Inside the Terror
September 4, 2019 8:40 PM   Subscribe

"Parks Canada has released the first film taken inside of the wreck of the HMS Terror. A remotely-operated vehicle explored the interior of the ship, recording high-definition video of the cabins and the astonishingly well-preserved artifacts still in place. " ...

"The HMS Erebus was the flagship commanded by Sir John Franklin on his doomed 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage. The Terror was commanded by Captain Francis Crozier. The ships were stranded in the ice off King William Island in September of 1846 and the crew abandoned both vessels. A note left by Francis Crozier in April of 1848 records that 105 of the original 129 member crew had left the ships. By the time he wrote the letter, 24 of the 105 were already dead, Sir John Franklin among them. Crozier stashed the letter in a stone cairn on King William Island and set off towards a river with the surviving crewmen. Hypothermia, starvation and disease killed them all. "

(Previously)
posted by pt68 (30 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
 
I haven't read any of the links, but it seems like The Terror is a horrible name for a ship.
posted by hippybear at 8:49 PM on September 4 [7 favorites]


That is surprisingly clear footage from the drone/ROV thingy. The contrast between all the plants outside and the basically-fine interior was startling. I want to know what is in all those bottles!
posted by janell at 8:58 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


The Terror started its life as a warship, which might partially explain the name.

This footage is fantastic!
posted by dinty_moore at 9:00 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


I haven't read any of the links, but it seems like The Terror is a horrible name for a ship.

I wouldn't call a ship Erebus either - although like Terror, it turned out to be horribly appropriate.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:02 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


This is great to see. The Terror is the namesake of the series and (first season) book. The book is not great, but apparently very popular. The first season adaptation was excellent, and in part because in my view it was observably fighting with the text of the source material, a rare thing in reasonably high-budget adaptations.

I was introduced to the story of the Franklin expedition via William T. Vollmann’s excellent “The Rifles,” a work which is among my favorites from his hand.
posted by mwhybark at 9:15 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


The Terror is the namesake of the series and (first season) book.

I'm a bit lost here. Is there a link I missed?
posted by hippybear at 9:52 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Wow, this is spectacular. The fact that there are so many artifacts. The fact that so many artifacts are intact. The fact that so many are in situ on shelves and other places where they would have been in 1846. It's absolutely amazing.

I'm not all that up to date on underwater archaeology stuff, but I can't imagine there have been many finds that were this well preserved. This will allow archaeologists to get such an amazing level of detail on so, so many things. Like, if I wanted to know about the use of glassware in shipping, there it is! If I wanted to know about ceramics, they're right there where they left them!

I can't wait to hear about what they're able to excavate from the captain's cabin. I am seriously so excited about this.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 10:05 PM on September 4 [4 favorites]


I'm a bit lost here. Is there a link I missed?

There is a TV series (and associated novel) based on the events surrounding HMS Terror.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 10:47 PM on September 4 [4 favorites]


based on the events surrounding HMS Terror

With some ahistorical supernatural horror elements thrown in to explain why everyone died (because bad luck and bad judgement isn’t exciting enough for some people, I guess).
posted by Secret Sparrow at 10:52 PM on September 4 [4 favorites]


Ah, many thanks!
posted by hippybear at 10:54 PM on September 4


So those dinner plates have been submerged in salt water for what, 170 years? And they still have the floral design on them. Looks like you could eat off them. How the fuck is that even possible?
posted by mannequito at 11:55 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


How the fuck is that even possible?

I'm a little rusty on my ceramics stuff, but I think there are a couple ways that could happen, some of which depend on different methods of ceramics production. The short answer is that it could be possible if something is made of porcelain, or if the pattern is underneath a hard glaze. In both cases, the color will be protected by material that is pretty hard and glass-like.

The long answer is a wordy rundown of ceramics (because I can't sleep). Basically, porcelain is a kind of ceramic that's fired at a very high temperature, which leads to vitrification, essentially turning the pottery itself into what is basically a kind of glass. Genuine porcelain is a very hard material, can be made fairly thin and lightweight, and it's partly translucent. Working with the high temperatures required for vitrification can be very tricky, and early porcelain trade was dominated by the Chinese, who had mastered the technique; ceramicists in other places simply weren't able to fire at such a high temperature without destroying their materials.

