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Underwater archaeologists recover HMS Erebus crew belongings

A team of underwater archaeologists from Parks Canada have recovered personal objects belonging to the crew of the HMS Erebus.

The HMS Erebus was constructed in 1826 by the Royal Navy in Pembroke dockyard, Wales. The ship was a refitted Hecla-class bomb vessel, that was used to explore both the Arctic and Antarctic during the Ross expedition of 1839–1843 (Antarctic), and the failed Franklin expedition of 1848 (Arctic).

The Franklin expedition was assigned to traverse the last un-navigated sections of the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic, however, the expedition met with disaster after the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror became icebound near King William Island.

After a year trapped in the ice, the crews abandoned their ships and planned to walk across the sea ice to the Canadian mainland, but died on the long 250 mile trek. In 2014, the sunken remains of the HMS Erebus was discovered by the Canadian Victoria Strait expedition in Wilmot and Crampton Bay, located to the west of the Adelaide Peninsula.

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In a recent press announcement by Parks Canada, underwater archaeologists have conducted 68 dives to investigate the HMS Erebus wreck site, recovering hundreds of objects and taking thousands of high-resolution imagery.

According to the announcement: “Carefully excavated artefacts were retrieved to help piece together more information about the 1845 Franklin Expedition, including naval technology, scientific work, and life aboard the vessel.”

The researchers recovered items relating to navigation and science, including a parallel ruler, an intact thermometer, a leather book cover, and a fishing rod with a brass reel. The team found the objects in the officer’s cabin, and believe that they belonged to Second Lieutenant Henry Dundas Le Vesconte.

Also found is a leather shoe or boot bottom, storage jars, and a sealed pharmaceutical bottle from what is thought to be the Captain’s Steward’s pantry. Ongoing excavation efforts took place in a cabin attributed to Third Lieutenant James Fairholme, revealing a collection of unidentified fossils that complement findings from the 2022 season.

Excavations in the forecastle area (where most of the crew lived) yielded a treasure trove of historical items such as pistols, military gear, footwear, medicinal bottles, and coins.

The Honourable Steven Guilbeault – Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, said: “The Franklin expedition remains one of the most popular mysteries from the nineteenth century. However, thanks to the important work of Parks Canada and Inuit partners, pieces of this mysterious puzzle are being retrieved allowing us to better understand the fascinating events of this incredible expedition.”

Header Image Credit : Parks Canada – Brett Seymour

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