Saturday 27 July 2013


The plans I have created for HMS Terror incorporate data from all of the existing plans of HMS Terror (see previous posts). Creating new plans started by scanning a paper plan of the 1812 profile and lines and then replicating these with illustration software, which included details on keel, keelson, stem and stern architecture, as well as the half breadth, body plan, and sheer plans. However, the most critical data on the ship’s architecture were derived from the 1836 Terror plans, against which the half body and sheer plans had to be compared and modified. The 1845 annotations (in green ink) on the 1836 plans were also incorporated into my plans of the Terror.

As described above, the 1839 plans, despite their labels, depict HMS Erebus. However, the deck furniture, fittings, planking arrangement, and other details are critical because Sir Edward Parry’s system of identically outfitting fleets (see previous post) meant that the furniture and fittings depicted on Erebus were also used on the Terror. In my plans of the Terror the fittings and furniture are as depicted in the 1839 plans, but their relative position is based on the 1836 plans.
In my next post, when I reveal the inboard profile and deck plan, I will outline my rationale for the precise locations and configurations for most aspects of the ship’s architecture and fittings (including the locomotive engine).   
Below, I have posted my plans for the lines and outboard profile of the Terror. These were created in Adobe Illustrator on and off over the past year, with the original plans scanned, layered over each other, traced by hand, and then modified and augmented based on historical research.

Please note: This plan has been updated - please consult my later posts.


1845 Sheets
The ships were again extensively refitted in 1845 to convert them to auxiliary steam propulsion, a modification deemed necessary to save precious time during the ice-free season “providing the wind should prove contrary or a dead calm”.  An excellent plan of the stern modifications exists (from which the preceding quote was drawn), which displays the complete redesign of the Terror’s stern. These exact plans are reproduced in green ink on the 1836 plans of HMS Terror, indicating that the ship was shortened at the position of the lower and upper decks, but the sternpost was moved aft to provide room from the new screw propeller. Above the screw propeller a massive well was constructed through which it could be easily shipped and unshipped. When the screw was not in use, the well was filled with a series of solid wood and metal chocks to add strength to the vessel’s stern.

The 1836 inboard profile of the Terror shows that partitions on the orlop deck and in the hold were modified to accommodate the new propulsion system, which was an unmodified steam locomotive engine, anchored just aft of the mainmast. Much speculation has occurred about the type of engines utilized, but recent research by Peter Carney (see Battersby and Carney 2011:203) argues that the locomotive was the Croydon/Archimedes type, for which partial plans exist (Brees 1840):

If these were the engines installed in the Terror and Erebus, they were an excellent choice, as they were known to be exceptionally reliable (Brees 1859:90):

Green-ink modifications to the 1836 inboard profile also display that the extensive copper plating was removed in favor of thicker iron plating which covered the entire bow and extended ca.  15 feet aft. This is also confirmed by contemporary sources (Anonymous 1845:279). The plans also indicate that the Terror’s bowsprit was raised by approximately 4.5 feet; the reason for this is unclear, but the Terror had a much shallower draught than the Erebus and given her sailing qualities, this modification was likely necessary. Further alternations to the partitions of the decks are depicted (in green ink) in both the 1836 and 1839 plans, the most significant of which appears to be the extension of the watertight bulkhead system forward, which must have resulted in a significant reduction in hold capacity.

OwenStanley, 1845, " Departure of H.M.S. Erebus and Terror for the North Pole,1845", courtesy National Library of Australia.


1845    Literary Gazette Journal for the Year 1845. Robson, Levey, and Franklyn, London.

Battersby, William, and Carney, Peter
2011    Equipping HM Ships Erebus and Terror, 1845. International Journal for the History of Engineering & Technology 81(2):192-211.

Brees, S.C.
1840    Second Series of Railway Practice: A Collection of Working Plans and Practical Details of Construction in the Public Works of the Most Celebrated Engineers. John Williams, London. 

1859     Railway Practice: A Collection of Working Plans and Practical Details of Construction in the Public Works of the Most Celebrated Engineers. R. Griffin and Co., London.


