Sunday, 12 February 2017


The 1835/1836 modifications to HMS Terror introduced a new fitting to Royal Navy polar exploration vessels– the hatched companionway. Covered companionways began to replace open ladderways on smaller Royal Navy ships in the late 18th century. However, the special type of hatched companionway associated with Erebus and Terror is rare on Royal Navy plans and models until the middle of the 19th century.

The aft companionway of HMS Terror was a simple box-shaped structure, with a large sliding hatch on its roof. To access the ladderway, the crew would slide the hatch back, and then pull open two small starboard-facing doors. They would then descend the ladderway backwards, pausing midway to close the doors, and then the hatch, behind them.

The Companionways on HMS Terror

The 1836/1837 Terror profile plan (1) indicates that this companionway could be removed and replaced with a tall winter deckhouse with a standard-sized door (it was apparently shaped like Terror’s water closet). However, pencil marks on these draughts indicate that this special winter coaming was abandoned sometime after Back’s 1836/1837 Arctic voyage.
Prior to 1839, there was no raised companionway in the forward part of Terror. Instead, an unusual hinged trapdoor system was used to access the forward ladderway. Curiously, this ladderway was located on the starboard side of the vessel, and not on the midline as was typical. This feature was changed in 1839, and a raised companionway identical in design, but somewhat larger, to Terror’s aft companionway was installed (2).
Unlike its aft counterpart, its doors faced port, and it was located just behind the funnel for the ship’s stove.  The ladderway below it descended just aft of the ship’s stove. This must have been somewhat inconvenient, as using it would have introduced terrible drafts to the lower deck mess and sleeping area during the winter months.

Besides the clear labeling on the 1839 Terror and Erebus profile plans (2), evidence for this change in the forward companionway’s position can be found on the 1836 profile plan of Terror (1) which shows that the 1836 trapdoor system was scratched out in pencil. The forward ladderway is scratched out on this plan as well, and a new position, consistent with the 1839 profile plan, has been penciled in.

The companionways on the 1839 builder’s model of HMS Erebus (3) are consistent with the 1839 plans (2). However, the model reveals an additional detail, namely that the companionways had two horizontal tracks which facilitated the sliding of the upper hatch. These rails would have been sheathed in a thin layer of brass or bronze on their upper surfaces, and the hatch itself would have had two grooves cut into its bottom surface (and through its forward edge), permitting it to slide on the tracks.

On both the 1836/1837 and 1839 plans, and crucially, the model, the roof of the companionways and the hatches themselves are flat. This contrasts with most companionways of the era, which had a slight camber (often matching the camber of the upper deck). The reason for this unusual trait is unknown, but plans for HMS Investigator show the same flat-topped companionways, suggesting it may have been specific to polar exploration. Whatever the advantage of this specific trait, the overall design must have been very durable; indeed its efficacy is easily reflected in the fact that the basic design is still used on modern sailing craft.  

(1) National Maritime Museum ZAZ5672
(2) National Maritime Museum ZAZ5673
(3) National Maritime Museum SLR0715

The basic components of the companionway were cut from pear 
wood stock using my local Library’s laser cutter. 

Tracks were added to the roof of the companionway. 

Terror’s companionways were very simple box-like structures.

I had trouble simulating the bronze tracks with brass sheeting, 
so I opted to use a brass foil product here. 

Preparing to cut the grooves in the aft hatch. 
The companionways with hatches and tracks 

The completed forward companionway. 

The completed aft companionway. 

Mini-Crozier inspects the workmanship. A coat of Minwax 
Wipe-On Poly provides a protective finish that enhances 
the wood. 

These structures were neither large nor comfortable. Robustness 
seems to have been the primary design feature. 

The 1839 Erebus model indicates that the doors had small knobs, 
which I recreated using brass pins filed to the correct size.  I 
elected to show the doors with hidden door hinges (the doors 
swung outwards), which is common on modern 
companionways of the same design. 

Sunday, 4 December 2016


There are few secret places left to be explored in the world; but there is one waiting under the waters of Terror Bay.

