“Heart and soul” of HMS Erebus revived

 November 6, 2014

The bell of the HMS Erebus was discovered in September, 2014, on the bottom of Queen Maud Gulf. The ship, and its sister the HMS Terror, were lost in 1845 during an Arctic expedition by English captain Sir John Franklin. Photo by Thierry Boyer, © Parks Canada

The bell of HMS Erebus was discovered in September, 2014, on the bottom of Queen Maud Gulf. The ship, and its sister the HMS Terror, were lost in 1845 during an Arctic expedition by English captain Sir John Franklin. Photo by Thierry Boyer, © Parks Canada

Canada’s government released images today of the bell from HMS Erebus, the doomed ship from Britain’s legendary Franklin Expedition, found in Nunavut territory in September.

Erebus was named after the Greek god of darkness, whose sire is Chaos. (You might have thought the name would give them pause.) Erebus and her sister ship HMS Terror acquired their own mythological status when they vanished in the Arctic in 1845, on an expedition led by captain Sir John Franklin.

Franklin, one in a long line of British and modern explorers, had been tasked with finding a shortcut from Europe to Asia through the elusive Northwest Passage.

Franklin’s crew came to a grim end in the ice. As numerous researchers discovered, and the Franklin Wikipedia page notes, “Evidence suggested that a combination of cold, starvation and disease including scurvy, pneumonia and tuberculosis, all made worse by lead poisoning, killed everyone in the Franklin party.”

A long list of search parties and scientific expeditions on the quest to find the ships stretches back to 1848. Many found fragments of the puzzle, while most encountered the local Inuit residents — who not only had relics from the expedition, but tales of the crew and advice that the Erebus was in the area where it was, eventually, found. But it was only this year, in September, and with the aid of modern technologies, that the Erebus was located.

The photos show the bell, now cleaned up by conservation experts. The Royal Navy ‘broad arrow’ and the year 1845 are visible. (More photos below.)

— Deborah Jones

 Excerpts of Parks Canada press release:

A ship’s bell is generally considered the most iconic object that might come from a shipwreck. Not only is it a physical representation of a ship’s identity but it is often romantically considered to be its ceremonial heart and soul, the sound by which all shipboard routine is regulated each day, whether signalling the advance of time each and every half hour, alerting the crew to the changing of the watch, maintaining contact within a squadron of fogbound ships, or ringing in the New Year. …

The ship’s bell from HMS Erebus was located during the very first dive on the site. When found, it lay on the upper deck, detached from its original mount. It was resting next to the ship’s displaced windlass (a form of horizontal anchor winch), above which it was originally mounted ….

Currently it is immersed in a bath of distilled water which is monitored daily to detect change in the chemistry of the bath water. This technique is used to detect conditions that could lead to deterioration of the artifact. The artifact is now ready to begin a lengthy conservation treatment that could take 18 months or longer. The end result of treatment will be a fully preserved artifact that will be the subject of further research and exhibition.

 

Filippo Ronca (left) and Dr. Douglas Stenton examine the bell. Photo by Thierry Boyer, © Parks Canada

Filippo Ronca (left) and Dr. Douglas Stenton. Photo by Thierry Boyer, © Parks Canada

 

The "broad arrow" is visible on the bell of HMS Erebus. Photo by Thierry Boyer, © Parks Canada

The “broad arrow” is visible on the bell of HMS Erebus. Photo by Thierry Boyer, © Parks Canada

 

Date on bell of HMS Erebus. Photo by Thierry Boyer, © Parks Canada

Date on bell of HMS Erebus. Photo by Thierry Boyer, © Parks Canada

 

Further information:

Parks Canada’s web site has extensive information and photo galleries.

Wikipedia has a comprehensive page on the expedition

The haunted painting of Sir John Franklin’s ship. By Laura MacCulloch, on F&O

At Royal Holloway College at the University of London, Edwin Landseer’s picture Man Proposes, God Disposes (1864) is covered by a Union Flag every year during exams. Not because of any fears of cheating during history exams but because students believe they will fail their exams (or even go mad) if they look at it. This fear of the painting goes back a long way in the history of the college. The subject matter of the picture is highly grisly and macabre.  

Folksinger Stan Rogers’ Northwest Passage is the iconic tune of the Franklin Expedition. 

 

 

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