It all started with an email. Dave Kajganich had written to say that he and Soo Hugh were making a television show with AMC networks called “The Terror”, based on Dan Simmon’s fictionalized novel. They were fans of my blog, he wrote. They cared about historical accuracy, and Franklin’s ships were critical to the production. He asked if I would like to share a “wish list of things you'd really like a screen depiction of these ships to make sure to get right”. I climbed upstairs to see my wife, the smile still on my face, and exclaimed: “You’ll never guess who just wrote me.”
I emailed back, describing how I saw Terror as her own character in the Franklin drama; how I believed her plight mirrored that of her captain; how the capabilities and technology of the ships were critical to the Franklin mystery. Of course, I was happy to help them in any way that I could. I was invited to a conference call with the producers and writers. Eventually, I wrote an eight-page memo for the writing team about a dozen spaces/places on the ship that might serve as critical settings for their story (only one didn’t appear on screen). You can view that memo here.
|For comparison, the preserved wheel on HMS Terror. Photo Credit: Thierry Boyer, ©Parks Canada|
I don’t know if my journey was typical, but this was how I was hired as a historical advisor on “The Terror”. My primary roles in the series were threefold. First, I provided my original plans and research to the brilliant production designer, Jonathan McKinstry, who used them to reconstruct the ships at full scale. Jonathan and I wrote countless emails back and forth, and we used hundreds of photos, paintings, and plans of historical vessel and models, scrutinizing the smallest details of the ships. Second, I worked with Deryck Blake, the property master, and Kevin Downey, the set decorator, on recreating the material culture of the voyage. We exchanged hundreds of notes, images, documents, research papers, and videos - on subjects as mundane as 19th-century caulker’s tools, to topics as esoteric as how a compass needle reacts near the North Magnetic Pole (yes, sometimes they will spin, especially if the ship changes course). Lastly, I assisted Dave and Soo with their questions about shipboard life during polar expeditions - how the ships functioned and responded to polar conditions and pack ice, and facts (and hypotheses) about the Franklin expedition and its fate.
ON THE SHIPS:The ship sets built for The Terror are highly accurate recreations of the vessels; perhaps the most accurate ship reconstructions ever created for television. The work of building the sets started with my original plans of HMS Terror, which I had created over five years of intensive historical research.
Historical Reference: No historical plans existed for Terror in her 1845 configuration. I reconstructed
The Terror Production Office: This is one of the many pin-boards used in Budapest. Here my original
plans are surrounded by the production blueprints created by Jonathan McKinstry, Timi Antal,
and their talented team. Photo Credit: Matthew Betts
Before the crew abandons the ships, take a look at what it took for the designers to make them. #TheTerror pic.twitter.com/Gjso1t2hyR— The Terror (@TheTerrorAMC) April 28, 2018
The Terror Set: The production built the ship on a sound stage in Budapest using techniques remarkably like those I used to build my model. The tracks shown in the video allow the ship to be moved, permitting different configurations of icescape to be set around it. Note also the ability to tilt the ship, which was critical for later episodes. Video Credit: Twitter/ AMC.
Reference: The Terror also used my model to assist with the reconstruction of the ships. This view of the
upper deck shows all the major fittings. Photo Credit: Canadian Museum of History, Steven Darby,
The Terror: A view of the upper deck of HMS Terror in Episode 1. Note the provisions, supplies, and
boats crammed on her deck. Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC.
Reference: A macro view of the quarterdeck on my Terror model. Note the Terror’s unique ten spoke wheel.
Historical Reference: The Illustrated London News published this iconic woodcut of Erebus and Terror
departing Greenhithe on May 19th, 1845. Image Credit: Illustrated London News, May 24th,
1845, Page 328. Google Books.
The Terror: Erebus and Terror enter the pack in Episode 1. Notice the sun dog to the right. Photo Credit: AMC.
The Terror Set: The bow of the ship set as reconstructed in Budapest. Walking up to it, you almost felt like a
Parks Canada archaeologist. Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC.
Historical Reference: Terror’s first arctic voyage in 1836/1837, under Captain George Back, left a detailed record
of paintings and images depicting the vessel and her dramatic exploits. The production team relied heavily
on this resource to bring accuracy to their sets. Note the canvas awning on the ship and the complex
snow structures. Image Credit: F7383_0047. HMS Terror at winter quarters, January 1837,
The Terror Set: HMS Terror at winter quarters, with her canvas awning protecting the deck.
Note the snow structures and ramp. Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC.
