Inside the wreckage of doomed HMS Terror – Brit ship that led suicidal Arctic expedition plagued by cannibalism

THE eerie wreckage of a doomed British ship lost to the Arctic seas more than 170 years ago has been revealed in stunning underwater shots.

HMS Terror lived up to its name as all 129 explorers were lost when the vessel became encased in ice – with some resorting to cannibalism.


A storage compartment in Captain Crozier’s cabin, partly covered by silt and marine life – with one of the cabin’s stern gallery windows clearly visible in the background[/caption]

AFP or licensors

Plates and other artifacts sitting on shelves next to a mess table where a group of lower-ranking crew members would have taken their last meals[/caption]

Now, three years after its watery grave was finally discovered, a remote-controlled submarine has explored its rotten remains.

Captivating shots show the creepy stillness of the abandoned wreck – which still has crockery and bottles remaining on its galley shelves.

Another pic taken by Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team shows a bunk, drawers and shelf in one of the ship’s cabins.

And marine life sprouts from the table of Captain Francis Crozier – the Ulsterman who was second-in-command on the ill-fated trip.


Terror had set sail from England – along with the support vessel HMS Erebus – in 1845.

She was captained by Sir John Franklin, 59, a failed politician who already had a worrying reputation for barbarity.

Franklin, a military veteran and wannabe explorer, was leading the expedition despite being the third choice for the role.

He had returned from an earlier trip to Canada with just nine of his 20 men – amid rumours of murder and cannibalism among the survivors.


The Terror was dispatched to try to find a northwest passage dubbed the “Open Polar Sea” – a supposed shortcut through to the Pacific.

But the passage was non-existent – with the perpetually frozen polar seas allowing no possible way through.

To make matters worse, it would later emerge that the expedition’s ration tins hadn’t been properly sealed.

It meant poisonous lead had contaminated the festering food – making it fatally inedible.

£20,000 REWARD

Having not seen or heard anything of the expedition for years since its departure, the government suspected that something was awry.

A reward of £20,000 – worth around £2million today – was offered to anyone who could find the missing crew.

A flotilla of five rescue boats set sail for the pole in 1850 – including the HMS Resolute.

Resolute was later one of four rescue vessels to become lodged in ice – leading its crew to abandon ship and the mission to be cancelled.

From the mutilated state of many of the corpses and the contents of the kettles, it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last resource – cannibalism

John RaeExplorer

Meanwhile another explorer, John Rae, had come across chilling evidence that the crew of the Terror would never be seen again.

Rae had spent a decade exploring northern Canada and its Arctic Archipelago where he had befriended a crop of Inuit natives.

In 1854, Rae heard of a trader who had sold a seal to a group of starving Europeans, only to return to find 30 frozen corpses.

Rae investigated the claims and confirmed that the frigid bodies were those of the Terror crew.

In a horrifying letter to the admiralty revealing his discovery, Rae wrote: “From the mutilated state of many of the corpses and the contents of the kettles, it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last resource – cannibalism.”


Plates and bottles line the shelves of the galley on board the doomed exploration ship[/caption]


The HMS Terror was part of the 1845 Franklin Expedition that set sail from England in search of a northwest passage[/caption]


A bunk, drawers and shelf in a cabin on HMS Terror’s lower deck[/caption]

The expedition set off northwards to find a polar passage that doesn’t even exist
The Terror and HMS Erebus set sail in 1845, never to return
Hulton Archive – Getty

The tale of HMS Resolute and President Trump's desk

WHEN the Resolute, a British rescue vessel, reached the Arctic on the tracks of the Terror, it became lodged in ice and couldn't move.

The crew were forced to abandon ship and trek across the tundra, accidentally becoming the first to traverse the northwest passage in doing so.

Remarkably, the crew survived the ordeal to make it back to the relative warmth of Britain.

A few years later, in 1855, the deserted Resolute was recovered by the Americans and returned to Britain as a gesture of goodwill.

We didn’t forget this, so when the Resolute was retired, in 1879, part of the ship’s hull was fashioned into an ornate desk and given to US President Rutherfood B Hayes.

The same desk still stands in the Oval Office of the White House to this day, where it is used by Donald Trump.


Lady Franklin, the expedition leader’s wife, later funded her own final, desperate mission to track down the stricken explorers.

In 1859, this last search party came across an Inuit wearing a British naval badge on his furs.

He said he had found on “some white people who were starved upon an island”.

Chilling diary entries reveal that an old native woman had also seen the original expedition, and even watched the survivors march across the ice.

She told the search party: “They fell down and died as they walked along.”


After hearing this, mission leader Francis McClintock ordered a search of the area, and while he was looking he nearly tripped over an unusual-looking white rock protruding from the snow.

When one of his crew took an axe to it, the rock splintered to reveal a hollow centre and the unmistakable sound of bone shattering echoed out over the tundra.

It was a human skull, and McClintock’s first hard evidence that the men he was searching for had died long ago.


Rescuers also found an eye-catching stack of small rocks nearby with a rusted tin can perched next to it.

In the can was the expedition’s final record, complete with a hand-written message: “28th of May, 1847. HM ships Erebus and Terror wintered in the ice. Sir John Franklin commanding the expedition. All well.”

But around the edge of the note was a second message, scrawled in faded pencil a year later, in April 1948.

It stated that the ships had been lodged in place for a year and a half already by the time that second note was written, and what few rations remained had been contaminated by deadly lead.


That later message explained that Franklin had died within the first year of the ships becoming stuck, along with 23 of the men.

It added that the expedition’s 105 survivors were now preparing to trek for hundreds of miles across the ice.

The note read: “April 25, 1848. HM ships Terror and Erebus were deserted on the 22nd April… having been beset since 12th September, 1846.

“Sir John Franklin died on the 11th June, 1847; and the total loss of deaths in the expedition has been to this date nine officers and 15 men.”

All the others would die on the journey towards civilisation.

It was the corpses of these desperate men – gouged and mutilated by those who outlived them – that earlier rescuers had come across.

Canadian archaeologists found the wreck of the Erebus surrounded by mutilated skeletons in 2014.

And two years later, in 2016, an Inuit came across the wreckage of the Terror – frozen in the ice just 60 miles away in the Canadian Arctic.

A chilling note revealed that the crew had been forced to abandon their ship and trek across the tundra, a year and a half after becoming stuck
John Franklin headed up the doomed expedition – despite claims of cannibalism on one of his earlier missions
Getty – Contributor
Francis Crozier was second in command on the voyage, and ended up outliving Franklin by over a year
The Collins Press
A bounty offered the equivalent of £2m to anyone who could rescue the crew of the Terror
Library and Archives Canada
Later paintings depicted the struggle faced by survivors of the Terror’s grounding
Hulton Archive – Getty

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