To refresh your memory, HMS Terror and Erebus were two ships in the Franklin expedition sent out to find the elusive Northwest Passage in 1845 from England.
|HMS Erebus in better times|
There were never heard from again, and the ship sent to find them, returned empty-handed..... It was not until a few years ago that maritime archeologists from Parks Canada found the wrecks (see map)
and began recovering some artifacts. You can look back on several Maritime Maunder posts for further details.
Now, another piece of the story has come to light, written about in this news article by Anita Singh in the British publication, the Telegraph News.
When Captain Sir John Franklin’s ships vanished in the Arctic on a mission to discover the North West Passage, the story gripped Victorian England.
HMS Erebus and HMS Terror became trapped in ice and the 129 men on board waited in vain for rescue, before finally setting out on foot in a doomed attempt to reach civilisation.
A previously unpublished letter throws new light on how the story was followed back home, laying bare the fears of the sailors’ families.The letter has been donated to the National Maritime Museum, where a new exhibition on the Franklin expedition will open on July 14.
It was written by the parents of John Diggle, a cook on HMS Terror, and sent to his ship in the vain hope of reaching him. It was returned, stamped ‘undeliverable’.
Mr and Mrs Diggle had read with horror that the ship was frozen in ice and the men succumbing to scurvy.
Dated January 1848 - - the letter begins: “Dear Son, I wright these few lines in hopes to find you and all your Shipmates in both Ships well… but our fears his wee shall Never see you again seeing the Account in the Newspaper how you have been Situated what with been frozen inn and having that dreadful Disorder the Schervey [sic].” [Scurvy - ed.]
That same month, HMS Plover had set out in search of the ship. The letter went on: “We trust in God when HMS Plover reaches you our thoughts will be flusterated and joyful news it will be for us to hear on her Return to England that you and all the Crew are well. Please God it may be so [sic].”
The letter was donated to the museum by the Diggle family, and will be among hundreds of items on display.
The mystery surrounding the ships’ final resting place lasted until 2014, when Canadian researchers found the wreck of the Erebus on the sea bed. Terror was found two years later.
The sole written record of the men’s fate was a note found in a cairn on King William Island, written in April 1848. It said only 105 men remained alive and they were setting out on foot. None made it to safety.
Reports by local Inuits that the men had resorted to cannibalism were dismissed in England, with Charles Dickens writing that they would never have resorted to such “dreadful” actions.
However, forensic analysis of bones more than a century later provided confirmation, with some scraped clear of marrow and skulls cleaved open in order to reach the brains.
A lifeboat was also recovered with two skeletons on board. They had packed towels, scented soap, silver cutlery, and a novel
There is bound to be more on this fascinating story as more artifacts are recovered and exhibits open in England (Canada is NOT happy about that!) and we will try to keep you posted.
Until next time,
PS To our American readers, we at Maritime Maunder wish you a most happy Independence Day and hope that you might take moment from your barbecue, beach, and partying to reflect on just what we are celebrating!