Ship From Doomed Franklin Expedition Identified as Erebus

Image: one of the shipwrecks of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845-48 British Arctic Expedition
One of the shipwrecks of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845-48 British Arctic Expedition on the sea floor in northern Canada on Sept. 7, in this sonar image.PARKS CANADA / EPA

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A ship lost during a doomed 1840s Arctic voyage, but which was found by searchers in early September, has been identified as the HMS Erebus of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Wednesday.

"The locating and identifying of this ship goes a long way to solving one of Canada’s greatest historical mysteries,” Harper said.

The remains of the ship were found on the ocean floor in Queen Maud Gulf in Canada’s Arctic on Sept. 7, but at the time researches didn’t know if the wreck was the Erebus or the other ship lost in the 1845 voyage, the HMS Terror. Underwater archaeologists confirmed the identity of the Erebus on Tuesday.

Sir John Franklin and his crew of 128 all died in the voyage, which was launched in the hopes of finding the long-sought Northwest Passage. The trip ended in tragedy after the ships apparently became became trapped in the ice in 1846, leaving the survivors to perish of pneumonia and starvation, some of whom died after a desperate attempt to walk to the mainland.

The Canadian government led six searches for the vessels, which included remote underwater vehicles and ships using side-scanning sonar, since 2008. Harper praised government and non-profit partners who successfully carried out the search and eventual identification of the Erebus. “I wish them well in their search for the Terror,” Harper said.


— Phil Helsel