Wednesday, 17 September 2014


By now, most regular readers of this blog will know about Parks Canada’s discovery of one of Franklin’s ships and most will likely have seen the beautifully detailed sonar images of the vessel. My blog has received more visits in the last week than it has in the past six months and I’ve received many emails and comments asking for my thoughts on the identity of the vessel. I’m gratified that readers think that my plans could be useful, but  I won’t be speculating here on the identity of the ship - that is something that should be left to the professionals.       

Regardless, it is possible to comment on some of the information already released. The most thrilling is the movie posted of the wreckage, and the identification of two cannons within it. Royal Navy exploration vessels commonly carried a contingent of small cannons and signal guns. For example, the contemporary HMS Beagle carried up to 8 guns on her second voyage in 1832, a mix of smaller caliber brass carriage guns and carronades.     

We have no primary information (that I am aware of) describing how many cannons Franklin’s ships may have carried for their 1845 voyage, but some information exists about their armament for the 1839 Antarctic voyage. A widely distributed, and generally accurate, newspaper account of the time states (Anonymous 1839):   

From this account it appears that the ships may have each had the same number of relatively small cannons, likely located along recesses in the bow and midships sections of the deck.  These would have been useful for signalling, especially during foul weather. As well, because these were Royal Navy vessels, they would have required some defensive armament, no matter how slight.      

Another fascinating find associated with the discovery was a u-shaped iron crutch/pintle for the ship’s davit stanchion (a piece fitted inside the bulwarks to support the raising and lowering of the davit arm). The Erebus and Terror each had ten of these stanchions, located along both sides of the vessels. The image below was extracted from plans I developed some time ago, but I’m pleased that it appears to correspond nicely in size and shape to the actual piece. It is remarkable how accurate the plans appear to have been for these vessels, though deciphering the many modifications can be mind-numbing.     

Configuration of the davit stanchion on the Franklin vessels (the left shows the
outboard profile and the right shows the cross section). The iron pintle/crutch
at the heel supported the entire structure and secured it to the bulwarks;
therefore it needed to be robust. 

As posted previously,  I've posited that by 1845 the vessels had been fitted in a virtually identical fashion. The 1839 plans, labeled "Terror and Erebus, as fitted", seem to imply this, though some critical differences might have existed. Despite the fact that Erebus belonged to the slightly larger Hecla and Terror to the smaller Vesuvius Class, both ships had been extensively modified and their lengths altered due to a reconstruction of their sterns. This makes identifying the wreck from the confusing corpus of plans (most of which are heavily annotated) a daunting task, and I’m looking forward to hearing which of the two vessels they have discovered!

1839 The Antarctic Expedition. Gentleman’s Magazine 12:405-407.

Saturday, 6 September 2014


Scale cross section of Crozier's personal quarters (at Station 12).
Note that the double planking and ice channels on the hull aren't shown here.

As part of my research on the Terror’s lower deck, I created a series of elevations of the fittings and accommodations. In my previous post, I provided  a cross section of the captain’s great cabin, which was the most spacious and lavishly appointed room on the ship. This stood in contrast to Crozier’s bed cabin which appears to have been as small and spare as the other officer cabins (in fact, it was among the smaller bed cabins on the vessel). It had just enough space for a simple bed, a washstand, and a small fixed writing table (in contrast to the larger folding writing tables in the other cabins).
This elevation is based on details derived from the Terror’s 1836 lower deck plans (modified in 1845), the somewhat more detailed 1839 lower deck plans, and the 1839 midships section plan. Further information was taken from images of fittings on HMS Unicorn, HMS Trincomalee, and HMS Warrior.
The cross section shown here provides some interesting information about how the ship was modified for polar exploration. The square-shaped hot air heating funnel can be seen just behind the bed. Heated air must have escaped from holes in the upper surface of the funnel, rising through the space between the bed and the spirketting caused by the knee, as the 1836 plans (and others) show that these beds were built flush to the deck. The “thick” waterway was fitted in 1836 and, in addition to its traditional function of protecting the beam and plank ends, worked as a sort of reverse shelf piece/deck clamp to support strain on the decks from ice pressure. The six inch thick shelf piece itself was as robust as ships of 60 to 90 guns, and its run and position is specifically noted on both the 1836 and 1839 profile plans, suggesting it was a new modification to both ships. 