The announcement that HMS Terror was recently found "in pristine condition" is astonishing, yet the revelation that the ship's stern lights (stern cabin windows) have survived intact is especially poignant.  Behind those 171-year-old stern lights is the very definition of a secret space; the cabin where Captain Crozier received reports and dispatched orders; where he entertained Franklin, Fitzjames and his officers in the better days; and where he huddled over his charts, plotting and planning his men’s desperate escape from the ice.

By 1845, Terror’s stern windows were very different from those Captain John Sheridan gazed through as he bombarded Baltimore in 1814. In 1812, Henry Peake designed a relatively traditional stern gallery for HMS Terror, which included seven stern lights in addition to six windows arranged on her port and starboard quarter galleries. Each of the stern windows had nine panes, while the smaller quarter gallery windows had six panes.

Henry Peake's original 1812 design for Terror's stern gallery and quarter galleries.
NMM, ZAZ5662

When Terror was first converted for polar service over 1835 and 1836, its vulnerable quarter galleries (and the water closets they contained) were removed, resulting in a reduction to five stern windows. Contemporary artwork by Owen Stanley indicates that the windows retained their original nine-pane configuration during Back's harrowing Arctic expedition of 1836-1837.

Terror's stern lights in 1837. Note the cipher and ship's name depicted above the hanging rudder.
 NMM, PAF0275

Since the time of Parry’s second Arctic voyage, 24 years previously, polar exploration vessels had been fitted with "double window-frames" (1), and Terror undoubtedly had double windows installed for Back’s 1836 -1837 Arctic voyage. Parry described that during the coldest months, "cork shutters" were inserted between the sashes on HMS Hecla (1), and it is possible that cork shutters were used on Terror’s subsequent polar voyages.

Contemporary images suggest that Terror's stern gallery remained unchanged during the Antarctic expedition of 1839-1843, when Terror was under the command of Francis R.M. Crozier, although the 1839 Terror and Erebus plans indicate that significant changes were made to the great cabin itself.

In the spring of 1845, Terror and Erebus had their sterns dismantled and reconstructed to accommodate large wells needed to raise and lower their new screw propellers. The centre window on the stern of each vessel was removed to make room for the new well. Green-ink annotations on Terror’s 1836 plans show that her stern frames were shifted slightly forward during the 1845 refit. The reasons for such an extensive refit are unclear, but it may have been necessary to redesign the stern framing to accommodate the weight and stress of the new propeller system.

While it appears that the remaining four stern windows were kept (roughly) in their original positions in 1845, the windows themselves were redesigned from a nine-pane to a four-pane configuration. We know this because of a remarkable woodcut of the great cabin of HMS Erebus, which appeared in the May 24th, 1845 issue of the Illustrated London News (2). The accompanying article described that the windows were “double[d]”, similar to those used on Parry’s voyages. Astonishingly, high resolution images of the cabin illustration in the report clearly show the double sashes.

The Great Cabin of HMS Erebus, as depicted in a woodcut
from the May 24th, 1845 edition of the Illustrated
London News

Why the stern lights were modified to a four-pane design is unknown, but the woodcut indicates that by 1845 the window muntins were much more robust than those on a typical stern window. A sturdier design might have been thought necessary, after the unprecedented heavy seas and storms Terror and Erebus encountered during their Antarctic expedition.  However, we know that the thickness of the glass was not increased, because window glass recovered from HMS Erebus in 2015 has the same  thickness as that specified on Terror’s (i.e., Belzebub’s) original 1812 building contract (3).

Below, I’ll outline how I have recreated Terror’s windows for my model. Though few pictures have been released, they appear to compare well with the recent Parks Canada images of Terror’s stern. The great cabin on the other side of those windows was the nerve-center of the living ship, where all the achievements, misfortunes, and decisions of the expedition were debated, decided, and recorded. In the coming years, it is a place where all the expedition’s mysteries may be revealed.


(1) Parry, William Edward. 1824. Journal of a Second Voyage for the Discovery of a North-west Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific: Performed in the Years 1821- 22-23, in His Majesty's Ships Fury and Hecla, Under the Orders of Captain William Edward Parry, R.N., F.R.S., and Commander of the Expedition. London.

(2) Departure of the “Erebus” and “Terror” on the Arctic Expedition. Illustrated London News, May 24th, 1845. Volume 6, Page 328.

