Parks Canada Unveils New Artifacts from the Franklin Expedition

Royal Navy lieutenant's epaulettes from HMS Erebus (Parks Canada)

Published Feb 21, 2020 5:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Thursday, Parks Canada, the Inuit Heritage Trust and Kitikmeot Inuit Association unveiled new artifacts from the wreck of HMS Erebus, one of the two vessels lost during the ill-fated Franklin Expedition. 

Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team - in collaboration with the local Inuit community - recovered over 350 artifacts from HMS Erebus, including epaulettes from a lieutenant’s uniform and ceramic dishes. An important highlight of the archaeological dive was the recovery of a number of items believed to belong to Edmund Hoar, the captain’s steward, including sealing wax with a finger print. The Archaeology Team also recovered a hairbrush with a satinwood handle and boar or porcupine bristles, as well as a pencil case, among other items. 

Over the course of three weeks, Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team completed 93 dives to the HMS Erebus, spending a total of about 110 hours underwater. Using both traditional and innovative approaches, sediment was carefully removed from buried artifacts, exposing them for mapping, photography and recovery. The recovered artifacts are now being analyzed and docomented with scaled illustrations, x-rays and studio photography at Parks Canada’s Conservation Laboratories.

“[Last] summer's highly successful field operations on the wreck of HMS Erebus included the much anticipated start of site excavation work – the realization of years of intensive logistical preparation. Excavation has very quickly confirmed the expected density of artifacts that remain on board. As we delve into specific cabin spaces, the artifacts reveal increasingly personalised glimpses of the individuals that once made up the crew," said Ryan Harris, the project director for Parks Canada.

The two ships are protected as the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site, a cooperatively managed preserve run by Parks Canada and its Inuit partners. Franklin's HMS Erebus and HMS Terror sank in Inuit territory, and the local First Nations were aware of the location of the wrecks. The knowledge was passed down for 170 years, long enough to help Parks Canada find the ships. Previous searches for Erebus had looked well to the north of the site; Parks Canada found it close to where Inuit accounts suggested it would be located.

HMS Terror and HMS Erebus were the vessels used by the lost Franklin Expedition of 1845, which sought to find the Northwest Passage but ended in tragedy. The ships were caught in the ice off Canada's King William Island in the winter of 1846-47 and abandoned in 1848. The remaining men of Franklin's team attempted to journey overland to British outposts in Canada, but they did not survive.