Monday, 7 January 2019


When the crew of HMS Terror deserted their ship in an attempt to reach the Back River, evidence suggests they did so by hauling boats on massive sledges across the sea ice and down the west coast of King William Island. Any model of HMS Terror would be incomplete without a representation of the gear they used when they left the vessel. The primary source of information on the nature of the boat sledges comes from direct observation of the equipment, found on the shore of Erebus Bay by Hobson and McClintock, at a site now famously known as “The Boat Place.” It is possible that this sledge was from HMS Terror, as one of the harnesses recovered from it was marked “T11,” presumably meaning “Terror 11” (or the harness assigned to the 11th sledge-hauler from Terror).

The weight of the boat alone was about 700 or 800 lbs. only, but she was mounted upon a sledge of unusual weight and strength. It was constructed of two oak planks 23 feet 4 inches in length, 8 inches in width, and with an average thickness of 2 ½ inches. These planks formed the sides or runners of the sledge; they were connected by five cross-bars of oak each 4 feet long and 4 inches by 3 ½ inches thick and bolted down to the runners; the underneath parts of the latter were shod with iron. Upon the cross bars five saddles or supporting chocks for the boat were lashed, and the drag-ropes by which the crew moved this massive sledge, and the weights upon it, consisted of 2 ¾ inch whale-line. I have calculated the weight of this sledge to be 650 lbs.; it could not have been less and may have been considerably more. “   McClintock (1860: 291-292).

William Thomas Smith's "They Forged the Last Link with Their Lives" (1895), depicting The Boat Place.
This remarkably well-researched painting shows the sledge and the chocks on which the boat rests.
National Maritime Museum BHC1273.

The above observation, made by Francis Leopold McClintock on May 30th, 1859, occurred roughly a decade after the boat and sledge had been abandoned on the western coast of King William Island. It is only one of two detailed firsthand accounts describing the sledging equipment left by Crozier and his crew (there are also several accounts by the Inuit, recorded by Hall, but these are far less detailed). The other account was written by Lieutenant Hobson, who was the first to discover the sledge and the boat that rested on it, and it adds details not included in McClintock’s more famous monograph. For example, Hobson estimated the breadth of the sledge as only two feet, which must be an error (Stenton 2014:518). Further, Hobson described that the “The runners were of three-inch oak reduced at the top to two inches,” which accords with McClintock’s average of 2.5 inches. Hobson also noted that the chocks were made from fir, and that “These were neatly leathered. The whole was very strongly bolted and fastened.”  The latter term probably refers to lashings, which as we will see below, conforms well with the type of sledge Crozer's men constructed.

Cryiax (1963) observed many years ago that detailed information on Royal Navy sledging equipment is limited, and the subject has received very little scholarly examination (but see Pearson 1995). According to McClintock’s observations, Crozier and Fitzjames decided to construct an edge-runner type sledge (e.g. Pearson 1995). The runners were almost certainly derived from the stock of ships’ planking allocated to Erebus and Terror for necessary repairs. The length of the timbers used for the sledge is approximately the same as the maximum length of a standard Royal Navy hull plank, which was ca. 24 feet (Goodwin 1987:39). Furthermore, much of the lower planking on Terror’s hull was 3 inches in thickness, consistent with the thickness of the sledge runners. It is likely that the maximum dimensions of the plank stock, as much as the length of the boat which rested on it, dictated the original length of the sledge (e.g. they used the longest planks available to them). Fir, and probably elm, plank stock would also have been available from the ship's stores, but the stoutest timber in Terror's stores - oak - was chosen for the task.
In 1879, twenty years after McClintock and Hobson had observed the sledge at The Boat Place, two massive Royal Navy sledge runners were acquired by Frederick Schwatka from Inuit he encountered near Richardson Point, on the Adelaide Peninsula. Schwatka believed that the pieces were cut-down runners from McClintock’s Boat Place because of their unusually large size, material (oak), and presumably because the Inuit told him where they obtained them and how they modified them (Gilder 1881:94; Schwatka 1899:39). He observed that they were no longer shod in iron and that the Inuit had cut approximately 1.5 inches off their height and seven feet off their length. It is generally agreed by researchers that these runners are the actual runners observed by McClintock at The Boat Place;  however, their design, which is almost indistinguishable from traditional Inuit sledges, raises some necessary doubts about their authenticity.

