Sunday 29 June 2014


Today marks the 201st anniversary of the launch of HMS Terror in Topsham, Devon.  It also marks the first anniversary of Building Terror. I envision the blog as a place to document the history and architecture of one of the world’s greatest polar exploration ships. I’m telling that story through my project to build the world’s first accurate model of the Terror as she appeared in 1845.  

I’ve been very pleased with the public response to the blog, which has received nearly 10,000 views in the last year. It has led me to correspond with some of the foremost scholars of both the Franklin Expedition and historic sailing vessels of the 18th and 19th centuries.

I research each part of the vessel in detail as I build, so construction of the model has proceeded slowly, but on pace.  I have duplicated much of the blog in a topic on Model Ship World forums, and the comments of the modelers, who are some of the world’s most knowledgeable ship historians, will likely be of interest to followers of this blog.

Building Terror has been accessed all over the world, and my images and plans have popped up in numerous places, most notably on the exhibit website for “HMS Terror: A Topsham Boat”, hosted at the Topsham Museum (Devon Museums).  

I’ve had many requests for plans, images, and even the model itself; others have asked me to write research papers or a book on the architecture of the ship. For now my goal is simply to finish my plans and model. When they are complete and accurate, I’ll decide what to do next.  If you have any ideas, I’d be happy to hear them.

The many hundreds of hours I’ve spent pouring over plans and researching this fascinating ship have been some of the most rewarding I can recall. The Terror really was something else altogether– in her time, she was the pinnacle of nautical science; the embodiment of the desire to explore, document, and dominate the natural world; and the emblem of an empire’s dominion. Alone in the ice, she was the incarnation of the simple determination and courage of men.

Even if she had never been part of the Franklin voyage she would still have a place among the greatest exploration vessels of all time. Yet Terror’s final two years sheltering her crew from the crushing pack off King William Island proved her true mettle; there was nothing further a polar exploration vessel could have achieved. 

Some may say she didn't deserve her fate. Her captain and crew certainly did not. But had she survived, she would likely have been turned into a transport or scow and then broken up like HMS Resolute. In whatever state she’s in, HMS Terror is still preserved somewhere under the Arctic Ocean. The mystery of where she rests continues to draw us to her. She deserves the attention.   

Wednesday 25 June 2014


As I’ve documented in previous posts, HMS Terror’s stern well was to be filled with strengthening chocks when the propeller wasn't in use. A unique feature of this design was described by Oliver Lang, the shipwright in charge of the 1845 refit, as an “iron tank placed over the chocks in which any small article of stores may be stored” (NMM ZAZ5683 [J1529]). Lang’s 1845 plan, while vague, suggests that the tank was similar to iron storage tanks used in Royal Navy ships of the era, with one major difference: the fore and aft faces of the tank had two grooves running along their length to seat it on the rails in the propeller well (see my previous post).

Oliver Lang's 1845 design for the storage tank (right).
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London (ZAZ5683 [J1529]).

Iron tanks had been used in the Royal Navy since 1813 and were used to store all manner of dry and wet goods, and were often used as ballast tanks when stores were depleted or offloaded (Pearson 1992). An example of the types of tanks used in the Franklin era can still be found in the excellently preserved Dealy Island Storehouse, constructed by Captain Kellett of HMS Resolute. The storage tanks were iron, ca. 48 inches by 48 inches in size, with lines of rivets along the middle and alternate edges of each face and around their circular openings (Jane 1982: Figure 3, Figure 6).  I copied this rivet pattern in my reconstruction of the Terror’s stern tank. 

The openings of these tanks were sealed with a recessed cast iron lid, between 12 and 24 inches in diameter with a wire rod handle and a cork or wooden bung inserted into a circular opening in their centre (Pearson 1992:24). Maudslay,  Sons, and Field, who were contracted to supply the engines installed in HMS Erebus and Terror (Battersby and Carney 2011:201), owned the patent to produce ship's tanks (Pearson 1992:25), and it is reasonable to assume that they built the custom stern tanks for the Franklin Expedition.  If so, the "Maudslay,  Sons, and Field" name should be stamped on the cast iron lids for the tanks, if they are ever found (e.g.  Pearson 1992:26).  

As can be seen above, the profile dimensions of the Terror’s stern tank are shown on Lang’s plan, as well as a general indication of the size and position of the lid and two iron rings used to raise and lower the tank into position. The plans indicate the tank had the following profile dimensions:

Height = 40 inches
Length (moulded) = 25 and ½ inches

I have estimated, based on the distance between the stern frames, that the propeller well and the tank were sided approximately 34 inches.


Pearson, Michael
1992       From Ship to the Bush: Ship Tanks in Australia. Australasian Historical Archaeology 10: 24-29.

Janes, Robert R.
1982       The Preservation and Ethnohistory of a Frozen Historic Site in the Canadian Arctic. Arctic 35(3):358-385.

Battersby, William, and Carney, Peter

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

Sheet brass scored prior to cutting.

A pounce wheel was used to mark the location of the rivets. 

The rivets were simulated by punching the brass from the reverse side with the sharp end of a file. 

The central opening and wire handle of the lid were made from brass tube and wire. 

The outer rim of the lid was soldered into place. The central opening (right) was trimmed and soldered to a plate to form the bottom of the lid (wire still needs to be trimmed to length).

The completed lid soldered in place and cleaned up
(sanding is still required and the central hole needs to be drilled to remove the wire rod). 

Rings for raising and lowering the tank soldered in place. 

The tank parts after chemical blackening. The grooves were made from existing brass stock. 

Soldering the entire tank was impossible, so a balsa form was created to glue the plates in place. 

Starboard side glued in place. 

The finished tank. The seams were glued, sanded and then painted to match the metal surface. The piece was then lightly coated in dewatering oil to simulate the laquer often used on the real tanks (and to prevent future corrosion). 

Detail of the top of the tank. The bung in the lid was made with wood-filler. 

The approximate position where the tank will sit in the well. I'm waiting for the oil to fully penetrate before I dry-fit the piece to the wood. 

The  tank seated on the propeller rails. When the rails are glued in place on the stern the tank can be placed in the well or on deck depending on how the model will be displayed (e.g. with propeller in place or not). 

A crude model of Captain Crozier provides a sense of scale.