Archaeologists are stunned at the surprisingly good shape that a Royal Navy ship is still in after nearly two centuries. The HMS Terror was a Vesuvius-class bomb ship that was built at the Davy shipyard in Topsham, England, and the warship was first launched in 1813.
After participating in several battles from the War of 1812, it was later converted into a polar exploration ship, but ended up being one of two ships lost (along with the HMS Erebus) on Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition to the Canadian Arctic in order to find the Northwest Passage.
While the wreckage of the HMS Terror was discovered in 2016 off of Canada’s King William Island, only now has it been thoroughly examined. A team from Parks Canada made a total of seven dives in the freezing cold water in early August to study the wreckage. They also used small underwater drones to see the inside of the vessel.
“The ship is amazingly intact,” said Ryan Harris who is the lead archaeologist on the project, “You look at it and find it hard to believe this is a 170-year-old shipwreck. You just don’t see this kind of thing very often.” He continued on by stating, “We were able to explore 20 cabins and compartments, going from room to room,” adding, “The doors were all eerily wide open.”
The only door that was shut was the one from the captain’s sleeping quarters located below deck and it’s the only area that the team wasn’t able to explore.
And what they saw inside left them shocked and excited at the same time. They found dinner plates and glasses that were still sitting on the shelves, as well as desks and beds that were in order. They also witnessed some scientific instruments that were still in their cases. They even found signs that some important papers (charts and journals) as well as pictures could very well still be preserved under the sediment that covers a good portion of the inside of the ship. Pictures from the underwater expedition to the HMS Terror can be seen here.
“Those blankets of sediment, together with the cold water and darkness, create a near perfect anaerobic environment that’s ideal for preserving delicate organics such as textiles or paper,” explained Harris, adding, “There is a very high probability of finding clothing or documents, some of them possibly even still legible. Rolled or folded charts in the captain’s map cupboard, for example, could well have survived.”
Another exciting possibility is that there could be photographs on the ship from the expedition. The crew did have a daguerreotype apparatus and if they used it, there’s a good possibility that the glass plates are still somewhere on the vessel. “And if there are, it’s also possible to develop them,” expressed Harris. He also said that it’s been previously done with photographic items from other shipwrecks, so they should be able to do it again if they find the glass plates on the HMS Terror. If that’s the case, I can’t wait to see those pictures!