The right-angle iron knee was a relatively standard design of the era and examples can be found on the gun deck of Seppings' HMS Unicorn. We know similar knees were retrofitted to HMS investigator and I expect the same occurred on the Terror, and the partial section on the 1836 plans shows a clamp/shelf design commonly used with iron knees (although the iron knee isn't shown until the 1845 midships section). The knee was bolted to the beam, the bolts passing through the shelf piece, the chock, the frame, and the first layer of the outside hull planking. Uniquely, its heel was supported by a massive six inch thick plank bolted to the spirketting. Again, the run of this plank was shown on both the 1836 and 1839 profile plans, suggesting it was a critical modification to both ships.  On the Investigator, both the shelf piece and the supporting plank below the chock were made from elm, but Rice (Ross 1847) indicates they were made of oak on the Franklin vessels .
The massive knees severely impacted the available space in the cabins, and the iron knee itself must have been a constant source of discomfort to Crozier’s sleep. In a personal letter to  his friend and former commander, James Clark Ross, Crozier admitted his misgivings about the expedition and confided his deep loneliness. As I developed these plans, I repeatedly pictured Crozier writing alone in his uncomfortable little cabin, the most probable place for him to put down a very private last letter to his best friend.
Ross, Sir James Clark
1847 A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions, During the Years 1839-1843: Volume I. John Murray, London.

Monday, 1 September 2014


Starboard cabin arrangement HMS Terror, 1845
(Note: cabin of Thomas Johnson open for debate).

In late May I began a new sub-project of my build - creating an accurate plan of HMS Terror’s lower deck. I thought the project would take a few weeks at most, but creating this plan turned out to be a three month ordeal requiring minute scrutiny of multiple plans and significant research on mid-19th century deck furniture and fittings. The task was made easier by Peter Carney and William Battersby who kindly assisted me with translating some annotations on the plans.  

The difficulty in this project stems from the multiple versions of plans for HMS Terror, some of which are heavily annotated. There are three versions of just the Terror’s lower deck plans, including: 1) the initial 1813 lower deck plan (ZAZ5616), 2)  the 1839 plan which shows both HMS Terror and Erebus, and 3) the 1836 plan, which was modified extensively in 1845 (ZAZ5676). In addition, critical information was gleaned from the 1839 midships section plan (ZAZ5678).

I began by tracing the 1836 plan, and spent nearly a month interpreting the faint 1845 annotations which outline changes to the position of the cabins and a system of hatches and scuttles to accommodate the new engine room in the hold. I then carefully added information on deck furniture from the 1839  plan, and structural details from the 1813 plans. Finally, I compared the new plans to the inboard profile plans I previously created to ensure the accuracy of both (this indicated that some changes were needed on the inboard profile plans). 

I also created a series of detailed elevation plans for the crew accommodations and various fittings, some of which I will post over the coming weeks. HMS Investigator plans were very useful in this regard, as they provide important details that are not shown on the Erebus and Terror plans.  Additionally, I found critical information on the appearance and construction of deck furniture from researching photos from HMS Unicorn, HMS Trincomalee, and HMS Warrior. 

Following research outlined in previous blog posts, I assume that most of HMS Terror’s 1845 fittings conformed to specifications outlined on the 1839 Terror and Erebus plans. Parry’s rationale for identically outfitting polar expeditions notwithstanding, I believe the Admiralty learned important lessons from the near- disastrous 1836 Back expedition (see a description of the damage to the ship here), and decided that critical structural improvements were necessary for all arctic bomb-discovery vessels. Thus, the 1839 plans are titled “Terror and Erebus as Fitted” because both ships were meant to be outfitted to precisely the same standards. These new systems proved themselves in the highly successful antarctic expedition, and by the time they sailed north in 1845, further improvements meant that both ships represented the state of the art in nautical science. 

While the project took far longer than anticipated, I greatly enjoyed producing these plans, as they provide insights into what the long winters in the ice were like for Crozier and his crew, nearly 170 years ago.  Indeed, the ability to put a name to a specific cabin was a moving revelation; for example, Lieutenant Irving's description  of the “dreadful puffings and screamings” of the locomotive engine (Bell 1881: 117) takes on new meaning when one realizes his cabin was almost directly above it! 


Bell, Benjamin
1881 Lieut. John Irving, R.N. of H.M.S. "Terror" in Sir John Franklin's Last Expedition to the Arctic Regions: A Memorial Sketch With Letters. D. Douglas, Edinburgh.

Lower Deck, HMS Terror, 1845
(note the presence of the large central sail bin on Terror, needed to accommodate the
creation of the engine room in the orlop deck and hold).

Port cabin arrangement, HMS Terror, 1845
(Note: cabin of John Lane open for debate).

Captain's cabin, HMS Terror, 1845, facing aft
(note the panels covering the central propeller well and the central drawers below).

Lieutenant John Irving's cabin, facing port
(note the iron knee, bookshelves, and folding table).