1839 Sheets
The Terror was again extensively refitted for the 1839-1843 Ross Expedition. Some of these modifications, such as the change to a forced air heating system and the extension of a ring of solid chock channels around the entire ship, were obviously a direct result of lessons learned from the 1836/37 Back Expedition. However, many of the 1839 modifications resulted from a process of standardization with her sister ship, HMS Erebus. This was based on Sir Edward Parry’s longstanding policy of outfitting exploration fleets with identical equipment, the rationale being that one vessel’s fittings could be used to repair another in the case of catastrophe (Battersby and Carney 2011:203).  Rice, the shipwright in charge of the 1839 refit, provides an excellent description of the modifications done to the ships at this time, and it is worth noting here in its entirety (Ross 1847).

The 1839 plans illustrate the inboard profile and all decks, although the Terror’s modified lines are not represented. All sheets are labeled “Terror and Erebus”, reflecting both the similar design of the ships and the identical manner in which they were outfitted. Uniquely, the 1839 plans provide a midships cross section which illustrates the planking configuration, the dimensions (thickens and widths) of the planks, and the position and construction of the watertight bulkheads, as well as other inboard details.

Comparing these plans to the Terror’s 1813 and 1836 configuration clearly indicates that the 1839 sheets depict the Erebus. By this time the ships were almost identical in length and had very similar lines, but the draught and breadth of the Erebus were still greater than the Terror and this is reflected in the inboard profile, midships section, and lower deck plans. Furthermore, the upper deck plans included dashed red lines showing alternate positions of ship’s boats, labeled “Terror”, implying that the ship is the Erebus. A noteworthy exception to this exists with the midships section; while the frames drawn match the contours and dimensions of the Erebus in breadth, the height/draught of the decks and bulwarks appear to be based on HMS Terror’s dimensions. It seems likely that this was an error on the part of the draughtsperson, who must have been working from multiple reference sheets for multiple vessels.

The 1839 modifications included a series of diagonal iron riders bolted to the frames in the midsection, with iron crutches and sleepers at the bow and stern to increase strength. Fewer, but larger, iron storage tanks were placed in the hold (reduced from 47 to 22), though the available historical record is mute on the rationale for this change. The unreliable hot water heating system was replaced with a much larger and more reliable “Sylverster’s Patent” hot air heating system, which would remain onboard for the subsequent 1845 voyage (Battersby and Carney 2011:200). Finally, the copper bow sheeting was also extended along the side of the ship below the solid chock channels.

It is important to reiterate that the 1839 plans introduce a critical fact; despite proportional differences in size, the ships were fitted-out in an identical fashion. Indeed, contemporary accounts outline the similarity of vessels (Anonymous 1839:405).

Besides the unseen internal framing and architecture, the only significant difference between the Terror and Erebus was one of proportion; reflected in the alternate positions of fittings and furniture, such as hatchways, masts, capstans, pumps, etc. to account for the difference in size of the vessels. This has obvious implications for model building, as it implies that the 1839 plans, though based on the flagship Erebus, are likely to be largely applicable to the Terror.

1:48 scale model of HMS Erebus as fitted in 1839, National Maritime Museum Collections.

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

Battersby, William, and Carney, Peter
2011    Equipping HM Ships Erebus and Terror, 1845. International Journal for the History of Engineering & Technology 81(2):192-211.

Ross, Sir James Clark
1847    A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions, During the Years 1839-1843: Volume I. John Murray, London.


As outlined in a previous post, HMS Terror, originally designed as a bomb ship, was extensively modified three times for separate polar expeditions. Like all bomb vessels, she was already  highly specialized, with an exceptionally strong frame built to withstand the punishing recoil of her two massive mortars, and a spacious hold for storing munitions (for an excellent discussion of the Terror’s original configuration, please consult Ware [1991]). To build an accurate model of the Terror as fitted for the 1845 expedition requires concatenating design information from all of the plans as well as data from other historical sources. The plans discussed here are preserved at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, and copies are available for purchase from their online image library. Detailed images of the plans are also presented in Ware (1991).

