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HMS Erebus was a Hecla class bomb vessel designed by Sir Henry Peake and constructed by the Royal Navy in Pembroke dockyardmarker, Walesmarker in 1826. The vessel was named after the dark region in Hades of Greek mythology called Erebus. The 372-ton ship was armed with two mortars - one 13-inch and one 10-inch - and 10 guns.

Ross expedition

After two years service in the Mediterranean Seamarker, Erebus was refitted as an exploration vessel for Antarcticmarker service and on 21 November 1840, captained by James Clark Ross, she departed from Tasmaniamarker for Antarctica in company with HMS Terror. In January 1841, the crew of both ships landed on Victoria Land, and proceeded to name areas of the landscape after Britishmarker politicians, scientists, and acquaintances. Mount Erebusmarker, on Ross Islandmarker, was named for the ship itself.

They then discovered the Ross Ice Shelfmarker, which they were unable to penetrate, and followed it eastward until the lateness of the season compelled them to return to Tasmania. The following season, 1842, Ross continued to survey the "Great Ice Barrier", as it was called, continuing to follow it eastward. The two ships returned to the Falkland Islandsmarker before returning to the Antarctic in the 1842-1843 season. The ships conducted studies in magnetism, and returned with oceanographic data and collections of botanical and ornithological specimens. Birds collected on the first expedition were described and illustrated by George Robert Gray and Richard Bowdler Sharpe in The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Erebus & HMS Terror. Birds of New Zealand., 1875. The revised edition of Gray (1846) (1875).

Franklin expedition

For their next voyage, to the Arctic under Sir John Franklin, Erebus and Terror were outfitted with 20 hp steam engines (converted from railway locomotive engines), and had iron plating added to their hull. Sir John Franklin sailed in Erebus, in overall command of the expedition, and Terror was again under the command of Francis Crozier. The expedition was ordered to gather magnetic data in the Canadian Arctic and to complete a crossing of the Northwest Passage, which had already been charted from both the east and west but had never been entirely navigated.

The ships were last seen entering Baffin Baymarker in August 1845. The disappearance of the Franklin expedition set off a massive search effort in the Arctic. The broad circumstances of the expedition's fate were first revealed when Hudson's Bay Company doctor John Rae collected artefacts and testimony from local Inuit in 1853. Later expeditions up to 1866 confirmed these reports.

Both ships had become icebound and had been abandoned by their crews, in total about 130 men, all of whom subsequently died from a number of causes, including hypothermia, scurvy, and starvation while trying to trek overland to the south. Subsequent expeditions up until the late 1980s, including autopsies of crew members, also revealed that their shoddily canned rations may have been tainted by both lead and botulism. Oral reports by local Inuit that some of the crew members resorted to cannibalism were at least somewhat supported by forensic evidence of cut marks on the skeletal remains of crew members found on King William Islandmarker during the late 20th century.

The remains of the ships have yet to be found, but are listed by Parks Canada as a national historic site.

On 15 August 2008, Parks Canada, an agency of the Government of Canada announced a CDN$75,000 six week search, deploying the icebreaker CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier with the goal of finding the two ships. The search presumably seeks to strengthen Canada's position in sovereignty over large portions of the Arctic.

In fiction

The 2008 novel Arctic Drift uses the Erebus and Terror as part of the plot as well as the establishing backstory. The Erebus also appears in Dan Simmons 2007 novel The Terror and the Doctor Who Audio Dramas story Terror of the Arctic alongside its fellow ship, the Terror.

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