Two fragments of a sledge runner recovered by Frederic Schwatka. The aft section (top) is AA2283.1,
and the forward section (bottom) is AA2283.2. National Maritime Museum AA2283.

Detail of label on AA2283.1. 
Fortunately, the available historical information suggests that a strong similarity to Inuit sledges is to be expected. The accounts by McClintock and Hobson, which describe a large edge-runner type sledge (Pearson 1995) with several cross pieces tightly lashed together, closely matches Inuit design in nearly all respects. While we don’t have detailed descriptions or plans of early Royal Navy sledge designs, we do know that Sir Edward Parry (1824:515-518, see also Pearson 1995) admired and copied Inuit sledges during his second expedition in Fury and Hecla (1821-1823). Therefore, Crozier, as a midshipman on Parry’s second voyage and one of Parry’s more prolific sledgers, was also intimately familiar with traditional Inuit sledging technology. It is therefore likely that The Boat Place sledge resembled Inuit sledges because Crozier intended to copy Inuit technology. It should be noted that these sledges provide good evidence that Royal Navy explorers in this era were not ignorant of Inuit lifeways, and indeed actively used Inuit knowledge to aid their endeavors.
Three sections of runner are preserved in the National Maritime Museum from the sledge recovered by Schwatka (AAA2283.1,2,3). What became of the rest of the sledge is unknown, but these three specimens appear to represent portions of two different runners because their combined length would be over 28 feet (longer than the sledge described by McClintock, and longer than any plank stock carried aboard Erebus or Terror). Luckily, the front and rear ends of one runner are preserved, as well as the central portion of the second.
The fore part of the sledge runner (AA2283.2) has a gracefully curved end, with myriad perforations along its length, somewhat irregularly positioned, but presumably for attachment of crossbars, grab handles, and boat lashings. Two of the perforations are larger rectangular holes, which are so heavily worn that they almost appear oval in shape. Each of these larger holes is associated with a smaller bolt hole on the upper edge of the runner. The wear on these larger holes and the associated bolt holes indicate that these were the locations where the crossbars were both bolted and lashed to the runners, as described by McClintock and Hobson. The majority of the perforations on the artifact are smaller square holes, also heavily worn, which were likely used for drag handle and trace attachment. There are also four circular drilled holes located closer to the bottom of the runner, in proximity to the large rectangular holes. These may have been used for additional lashings to the crossbars after the original lashings loosened. The second runner fragment (AA2283.1) has a similar row of perforations, with two large rectangular holes separated in line by three smaller square holes. Like the other specimen, two circular drilled holes are located close to the bottom of the runner near the larger rectangular holes.

Detail of the forward section of sledge runner. National Maritime Musem AA2283.2. 

To model the sledge, I started by creating a scale plan (see below). I took the original measurements described by McClintock and Hobson and mocked up a hypothetical plank stock, then projected scale tracings of the fore and rear fragments onto the plank, basing the curve of the runner on the fore specimen. I presumed the lower edge of the runner would not have been modified by the Inuit, given the proximity of the drilled holes to it, and made an assumption that the upper edge of the runner had been cut down (it would have made excellent spear shafts). Knowing that each of the larger rectangular holes occurs after two or three smaller square holes, I projected this pattern of perforations to the entire runner and added crossbars at the locations of the large rectangular perforations. Based on this pattern, it appears that no more than five of the large perforations would occur on a complete 23-foot runner. This corresponds precisely with the number of crossbars observed by McClintock.

The 4 x 4-inch crossbars are described by McClintock and Hobson as being both bolted “down" and/or "lashed" onto the runners. The bolt holes are still preserved in the upper edge of the runner, indicating that the crossbars rested on the top of the runners. Given this evidence, I assumed the crossbars overhung the runners by 1.5 inches on both sided to facilitate lashing, which is common in Inuit and Royal Navy sledges. 

Proposed reconstruction of "The Boat Place" sledge.