1812 Sheets
A full set of plans “as designed” and dated March 30th, 1812, exist for HMS Terror; these are shared with her identical sister ship HMS Beelzebub. It is important to note that HMS Vesuvius plans are virtually indistinguishable and the two sets only differ in minor details (for example the scarph joints on the keel are not depicted in the Vesuvius plans). HMS Terror was so extensively modified that its final 1845 form bore little outward resemblance to her original design. The 1812 plans are critical, however, as they are the only drawings that show her sheer, half breadth, and body plans, lines, framing configuration, keel and keelson construction, and stem and stern architecture.

1836 Sheets
HMS Terror’s first extensive modification began in 1835 and is outlined in a series of plans dated March 1836 (and later December 1837) which illustrate the inboard profile and all decks. The plans are extremely important because they illustrate the fundamental refit of the Terror - and thus represent her final overall size and shape as she appeared in 1845. The plans also document some important innovations for polar exploration that would be adopted by all subsequent polar expeditions (for an excellent overview see Battersby and Carney 2011).

1:48 scale half block model, possibly depicting HMS Terror as fitted in 1835, National Maritime Museum Collections.

Perhaps the most extensive modification shown in these documents was the creation a flush deck with two layers of three inch planking to increase strength. Though not drawn on the plans, contemporary images by Owen Stanley reveal that the copper sheathing on the Terror’s hull below the waterline was removed as protection from shipworm was not needed in the freezing waters of the Arctic. In its place, a cross-shaped series of thick copper reinforcement plates were riveted to the bow to protect against ice damage.

The ship’s profile was modified significantly as well. The stern galleries were removed (to eliminate any projection that would catch the ice), and the stern, at the position of the upper and lower decks, was both lengthened and widened, presumably to provide more space on these decks. The bow was altered as well, with the keel simplified and the ship lengthened overall. It is uncertain if the cant frames were altered or if the bow was simply bolstered behind the new copper reinforcing plates (a strong likelihood), but the plans clearly illustrate a forward change in the overall frame position.

On the interior, the Terror’s bow was reinforced with solid oak chocks bolted to the stemson, forming a solid mass of wood ranging between 4 and 8 feet thick from the wale down to the keelson. In an effort to strengthen and streamline her contours against the grasping ice, each of her chock channels were individually filled in and planked over.  Thick iron plates were added to their upper surface, and the chains were replaced with solid iron plates bolted to the planked chocks. A spare rudder was suspended in a special well just behind the mainmast which penetrated from the upper deck down to the hold.

According to the inboard profile, the Terror’s mast positions were moved forward slightly and the rake of her masts, particularly the mizzenmast, appear to have been altered. It is uncertain when these modifications occurred, but they were probably done to improve the sailing qualities of the vessel (see previous post). In fact, they might have been undertaken during extensive repairs after the Terror was nearly wrecked in Portugal in 1828.

A cistern for melting ice was added to the ship’s stove, and 47 large iron storage tanks were added to the hold for water and other provisions. A novel addition was a hot water heating system fueled by a massive furnace in the orlop deck. The system functioned by pumping warm water through a complex series of pipes into the crew’s quarters on the lower deck. The furnace was an abject failure; it never worked as designed and George Back (1838) reported that it constantly had to be dismantled and repaired:

Perhaps the most overlooked innovation instituted during the 1835 refit was a system of watertight bulkheads designed to make the ship unsinkable. The concept of airtight chambers appears to have been the invention of Sir Robert Seppings and was first implemented by Sir Edward Belcher on the HMS Aetna (Belcher 1870: 156).  As Belcher described, “the Terror was the model ship” for an entirely new coal-based bulkhead system and it was to be used by him in the abortive rescue of the stranded whalers in 1835 (see previous post). He describes the system thusly (Belcher 1870:156):

Though Back (1838) gave them no credit, the bulkheads undoubtedly helped keep the Terror afloat during her harrowing return journey across the Atlantic. As Belcher (1870:156) described:

The Naval authority must have agreed with Belcher, as the 1839 midships section and hold plan (see below) display that the bulkhead system was incorporated into the Erebus with little apparent modification. The 1839 midships section shows that the bulkheads were constructed contiguous with the frames in the hold and orlop decks and were lined with “two thickness of 1 ½ inch African [board] wrought diagonally across each other”.


