Parks Canada Unveils Maritime Mysteries: Franklin Expedition Artifacts Revealed

In-Depth Dive into Erebus and Terror Wrecks Yields Historic Navigation Relics and Traces of Tragedy


Parks Canada is spearheading groundbreaking initiatives to unravel the enigmatic tales of the Franklin Expedition of 1845, undertaking the meticulous collection of artifacts and amassing a plethora of high-resolution images from the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

This summer witnessed the return of archaeologists to the Nunavut site for yet another season of comprehensive research on the wrecks, with a primary focus on the Erebus. Over a span of 12 days, the research vessel David Thompson facilitated 68 dives, constituting a concerted effort to delve into the depths and meticulously document the remains.

Within an officer’s cabin, divers unearthed artifacts intricately linked to navigation, scientific pursuits, and leisure activities. These relics are attributed to Second Lieutenant Henry Dundas Le Vesconte and encompassed notable items such as a parallel rule, an intact thermometer, a leather book cover, and a fishing rod complemented by a brass reel.

Furthermore, explorations in an area presumed to be the Captain’s Steward’s pantry yielded intriguing finds, including a leather shoe or boot bottom, storage jars, and a sealed pharmaceutical bottle. The excavation also revealed a seamen’s chest in the forecastle area, the primary living quarters for the crew, containing pistols, various footwear, medicinal bottles, and coins.

The ill-fated 1845 expedition, led by Sir John Franklin in pursuit of the elusive Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, remains an enduring mystery and one of the most tragic episodes of the era. The loss of both ships and the entire 129-member crew is etched in history as the gravest disaster in British polar exploration.

The discovery of the vessels in 2014 and 2016, owed in part to the traditional knowledge of the Inuit, led to the wrecks being gifted to Canada by the United Kingdom in 2018. The joint monitoring and administration of the wrecks involve collaboration between the Inuit and Parks Canada.

In the ongoing endeavor to unravel the mysteries surrounding the Franklin Expedition, archaeologists commenced the excavation of a seamen’s chest in the forecastle area, yielding an array of artifacts including pistols, military paraphernalia, footwear, medicinal containers, and coins. Simultaneously, the research team meticulously captured thousands of high-resolution digital images, forming the basis for precise 3D models to comprehensively document the site’s condition.

The artifacts recovered from the wrecks are slated for in-depth study in Ottawa, where they will undergo meticulous conservation treatment before finding a home on display at the Nattilik Heritage Centre in Gjoa Haven (Uqsuqtuuq), Nunavut.

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