The Mystery of Ghost Ships – HMS Erebus and HMS Terror
The oceanic vista offers abundant opportunities for expeditions. And while some of these expeditions turn out to be immensely successful, certain do not go the way as per their planning and envisioning. The expedition undertaken by the vessels Terror and Erebus was one of the latter ones, their presence disappearing from the world like footsteps disappearing during snowfall.
A lot has been discussed about the fatality of the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror expedition. Numerous follow-up expeditions to determine about the whereabouts of the ships and the crew were carried out in the following years but to no avail. The vessels were lost and till now nothing except speculations and hypothesis are available about the vessels and the crew.
HMS Erebus: Commissioned originally as a war vessel, the HMS Erebus was built in the year 1926 and equipped with mortars and guns. However, the ship was deployed for just two years post-which it underwent re-fitting to be used as a vessel for exploration.
In the year 1840, under the captainship of James Ross, the ship along with HMS Terror undertook a voyage to study the white continent of Antarctica from the Tasmanian coast of Australia. For two years, both vessels conducted various in-depth studies about plants, geographical locations, metallurgical studies and other studies pertaining to oceanology in the Antarctic region.
HMS Terror: Like her sister vessel in the ill-fated expedition, the HMS Terror was also a war-vessel built and commissioned for the War of 1812 that saw action between the United States and Great Britain. Post the culmination of the War of 1812, the war-ship also saw numerous other important naval actions till the year 1828, when she was disenabled.
In the year 1828 her war commissioning was made active again and she was deployed in the Mediterranean Sea but owing to running aground in Lisbon, she had to be recalled from service. In the year 1840, she was yet again recalled and post undergoing re-fittings, was deployed as an exploratory vessel for the Antarctic under the skippering of Captain James Ross.
1845 Franklin Exploration: Post the successful culmination of the Antarctic exploration, Terror and Erebus were yet again recalled in the year 1845 for the exploration of North-western Passage in addition to gathering vital data pertaining to magnetic forces in the Canadian region of the Arctic. To aid them in their conquest, the ships were equipped with steam engines and their prow was strengthened with steel to enable them to cut through the densely accumulated ice.
With Sir John Franklin at the helm, the two vessels undertook the immensely risky and severely testing journey with a total of 129 seamen in both vessels.
The rations for the seamen were packed in cans that were bonded with lead. Consequentially, the rough weather conditions coupled with the noxious effects of the lead-contained food took a bad toll on the health of the seamen, quite early into the journey; the vessels, being sighted for the last time in the Baffin Bay by a couple of whaler vessels in the July of 1845. However, since then there have been no sightings of them.
It is said that post this sighting, the Terror and Erebus faced a slew of scourges that resulted not only in the death of many of their crew but also of their skipper – Sir Franklin. Following Sir Franklin’s death, the sequent skipper, Franklin Cozier decided to abandon the ships and look out for safer areas. But owing to the geographical location of the area, it has been conjectured that the remaining crew would have had to resort to cannibalism to stay alive or would have succumbed to medical problems like tuberculosis and scurvy.
The claim of cannibalism which was first propounded by the Inuit has been taken into serious account as also their claims that some of the sailors did live for three-four years after them abandoning their vessels.
Even now, there have been searches followed through to try and garner knowledge about the actual calamity falling upon the ships. And while, these searches have not yet yielded centum results, the Canadian Park has nonetheless declared the area to be a National Historical Site.
Whether the past of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror is actually revealed or not, it can be said that the seafarers who undertook the journey, did so after understanding the complete ramifications of their potential navigation.