Back, George R.
1838    Narrative of an Expedition in H.M.S. Terror, Undertaken with a View to Geographical Discovery on the Arctic Shores in the Year 1836-7. John Murray, London. 

Battersby, William, and Carney, Peter
2011    Equipping HM Ships Erebus and Terror, 1845. International Journal for the History of Engineering & Technology 81(2):192-211.

Belcher, Sir Edward
1870     Admiral Belcher’s Remarks on Bulkheads. Transactions of the Institution of Naval Architects 11:155-156.

Ware, Chris.
1991     The Bomb Vessel: Shore Bombardment Ships of the Age of Sail. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis.

Thursday 11 July 2013

HISTORY OF HMS TERROR (Part 2: 1839-1848)

Learning critical lessons from the Terror’s first voyage north, the admiralty extensively refitted both her and HMS Erebus for an ambitious four-year expedition to explore the Antarctic. Under the leadership of James Clark Ross, the Erebus was assigned as the command vessel, likely due to her slightly larger size. The well-experienced Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier, who had served under William Parry in three arctic expeditions, was assigned as captain of the Terror.

The expedition was one of the last great voyages of exploration to be undertaken by sail, and was one of the Royal Navy’s greatest achievements in scientific and geographical discovery. The party collected vast data on biology, magnetism, and geology and discovered the Ross Sea, the Victoria Barrier (later renamed the Ross Ice Shelf), and Victoria Land. An active shield volcano on Ross Island was named after HMS Terror, along with a cove on Lord Auckland’s Island and a reef (on which she grounded) near the Kerguelen Islands.

Like her mission to the Arctic, the Terror sustained extensive damage during the voyage.  She twice rammed an ice floe in heavy weather and had the shackle of her bobstay sheared off, requiring dangerous repairs. In January 1842, the Erebus and Terror were unexpectedly trapped in ice and the Terror’s rudder was destroyed; Crozier was forced to utilize a spare rudder which was stored amidships. On March 13th the two ships collided in a severe gale; the Terror knocked off the Erebus’s bowsprit and became entangled in her masts and rigging (Ross 1847b:218). The ships repeatedly smashed against each and threatened to capsize until they were finally disentangled, but by this time both ships had lost many spars and the Erebus’ foretop mast had been carried away.

Compared to the Erebus, the Terror appears to have been a rather slow sailor, and Ross (1847a; 1847b) consistently described the need to reduce sail and wait for the Terror to catch up. Like the merchant ships they emulated, the Vesuvius class bomb vessels had difficulty carrying sail, probably due to an inability to stow adequate ballast (Ware 1994:67). In contrast, Hecla class bomb ships, like HMS Erebus, were based on a slightly improved design which appears to have (at least marginally) alleviated this problem (Ware 1994:67). Furthermore, the Terror was smaller than the Erebus by almost 50 tons (325 tons for Terror versus 372 for Erebus) but carried the same crew compliment (64) and provisions/stores (Ross 1847a:xix), and therefore may have been comparatively encumbered.

Eager to duplicate the success of the Antarctic voyage, the Terror and Erebus were assigned to Sir John Franklin on an expedition to navigate the Northwest Passage. The Erebus was again selected as the flag ship, with James Fitzjames as her captain, while Crozier was second in command of the expedition and captain of the Terror. Outfitting of the vessels began on February 8th, 1845 in Woolwich and after extensive modification and provisioning, the expedition left Greenhithe on May 19th of the same year.

