved to be quite helpful in the search and finding of H.M.S Erebus. I do not discount what others have done in the past. In fact, it is an amazing story of John Rae in Fatal Passage. I agree with your conclusions on the subject of this man's contributions. Frozen In Time was also quite an interesting read. Others published documents outlining their searches and results all have value. As with the suggested books for all those interested in Franklin, each contributes.
    Imagine if you can walking the same route as the remaining crew did. Picture the absolute isolation of K.W.I. and imagine the despair that these poor souls must have felt. These two have. Dr. Park talks about the search in a lecture which can be viewed on line. Something all arm chair sleuths might enjoy. Let's give proper credit where it is due. Thanks for listening.






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    1. Thanks once more. Twosmooth. Of course Doug Stenton's work has been important in the Franklin search for some time, and (along with many others I'm sure) I'm looking forward to his upcoming article with Anne Keenleyside in the next issue of ARCTIC on the remains at NgLj3. I did see Dr. Park's excellent video lecture but am not aware that's he's (yet) published on Franklin. In any case, we are in agreement: it's a collective undertaking. And when I stood on King William Island in April of 2004, I was struck, just as you say, by the absolute isolation of the place, and how easily, in limited visibility, one might become lost.

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    2. April 2004. There could not have been too much to see up there at that time of year. Was that part of a search expedition? Whereabouts on the island was this? I recall from one of your earlier posts that you made a comment that it would take the efforts of both expert and amateur to solve this. What foresight. Amateur makes the find that unlocks the door.


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    3. The view was actually pretty good -- I was there as one of the on-camera experts for the ITN/NOVA program "Arctic Passage: Prisoners of the Ice," which documented what we then know about Franklin's fate; you can see the whole thing on YouTube if you like. We met with local Inuit (although Louie Kamookak, alas, was out of town) and filmed our scenes about a mile outside of Gjoa, just far away enough that you couldn't see any sign in any direction of human habitation.

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  9. Thanks for that. I will check it out. I would like to take this opportunity to say well done. I am thoroughly enjoying your blog and all that it has to offer. My knowledge and interest is growing. Thank you. I was on one of your followers blogs, William Battersby, and like you has been bitten by the Franklin bug. I was a little surprised though by your post in which you say that the two artifacts that were "critical " in finding Erebus, were not a big thing in your book and you were looking for something more substantial. How can you say something like that? I believe in free speech and everybody is entitled to their opinion but with nothing found by anyone who has searched for anything all these years, until the discovery of these artifacts, leads to some unsavoury conclusions which I hope you will clarify for me. Thanks agin for listening.







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    1. Hi Twosmith, glad to hear you are enjoying he rest of the blog -- and Battersby's is a very good one as well.

      As to the two things -- I take it you mean the deck-hawse plug and the metal davit -- my original post was made when only those two things had been announced, and their value in pointing the way to ship was not yet known.

      It's true that relatively few artifacts that were actual parts of either vessel have been found, but there have been thousands of other things recovered, from planks to ropes to boot-heels, and barrel staves, and the significance of these two items wasn't immediately evident -- not until the announcement of the find of the ship was made

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  10. Thought you and other followers would be interested in this.
    http://youtu.be/A5jaNNuNTSI
    Enjoy.

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  11. Thanks for this -- I had heard about it from friends and will be following the livecast very eagerly!

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    1. Hello Russell. Will you be offering a review from the CIGI presentation?
      I had a chance to watch Prisoners of the Ice. That is a vey young looking Russell Potter. I did enjoy the program. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  12. Glad you enjoyed "Prisoners of the Ice" -- I was glad to be a part of that.

    I really liked the presentation -- I'm sorry that Doug Stenton wasn't able to be there in person, but I though Marc-André did a great job of describing the find and fielding questions. I noticed also that they did mention previous searches (I think I could revised their "40" to more like 44 or 45) and that Woodman was also credited. I'm looking forward to seeing Doug and Anne's upcoming piece in ARCTIC about the remains at NgLj-3 -- I see he dropped a few hints!

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    1. Hello Russell. You might enjoy this presentation. It gives a different side of last years search story.
      http://royalcanadianinstitute.ca/lectures/the-winter-2015-lectures/

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    2. Hello Russell. Not sure if you had a chance to view Dr. Parks presentation.
      Captain Bill Noon is in Australia at the moment and if you google Bill Noon in Australia you will see that there will be two live stream lectures provided by
      the Canadian High Commission. Thought you and others might be interested.
      Enjoy.



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