The Vessels of the 2022 Government of Canada archeological expedition to HM Ships Erebus and Terror National Historic Site

What a cast of characters, what a mise en scène! Since arriving off King William Island, Nunavut, in late August, 2022, the Parks Canada Research Vessel David Thompson has remained near the famous Sir John Franklin expedition shipwrecks longer than previous seasons. What amazing discoveries must the Underwater Archeology Team (UAT) be making at these incredible mid-19th Century exploration ships right now?! Will the dive team working from David Thompson or the specialized dive barge, Qiniqtiryuaq, uncover new information about the last days of this ill-fated effort to locate the Northwest Passage?

Composite Google Earth image, with RV David Thompson superimposed from below GE capture, and sonar images of wrecks of HM ships Erebus and Terror modified from Parks Canada images. Date and location of all ships indicated is only an approximation.

There has not yet been any official reporting about the 2022 Parks Canada work. It is a safe bet that the balance of research is focusing on the fragile or “dynamic” site: HMS Erebus (discovered by Parks during the Sep. 2014 search in Wilmot and Crampton Bay, after years of searches which followed up on Inuit oral history of a wreck in this area).* In the long 165-years that Erebus remained unlocated, there must have been decades where the wreck, in the frigid waters of Wilmot and Crampton Bay, would have appeared almost untouched by time’s passage. Unfortunately, her condition has worsened in the last years, as ice or ocean swells take their toll on upper surfaces, such as the weather deck and supporting structures. The wreck is only in about 11 M of water. There is real urgency to conduct a thorough survey.

HMS Terror is located about 60 km North, somewhere in the aptly named Terror Bay (discovered Sep. 2016 by the Arctic Research Foundation’s ship Martin Bergmann, following up on a tip from Gjoa Haven resident and Canadian Ranger Sammy Kogvik). The seabed is about 24 M deep, and the wreck’s depth and location seem to be working to better shelter it. We hope at some point that the team are able to shift the archeological exploration to Terror. Previous Remote Operated Vehicle surveys of the interior have shown a wealth of artifacts requiring further study.

The ships (and shipwrecks) of the 2022 Franklin Fleet:

RV David Thompson (2017) LOA 95’ / 29m TDISP 228 tons. Originally Canadian Coast Guard Fisheries Patrol vessel CCGS Arrow Post (1992-2016) before transfer to Parks Canada. Now equipped with up to two Rigid Inflatable Boats and a hydraulic crane. RV David Thompson made a brief transit back through the Simpson Strait to Gjoa Haven 7 September, but appears to have returned to the vicinity of Erebus the next day.

RV David Thompson during the 2019 expedition to the wreck sites. Credi: Kerry Raymond, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Parks Canada Dive Barge “Qiniqtiryuaq” (2017) approximately 50’X 30’ / 15.3 X 9.3 m displacement unknown. Fitted with three 20’ converted sea containers with a tool shop/archeological lab, a meeting space, a decompression chamber. During 2018 the barge received a powerful hydraulic crane.

CCGS Pierre Radisson Icebreaker (1977) LOA 323’ / 98.3 m TDISP 8,200 tons Arctic class 3 breaker. Early in its career, this was the base of operations of Dr. Joseph B. MacInnis’s 1981 search effort for the Beechey Island wreck Breadalbane, supply ship to the 1853 Franklin search effort. This year it assisted or escorted RV David Thompson on the journey to Gjoa Haven. It can help to replenish and refuel the Parks Canada vessels, be called upon to ensure the security of the sites, and be involved in towing the dive barge.

CCGS Pierre Radisson (at right) refuels HMCS Moncton during the Sep. 2015 Operation QIMMIQ in Nunavut. Credit: Department of National Defence (Corporal Felicia Ogunniya) SW2015-0226-1306

CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier (1986) LOA 262’ / 83M TDISP 4,600 tons Arctic Class 2 Light Icebreaker and tender. This ship is a veteran of previous Franklin Expedition search efforts and Parks Canada archeology efforts. During the 2019 season, Laurier contributed anchors to help tether the barge Qiniqtiryuaq above Erebus. Based on recent marine traffic information (2022/09/20), and the onset of colder weather off King William Island, we believe the Laurier is helping to conclude the dive season. CCGS Pierre Radisson has moved on to Hudson’s Bay. Laurier’s last positions showed it stationary near Ambush Rock after having moved westward from Gjoa Haven through the Simpson Strait and Storis Passage, towards the vicinity of the Erebus site. The ship appears to be accompanied by an 8m, 15 ton light Coast Guard Boat which may be ferrying supplies back from the actual wreck site to the Laurier.

CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier (left) and HMCS Moncton in search of HMS Terror as part of Operation QIMMIQ on September 2, 2015. Credit: Department of National Defence (Photo: Corporal Felicia Ogunniya) SW2015-0226-980

HMS Erebus (1826-ca.1849) Hecla class bomb vessel extensively modified for polar expeditions. For the 1845 expedition to locate the Northwest Passage, the massively reinforced vessel was fitted with an auxiliary method of propulsion (steam railroad engine) and a retractable screw. Lead ship of expedition, carrying Sir John Franklin, officer commanding and Erebus’s captain, James Fitzjames. LOA ca. 120’ / 36.6 m davits on transom to stem knee, sparred length unknown TDISP 370 tons

The Franklin expedition ships, HMS Erebus and Terror, setting out with fanfare in late May 1845 from Greenhithe. This was originally published for the 24 May 1845 edition of the Illustrated London News. (Via wikimedia commons) The two ships, from separate classes of bomb vessels, were virtually indistinguishable after many updates for polar expeditions.
Credit: Parks Canada, Crown Copyright.

HMS Terror (1813-ca.1849) Vesuvius class bomb vessel extensively modified for polar expeditions. War of 1812 veteran. For the 1845 expedition to locate the Northwest Passage, the massively reinforced vessel was fitted with an auxiliary method of propulsion (steam railroad locomotive) and a retractable screw. Commanded by Captain Francis Crozier, second-in-command of expedition. LOA ca. 120’ / 36.6 m davits on transom to stem knee, sparred length unknown. TDISP 320 tons

A sonar image of the HMS Terror wreck, ca. 2017. credit: Parks Canada, Crown Copyright.
credit: Parks Canada, Crown Copyright.

* We most likely won’t hear for months about this season’s work, or a reported April or May site visit (which would have involved an ice camp over either wreck site)

**The precise location of the Franklin ships has not been released, and the general vicinity of each site is protected and not accessible to the public.