The expedition required such a massive quantity of provisions (meant to last three years) that it was unsafe for the vessels to cross the Atlantic fully loaded. Instead, each carried two years provisions while a navy transport, the Barretto Junior, was used to ferry the remaining equipment across the ocean. The steam tugs HMS Rattler and HMS Blazer also accompanied the ships to Greenland, alternately towing the Barretto Junior, the Erebus, and the Terror (Cyriax 1997: 57).

Owen Stanley, 1845, "Parting Company with the North Pole Squadron", courtesy National Library of Australia.

Owen Stanley, 1845, "Signal to Terror, opportunity for sending letters to England, 4 June 1845", courtesy National Library of Australia.

The “North Pole Squadron” encountered violent weather on the crossing, though the Terror and Erebus reportedly handled well and sustained no damage. The squadron arrived at a staging harbour at Whalefish Islands in Disco Bay, Greenland, on July 4th. Over the next week, stores and equipment were carefully transferred from the Barretto Junior to each vessel. In a melancholy letter to his best friend, James Clark Ross, Crozier described how overburdened the Terror was and his steps to lessen the load (Ross 1994:284):

“We got here on the morning of the fourth and have been busily employed ever since clearing and stowing away from transport. ‘Tis very tedious work from the small space we have to stow things. We have now a mean draft of 16 feet and all our provisions not yet on board. I sent home our largest cutter (and fill launch with patent fuel), 2 anchors and cables, iron waist davits and various things of weight as I think it better to have the provisions, come what may afterwards. “

Holds and decks crammed with stores, the Erebus and Terror set out from Greenland on July 12. The ships were last spotted moored to an iceberg at the edge of an ice barrier near Lancaster Sound by the British whaler Enterprise.  By the time they were abandoned on April 22nd, 1848, the Erebus and Terror had spent three years in the arctic, 588 days (19 months) of which of which saw the ships entirely beset in multiyear pack ice off the northern coast of King William Island.

The "Victory Point Record" tells of the abandonment of the ships (Wikimedia Commons).
The story of their abandonment, and the terrible tragedy which followed, remains one of the most compelling, but often inscrutable, historical mysteries of human exploration. I will not recount the final years of the vessels and the fate of their crews - it has been the subject of so much printed literature and digital speculation that my own account would be both insufficient and redundant. My interest with this blog is rather with HMS Terror itself, which was the most advanced exploration vessel of her time.

Many have suggested the ships were the 19th Century equivalent of space shuttles; however, if one seeks to draw parallels, it is probably more useful to consider instead the entirety of the Royal Navy’s polar exploration program, whose technological advances, scientific achievements, and nationalist underpinnings were analogous to the NASA program of 1960’s and 1970's.

Cyriax, Richard, J.
1997      Sir John Franklin's Last Arctic Expeidtion: The Franklin Expedition, A Chapter in the History of the Royal Navy. The Arctic Press, West Sussex. 

Ross, Sir James Clark
1847a    A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions, During the Years 1839-1843: Volume I. John Murray, London.

1847b    A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions, During the Years 1839-1843: Volume II. John Murray, London.
Ross,  Maurice James
1994       Polar Pioneers: A Biography of John and James Clark Ross. McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal.

Ware, Chris.
1991       The Bomb Vessel: Shore Bombardment Ships of the Age of Sail. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis.



Monday 8 July 2013

HISTORY OF HMS TERROR (Part 1: 1813-1837)

Launched in 1813, HMS Terror was designed by Sir Henry Peake, one of the Royal Navy’s foremost shipwrights and designer of  HMS Erebus (1826), with whom the Terror would be forever linked. HMS Terror was one of three Vesuvius Class bomb ships built in 1813 to the same specifications; her sister ships were HMS Vesuvius and HMS Beelzebub (sometimes spelled Belzebub). The Vesuvius Class bomb vessels mimicked the lines and storage capacity of merchant ships, permitting extended cruises without need of tenders to carry extra ordinance. The first plans for the Terror were shared between her and the Beelzebub, but were identical to those used for the Vesuvius.

