Wednesday, September 14, 2016


She was there when the 'Star Spangled Banner' was penned, during the naval bombarment of Baltimore. Her history was long, noble and at the time, revered. Then HMS Terror disappeared from the sight of man and beast for 170 odd years, taking with her many a fine man including a Governor of Tasmania Sir John Franklin. He was looking for a way through the North-West Passage to the north of Canada. It was an historic fight against the ice. The Ice won.

And  now she has been found. Paul Watson from Vancouver came by with the news.
British ship from 1845 Franklin expedition found by Canada
Researchers and crew from vessel Martin Bergmann explain their find of Sir John Franklin’s ship HMS Terror
The long-lost ship of British polar explorer Sir John Franklin, HMS Terror, has been found in pristine condition at the bottom of an Arctic bay, researchers have said, in a discovery that challenges the accepted history behind one of polar exploration’s deepest mysteries.
HMS Terror and Franklin’s flagship, HMS Erebus, were abandoned in heavy sea ice far to the north of the eventual wreck site in 1848, during the Royal Navy explorer’s doomed attempt to complete the Northwest Passage.
All 129 men on the Franklin expedition died, in the worst disaster to hit Britain’s Royal Navy in its long history of polar exploration. Search parties continued to look for the ships for 11 years after they disappeared, but found no trace, and the fate of the missing men remained an enigma that tantalised generations of historians, archaeologists and adventurers.
Now that mystery seems to have been solved by a combination of intrepid exploration – and an improbable tip from an Inuk crewmember.
 I suspect a fine film could be made. So too do others:
Consider this passage written by Sir George Back on Valentine's Day - 177 years ago - quoted from the Narrative of an expedition in H.M.S. Terror, undertaken with a view to geographical discovery on the Arctic shores, in the years 1836-7. 
"The 14th February, Valentines's day! By universal consent in the temperate regions of Europe, the harbinger of spring, the day when hope revives and the future begins to triumph over the past!  Even with us, fast locked in the dreary wilderness of ice, amidst driving sleet and fog, the time was not without its influence, and I mark this day as the boundary from which we began to look forward to our final release. "How short the past, how long the future appears", is the trite and universal reflection; yet in my case the reality was exactly the reverse. When I looked back on the past, (and it was the first time that I remember to have experience such a feeling), the time since we left England, though but eight months, seemed longer than three years of my former not unadventurous life. Days were weeks,  weeks months, months almost years.  As objects seen through a haze appear more distant, so to me the past had a dim and shadowy indistinctness which magnified its proportions. 
There were no marks to separate one day from another, no rule whereby to measure time; all was one dull and cheerless uniformity of dark and cold. But from this date, on the contrary, the successive days being occupied in active exciting employment, with continual novelties of situation, and expectation of something to come, seemed to fly with accelerated speed as each brought us nearer to the termination of our imprisonment. But I return to may narrative . . . "
Now read the passage again, only this time, imagine Russell Crowe delivering these opening lines in the role of George Back   . . . Back stands in his Georgian Study overlooking a busy London street . . .  cut to flashbacks . .  the ship locked in ice creaking under enormous pressure - sounds answered by echoing ship radiator pipes - views of the Royal Geographical Society offices, encounters with a polar bear, losing crew, a listing H.M.S. Terror in 'sinking condition', childhood memories of the Napoleonic wars. . . then Back in London, returning to his narrative.
Indeed, Crowe just might do it justice. His 'Master and Commander' film was a template for the times.  But let us continue......
On Sunday, a team from the charitable Arctic Research Foundation manoeuvred a small, remotely operated vehicle through an open hatch and into the ship to capture stunning images that give insight into life aboard the vessel close to 170 years ago.
"We found the food storage room with plates and one can on the shelves" said Adrian Schimnowski, Arctic Research Foundation
“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,” Adrian Schimnowski, the foundation’s operations director, told usby email from the research vessel Martin Bergmann.
“We spotted two wine bottles, tables and empty shelving. Found a desk with open drawers with something in the back corner of the drawer.”
The well-preserved wreck matches the Terror in several key aspects, but it lies 60 miles (96km) south of where experts have long believed the ship was crushed by ice, and the discovery may force historians to rewrite a chapter in the history of exploration.
The 10-member Bergmann crew found the massive shipwreck, with her three masts broken but still standing, almost all hatches closed and everything stowed, in the middle of King William Island’s uncharted Terror Bay on 3 September.
Here in Hobart, of course, the discovery has made headlines. The Expidition was led by a Lt.Governor of the fledgling State, Sir John Franklin, after whom several places are named.
The discovery of Terror has excited Hobart historians Alison Alexander and Graeme Broxam.
Dr Alexander is the author of the award-winning book The Ambitions of Jane Franklin and an authority on Sir John and his wife Jane’s contributions to Tasmania.
Dr Alexander said Terror’s discovery in such a well preserved state was exciting because follow up inspections of its contents could provide clues on how Terror got there and how the expedition ended.
Dr Alexander said a search party organised by Jane Franklin had found a ship’s boat facing north with a skeleton in it, which gave credence to a theory some of the 105 expeditioners had decided to return to their ships, where there was at least food and shelter and they might have succeeded in setting sail.
She said the Terror’s final resting place and the fact it had not been crushed by the ice was “not inconsistent with that theory”. The Terror must have either sailed to Terror Bay, a part of Canada’s King William Island, or been carried there by the ice.
Mr Broxam, who is researching a book on William Parker Snow, a search party member, said he was convinced there was no way that Terror or Erebus could have reached their final resting places without human help.
And he said Inuit stories — suppressed by Lady Franklin and dismissed until recently — of the sailors’ travails, which included scurvy and cannibalism, were proving credible.
Dr Alexander said she did not believe Sir John’s weaknesses had any bearing on the Northwest Passage expedition’s failure, because he had competent men serving under him and had the capacity to maintain a happy ship.
She said, in hindsight, it was clear the expedition had no chance of achieving its goal of traversing the Northwest Passage because of the ice — and the expeditioners had almost no chance of getting out alive, because under orders from the British Admiralty they would have felt compelled to press on.
Originally built by the Royal Navy in 1813 as a bomb vessel, Terror took part in the famous 1814 bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, United States. It was the battle that inspired the US anthem Star-Spangled Banner, a critical moment during Britain’s unsuccessful 1812 war against the US.
Hobart historian Alison Alexander is excited by the discovery.
Sturdily built to withstand the recoil of three-tonne mortars, the Terror was selected in 1836 for its first Canadian Arctic expedition led by Captain George Back, which included a near-disastrous encounter with an iceberg.
This was followed by a successful Antarctic expedition led by James Clark Ross, namesake of Antartica’s Ross Sea, from 1840 until 1843, accompanied by the Erebus.
Hobart served as the launch point and then as a winter refuge for the Antarctic expeditioners seeking the south magnetic pole.
Dr Alexander said newspaper accounts of the time revealed that Ross’ party had “loved Hobart” and to thank the locals for their hospitality he had lashed the Terror and Erebus together during their second stopover in the port of Hobart and hosted one of the town’s most memorable balls.
“It was the biggest event of the year ... wonderful refreshments, the best of local produce ... everybody was desperate to get an invitation,” Dr Alexander said.
After their return to the UK in 1845, Terror and Erebus were fitted with steam engines taken from railway locomotives for propulsion before their last expedition.
Sir John served as Lieutenant governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) from 1836 to 1843.
He married Jane Franklin in 1828 and while in Tasmania, they adopted an aboriginal child named Mathinna.
Rest in Peace, fine men of old. We drink to you.


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