(3) National Maritime Museum, ADT0010

Construction of the stern windows began with laser cutting the
sashes from a sheet of Swiss pear. 

A bevel was added to each muntin with a hand file. The filed
windows are on the left, the unfinished windows are on the right. 

Comparing progress to the original woodcut. 

Instead of adding four individual panes, I opted to add a single simulated pane.
This was achieved by carving out the backside of the windows to
accept the simulated glass. 

The window panes were made from high quality PVC blister packaging material.
It is crystal clear, resists yellowing, and bonds well with CA glue. The painter's
tape protects the surface from scratches and permits patterns to be drawn
on the surface. 

A beading line of CA was used to glue the panes in place. 

Allowing the glue to dry. 

A pair of finished windows compared to the woodcut. Note the double
sashes in the woodcut image. 

Gluing the sills to the sashes. These are not the proper configuration,
but will not be visible on the finished model. 

A nickle for scale. 

The completed double windows.  

A closeup view.

The interior panes were sanded to simulate frost (and to prevent a
view into the interior of the model). 

The port stern lights installed between the stern frames. 

A view from the interior of the model. The imposing nature of the
well can be seen here.  

Approximating the view from the great cabin
(as best possible).

The completed stern gallery. 

Mini-Cozier surveys the pack from the comfort of his great cabin.  

Sunday, 18 September 2016


Over the summer months, I have been working steadily on my model's topside planking, while it seems the real Terror has been biding her time, waiting to reveal herself to the world. Despite the excitement of the discovery, my work continues, though perhaps with somewhat more adrenaline than previously.  

I began this part of the project by cutting out the numerous ports on Terror's bulwarks, and then proceeded with planking the entire topside down to the level of the chock channels. The planking followed a carefully laid out plan that I devised for the entire model. 

Based on data in 1845 stern plans by Oliver Lang, the strakes on my model Terror vary between nine and ten scale inches wide whenever possible. Consistent with information gleaned from the original ship's contract, each strake is approximately 24 scale feet long (where possible), and follows a three plank shift. Deviations from this plan were necessary in many portions along the topside, where ports interrupted the normal planking layout (and common sense indicated a butt would not be necessary).  

I marked the position of the port sills using paper guides (this is the reverse
of the printed plan, used on the port side)

Each port was carefully cut out with a sharp blade. 

The port sills were lined with holly. 

Terror's bulwarks were riddled with ports. Here the bitts have been modeled
from Swiss pear and are portrayed in an unworn condition. 

Details of additional bitts. 

In the stern, Terror had two large chocks on each side. These were cut from Swiss
pear sheet stock and the correct shape transferred to them from a card cutout. 

Ensuring the chocks are symmetrical.

The finished pieces. 

And again after installation. 

Planking began at the solid ice channels and proceeded  strake by strake (tier by tier), following the
plan I had devised. Terror has an extremely bluff bow, and care had to be taken here. While spiling
would be preferred, I am constantly worried about my wood supply and used a technique taught
by Chuck Passaro. It worked very well, despite planking in scale thickness (here 4").

The port side, after a coat of Minwax Wipe on Poly. Note the bottom
strake is left untreated so that I can glue the ice channel top to it. 

Comparing the symmetry of planking on both sides of the knee. Following
the planking plan and marking off the hull carefully ensures
less variation. 

Terror's bow is so bluff, and the scale plank so thick, that I resorted to using a plank bending tool
to achieve the proper curvature. I dread planking the second layer on the wales, which
are over 9 scale inches thick!  I expect hot water immersion , or hot iron bending,
will be my only option there. 

Planking surrounding the many ports at Terror's bow. 

The planking plan indicated that one plank, in particular, would be very complex.
I measured and marked it off carefully before cutting. 

Installation involved dry fitting, careful sanding, dry fitting again, sanding again, and
repeating constantly until it was acceptable.  

Planking amidships, showing the three plank shift. 

Detail of the chocks after planking. 

The completed planking run on Terror's starboard side. 

The next task in my project will be to frame the stern lights (windows) and install them. Until then, I hope we get to see more images of the real ones from Franklin Expedition 2016.