Under command of Captain John Sheridan, HMS Terror took part in the Battle of Baltimore, where she bombed Fort McHenry over the 13th and 14th of September, 1814. Her actions are immortalized in “The Star-Spangled Banner”; the “bombs bursting in air” actually came from the Terror and other British bomb vessels.

An unexploded mortar bomb from Fort McHenry. This may have been one of the bombs lobbed by HMS Terror. Photo by Cowtools (Flickr creative commons).

Like all bomb vessels, the Terror spent long periods in “ordinary”, or storage. She was decommissioned from 1815 to 1828 and again from 1828 to 1836.

After an extended period in ordinary, the Terror was recommissioned for service in the Mediterranean. Near Lisbon, Portugal, she was trapped on a lee shore in a violent hurricane and nearly wrecked. The damage she took would have broken up a less sturdy vessel, as a contemporary account indicates (Anonymous 1835:233):

A testament to her sturdy construction, she survived and was refloated, repaired, and placed in ordinary upon her return to England. James Fitzjames, who perished with Franklin and the Terror many years later, participated in her salvage.

In 1835, the Terror and her sister ship, Erebus, were quickly outfitted to resupply eleven whaling ships trapped in ice near Davis Strait, but the whalers escaped before the Terror and Erebus set to sea. In 1836 the Terror was further refitted for extended polar exploration and, under the command of George Back, spent the winter of 1836-1837 in severe ice conditions off Southampton Island. The ship was under such tremendous pressure from the ice that resin (“turpentine”) was squeezed from her timbers and her bolts “wept” (Back 1838:262). She was repeatedly thrown on her beam ends and eventually her sternpost was shattered - damage that would have been fatal in a less sturdy vessel.

As Back (1837:59) described in a letter to the Royal Geographic Society, the ship suffered greatly:

In a remarkable display of skill and nerve, Back sailed the Terror across the Atlantic, with as much as five feet of water pouring into her hold every hour. Her crew utterly exhausted from working the pumps, the Terror was beached in Lough Swilly, on the Irish coast. Conveniently, beaching the vessel allowed for full inspection of the damage, as Back described in his book on the voyage (1838:442):

Image of HMS Terror's damaged stern, drawn by Lieutenant Smyth in Lough Swilly, August 1837.

1835 Narrative of the Wreck of H.M.S. Terror. United Service Journal and Naval and Military Magazine 1:229-236.

Back, George R.
1837 Letter to the Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society. The Metropolitan Magazine 20: 58-60.

Back, George R.
1838 Narrative of An Expedition in H.M.S. Terror, Undertaken with a View to Geographical Discovery on the Arctic Shores in the Year 1836-7. John Murray, London.


On June 29th, two hundred years ago, HMS Terror was launched in Topsham, Devon. The Terror was originally built as a bomb vessel and saw noteworthy action during the War of 1812. However, her destiny lay in exploring the ice pack at both ends of the earth, and she was arguably the most successful polar vessel ever constructed by the Royal Navy.

With their exceptionally strong frames, bluff bows, shallow draft, and spacious holds, bomb ships were ideal vessels for conversion to polar exploration. Nearly wrecked several times, the diminutive, but sturdy, Terror withstood more punishment from the natural environment than any Navy vessel of the era. When she was finally abandoned in 1848, after three years locked in grinding pack ice (during some of the worst Arctic winters on record), evidence suggests she was still afloat. Her wreck, and that of her sister ship, HMS Erebus, has never been found. The story surrounding their abandonment remains one of the world’s great historical mysteries.

This blog will document my project to scratch build an accurate 1:48 scale plank on bulkhead model of HMS Terror, as fitted for her final 1845 voyage. To my knowledge, no complete plans or models exist of the Terror as fitted in 1845; this log will document the process of creating both accurate plans and an accurate scale model. As you will see, both require detailed historical research.

Below are some images of a (rather crude) paper and card mock-up (of the bulkhead arrangement) I’ve created as a proof for an early draft of my plans. I expect it will take at least two years to build the model – maybe more.

View of the bow – an early version of the inboard profile plan can be seen below it.

View of the stern.