One of the most famous ships lost in the 19th century has been located in the Canadian Arctic, prompting Prime Minister Stephen Harper to declare that “one of Canada’s greatest mysteries” has been solved. (National Geographic News)
- The “lost ships” of the Franklin expedition were called the H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror. What does H.M.S. stand for?
- Her Majesty’s Ship. Queen Victoria was the British monarch when the ships were lost (1846). Today, British Royal Navy ships (like this aircraft carrier, the H.M.S. Ocean) retain the H.M.S. designation—honoring Queen Elizabeth II. (The Titanic, not a Royal Navy ship, had a different designation—R.M.S., or Royal Mail Ship.)
- Sir John Franklin was attempting to navigate and map the Northwest Passage when his ships were lost in the Canadian Arctic. What is the Northwest Passage? Why was it so important? Was it ever found?
- The Northwest Passage is the waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans north of the Equator.
- Take a look at this map for routes of the Northwest Passage.
- Many explorers and cartographers thought the Northwest Passage would ease the difficulty of trade and travel between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.
- The Northwest Passage was finally navigated by polar ace Roald Amundsen on an 1903-1906 expedition. Amundsen’s spectacular career was actually inspired by the journals of John Franklin: “[I]t was the sufferings that Sir John and his men had to go through which attracted me most in his narrative. A strange urge made me wish that I too one day would go through the same thing. Perhaps it was the idealism of youth, which often takes the form of martyrdom, that got me to see myself as a kind of crusader in Arctic exploration.”
- Until 2009, the Northwest Passage was regularly blocked by seasonal pack ice. The main navigation route between the hemispheres today is the Panama Canal, although some shipping companies take the so-called Northern Sea Route.
- Franklin’s ship was found off the northwestern coast of King William Island, in the Victoria Strait. Can you use our MapMaker Interactive to locate the region of the icy shipwreck in the Canadian Arctic?
- Hint: Use the search functionality (upper right corner) to look for King William Island or Victoria Strait, and zoom out from those locations.
- Big Hint: Use this map (thank you, Canadian Geographic!) to get your bearings.