Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Efforts to reveal the mysteries of the Erebus shipwreck and ill-fated Arctic voyage are in a race against time.
Climate World News

Efforts to reveal the mysteries of the Erebus shipwreck and ill-fated Arctic voyage are in a race against time.

Hundreds of new discoveries have been made by archaeologists on the HMS Erebus, the vessel led by Sir John Franklin during his ill-fated Arctic expedition 180 years ago.

The findings of the team consist of guns, sealed containers of medications, chests belonging to sailors, and navigational tools. These are currently undergoing examination in order to uncover information about the disappearance of the Erebus and Terror ships, as well as the fatalities of the 129 crew members who were aboard them.

This task is of great importance due to the current state of the Erebus shipwreck. The wreck was found a decade ago in Wilmot and Crampton Bay in Arctic Canada, but now faces harsher storms as the effects of climate change become more prevalent in the area.

“The upper deck of the ship collapsed recently and there are other areas that are dangerously sloping,” stated Jonathan Moore, the manager of the underwater team from Parks Canada who conducted the latest investigation of the wreck. “Navigating in that area is becoming more challenging.”

The urgency of the investigators’ work was heightened by the effects of Covid-19, which halted all exploration in 2020 and 2021, and by unfavorable weather conditions that greatly impeded investigations in 2018. Consequently, marine archaeologists are now in a race against time to uncover the hidden mysteries of the vessel.

In 1845, Sir John Franklin departed from Greenhithe in Kent in search of the Northwest Passage, a route through the polar region connecting the Atlantic and Pacific. His two ships, Erebus and Terror, were equipped with steam-powered propellers to aid in navigating through pack ice. They were also stocked with three years’ worth of canned provisions. Unfortunately, the ships did not return and it was not until the 1850s that Scottish explorer John Rae discovered, through conversations with Inuit people, that Franklin had passed away in 1847 while his ships were stuck in sea ice for two years. Later, his crew, who were starving at this point, resorted to cannibalism.

1846 painting entitled HMS Erebus in the Ice by François-Étienne Musin showing men pulling small boats with ropes on an ice floe, with an iceberg and a ship with five sails behind clouds in the background

Display the image in full screen mode.

In the Victorian era, people were horrified by the actions of Rae and he faced criticism from his main opponent, Charles Dickens, who argued that it was wrong to view the indigenous people as “savages”. However, in 1997, the remains of some of the crew members were found on King William Island, showing signs of being dismembered and consumed. The men had been stranded in the frozen tundra for an extended period of time, enduring scurvy, starvation, and potentially lead poisoning due to their deteriorating canned food. Their experiences were extremely unfortunate.

Note on the fate of the Franklin expedition found in May 1859 near King William IslandView image in fullscreen

The specific series of occurrences that caused the survivors of the expedition to abandon their ship and attempt to find help in the southern region appeared to be fated to remain unknown – until the discovery of the wreckage of Erebus in 2014 and Terror in 2016. These findings now present the exciting possibility of comprehending the exact progression of events that led to the disaster that overtook the expedition and its crew.

According to an Inuit legend, it is believed that there was at least one body left on the Erebus after it was deserted. There is speculation that this could have been the body of Franklin, and some have questioned if his remains could potentially be in a coffin within the ship’s hold. However, as the current investigation of the ship is being conducted with extreme care and the explorers are slowly descending through the wreckage, no human remains have been found thus far.

However, a large number of unique personal items have been unearthed and retrieved, providing fascinating insights into the individuals who served on the ship. In a particular cabin, believed to belong to Second Lieutenant Henry Dunda Le Vesconte, Moore and his team discovered various objects such as a fully functioning thermometer, a book cover made of leather, and a fishing rod with a brass reel. Additionally, they found a leather shoe, storage containers, and a sealed pharmaceutical bottle in another area thought to be the pantry of the captain’s steward.

The crew is currently digging in the forecastle section, which was where the majority of the team resided. Among the items discovered in a seamen’s chest were pistols, medicines, and coins. Additionally, the archaeologists have taken numerous high-quality digital photographs to create precise 3D models. These models will play a crucial role in understanding the site’s evolution over time.

Previously, this task was extremely challenging to complete, as noted by Moore. The ocean covering the shipwrecks is typically only ice-free for brief periods, and using traditional scuba gear for diving has been uncomfortable and frigid. The water temperature in that area is typically just one or two degrees above freezing.

According to Moore, advancements in technology have made exploring Erebus much less daunting. With the use of air supplied from the surface and heated suits, working at the wreck has become much more manageable. In fact, the team was able to make 68 dives during the 12-day period they spent at the site in September. This allowed them to conduct more thorough investigations and retrieve a greater number of artifacts.

The majority of research has centered on the endangered Erebus. In contrast, Terror, which sank in deeper waters approximately 45 miles from Erebus’ wreckage, is less vulnerable to environmental conditions and was only briefly explored last year.

According to Moore, Terror is situated 24 meters beneath sea level, while Erebus is only 11 meters below. This makes Erebus our main focus.

“We will focus on it and uncover its narrative step by step.”

Source: theguardian.com