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Treasures Abound on Canada's Legendary Wreck

HMS Erebus artifacts include a hairbrush, a lead stamp
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 21, 2020 9:15 AM CST

(Newser) – When the flagship of a doomed 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage was discovered in Canada's Arctic in 2014, experts could hardly contain their glee at the thought of the artifacts lying in wait. They weren't disappointed. Some 350 items, including a 170-year-old wax seal boasting a fingerprint and a brush containing strands of hair, were pulled from HMS Erebus over 93 dives last August and September. Some 17 cabins—including that of commander Sir John Franklin—of the 20 cabins still remain untouched, per the New York Times. "This is only the beginning of the excavation," Parks Canada archaeologist Ryan Harris said Thursday, noting the goal is to try to uncover exactly what befell the Erebus and HMS Terror—found almost 50 miles from its sister ship in 2016—and gain an understanding of what life was like for men who knew "they weren't ever going to see home again."

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Both ships sailed from England in search of a passage to India and China before getting stuck in ice near Nunavut's King William Island, where most of the 129 crew members would perish. At least they had entertainment. An accordion was found along with a toothbrush, coffee beans, and a lead stamp bearing the name Ed Hoar, who was just 23 when he set sail, per the CBC. The hairbrush, likely belonging to an officer, will undergo DNA tests. Marc-André Bernier, who manages the underwater archaeology team, says it's personal items like these that "give an insight into the heart of the expeditions." More treasures likely wait in Franklin's cabin, which is beneath a collapsed deck, and in HMS Terror, which has been explored but not excavated. (Lead poisoning was apparently not a factor in the men's deaths.)

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