So, for a long time, genuine porcelain was an Asian export from China and later Japan, which gave it a very high status in places like England. That high status came with a price, so a few different porcelain imitations were developed in the 18th and 19th centuries as cheaper alternatives. These were fired at lower temperatures, without vitrification (or with only partial vitrification, in the case of stoneware). This meant that imitation porcelain was softer than true porcelain, and generally had to be thicker and heavier. They also couldn't quite achieve the pure whiteness or clarity of pattern you'd see in genuine porcelain. This kind of pottery would typically be coated with a hard lead glaze (although not always -- I think Wedgwood is famously unglazed).

There were several methods of painting or printing designs on these, but the key thing is whether that design was under/in the glaze or over it. Under the glaze, the pattern was protected. However, the temperatures required for glazing placed some limitations (which I'm sort of, er, vaguely forgetting), so some manufacturers printed patterns on top of the glaze; these patterns would then wear away over the years as the items were used and handled.

I won't bore (or possibly excite!) you with all the different kinds of imitation porcelain, but the reason I'm bringing all of this up is because to my eyes there appear to be two different kinds of plates in the video at ~2:45 (link to plates). It's kind of hard to ID them without looking up close and doing a couple little tests, like a scratch test to see how hard the material is. One thing I see in the video is that the plate on the left appears whiter, with a pretty crisp blue pattern (I'm trying to remember the significance of patterning on the rim, which might say something about its production, but like I said, I'm rusty). It could be genuine porcelain, but it could also be some kind of whiteware like ironstone. It could just be that it's leaning forward and therefore getting more of the light. I'm fairly confident, though, that if it isn't porcelain, its decoration is at least under the glaze.

The plate on the right is interesting. It's hard to tell from the video, but it almost appears to be a different color than the one on the left. It's possible that this is a kind of imitation porcelain known as pearlware, which was developed in the late 18th century with a small amount of a blue-green dye mixed into the glaze to make it appear whiter. That said, I think by 1845 there are probably more likely contenders (I can't remember exactly when pearlware really fell out of production). The interesting thing about this one is that it seems to have a different kind of pattern than the one on the left. I mean, there's a whole other thing about imitation porcelain trying to imitate Chinese art styles, but I won't go into that. The key thing for me is that the plate on the right seems to have a printed pattern of some sort -- since it's late and I'm having fun with this anyway, my hope is that it's the kind of plate that had a picture of ruins on it, which as I recall was sort of an interesting confluence of 19th century values about history and status and so on (but is also a whole other thing). I'm also not sure if that one looks to be more worn -- could it have been printed over the glaze? I suspect that it would be completely worn away if that were the case, but who knows what the ocean currents and whatnot are like in there.

OK, I've rambled on for a while, but the tl;dr is that the patterns were probably printed under a hard glaze, if those aren't genuine porcelain in the first place.

If you know more about the history of ceramics than I do, please feel free to correct any mistakes I've made! Please share more information! I was writing this for fun from memory, based on some archaeology classes I took in college, but ceramics weren't my specialty and a few things are a little fuzzy in my memory. I would have linked to more resources (where I could have handily checked my information), but I don't know of a good online resource that gives a general overview of ceramics production.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:32 AM on September 5 [51 favorites]


Fascinating. Something about this idiotic expedition still has the power to capture the imagination, all these years later.
posted by thelonius at 3:12 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


Oh, this is so timely! We just got done watching the first season of the show, and wishing there were some way to show the kids the living on a ship part of the story, that left out all the being dismembered by monsters part.
posted by mittens at 3:16 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


We just got done watching the first season of the show, and wishing there were some way to show the kids the living on a ship part of the story, that left out all the being dismembered by monsters part.

Show them Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. It's from a similar time period and not as upsetting. There are some scenes of French v British naval battle and some swords and gunshots and cannons, so it's not totally without violence.

But there's quite a bit of living and seeing the ship from all aspects and its very detailed. It's also a fun film.

I loved S1 of The Terror. These videos are exciting.
posted by Fizz at 3:44 AM on September 5 [6 favorites]


Wow, the narrator of the video said they think they can get documents out of the desk.

Also, the video points out several times that Inuit came across the men from the expedition.

I remember reading a different post on here a while back about that. I’ve always found it darkly odd that these men thought they were in a “no man’s land” most likely and yet here are all these Inuit, doing their thing in the Arctic.

