After Nearly 200 Years Buried On The Ocean Floor, This Is What Scientists Found Left Of HMS Terror

HMS Terror was an English warship that that was lost to the depths of the ocean in 1845. Originally launched in 1813, the vessel served during the War of 1812 before eventually being converted into a polar exploration ship.

It was on this ill-fated journey into the cold that HMS Terror sank, becoming lost to time. In 2016, nearly 200 years later, a group of divers discovered the remains of the ship, and this is what they found.

The Polar Expedition

terror arctic expedition
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

HMS Terror and HMS Erebus set sail from England in 1845 to explore the Arctic. The goal of the expedition was simple — continue to map the Northwest Passage while gathering magnetic data.

The reality of how difficult the expedition was, however, was unprecedented. There were an estimated 130 crew members between both ships, all being led by Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin. Both ships were lost, and no one ever made back home to tell their tale.

Set Up For Success

hms erebus arctic expedition
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Knowing the expedition ahead was going to be long and dangerous, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus were both made as safe as possible. Each ship had enough food for three years, iron covered hulls, steam engines, and top of the line scientific equipment.

The polar expedition was one of the most well-equipped to ever leave the shores of England. The last time either ship was seen was three months later. So what went wrong?

Lost To The Depths

hms terror lost
De Agostini/Getty Images
De Agostini/Getty Images

After being lost, there were multiple attempts made to find the missing ships to no avail. As the years passed, it seemed less and less likely the remains of HMS Terror would ever be found.

Still, scientists couldn’t let the mystery go unsolved. How could two of the most well-equipped exploratory vessels in the English fleet go missing? What happened to them? Scientists needed to find the answers, and eventually, their patience would pay off.

The Remains Of The Ships Were Found, But Not Their Crews

this is what the hms terror looked like at the bottom of the ocean
Parks Canada/YouTube
Parks Canada/YouTube

Finally, after over a century, HMS Eberus was found in 2014 beneath the Canadian Arctic Ocean. Two years later, in 2016, HMS Terror was located. The mystery didn’t end here, though. The ships still had secrets, like what happened to their crews.

Upon searching the wreckage of the ships, not a single set of remains from a single crew member was found. That indicated that everyone on board was forced to abandon their ships. But for what reason?

Trapped In The Ice

hms terror trapped in the ice
DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

As scientists began to explore the wreckage, they were able to piece together clues indicating that before the ships sank they were stuck in the ice. It was getting trapped that likely made the crew abandon the boats.

Still, one mystery remained. There was no damage to HMS Terror to indicate why the ship would have sunk. There were no hull breaches, but from the way the ship landed it was clear that it had sunk swiftly and without warning.

Spring Sinking

hmw terror steering wheel sunk
Parks Canada/YouTube
Parks Canada/YouTube

Another strange clue indicating that the ships never should have sunk was the placement of the propeller. During winter, a mechanism would be used to lift it out of the water to avoid freezing.

The propeller on HMS Terror was in the down position, indicating it likely sunk in the spring. During spring, weather conditions wouldn’t be nearly as severe as winter. Would a dive crew be able to uncover clues to solve the mystery?

The Fate Of The Crew

hms terror crew working
DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

As you already know, no remains of any crew member were discovered at the spot of the wreckage. With so many years having passed since HMS Terror sank, scientists could only piece together clues from accounts of previous explorers.

The fate of the crew was discovered during a series of expeditions from 1848 to 1866. These investigations discovered that while every crew member made it off the ships, no one survived the harsh weather and lack of food as they tried to traverse to Fort Resolution for safety.

One Revealing Record Recovered

letter found on the hms terror
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Between HMS Terror’s sinking and discovery in 2016, some artifacts from crew members were found. The most valuable piece was a piece of paper that was the only physical record of the ship’s wreck.

The captain of the Terror, Francis Crozier, wrote the letter. The shaky and clearly rushed letter explains that the crews abandoned the ships on April 22nd, and only 105 remained three days later. This was the last correspondence written by the captain.

A Small Window To Explore

diver exploring the hms terror
Parks Canada/YouTube
Parks Canada/YouTube

Because of where HMS Terror was wrecked and discovered, it is nearly impossible to explore the wreckage. Harsh weather conditions made diving only manageable for a small window of time, and even then the human body struggles with the water’s frigid temperatures.

One of the scientists from the wreckage exploration crew explains the window like this, “a few weeks if you’re lucky, a few days if you’re not.” As the team prepared to dive, would they get lucky?

Technology To The Rescue

hms terror getting ready to dive
Parks Canada/YouTube
Parks Canada/YouTube

Eventually, the team of scientists and divers came across their exploration window. The time was now or never, and they didn’t want to blow their chance. To make sure they got the information they needed, they sent a robot down into the wreckage with the divers.

