One of the most famous ships lost in the 19th century has been located in the Arctic, the Canadian government announced Tuesday, prompting Prime Minister Stephen Harper to declare that “one of Canada’s greatest mysteries” has been solved.
The shipwreck marks the final resting place of one of two vessels that disappeared mysteriously nearly 170 years ago, when a British naval expedition led by Sir John Franklin was attempting to navigate and map the Northwest Passage.
The ships, the H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror, were lost in 1846 and both crews perished. Although the graves of a few of the men were discovered later on land and local Inuit reported seeing one of the ships sink, exactly what happened to the ill-fated voyage has been a source of intense debate and speculation over the years.
But now Canadian authorities have released sonar images of what appears to be a largely intact ship near Nunavut’s King William Island, thanks to a remotely operated vehicle owned by Parks Canada.
“There is no doubt” that the ship is either the Erebus or Terror, says James Delgado, a maritime and shipwreck historian with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Delgado had previously looked for the ships in the Arctic but was not involved with Canada’s efforts, which he said were “years in the making.”
“I think this will prove to be one of the great maritime archaeological discoveries of our time,” says Delgado, who wrote the book Across the Top of the World: The Quest for the Northwest Passage.