Wednesday, 17 September 2014


By now, most regular readers of this blog will know about Parks Canada’s discovery of one of Franklin’s ships and most will likely have seen the beautifully detailed sonar images of the vessel. My blog has received more visits in the last week than it has in the past six months and I’ve received many emails and comments asking for my thoughts on the identity of the vessel. I’m gratified that readers think that my plans could be useful, but  I won’t be speculating here on the identity of the ship - that is something that should be left to the professionals.       

Regardless, it is possible to comment on some of the information already released. The most thrilling is the movie posted of the wreckage, and the identification of two cannons within it. Royal Navy exploration vessels commonly carried a contingent of small cannons and signal guns. For example, the contemporary HMS Beagle carried up to 8 guns on her second voyage in 1832, a mix of smaller caliber brass carriage guns and carronades.     

We have no primary information (that I am aware of) describing how many cannons Franklin’s ships may have carried for their 1845 voyage, but some information exists about their armament for the 1839 Antarctic voyage. A widely distributed, and generally accurate, newspaper account of the time states (Anonymous 1839):   

From this account it appears that the ships may have each had the same number of relatively small cannons, likely located along recesses in the bow and midships sections of the deck.  These would have been useful for signalling, especially during foul weather. As well, because these were Royal Navy vessels, they would have required some defensive armament, no matter how slight.      

Another fascinating find associated with the discovery was a u-shaped iron crutch/pintle for the ship’s davit stanchion (a piece fitted inside the bulwarks to support the raising and lowering of the davit arm). The Erebus and Terror each had ten of these stanchions, located along both sides of the vessels. The image below was extracted from plans I developed some time ago, but I’m pleased that it appears to correspond nicely in size and shape to the actual piece. It is remarkable how accurate the plans appear to have been for these vessels, though deciphering the many modifications can be mind-numbing.     

Configuration of the davit stanchion on the Franklin vessels (the left shows the
outboard profile and the right shows the cross section). The iron pintle/crutch
at the heel supported the entire structure and secured it to the bulwarks;
therefore it needed to be robust. 

As posted previously,  I've posited that by 1845 the vessels had been fitted in a virtually identical fashion. The 1839 plans, labeled "Terror and Erebus, as fitted", seem to imply this, though some critical differences might have existed. Despite the fact that Erebus belonged to the slightly larger Hecla and Terror to the smaller Vesuvius Class, both ships had been extensively modified and their lengths altered due to a reconstruction of their sterns. This makes identifying the wreck from the confusing corpus of plans (most of which are heavily annotated) a daunting task, and I’m looking forward to hearing which of the two vessels they have discovered!

1839 The Antarctic Expedition. Gentleman’s Magazine 12:405-407.


  1. Thank you very much for this reference from "Gentleman's Magazine". When I first saw the two cannons in the video clip, I thought they were likely six pounders, and had searched for information as to the armament of "Erebus" and "Terror" during the 1839-43 voyage, but came up dry. It's exciting to realize how much this ship's discovery can aid you in accurately crafting your model. Onward...

  2. Thank you Glenn. The article was actually widely copied at the time - the link on the Google Books embed actually comes from the "Army and Navy Chronicle" of 1839. I'm not certain which is the primary source (it was likely a newspaper). Regarding the find, it is staggering how much it may impact my model and plans. It'll all lead to more accuracy, however.

  3. Great post, the finding of the ship must have been a great thing for you, specially if, in the end, the ship happens to be the Terror!

    It seems that mystery will forever be the adjective that will accompany any finding related with the Franklin expedition.

    Speaking about the guns, I had found a reference about the ships firing a salute when departing from Hobart in 1841. You can find the reference here in the link below. What I don´t know if the guns were fired simultaneously or one after one. The news says:

    28 of may of 1841 "At one o'clock H. M. ships Erebus and Terror fired a royal salute of twenty-one guns ; so also the Eliza, government schooner."