Built to withstand bombardment at sea in the service of Britain’s Royal Navy, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror had to be further modified to rise to the extreme challenges of polar travel. The ships that Sir John Franklin led in his failed search to locate the Northwest Passage were already hardened maritime veterans by the time they came under Franklin’s command.
The Erebus and Terror had recently undertaken a successful four-year mission to Antarctica, charting much of that continent’s coastline under the leadership of Captain James Ross. Today, a pair of towering peaks on the Hut Point peninsula bear the two ships names.
Decades earlier, the Terror fought in the War of 1812, participating in the bombardment of Baltimore. It was during this battle, that Francis Scott Key penned the The Star-Spangled Banner, which went on to become the United States’ national anthem.
The three-masted ships were technological marvels of their age. Their bows were reinforced with iron sheets to deflect polar ice, and full-sized steam engines added horsepower to their square sails via a screw propeller.
Beneath their decks, the Erebus and Terror housed copious rations. 24 tons of meat, 35 tons of flour, nearly two tons of tobacco, and no less than 7,560 liters of liquor. It was meant to sustain the 128-man crew for three full years, but the expedition would be lost before that.
The Erebus and Terror have been called the world’s most important undiscovered wrecks by no less an authority than Robert Ballard, who located the ghostly wreck of the RMS Titanic in 1985. In recognition of their significance to Canada and Sir John Franklin’s substantial contributions to mapping Canada’s North, the remains of the two ships were proclaimed a National Historic Site in 1992. They are the only National Historic Site in Canada that has yet to discovered.