Historical Reference: Erebus and Terror were among the first Royal Navy sailing vessels to be
converted to screw propulsion. This was accomplished by installing railway locomotives in
their holds. Peter Carney has conducted extensive research on this conversion and has
determined that Archimedes and Croydon (shown here), identical locomotive
engines, were likely candidates. This is the only known plan of the Croydon
type engine. Image Credit: Brees, Samuel, 1840. Second Series
Reference: Peter Carney has provided detailed reconstructions of how these engines
may have been installed in Erebus and Terror. Peter assisted me extensively
in the development of this portion of my HMS Terror plans.
Image Credit: Peter Carney, Erebus and Terror Files.
The Terror Set: Image of the Croydon engine facing forward, with the orlop deck above.
This photo provides a sense of the very cramped space. Photo Credit: Matthew Betts.
Historical Reference: When locomotive engines were installed in Erebus and Terror, an
extensive refit of the stern was required to accommodate the screw propeller.
Oliver Lang, master shipwright for the Royal Navy, designed these
modifications and outlined them in the above plan. Image Credit:
ZAZ5683, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
Reference: The stern was a very complex 3D structure, as shown in my model
of HMS Terror.
The Terror: The production recreated Erebus’ unusual stern with great historical accuracy for a
pivotal scene. Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC.
| Historical Reference: The great cabin of Erebus was sketched by an artist just prior to her |
departure on May 19th, 1845. Note the captain’s table and the cabin stove. Image Credit:
Illustrated London News, May 24th, 1845, Page 328. Google Books.
Historical Reference: The Canadian Museum of History used my plans to recreate the exact dimensions
and shape of Erebus’ great cabin in the Death in the Ice exhibition (running until September 2018).
The display contains a real fragment of the captain’s table, recovered by Parks Canada
archaeologists from the wreck of HMS Erebus. Photo Credit: Matthew Betts.
The Terror: Beautifully lit, and dominated by the presence of Ciarán Hinds, the great cabin is
brought to life. Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC.
Historical Reference: The Illustrated London News also printed a woodcut of Captain Fitzjames'
bed cabin. Note the ornate scrollwork on the bed. Image Credit: Illustrated
London News May 24th, 1845, Page 328. Google Books.
Reference: Captain Crozier's bed cabin, from my plans, based on historical draughts.
Franklin's bed cabin was identical in layout.
Reference: John Irving's bed cabin, from my plans, based on historical
draughts. Note the ornate scrollwork on the bed.
The Terror: Crozier (Jared Harris) recovers in his bed cabin. Note the scrollwork on the
bed. Photo Credit: Twitter/AMC
Historical Reference: We used many photos of historical vessels, including HMS Trincomalee,
a contemporary of Erebus and Terror. Photo Credit: Ian Petticrew.
Reference: This image shows my reconstructed plans of a Fraser’s Patent Stove, based on original
patents and Admiralty drawings. Fraser’s stove was a technological marvel (see here for details)
and was an important part of everyday shipboard life. Note the water desalinator/ice
melting tank above the stove.
Reference: Peter Carney has studied the technology and function of Fraser’s stove and has recently
published a paper on its role in the Franklin disaster. His 3D reconstruction provided important
information for The Terror. Image Credit: Peter Carney, Erebus and Terror Files.
The Terror Set: Fraser's Patent Stove was meticulously recreated for the production. Note the
ice melting tank above the stove. This is one of my favorite set reconstructions.
Photo Credit: Alex Eldridge.
OFF THE SHIPS:
Historical Reference: This photo shows a piece of a runner from one of Franklin’s massive boat sledges.
Photo Credit: AAA2283.2, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
The Terror: Using the above artifact, and descriptions recorded by Francis
Leopold McClintock, the production reconstructed the sledges at full size.
Historical Reference: William Thomas Smith’s famous painting, entitled “They Forged the Last Link
With their Lives” is a highly accurate reconstruction of the material culture found at the “Boat Place,”
based on McClintock’s descriptions and the artifacts he recovered from King William Island.
Photo Credit: BHC1273, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
The Terror: Reconstructed boat and sledge based on multiple historical sources. These “lighter”
fiberglass props were so heavy that the crew had trouble pulling them even when unloaded.
Historical Reference: One of the actual harnesses used to pull the sledges. This one is presumed to
have belonged to the 11th member of a sledge crew from HMS Terror. It was found at “Crozier’s
Landing” on King William Island, where the Expedition landed when Erebus and Terror were
deserted in April 1848. Photo Credit: AAA2261, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
The Terror: The cast used accurate reconstructions of the harnesses to haul their sledges.
Historical Reference: The first men to die on the Franklin expedition were buried in very carefully
constructed coffins on Beechey Island (before the events depicted in The Terror).
Photo Credit: Brian Spenceley, Pinterest.
The Terror: The art department carefully reconstructed the felt-covered coffin from Beechey
Island for a pivotal scene in The Terror.
Historical Reference: The Admiralty Board determined all aspects of Franklin’s orders and,
when he did not return, was tasked with organizing the official Royal Navy search effort.
