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.

1 comment:

  1. I recall that her hull was made stronger for Franklin by the addition of a thick external layer of Canadian elm, or was that normally there?