After almost 170 years of searching to understand the fate of English explorer Sir John Franklin’s fabled arctic voyage, a multilateral partnership from public, private and non-profit sectors, led by the Government of Canada, resulted in the finding of one of the two lost Franklin vessels, HMS Erebus, igniting worldwide attention.
The combination of state-of-the-art technology with Inuit oral testimony led to the September 2014 discovery of Franklin’s flagship, thus solving one of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries.
In April 2015, the Government of Canada again conducted complementary research projects in Canada’s Arctic as part of the Department of National Defence’s (DND) annual Operation NUNALIVUT. Working in one of the world’s most remote and unforgiving environments, a unique dive expedition was led by Parks Canada to research HMS Erebus from under 2-metres of sea ice. Benefitting from the Arctic expertise of DND’s Joint Task Force (North), Parks Canada and Royal Canadian Navy divers researched the wreck from a temporary camp on the frozen surface of Queen Maud Gulf.
This collaborative effort accomplished several key objectives. Most notably the team gathered the information necessary to design future steps in the archæological research of this historic wreck. They also tested an underwater laser for documenting the hull and interior of the wreck; a technology that has the potential to rapidly produce highly accurate, three dimensional recordings under water, saving valuable research time for such a complex site with limited access.
As expected, HMS Erebus stands to reveal many artifacts on or around the wreck, each of which will help share the incredible national historic site. During the dive, the largest artifact to be recovered was a 6‑pounder bronze cannon which was laying on the deck of the ship.
Royal Navy ship Erebus was outfitted with cannons that would have served to protect the expedition in the event of an unsuspected attack. Other recovered artifacts, including the rectangular deck prisms and the Preston patent and composite Illuminators, illustrate the innovative design technology of the ship. Like the ship’s bell, recovered by the team in 2014, each of these artifacts will undergo a significant conservation process to ensure they are fully stabilized.
The Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were designated together in 1992 as a National Historic Site of Canada and in April 2015, the wreck site became officially protected under the National Historic Sites of Canada Order.
Image: Parks Canada