Looking forward to more info as it comes out!
posted by sio42 at 4:12 AM on September 5


Not to digress, and I love me some Master and Commander, but the little kid middie has a rough time of it and a young officer commits suicide after being rejected by the crew as a jinx and everyone except the doctor basically shrugs it off and are like "whelp, jinxes, whatchagunna do?" and it is awful. So, ya know, maybe more kid friendly than Terror but be aware.
posted by Wretch729 at 4:49 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


Wiki says there were 9 Royal Navy ships called HMS Terror. Most were little gun boats. This particular one was involved in the bombardment of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812.
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:47 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


I'm a little rusty on my ceramics stuff, but I think there are a couple ways that could happen,

This is why I love MetaFilter: "I don't really know much about this topic, but here is nine thoughtful and informative paragraphs addressing it."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:02 AM on September 5 [27 favorites]


The Inuit had contact with the crew, knew where the ships were and were ignored for over 100 years.
posted by tommasz at 6:16 AM on September 5 [12 favorites]


Last year one of our local museums hosted the "Death in the Ice" Exhibition, an exhibit developed by the Canadian Museum of History. It really gave a sense of what life on board the ship was like, and of the Inuit oral history surrounding the expedition as well. It appears to be a touring exhibition (it's in Anchorage right now), so if you have a chance to see it at a museum near you, I highly recommend it.

One of the things I found most fascinating was that the Inuit accounts were discredited (at least at the time) because they said that the British sailors had resorted to cannibalism. About six years after the expedition perished, John Rae submitted a report to Admiralty that relied heavily on these accounts. Lady Franklin whole-heartedly believed that this could not possibly be true, and through her social connections managed to convince none other than Charles Dickens to write a repudiation of the Rae report. It is every bit as old-school racist as you would expect/fear it would be, with an argument basically boiling down to "How dare you accept the slanders of these savages against our noble white countrymen":
We submit that the memory of the lost Arctic voyagers is placed, by reason and experience, high above the taint of this so easily-allowed connection; and that the noble conduct and example of such men, and of their own great leader himself, under similar endurances, belies it, and outweighs by the weight of the whole universe the chatter of a gross handful of uncivilised people, with domesticity of blood and blubber.
Rae stood by his report, and received a monetary award from the Admiralty for his work. But due to Lady Franklin's and Dickens's efforts, he lost much of his status with the British establishment and did not receive the honors he might otherwise have been expected to receive later in his career or upon his death.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:44 AM on September 5 [13 favorites]


It just occurred to me that it's entirely possible that a glaze may not have been necessary to preserve fine details on ceramics. I just remembered TEPCO Beach. TEPCO was a ceramics company in the SF Bay Area that closed down in, I think, the 40s (if I'm remembering right). They used to dump rejected pieces (things that broke during production, rejected by QC, etc) into the bay, and to this day there is a little stretch of the shore that's completely covered with various bits of ceramics. Because it was the pieces that broke during production, the majority of them are unglazed and otherwise unfinished. But they could break or be rejected at any point in production, so some of them were dumped after getting their printed patterns.

I forgot until just now that I once wrote a term paper on a set of ceramic sherds from TEPCO Beach. They were unglazed, but they had their patterns on them, and in fact my paper was a case study in mid-century attitudes towards a certain aspect of American history, based on the patterns on those sherds (in other words, which icons were chosen to represent a nostalgic view of history, and which facets of that history were ignored or overlooked). Point is, I remember that the edges of the sherds were all worn smooth, but the patterns were still clear and distinct, even after 50 years of sun and bay tides. Now, that's 50 years instead of 170, and I think by the 20th century they were using a different dye transfer process to print patterns on things.

All this is to say, though, that it's entirely possible that a lot of detail could have been preserved without necessarily needing any kind of protective layer. I think that's part of what makes this site so absolutely incredible, because it seems like the conditions were ideal for preserving quite a lot of things (I mean, if they're able to recover documents, readable documents, I'll be over the moon). But I also think that salt water is probably not all that caustic to the materials in question (remember that the ceramic sherds I was working with were rounded at the edges because they were unglazed, so the relatively soft paste of the earthenware was directly exposed to the water). It looks like the currents inside the ship are probably pretty gentle, so we wouldn't be seeing a major sandblasting effect. That's also partly why the archaeologists sounded so excited about the things that are buried in silt, because those will be even better preserved.

