Friday, August 14, 2015

Where should the searchers search?

With the approach of the 2015 dive season, it won't be long before Ryan Harris, Marc-André Bernier, and the rest of the Parks Canada team return to HMS "Erebus" to renew their search for artifacts. This fabled vessel, certainly, has a wealth of secrets to tell -- but where to begin? Even with ideal conditions, the window for open-water dives is a limited one, and time will always be of the essence.

My personal expectation is that they will start with the stern of the ship. In the debris near there, we've already seen what looks like a table leg from a table shown in Sir John Franklin's cabin. Given the damage to this area, other items -- maps, log-books, and personal effects -- that were stored in Franklin's cabin are most likely to be found here. And, though the damage is regrettable, it's much easier to dive safely when one doesn't have to worry about enclosed spaces and diver safety. Small items that might otherwise escape notice -- message cylinders, eyeglasses, or (should they have been made and left behind) Daguerreotype plates, would all be much more readily found if one can sift freely through the silt, which itself forms an excellent preservative.

Secondly, it looks to me as though it may be quite possible that the ship's modified railway engine may be in this vicinity, or at least visible from there. Given its weight, and that fact that it was primarily secured in place by bulk alone, I'd think that there's a fair chance that it has settled to the aft of its original, installed location. It may be too delicately situated to move, but detailed imagery could help confirm the type of engine used, and settle many decades of research and speculation.

If time allows, it would be ideal to also search the officers' cabins, particularly Fitzjames's -- and they would be next in proximity if the search moves in a forward direction. It may be difficult for divers to enter the main area below decks, but if they can direct an ROV into that area, some imagery of the Fraser stove, which we've been told is still in situ, would be wonderful.

Lastly, it would be invaluable to account for as many of the ship's anchors as possible. To know whether any shows signs of deliberate deployment may well be -- until some detailed journal or log is retrieved -- the best evidence as to whether "Erebus" was piloted, or drifted to its present location (as would be the status of the removable rudder, as a commenter below pointed out!).

Some search for the "Terror" will doubtless go on this season as well -- but I would urge all possible efforts be directed at the bird -- that is the ship -- in the hand.

9 comments:

  1. I'd go straight to Fitzjames' cabin—but then I do admit to a prejudice here!

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  2. I agree with you on that one, John! My guess would be that Fitzjames may well have continued to use his former cabin even after becoming Captain of the Erebus -- the captain's 'great cabin' was often more of a work-space than an accommodation, and he may well have chosen not to 'move in' out of respect to Franklin's memory. We also have a pretty good picture from the Illustrated London News to compare FItzjames's cabin with!

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  3. lets hope they do find written records, log books, journals, someones personal diary etc, i mean they had a vast library on both ships so there simply must be material of that nature still on board ship.

    I'd like to know your thoughts on this Russell, what is your opinion on the subject of the library, personally i don't think the crew took much written material as very little was found and only one written note was used from 1847 - 48.

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  4. There's reason to believe there will be books aboard -- the ships' libraries, in various accounts between several hundred and more than a thousand books, werenot much reduced by the few volumes found on land (no more than around 50). If you're interested, I've reconstructed the known portion of the library here. As to papers, I think there may be many -- most of the officers would have kept journals or written letters; it's quite possible that a sort of ship-board newspaper might have been made as it was on Parry's ships, and the sailors were sent with slates for intrsuction in letters. I just hope that what's found isn't as hard to decipher as the "Peglar" papers have been!

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  5. The location and situation of the anchors is clearly important in determining how Erebus arrived there. I think the rudder also of importance. The Erebus would have been more easily piloted had her rudder been fitted in place. When I viewed the video tour of the Erebus presented by ParksCanada, the rudder did not appear to have been installed. Is the rudder in the debris field at the stern? Is the rudder on the collapsed quarter deck? The location of the rudder may also provide an important contribution to the story.

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  6. I agree the rudder would be very important -- bearing in mind that there were two rudders, a regular one and a spare -- and that it's conceivable that the rudder in use was torn away by the same action that caused other damage to the stern.

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  7. I hope answers are forthcoming with the latest dive sessions. Just wondered about what might be found. Since the crew abandoned the ships and were marching, in theory, to safety, wouldn't they have taken a fair bit of paperwork with them? How much would have been left behind? Junior officers' journals? Personal letters? And if they were leaving the ships, would they leave the log book there? Or would they leave some sort of "to whom it may concern" type letter for someone to find in case the abandoned ship were to be discovered?

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  8. The Parks Canada website has new photos of the most recent dives on the Erebus, but I find no information as to whether any anchor was found set. Russell, do you have any updates as to whether any anchor was found set during these dives?

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  9. I have no further information than what Parks has put online, alas. I hope more will be forthcoming -- but in the meantime, I find Ryan Harris's view, that the location of the ship is strongly suggestive of its having been piloted there, given the array of islets, shoals, and shallows, gives the best sense so far of this issue.

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