Thursday 10 May 2018


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.

Soon, I was having a conference call with the production designers and visual effects team. They were planning to reconstruct Terror and her lower decks at full scale (at full scale!). They would need all my original plans and research, and they wanted to know everything I had learned about the ships and their fittings during my model project. Eventually, I provided every file and reference image I had on my computer; I had to purchase more storage space on my Dropbox account just to share it all.

The Terror production built their ship at 1:1 scale. I will never forget the thrill of stepping aboard Terror 
- 170 years after it had been abandoned. From left to right: Dave Kajganich, Jonathan McKinstry, 
and Matthew Betts stand on Terror's Quarterdeck. 

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.

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 
them from multiple plans (like the one shown here) and extensive historical research. Image Credit: 
ZAZ5672, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Reference: Eventually, I was able to reconstruct Terror’s outboard configuration in 1845. I also 
created a full set of shipwright’s drawings for all decks, fittings, and construction. 
Image Credit: “Outboard Profile, HMS Terror, as fitted, 1845”, Matthew Betts.

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

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.

The Terror Set: The sound stages used for the production weren’t large enough to permit a full reconstruction 
of the masts and rigging. Those details, along with the icescape and sky, were added by the VFX team, 
who recreated both ships digitally in enormous detail. Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/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. 

The Terror Set: Terror’s quarterdeck brought to life (between scenes), at winter quarters 
(e.g. with canvas covering the deck). The structures at the stern were water closets and 
colour lockers. Note the unique ten spoke wheel. Photo Credit: Alex Eldridge. 

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.

Historical Reference: The bow of HMS Erebus as she currently sits on the ocean floor. 
The discovery by Parks Canada of HMS Erebus in 2014, and HMS Terror in 
2016, substantially impacted The Terror, and the photos released by the 
archaeological team became important resources. Photo Credit: 
Thierry Boyer, ©Parks Canada.

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 

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.  

The Terror Set: The locomotive engine appears only briefly in Episode 1 but was reconstructed at full scale in 
Budapest. All the levers and controls worked, and the flywheel was operated by a hand crank set just outside 
the set.  Image Credit: Alex Eldridge. 

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: 
ZAZ5683National 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: To provide natural light to the dark lower deck, 31 Preston Patent Illuminators 
(essentially glass portholes) were installed in the upper decks of the ships. One of these was recently 
recovered from HMS Erebus by Parks Canada. Photo Credit: 89m-2015-4533,
Thierry Boyer, ©Parks Canada.

 The Terror Set: The production installed 31 real illuminators in the upper 
deck set. As this photo from the filming of Episode 4 shows, sometimes 
the production informed our understanding of Franklin history. Not 
only did the illuminators let natural light in, they let artificial light
from lanterns below deck to spill out. This would have been a
welcome source of light on the upper deck during the darkest
winter months. Photo Credit: Matthew Betts 

 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 Set: This photo shows the remarkable reconstruction of the captain's great cabin for the television show. 
Note the captain’s table and the cabin stove (moved to the starboard for ease of filming). I first visited this 
set when it was unlit and we had to use our cellphones as flashlights. I had a remarkable sensation 
of being a Parks Canada archaeologist, swimming through the actual wreck of Terror
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. 

The Terror Set: Franklin's bed cabin, Erebus. The Terror designers 
modified the furniture layout slightly, to avoid having the actors
 sit with their backs to the camera. Franklin's bed rail was also 
given a more ornate finish consistent with his status. 
Photo Credit: Matthew Betts

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: My plans for Terror’s lower deck are based on at least six original historic draughts (here 
only half the breadth of the ship is displayed). These resources even provide evidence for the exact 
design and dimensions of the unique seaman’s chests, each shared by two crew members. 

The Terror Set: Detail of a mess table on the Terror set. Note the accurately recreated seaman’s chests, 
and the design elements borrowed from HMS Trincomalee. While evidence suggests iron hoops 
were used to support the tables on both Erebus and Terror, for the television show rope was used 
on Terror, and iron hoops on Erebus, to provide some visual orientation for the audience. 

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.

Reference: Both ships had a unique sail bin placed in the central portion of the lower deck (shown on
 the left of this half-breadth cross section). Sails were usually stored on the orlop deck, but the 
sail bin was placed in the middle of the men’s sleeping quarters (on the lower deck) on 
Erebus and Terror because the locomotive engine displaced the sail room.  

The Terror Set: Despite the valuable space it took up on the cramped lower deck set, the production 
included the sail bin, and even used it to organize the men for a scene depicting their weekly 
muster.  I was very impressed by this commitment to realism, despite the challenges it 
posed for the production. Photo Credit: AMC

Once the men were forced to desert Erebus and Terror, they began leaving a trail of archeological evidence down the west coast of King William Island. Later, search parties and archaeologists collected these relics, and together with historical documents, they have formed a primary reference for the material culture of The Terror.

Historical Reference: This photo shows a piece of a runner from one of Franklin’s massive boat sledges. 

The Terror: Using the above artifact, and descriptions recorded by Francis 
Leopold McClintock, the production reconstructed the sledges at full size

Historical Reference: This is a fragment of the stem post and apron from the boat left at the 
famous “Boat Place” on King William Island, first found by McClintock’s search 
expedition. Photo Credit: AAA2282, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

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. 

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). 

The Terror: The art department carefully reconstructed the felt-covered coffin from Beechey 
Island for a pivotal scene in The Terror. 

Historical Reference:  The officers of the Franklin Expedition were photographed with 
a daguerreotype camera immediately prior to their departure (the camera was 
taken with them for the voyage).  From left to right, Sir John Franklin, 
James Fitzjames, and Francis Crozier. 

The Terror: The art department carefully recreated the daguerreotype images of the senior 
officers. They were made slightly larger (and with a different coating) than actual 
daguerreotypes, which are very small and notorisouly difficult to film. 
From left to right: Ciarán Hinds, Tobias Menzies, and Jared Harris.

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. 

The Terror: The purse was carefully recreated by the art department 
for the series.

Historic Reference: Goldner’s preserved foods, packaged in lead-soldered tins, 
have been considered a critical part of the Franklin mystery for generations. 
The lead solder in the tins was suspected to be a primary source of the 
high lead content found in the remains of some of Franklin’s men.  
They were painted a unique red colour and given a special label  
providing instructions for opening them. Photo Credit: 
AAA2275, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. 

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: Our "Goldner" tins recreate the images on the original labels 
(to the extent that they can be discerned), as well as the original text,
reproduced word-for-word.  The reproductions differ from the originals 
slightly; the red paint on The Terror cans is more vibrant, the labels are 
little larger, and the lead solder is highlighted on the rims; all are 
accommodations for the camera. Photo Credit: Matthew Betts

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 shipPhoto 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. 

The Terror: The men in their sledging gear. Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC. 

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 

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.