Photo Reference: PAD1392, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
|The Terror Set: The Admiralty Board scenes were shot on location at a historic property in Budapest.|
Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC
Historic Reference: This beaded purse was recovered from the “Boat Place” on King William Island.
Photo Credit: AAA2181, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
The Terror: The purse was carefully recreated by the art department
for the series.
Historic Reference: Despite the vast quantity of tins brought on the Expedition, only a few well-
preserved specimens were recovered from Franklin sites on Beechey Island and King
William Island. Photo Credit: AAA2276, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
The Terror: Property Master Deryck Blake shows off an assortment of
Goldner tins used in The Terror. Also visible are the reproduction early
can openers, inspired by the images on the preserved labels (see above).
Photo Credit: Matthew Betts
Historical Reference: This small book, entitled the “Vicar of Wakefield”,
was found in the ship’s boat discovered on the shores of Erebus Bay,
King William Island. Undoubtedly, its size was a component in its
being brought off ship. Photo credit: AAA2154, National Maritime
The Terror: The Vicar of Wakefield appears in a poignant scene early in the season.
Photo Credit: Aidan Twitter/AMC.
Historical Reference: Snow blindness was a real danger for men sledging over the spring pack.
These goggles, with copper mesh lenses, were custom-made for the march south, indicating
the men prepared carefully before deserting the ships. Photo Reference: AAA2163,
The Terror: The wire goggles above were faithfully reconstructed for use by the actors.
Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC.
Historic Reference: A pair of blue-tinted snow goggles found on King William Island is presumed
to have protected the eyes of an officer. Photo Credit: AAA2195, National Maritime
The Terror: Jared Harris (Francis Crozier) wears a carefully recreated pair of
blue-tinted snow goggles in Episode 7. Photo Credit: AMC
|Add captionHistorical References: “Welsh wigs”, a type of knitted toque with an ornate |
border, were used by many Royal Navy arctic expeditions, including Franklin’s. A
welsh wig knitted before 1854 was donated to the St. Fagan’s National History
Museum (F69.353), and Sally Pointer, a historic knitting enthusiast, was
recently able to recreate the pattern (download it here, or buy it here).
Annie Symons, the brilliant costume designer for the series, used this
pattern to create dozens of welsh wigs for the cast of The Terror.
Photo Credit: Sally Pointer.
The Terror: Paul Ready (Harry Goodsir) wears his welsh wig. Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC.
The Terror: I was given my own Welsh wig (along with frostbite, mutton
chops, sea boots, muffler, and slops) for my brief time as an extra
for Episode 4. Selfie Credit: Matthew Betts
Historical Reference: Annie Symons used images of real Franklin footwear to inspire her costume designs.
This sea boot was found at Starvation Cove, on the Adelaide Peninsula. Photo Credit: AAA2296,
The Terror: Ian Hart (Thomas Blanky) in his sea boots.
Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC.
The Terror: Sea boots dominate this opening shot from Episode 6 .
Video Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC.
Historical Reference: Lists of officer’s clothing and standard
issue slops used on Fraklin's expedition exist, but little is
known about the clothing the men wore when they deserted the
ships. Instead, we looked to the garments Sir Francis Leopold
McClintock constructed for his 1857-1859 searching voyage,
which were based on decades of polar explorers before him.
Photo Credit: AAA3990, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
Historic Reference: Dan Simmons used extensive historical research to inspire the events of his
novel. Carnivals, balls, and masquerades were often used to liven the atmosphere of a ship
during the darkest days of winter. This painting from HMS Terror’s first arctic voyage
shows the bizarre and colourful costumes worn by the crew at such events. Annie
Symons used this image to inspire her costume design for the carnival in
Episode 6. Image Credit: “Arctic Amusements,” Owen Stanley,
The Terror: One of the brightly decorated costumes from Episode 6.
Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC.
This blog post provides a glimpse of just some of the more obvious historical references and Easter eggs scattered throughout the ten episodes of the series. More historical references and Easter eggs can be found in every line of the script, as some of the more knowledgeable reviewers have begun to parse out.
When I began this project, I was, to my everlasting shame, secretly concerned that the historical references I was providing would be ignored or discarded in the interests of simplicity and cost-savings. When I walked onto the set in January of 2017 and saw Terror sitting there, canted in the ice, I instantly knew that my worries had been unwarranted. As I was led through the ship they had reconstructed, and as I picked up the artifacts they had recreated, I felt that I had walked aboard the real Terror. Later, as I toured a film crew through the sets, discussing her fittings and spaces for the camera, I was a proud officer showing off his ship. When I spent a day as an extra in Episode 4, I was an able seaman, trapped in the ice aboard the world’s greatest polar exploration vessel. These are experiences that shall never be effaced from my memory.