Anyway, this is me continuing to spitball on this, writing yet more paragraphs about the preservation of patterns on plates. I mean, I do have a degree in this kind of stuff, so that at least explains the interest, but I've already gotten pretty carried away -- like I said, I'd love it if someone more knowledgeable could weigh in, because I'm totally fascinated by this and pretty much everything about this site.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 6:49 AM on September 5 [12 favorites]


I remember reading a different post on here a while back about that. I’ve always found it darkly odd that these men thought they were in a “no man’s land” most likely and yet here are all these Inuit, doing their thing in the Arctic.

I am imagining the disdain and the pity they might have received.

"Look at these guys! No sealskin! And so many of them!"
"Should we help them out?"
"How could we? There are too many, our rations would be gone in a week!"
"Poor bastards..."
"Where are they going? Nothing to eat over that way..."
"Dibs on that guy's knife."
"I like those shiny buckles."
posted by Meatbomb at 7:57 AM on September 5 [2 favorites]


Chinese porcelain from the Ca Mau shipwreck was underwater for over 250 years, and the patterns are still there. I've seen one in person and it's as if the glaze is worn away/ dissolved by the sea. It has a distinctive texture, you wouldn't get it confused with porcelain that, you know, hasn't lived in the sea. Of course they would have been hand painted, I have no idea how more modern printed stuff would hold up in comparison.
posted by stillnocturnal at 7:58 AM on September 5 [3 favorites]


ok this is seriously awesome. I am very excited to learn more as the archaeologists are able to recover artifacts, and hopefully many written documents of the voyage. the level of preservation is astonishing!

I gotta say, though, yeah The Terror (novel) isnt necessarily high lit and gets a bit kookball at the end, but come on!! its a horror story wrapped in a disaster tale wrapped in a historical account. whats not to like???
posted by supermedusa at 8:40 AM on September 5


shapes that haunt the dusk: "It could be genuine porcelain, but it could also be some kind of whiteware like ironstone."

I am loving this detour into dinnerware.

From the Parks Canada HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site artifacts listing:
Dinner Plate:

Where was this artifact found?

The archaeologists discovered several British blue-transfer print whiteware dinner plates on the lower deck, near the galley stove, in the forecastle.

What material is this artifact made of?

The dinner plates are made of whiteware, a material intended to imitate Chinese porcelain. Some are decorated with a pattern known as blue willow. It was the most common and affordable pattern in the 19th century. Several pieces have engraved markings on their back or notches on their foot-ring.

What was this artifact used for?

These dinner plates were used daily by the ship’s crew, during meals.

What do we know about this artifact?

The proximity of the different plates suggests that they were stored in a cupboard not far from the ship’s galley. The fact that these dinner plates were on board the wreck is consistent with the oral Inuit history gathered in 1879 by the expedition led by Frederick Schwatka.
There's also a page about food on board the expedition which includes clearer pictures of some of the plates found.

Johnny Assay: "one of our local museums hosted the "Death in the Ice" Exhibition, an exhibit developed by the Canadian Museum of History. It really gave a sense of what life on board the ship was like, and of the Inuit oral history surrounding the expedition as well. It appears to be a touring exhibition (it's in Anchorage right now), so if you have a chance to see it at a museum near you, I highly recommend it."

I was able to see this exhibit when it was on at the Canadian Museum of History and I can't second this recommendation hard enough. It's absolutely engrossing and well worth devoting several hours to should you have the opportunity.

The exhibit definitely discussed the tableware and if I'm remembering correctly there was an example of a custom patterned plate from another ship that was a contemporary of the Erebus and the Terror - possibly of a higher quality than the cheap whiteware - of the sort the Captains might have used.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:45 AM on September 5 [8 favorites]


I'm currently reading this book about the search for the Franklin Exhibition and am really enjoying it so far. It's from 2017 so not entirely up to date but still a good read!
posted by orrnyereg at 11:03 AM on September 5


Oh this is amazing Exactly my cup of tea, thank you so much for this update!
posted by biscotti at 1:13 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


Thanks for sharing that, Secret Sparrow! Blue willow! I remember blue willow! This is all very exciting stuff.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 6:53 AM on September 6


Regarding recovering readable documents.

The BBC had a documentary last week about landfills and how their contents don't degrade nearly as quickly as intuition might suggest (being densely packed and depletion of oxygen were the two causes I remember). They did some test excavations of various landfills and in one (from the 60s I think) they found newspapers which had been soaking in this muck for 50 (or even 60) years and which were were still readable, the pages could be turned and the print was perfectly clear. You'd have imagined the paper would have been gone in weeks or months.
posted by epo at 11:30 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]


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