The journey to locate these vessels has taken 172 years. Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin set sail from England in 1845 on an expedition to chart the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic with HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. The ships and all crew were lost after the ships became stuck in ice off King William Island and the crew abandoned them to trek overland to the South. None of the crew survived.
Many attempts were made over the years but only artefacts were found. In 1992, the wrecks were designated as a national historic site, despite neither shipwreck having been found at that time. In 1997, UK and Canadian Governments signed an agreement giving custody and control of the wrecks and their contents to the Canadian Government, whilst still remaining the property of the UK.
With a combination of traditional Inuit knowledge and state-of-the-art technology, the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were finally located under relatively shallow Arctic Waters to the south of King William Island in 2014 and 2016 respectively. Acknowledging the importance of this momentous discovery, the UK Government is proposing to update the 1997 agreement, transferring ownership of the wrecks to Parks Canada, whilst retaining a small sample of artefacts. Items from the wreckages will be displayed for future generations in both Canadian and UK museums.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said:
“During her recent visit to Canada, the Prime Minister emphasised the importance of recognising our shared past with Canada as we seek to reinvigorate our already strong bilateral relationship.
“This exceptional arrangement will recognise the historical significance of the Franklin expedition to the people of Canada, and will ensure that these wrecks and artefacts are conserved for future generations.”
The transfer of ownership is expected to be undertaken over the coming weeks.