Stunning artifacts have been recovered from the wreck of HMS Erebus, one of two 19th-century Royal Navy ships involved in a doomed expedition to locate the Northwest Passage.
In one of the largest, most complex underwater archeological undertakings in Canadian history, Parks Canada and Inuit are working in collaboration to explore the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror―the storied ships of the 1845 Franklin Expedition that set sail from England on a quest to find the sea route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific through the Arctic Ocean―across what is now Canada's Arctic and Nunavut.
This week, the team unveiled more than 350 artifacts they recovered from just a small area of the wreck. Among the objects brought to the surface were kitchen wares, wine bottles, a wax seal with a fingerprint, and a hairbrush with hair strands that could contain clues about the fate of Arctic explorer John Franklin and his crew. The final days of the Franklin Expedition have been shrouded in mystery for nearly two centuries.
The Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site is the first cooperatively managed national historic site in Nunavut. Inuit made significant contributions to the 2019 research mission. This included the position of Jonathan Puqiqnak, an Inuk from Gjoa Haven with Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team as an Archaeological Assistant that included responsibilities for cataloguing and recording artifacts recovered from HMS Erebus. Furthermore, an Inuit Guardians program, involving Inuit from Gjoa Haven, has been in place since 2017 and leads the protection and monitoring of the Franklin wrecks during the open-water season, in addition to helping integrate Inuit knowledge into Parks Canada’s operations.
The findings from HMS Erebus during the 2019 Franklin research mission will contribute to a better understanding of historical and Inuit accounts of the Franklin Expedition and help establish a clearer picture of the living quarters of the crew on the lower deck of the ship. When coupled with the incredible discoveries from HMS Terror, Parks Canada and its Inuit partners are poised to unravel more of the mysteries of the Franklin story, including the interactions between the Franklin crew and Inuit.
The Government of Canada recognizes the invaluable role of Inuit, the Government of Nunavut, and all partners, in the discoveries of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.