A drone photo showing the field support barge positioned above the wreck of HMS Erebus in the summer of 2019. (Photo: Parks Canada Agency)
Because of the way the wreck is positioned, the upper deck has been severely damaged by storms and the seasonal movement of ice. Due to this, the 2019 dive team targeted the officers’ quarters belowdecks, where they believed there was a better chance of finding undisturbed areas. Their hunch proved correct: in one cabin, likely belonging to 3rd Lieutenant James Walter Fairholme, even the bed remained intact, with storage drawers beneath it where they discovered a box containing the Royal Navy epaulettes.
More spectacular finds awaited in the pantry of the captain’s steward, including stacks of dishware, still neatly shelved. Other finds in the pantry include a pencil case containing lead and slate pencils, the sleeve of a leather coat, and, most exciting of all, a lead stamp bearing the image of an anchor and letters spelling out “Ed. Hoar.” According to Erebus’ muster book, Edmund Hoar was Sir John Franklin’s personal assistant. He was 23 years old when the expedition departed England in search of a Northwest Passage in 1845.
“That was quite fulfilling because it confirmed exactly where we were, and confirmed some of his personal belongings were in that compartment,” says Bernier.
Another item — a slim wooden ruler, possibly part of a drawing kit or other instrument — was found inscribed with the name Frederick Hornby. This is especially intriguing because Hornby was listed as a junior officer on HMS Terror, not Erebus.
“This is a case where we can see that things were dynamic,” says Bernier. “Was Hornby moved to Erebus at one point, or was this an object that was given to someone else when Hornby passed away?”