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Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site of Canada

Queen Maud Gulf, King William Island, Nunavut, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1992/11/06

Ship from Franklin Expedition; Parks Canada / Parcs Canada
Research team lowering the sonar pole; Parks Canada / Parcs Canada
The survey boat
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Other Name(s)

Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site of Canada
Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror
(les) épaves du HMS Erebus et du HMS Terror
HMS Erebus
Navire de sa Majesté Erebus
HMS Terror
Navire de sa Majesté Terror

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2013/08/19

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

It is believed that the site is located somewhere in the Canadian Arctic, comprising the remains of two 19th-century three-masted, wooden vessels, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. Led by Captain Sir John Franklin during an attempt to navigate and map a Northwest Passage through the Arctic, both vessels were eventually trapped and wrecked by pack ice.

Heritage Value

Erebus and Terror site was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1992 because:
- of the ships’ association with Franklin's last expeditions.

In 1845, Captain Sir John Franklin sailed from the United Kingdom in search of a Northwest Passage through what is now the Canadian Arctic. He and his crew travelled aboard the 370-tonne HMS Erebus and the 340-tonne HMS Terror, each of which had been refitted and strengthened for polar service and contained equipment to conduct zoological, botanical, magnetic and geologic surveys. Originally designed as sail-powered naval mortar bomb vessels, these wooden ships were of extremely strong construction. For Franklin’s expedition the vessels were fitted with iron sheathing at the bow and equipped with a 20-horsepower steam engine and a single screw propeller, capable of moving the ships at 4 knots.

Other than a chance encounter with a whaling vessel in 1845, Franklin, his crew and his vessels were never seen again. There were several unsuccessful search and rescue operations; however, no news of the crew was discovered until fifteen years later. In 1859, Captain William Hobson of HMS Fox found a message in a cairn on King William Island. The message gave the locations of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror and stated that in 1846 the crews were preparing to over-winter while the ships were lodged in pack ice. There was also a message penned by the captain of Terror and dated 17 months later. He recorded that the ships had been stuck in the ice for a year-and-a-half, and that Franklin and several crew members had perished. The survivors were making for Back’s Fish River, to the southeast, but were never heard from again. Captain Sir John Franklin was designated as a person of national historic significance in 1945 because of his explorations in the Canadian Arctic during the 19th century.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1992; October 2006.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
- its location in the Canadian Arctic, in Queen Maud Gulf, Nunavut;
- any remains of the wooden construction of the vessels, the iron sheathing at the bow, the copper hull sheathing, and the 20-horsepower steam engine with a propeller drive;
- the integrity of any surviving or as yet unidentified archaeological remains which may be found within the site in their original placement and extent, including tools, personal effects, armaments and any other nautical paraphernalia.




Recognition Authority

Government of Canada

Recognition Statute

Historic Sites and Monuments Act

Recognition Type

National Historic Site of Canada

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1812/01/01 to 1813/01/01
1824/01/01 to 1826/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Developing Economies
Trade and Commerce
Developing Economies
Communications and Transportation
Peopling the Land
Migration and Immigration

Function - Category and Type


Undetermined (archaeological site)
Underwater Site



Architect / Designer

Sir Henry Peake



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

National Historic Sites Directorate, Documentation Centre, 5th Floor, Room 89, 25 Eddy Street, Gatineau, Quebec

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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