On September 2, 2016 Sammy Kogvik, a Canadian Ranger (a Canadian army reserve formation) and a resident of Gjoa Haven, an Inuit community on the east coast of King William Island, was aboard the R/V Martin Bergmann as it sailed to Victoria Strait on the west coast of Canada’s King William Island. The research ship was to join an expedition flotilla consisting of ships from Parks Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Shawinigan. Kogvik recounted that several years previously, while on a hunting trip, he came across a mast sticking through the sea ice in Terror Bay. A result of the tip, the crew diverted Martin Bergmann to Terror Bay, and the discovery of the wreck of the HMS Terror followed.
According to reports, a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) was used to penetrate the ship to gather video and photographs. News of the discovery was announced by a British media outlet. While ARF officials quickly ID’d the vessel as Terror, Parks Canada’s underwater archaeology team, which has been leading the search for the two ships over many years, has at the time of writing apparently not yet visited the site to confirm the discovery. This confirmation might await a new season as winter conditions settle into the area.
Once confirmed, the location of the Terror may cause the historical interpretation of the expedition’s end to be rewritten. The only written record left behind by Franklin’s crew, the Victory Point note, found on the northwest coast of King William Island, gives the location of where Erebus and Terror were abandoned – in Victoria Strait. Some historical Inuit accounts described a ship being crushed there by ice and sinking quickly. The discovery of Terror, completely intact and in Terror Bay, raises more questions than it answers.
HMS Terror should be of particular interest to Americans, not only were the Erebus and Terror the first two ships to circumnavigate the Antarctic, but Terror was part of the British bombardment fleet that attacked Baltimore’s Fort McHenry. As a heavy bombardment vessel designed to attack coastal fortifications Terror’s heavy mortar fire contributed to those lines of the Star Spangled Banner, ‘the rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air’. Terror, along with Erebus, are going to be treasure troves of mid-19th century technology and information, and the next few years are going to be exciting to see what Parks Canada marine archaeologists will recover from these two venerable ships and the new light that they will shed on Franklin’s expedition.