The robot, which was remotely operated, could map out the ship, revealing wonders the team never thought possible. Can you guess what they found?

Finding The Unexpected

hms terror artifacts
Parks Canada/YouTube
Parks Canada/YouTube

As they approached HMS Terror, the divers couldn’t believe their eyes. The ship was intact and surprisingly well-preserved. Because of the icy conditions of the water, the ship didn’t look close to its nearly 200 years of lost beauty.

The scientists began referring to the boat as “frozen in time” because of the pristine condition it was still in. The handler of the robot even remarked that the Terror looked like it had just recently been abandoned!

A Ghost Ship

hms terror empty hallways
Parks Canada/YouTube
Parks Canada/YouTube

The dive crew entered the ship, which was eerily empty. There were 20 bedrooms for crewmen, all of which had their doors wide open. Inside the rooms, the drawers and desks were all tightly sealed, keeping their secrets hidden.

As divers continued to explore the ship, the mystery would only deepen. There were still a lot of secrets to be revealed, and eventually, some, although not all of the explorers’ questions would be answered.

One Mystery Remains

hms terror outside looking in
Parks Canada/YouTube
Parks Canada/YouTube

The crew, with the help of the robot, was able to explore the entire ship except for one room — the captain’s quarters. When they arrived at the room, it was locked and there was no way to get inside.

Because the captain’s quarters were below deck, it was also impossible to get into them through the roof of the ship. The only thing the crew could do was use flashlights to try and get a look inside.

What Could Be Inside

inside the captains quarters of the Hms Terror
Parks Canada/YouTube
Parks Canada/YouTube

While peering into the captain’s quarters from the outside of HMS Terror, the crew was able to see a tripod, thermometers, an armchair, and a desk covered in sediment. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get inside to find anything else.

If the crew were able to get inside they could possibly uncover documents or even more important clues as to what happened to the ship. Surely the captain kept a written record of what was happening, and that record was likely kept secure somewhere in his quarters.

Preserved Pictures

hms terror room drawers
Parks Canada/YouTube
Parks Canada/YouTube

Other important artifacts the crew hoped to find were preserved pictures. Remember, because of the unique condition of the wreckage, valuable artifacts could be surprisingly well preserved. Pictures, if recovered, could provide some of the best clues about what happened.

We know there were pictures taken on the expedition because, according to historians, the crew traveled with a daguerreotype camera. The camera was incredibly high quality, and any pictures taken on it would be of immense importance.

HMS Terror Was Almost Discovered In 2009

hms terror painting
Illustrated London News/Getty Images
Illustrated London News/Getty Images

Seven years before HMS Terror was officially discovered, it was nearly accidentally discovered by Sammy Kogvik. Kogvik, interestingly enough, would be the reason the ship was found so quickly in 2016.

Kogvik was sailing with colleagues in 2009 near the area where HMS Terror would later be found when he saw a wooden pole sticking out of the ice. As he went to grab his camera, it fell into the water. When he recovered his camera, the pole had sunk beneath the surface.

Kogvik Kept Quiet Until The Time Was Right

hms terror expedition boat
Parks Canada/YouTube
Parks Canada/YouTube

With no proof of such a strange discovery, Sammy Kogvik kept quiet about his stick in the ice for years. It was only when he joined the expedition looking for HMS Terror that he knew he had found something.

The site the crew was looking at included the area he saw the stick. Kogvik told his colleagues, and they decided to investigate his strange claim. Less than two and a half hours after starting their search, HMS Terror was found in 79 feet of water.

The Findings Will Be Co-Owned

hms terror findings
Parks Canada/YouTube
Parks Canada/YouTube

Because of where HMS Terror was situated, the findings of the discovery are under co-ownership of the Inuit people of the area and the government of Canada. This partnership will benefit both sides for one major reason.

By co-owning the discovery, the Inuit people and the Canadian government can continue to work together on future research initiatives. Another dive could reveal even more about the story of HMS Terror, like what was in the Captain’s quarters.

The Story Isn’t Over

the hms terror dive crew leaves the scene
Parks Canada/YouTube
Parks Canada/YouTube

While dive crews seemed to have been left with more questions than answers, they are convinced that with more research everything will make sense. By getting to the bottom of the ocean, one crew member claims they will “get to the bottom of the story.”

Where that story leads is anyone’s guess. With no records indicating what happened to the crew or how the ship sunk we are only left with tall tales and legends.

HMS Terror In Pop Culture

the-terror tv show
AMC
AMC

Because no one knows exactly what happened on HMS Terror, Hollywood has, of course, stepped up to fill the gaps. In 2018, The Terror debuted on AMC as an anthology series, with the first season telling the horrific tale of the lost ship and its crew.

In the television series, which itself is based on a book, the crew of HMS Terror was taught to survive the harsh weather conditions outside while being trapped in the ice. And did we mention something supernatural is stalking the crew?