Thankfully, McClintock collected one of the oak chocks from The Boat Place sledge (AA2200). McClintock described the chock as being “lashed” to the crossbars, and the lashing slot is very well preserved on the specimen. It has no perforations, indicating it was not bolted to the crossbar. This configuration makes good sense - if Crozier anticipated that the sledge might be converted to haul only gear, it would have been advantageous to remove the chocks by simply removing the lashings. However, a deep slot is cut on the outside margin of the chock, indicating that it was braced against a spike or bolt which did perforate the crossbar, to keep the chock from slipping out of place. All of these details can be seen on the plans above.

Oak chock used to secure the boat to the sledge. Note the slot on the upper surface for lashing to 
the crossbar, and the slot on the left for a spike or bolt to prevent the chock from shifting laterally. 
National Maritime Museum AA2200.

The build started with two 1:48 scale planks of Swiss Pear (23 feet 4 inches x 3 inches). 

Perforations were added with a miniature drill bit (the fore and aft perforations match
 the NMM artifacts precisely).

Following the example of master ship modeler Chuck Passaro, I have been experimenting with using card
instead of blackened brass to simulate iron. This is a "blackboard" cardstock that has a suitable texture
and luster.The scale thickness is approximately one-half inch.

 A three inch (scale) wide strip was cut from the cardstock with a Xacto knife. A very sharp blade is required to
have a clean edge. 

The card strips were glued to the runners with CA gel. 

To simulate the square perforations in the real runners, I made a custom broaching tool. The tool has a square edge
(at the appropriate scale) and is pressed into the drilled holes from both sides to create a square effect 

Detail of the effect of the broaching tool. 

The crossbars are each 4 scale feet in length, and 4 x 4 scale inches. 

The chocks were based on the NMM artifact (AA2200), but the lashing slots were
exaggerated slightly to facilitate using scale rope. 

The chocks were placed consistent with the
width of a boat keel. 

The bolt slots were created by carefully drilling through the crossbar and into the edge of the chock. 

A simulated slot in the chock. 

Including the chock braces, the sledge used an estimated 20 iron bolts. These were simulated with blackened
brass nails (here being chemically blackened in a solution).  

Bolts/braces glued in place in crossbars and chocks. 

Heavy lashing simulated with scale rope. Here a "common whipping" was used for the lashing. 

Crossbars glued and bolted in place. 

In addition to the bolts, lashings were added to the crossbars, consistent with the historical descriptions.
The lashing is consistent with Royal Navy sledge lashings from the late 19th century.

The completed sledge compared to the scale plans (an early plan version missing some features) 

The fore view of the sledge with Mini-Crozier for scale. 

Mini-Crozier contemplates the sledge construction while waiting for his modified boat. The similarity to
Inuit sleds is very evident here. 

A coat of Minwax wipe on poly restores the luster and colour of the Swiss Pear, and protects the model. 

Mini-Crozier inspects the heavy iron runners and heavy fastenings on the underside of the sledge.


Cyriax, R. J. 1963. Arctic Sledge Travelling by Officers of The Royal Navy, 1819–49. The Mariner's Mirror 49(2): 127-142.

W.H. Gilder, W. H. 1881. Schwatka's Search: Sledging in the Arctic in Quest of the Franklin Records. Scribner's Sons, New York.

Goodwin, P. 1987. The Construction and Fitting of the Sailing Man of War. Conway Maritime Press, London.

McClintock, F. L. 1860. The Voyage of the "Fox" in the Arctic Seas: A Narrative of the Discovery of the Fate of Sir John Franklin and His Companions. John Murray, London.

Parry, E.W. 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 to the Expedition.  J. Murray, London.

Pearson, M. 1995. Sledges and Sledging in Polar Regions. Polar Record 31 (176): 3-24.

Stenton, D. R. 2014. A Most Inhospitable Coast: The Report of Lieutenant William Hobson’s 1859 Search for the Franklin Expedition on King William Island. Arctic 67 (4): 511–522.


  1. Happy New Years to you, Ship Modeller ! I learn so much from reading about what you put together,

  2. Thank you for an interesting and very informative article. Great work on the sledge too!